So those of you who know me know that I have intense guilt, and dare I say it, Shipping Snobbery™. I’m new to shipping, you see. I’ve only just let myself come to terms with the practice overshadowing my other ways of engaging with a piece of media. But even then, my ships are still either overtly canonical, or packed with enough subtext to justify fanfic without a special warning label.
But one thing I’ve never been able to explain or understand is “crackshipping,” or shipping two characters together that either don’t interact, don’t show any interest in each other, or just don’t even make sense as a couple in the eyes of most people.
So therefore, the only thing for me to do is to jump in the deep end. I shall make myself crackship. After all, don’t knock it til you try it, right?
The following are four pairings from Nickelodeon’s Legend of Korra that I have not seen suggested in the fandom at all.
1. Asami x Opal (Asopal)
You know I have to be coming from a place of love when I’m breaking up my only two “ships” in the damn franchise: Korrasami (my OTP to end all OTPs) and Bopal. But I’m sorry Bolin and Korra…you guys will have to wallow over noodles together because MAKE WAY FOR THEPRISSY, BEAUTIFUL, ELEGANT, RICH GIRL POWER COUPLE.
Seriously, both these two grew up having shitloads of money, and not seeming to understand the importance of it. Watch Opal accidentally insult the poor when she talks about never having eaten a bad meal! Watch Asami uncomfortably throw money at her love interests! Watch them argue over whose last name to make a reservation in, because they’re unsure which one the restaurant would care about more!
But before you go thinking that they’re on a one-way magnet train to classistville, we need to consider the personalities at play. Sure, they may have both may feel more comfortable living in mansions, but there’s actually a lot to recommend an Asami/Opal romance too.
They’re both of an incredibly strong moral fiber, and unwavering in their commitments to justice. They both have experience with familial betrayals (Hiroshi and Baatar Jr.). They both deal with guilt. There’s that common ground to start with between them. They’re also both introverts, happy to withdraw into a book (or shop project), allowing the other her respective space to breathe.
And yet there’s important differences too. Where Opal is sheltered, Asami is a bit more worldly (she did grow up facing oppression in Republic City). Where Asami is reticent, Opal is assertive. Asami swallows her hurt, unless she’s pushed or in a situation of high stress. Opal makes no secret of her feelings, and will be blunt and abrupt when the situation calls for it, yet there is a rationality to these assertions that revolve around her commitment to being treated fairly and authentically. This is the kind of pattern of behavior that Asami would excel at understanding. Asami also would not tread on Opal’s strict personal boundaries.
Asami brings to the table her remarkable intuitive read on the situation, where Opal brings her cynicism (particularly for rules and structures) and quick judgement, allowing them to spring into action. Asami would be able to serve as a grounding and pragmatic influence for Opal, without negating her feelings or infantilizing her. In turn, Opal would see that Asami follows through and confronts her problems, which is important for someone like Asami whose tendency is to run away or at times, turn to vices when overwhelmed.
The more words I write, the more it justifies itself, yes?
How does it happen?
Simple. During the three-year time gap. Opal was growing apart from Bolin, who would not even hear her objections to Kuvira’s campaign. We also had an Asami burying herself in her work, and I would argue, slipping into a depressive state. Both Asami and Opal were working on a variation of Korra’s vision for the world: Opal coming into her own as an airbender and Asami marrying the material and spiritual worlds with her infrastructure work. These two had aligning guiding motivations. And given the secrecy of Kuvira’s campaign, between the few troubling reports that came out and Asami’s past experience with bending oppression, she would be inclined to take Opal’s warnings seriously. The common theme with both of them? They feel alone during this time.
Perhaps it happened towards the end of the three-year gap. Opal returned to Air Temple Island with a report for Tenzin about prison camps that he wanted to dismiss. She was sad, her family still torn up about what happened. Tenzin tried to tell her to put her family’s feelings aside…she was an airbender now. But how could she? Asami was there, and recognized this struggle. She, too, was never able to set her family aside, no matter how much she wanted to. She had a stack of Hiroshi’s unopened letters tucked away for safe keeping, which simultaneously confused and enraged her (self-rage).
She invited Opal back to her apartment to commiserate over the burdens of having a last name. They shared a bottle of sake. For the first time in a long time, Opal felt comforted. For the first time in a long time, Asami was able to express care and provide support to someone without guarding her own words. And in one long, palpable moment, the two came to realize that it was something they didn’t want to let go of.
2. Mako x Zhu Li (Khal Zhako)
You may or may not know that I’ve already made a totally 100% convincing case for Makoperator, an endgame ship for Mako that is quite thematically important and not at all based on a random joke made by co-creator Bryan Konietzko. But what I forgot to factor in was that this famous operator was clearly already in a committed, long-term open relationship with her bespectacled co-worker, and that doesn’t jive with Mako’s code.
More seriously, I am sorry that this ship takes Wuko off the table, but at the same time, weren’t people’s primary complaints about Book 4 that Wu and Varrick got too much focus? So let’s blow up the relationships that cannibalized our screen time and call it a day.
I go back and forth on how much I like the Zhurrick narrative, because sometimes, I just want to shake Zhu Li and go, “yes it’s nice that Varrick thinks of you like Mrs. Beaks now, that is, he’s realizing he didn’t appreciate you the way he should have, but you CAN DO BETTER.” And that “better” is Mako.
I mean, let’s be honest, Mako’s a catch. He might have tried and failed to be a convincing “aloof bad boy with a heart of gold,” but he’s a fantastic nerd with a pretty clear commitment to justice. I think a lot of the reason for his relationship foibles in Books 1 and 2 was that he was trying to project an image of this cool guy that he just wasn’t. And that’s okay, because Asami and Korra were pretty much drawn to his hotness, before realizing their incompatibility (like 95% of relationships that occur around age 17/18). Self-discovery, yo. It was a process.
But in his heart, Mako wants to be the guy who can protect his girlfriend (a role neither Asami nor Korra particularly needed, unless we mean emotional support, where he felt out of his element), while also curling up with Jinora’s books about sewer pipes in Ba Sing Se. And who’s the girl who could fill that roll? Zhu Li. As a nonbender, Zhu Li is inherently at a bit of a disadvantage in-verse. And unlike Asami who might try and engineer her own solution to the problem without consulting with Mako, Zhu Li is the type who would see Mako’s superior abilities and pragmatically accept them.
At the same time, Zhu Li requires very little on an emotional level. It’s quite clear that she keeps her own council, never looking to Varrick for support. And in fact the only time she gets ruffled is after years of obvious mistreatment and devaluement–something I think we can agree Mako wouldn’t do. Actually, he would greatly appreciate how she too approaches problems from a detached, methodical standpoint. If Mako were to propose a solution, Zhu Li would be able to nod her head and tell him “that sounds the most logical to me.” This boosts Mako’s ego, while also providing both of them with validation for their approach to life–an approach that they both feel is too often unappreciated in their respective fields.
Then there’s the unfortunate fact that Zhu Li seems to mistake basic human decency with acceptable romantic behavior from Varrick. Just wait until she goes on a date with Mako. He’s the type to open all the doors for her, and though she is certainly capable of opening them herself, she would not rebuke his attempts at gallantry because she would logically understand it was his way of showing affection.
Okay, maybe in some ways this sounds like two robots clacking together. But the fact is, there’s something to be said for both of them coming home to a stable relationship with few surprises. Both Zhu Li and Mako have chaotic work days, and for that reason they both understand the other’s need for calm. Mako has a nice, gooey, nugget center and will be more than able to show Zhu Li the affection that she is deprived of during the day, while in turn she will be content to hear about tales of his work and commiserate over his frustrations.
It’s not fire, it’s mud. But you can make a poultice out of mud to cool a fever. You can plant seeds in mud and grow a crop to feed your children. Mud will nourish you, where fire will only consume you.
How does it happen?
During the events of “Kuvira’s Gambit.” Zhu Li storms out after seeing Varrick again, who wants to stick her back into an assistant role. It’s a slap in the face, and she’s embarrassed for even falling for him. She runs into Mako, who has just come from Wu’s radio broadcast. He’s proud of Wu, but upset at himself for failing to have ordered the evacuation properly. That mean old operator even laughed at him!
Zhu Li and Mako nearly collide in the center of the square. They both weren’t looking where they were going, but assumed others would be, as is only logical.
“Are you okay?” Mako asks, seeing her frustration.
“Years of dedication! For what?” she answers. Then she finds herself. “I’m sorry, I just…had a rough day in the office.”
“It’s okay,” Mako says, trying desperately to remember her name. “My boss is frustrating too.”
“How do you deal with him?” Zhu Li in truth is not interested, but doesn’t want to talk about Varrick any more than she has to.
“Well I go home and smash my head into the wall for an hour, you know, just to get the stress out,” he answers, thrilled that he can reuse a joke without her knowing.
“You shouldn’t smash your head into a wall,” she replies in a cool demeanor. “That causes you to lose brain cells.”
“Of course,” he responds. “It was hyperbole for comedic purposes. I’m told it’s quite funny.”
Their eyes meet. They realize they’re absolutely perfect for each other. They take things back to Mako’s apartment and find new ways to work out their frustrations.
3. Tarrlok x Lin (Linlok’d)
Um, okay, before you reject this on premise, just think for a second: imagine how many stupid things that happened in Book 1 could have been avoided if these two were together. “Gee, I don’t know honey. Your obsession with getting this 17-year-old girl to like you seems a little weird. Maybe you can just stop giving a shit seeing how you’re the most powerful man in the city.” Or even better, “Dear, can you stop fucking arresting nonbenders for existing? My jails are already full and I have real criminals to go after” (it is a truth universally acknowledged that Lin only uses pet names when she’s frustrated with her partner).
On the surface, this might seem like a terrible relationship idea, but hear me out. Tarrlok definitely wouldn’t want kids, which at this point we just accept as canon for why Linzin broke up. In fact, Tarrlok, for all his douchebaggery, did not seem to be sexist in any way, and I think would want a partner who was self-sufficient and driven by her own career.
And like, we forget what was motivating Tarrlok: he wanted to be seen as Republic City’s savior. That’s why Korra’s “you’re just like Amon” comment got to him so much. After being raised to be an instrument of revenge with the potential to do so much bad, he wanted to be Mr. Good and have the whole city thank him for it.
Enter Lin, whose blunt approach and grounded reads on situations would have helped steer him in the right direction. They both want the same thing: a safe Republic City. And yeah, both of them have this bizarre idea that the best way to combat the Equalist movement is with displays of “bending strength and unity,” but I’d argue both were just reacting against Tenzin anyway. Lol. They probably make fun of him as they’re fucking.
Like actually, we see Tarrlok listen to, and respect Lin’s opinions (so long as there’s no political backlash for him). And Lin just doesn’t give a shit about politics and is happy to incur risk with their strategies. Plus there is a ton of respect there. And the fact is, we have the guy who wants to be Republic City’s savior and get the attention for it, and the woman who can actually save Republic City but hates the spotlight. It’s perfect.
Let’s talk emotionally. Lin has that tough exterior, but what actually makes her soften is emotional honesty from the other person. Which I know Tarrlok seems like an odd choice for that. And to be clear, at the start, these two would be nothing more than hate-fucking buddies. That I’m sure of. But Tarrlok is a chiefly insecure man himself, always overcompensating and working at his public image. The fact is, he would feel drawn to Lin because of those rare moments when she lets her guard down, which inevitably happens at some point with frenemies-with-benefits. One of her seldom seen Lin-smiles would be able to lift his spirits and make him feel accepted and valued in a way he never had, which is why I think eventually, he’d drop his own walls. Slowly, at first, but Lin would be more encouraging than I think we’d give her credit for. She’d be able to tell he had inner pain, and eventually, the two could bond over family members they froze out of their lives for over thirty years.
The issue is if they get stuck in a feedback loop of “I can’t be vulnerable first.” That is very possible, and the result would be a relationship that more resembles Caputo and Fig. Which I have to say, is oddly appealing in its own way, no?
How does it happen?
Clearly Lin gets blotto off of her ass at some kind of formal function. At some point during this event, Tarrlok says something that pisses Tenzin off, and Lin thinks it’s hilarious. She goes to congratulate him for the joke, but stumbles and he has to steady her. The sexual tension is instantaneous, as they suddenly realize what rockin’ bods the other respectively has. They make excuses and get it on in the bathroom, promising each other it’s just a one time thing. It’s not a one time thing.
4. Bumi x Raiko (Rabumiko)
First let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way: Raiko and Buttercup’s marriage is a sham. Need I spell it out for you? She’s a beard I say, a beard! Sometimes she has MMF fantasies though, hence her failed attempt at seduction during the movers. It’s fine, she’ll eventually get it with his security guards.
Anyway, what does Raiko want out of a relationship? A real relationship? First of all, someone who is okay to live in the closet until the end of his political career. Secondly someone who can make him feel in charge, you know? Because it’s just such a bitch when people don’t listen to him. Which lbh, happens at least twice a season, and he doesn’t get all that much screentime. And finally, someone who will tell him his ideas are the best in the world.
I know what you’re going to say: shouldn’t we pair Raiko with someone who challenges him? Here’s the secret: Raiko doesn’t want to be challenged. This is a man who lives his life sticking his head in the sand and then blaming others for his inability to see. He knows how to run an election and smile for the cameras, but he’s completely lacking in moral fiber. And whenever he is called on his own crap, he gets bullish. So no, we don’t want to pair him with someone who will challenge his dumb ideas, because he will just get enraged. And you know who would never challenge them? Bumi.
Bumi is our little cuddly pooh-bear of internalized guilt and low self-esteem. He’s too busy viewing himself as incapable to ever to turn that critique on anyone else. I would normally say that he needs someone who can help him wade through the emotions that he is unable to articulate, to slowly get through his massive feelings of inadequacy, but guess what? Getting airbending and being told that’s his direction now, and the only reason why he’s fit to join the Air Nation…it kind of confirmed all of his worst feelings about himself. So at this point, I don’t even know if the likes of Dr. Wang Fire would be able to unpack that and provide support in a constructive way.
By Book 4, all we can hope for with Bumi is that he finds someone who makes him happy. He may have a lot of inner pain, but given his external focus, a loving relationship may be all he needs to sleep through the night. The fact is, he doesn’t want to talk about his feelings, because he doesn’t fully understand them and is still made uncomfortable by them. And don’t worry: Raiko will never ask Bumi about them.
But what makes Bumi happy? He’s great at organizing people, but thrives when he feels that his words are inspiring (see: his pep-talk in “The Original Airbenders”). And that’s exactly what he’ll be able to provide Raiko. The President will come home complaining about his day and his great ideas that no one appreciates, and Bumi will tell Raiko that they’re the smartest ideas he’s ever heard of without bothering to ask for the context. Which is fine, Raiko doesn’t want to give the context, of course. He just wants to feel that his boyfriend is enamored of him, and that his decision making is valued, which it will be.
Bonus: Raiko also has a soft spot for Bumi’s “ridiculous stories.” He likes to imagine his boyfriend as a kind of action hero, and the tales are so exaggerated that it allows him brief distraction from his own disastrous political reality. I like to think that during their post-sex cuddles, Raiko asks Bumi to tell him about that time he was almost taken hostage by sandbenders.
How does it happen?
At the Book 4 wedding. Raiko has been glad-handing the important guests all night, and slips around the side of the island to sneak a drink slightly too large for any reputable statesman. He sits and looks at the new spirit portal, seeing only months and years of work ahead of him. He wonders if there will be enough progress by the next election cycle.
Bumi was peeing nearby (he’s a bit loaded himself…you know what weddings are like for single people), and upon spotting the President, sits down beside him. “Beautiful, huh,” he says, gesturing at the new portal. “Reminds me of that time I almost died in the Spirit World when–”
“I’ll have to build around it,” Raiko mumbles under his breath in frustration. “I don’t know if I can take much more of this.”
“Well you’ll be able to do that, no problem! You made a home for the spirits, didn’t you?” Bumi says, only now realizing that he has no idea how the spirits of Republic City are situated.
“I did, I suppose. But there’s no guarantees that it will work, or any conception of how long the cleanup efforts will take.” Raiko dramatically finishes his drink. “The reporters will be calling for my head soon enough, just you watch.”
“But you just helped save the city, didn’t you?” the airbender says. He already forgot that Raiko had surrendered to Kuvira.
“That’s true,” Raiko replies, his mustache twitching. He looks into Bumi’s eyes. “You know, you’ve made me feel better.”
A devilish smile spreads across Bumi’s face. “If you give me an hour, I can make you feel great.”
In the end, Raiko gave him all night.
So there you have it. Four amazing crackships that are definitely worth supporting!
But you know what? Writing this may have been the most fun I’ve had in a long time. So here’s my challenge to you: pick two random characters and give it a go! How would they hook up? Or at the least leave me suggestions for future crackships I should explore (any fandom) for another one of these posts. Because I’m dead serious when I say I want to do another.
…Oh my god; I’m a crackshipper now, aren’t I?