There was once a time where I was the commander of a strong and powerful battleship. Together with a crew of hundreds of thousands of people— some friends and some complete strangers— we sailed the high seas, but not to find the One Piece or become the Hokage. No, our goals were not as lofty or high and mighty like the other fleets. We were a powerful community of seafarers all focused on achieving the same goal, on witnessing the same sight, on seeing our strawberry haired admiral find happiness with the one person he truly belonged.
We were some of the most frightening and war-torn sailors on the high seas. We would scare villagers by just walking into their towns; our manipulative tactics, hyper-realistic fan art and fiction, trouble-making reputation, and undying devotion for our cause were known far and wide. We were a force to be reckoned with on the waves of internet forums for the better part of a decade.
We were ichiruki shippers.
You know how our story ends.
But I did not know the end of our story when I climbed on board as a young deck hand, barely thirteen and new to the world of ships and seas. I had lived in a coastal town all my life and saw momentous ships coming in and out of harbor, but through the Kenshin and Avatar eras of my days could not find a campaign with a purpose to stand behind. But something attracted me to the beautiful, shining ship that would become my home for almost ten years. Whether it was my initial attraction to the ship’s core duo, the love for the campaign I had from the get go, or the heart-fluttering excitement of starting a journey that would make me emotionally engage with my entire being, I do not know. But I jumped on that boat as fast as I could and watched it slowly grow from a collection of dinghies to one of the fiercest fleets in the land.
I dipped my hands into a bit of everything, MMVs, fanfiction, beta-reading, YouTube collabs. I had a small but enthusiastic following. Working with people in the fandom, slowly climbing my way up in notoriety (mostly on Fanfiction.net), made me love the ship even more; I had people who understood me and adored the core duo in the same capacity I did and made some friends along the way. One was a video-editing chocobo jockey whom I still watch gallop all over the world (she spent time teaching English in Japan, just got back, hi Dana). Another, a shy fanfic writer from Georgia who now works for SpaceX (life is crazy). I still keep in touch with them today. During my time on the ship, I felt like I was a part of an artistic online community that was ever-changing with the development of new internet resources, programs, and many amazing ideas. My early teenage days of sailing through the calm waters with an amazing crew are adrenaline filled times I will never forget.
But not every sea was smooth.
One of the hardest hits our ship took was not even related to the campaign; it was the loss of one of our most powerful warriors. When I was fourteen, I was introduced to blossomfall, a YouTube creator who made hilarious, thrilling, and detailed ichiruki videos where they lip synced to movie trailers. Everyone loved her videos and I was lucky enough to have her respond to one of my comments. We began a small but fun friendship that lasted a year, until I received a message from her sister that she had passed away from cancer at age 18. I was honored to be a part of the group of creators to receive a personal message from her family. blossomfall had loved the fandom and the friends she had made on her side of the ship, which no one knew was her hospital bed in Germany until it was too late. I remember crying and being confused about my sadness. Why was a mourning the loss of a girl I had never met? Why did I feel this way? (Even writing this ten years after her death feels strange and uncomfortable)
This moment just reflects how my time on the ship changed me. It helped me to grow creatively, obsess passionately, connect with others freely and openly, and feel without restraint.
And then, years later, the tides changed for the worse. Our fleet was going through a rough patch; years of uninspiring content and plot holes kept us below deck and in hiding. But we were still as passionate as ever before, still creatively producing and showing our love for the ship all the way until the end. The end of ends. The final chapter of Tite Kubo’s Bleach.
Our ship had sunk.
They say a captain must go down with the ship and, boy, did I go down. Way down. To the bottom of the deepest deep never to be seen or heard from again. I had put so much time, thought, energy, and work into my beautiful, sailing vessel only to see it taken down by what seemed to be a frivolous whim— as if a cannonball had broken through the sky unexpectedly and took down our main mast. It took me a long time to recuperate from that fierce defeat. The few crew members I was keeping in touch with completely dispersed. After years and years of work and investment, everything was suddenly over.
I did not climb aboard another ship for a very long time.
It was strange being back on land after my grand, ten-year adventure. I felt oddly hollow (pun intended). I hopped on boats from time-to-time, but never could commit enough to take the helm and sail again. Maybe it was because I was exhausted from the last perilous adventure, maybe I was just older and consuming media in a different way, maybe I was enjoying shows that didn’t inspire me to climb aboard a ship as passionately as Bleach did. No matter the reason, I stayed on land. I couldn’t talk about Bleach for a long time.
Slowly I regained my composure and was able to enjoy my anime and manga with a level head, without falling in love with characters and relationships. I watched a show, enjoyed it, and moved on.
Recently, I was able to hop aboard a ship once again but I do not sail it as fiercely as I did ichiruki. I will probably never sail a ship as passionately as that one again; I was a different person at the start of that adventure, a different breed of anime fan. Or maybe it is because the scars Kubo gave me still have not vanished. Nevertheless, I boarded this new vessel with no expectations, only to enjoy the journey. I will not invest time and energy into this campaign; I am only a passenger enjoying the drama of life on sea and the beautiful scenery.
I do not regret my time as part of the great ichiruki fleet of the 2010’s. I do not wish to take back the time and energy I put into keeping that ship afloat. It is one of the burdens of being a fan and being a fan, no matter the hardship, is always fun. To this day, I still save ichiruki pictures when I see them on my feed, still smile as I think about how good it was and how good it could’ve been. As for my new, less involved campaigns, I enjoy them with little seriousness or consequence. But still, I cannot stop myself from hoping for a different outcome, hoping that my ship does land on its rightful shore, hoping for the best for my new adventure, and hoping for a better ending to the story, no matter the state of my ship at the end.