Move over, SuperCorp. There’s a new sapphic superhero ship capturing fan hearts on Philippine television. Say hello to Darlentina, the friends-slash-enemies ship between Narda Custodio a.k.a. superheroine Darna and Regina Vanguardia a.k.a. venomous arch nemesis Valentina on “Mars Ravelo’s Darna.”
Whether Narda and Regina were originally written by showrunners as possibly queer or they just decided to explore that thread in their dynamic after seeing the natural chemistry between actors Jane De Leon and Janella Salvador remains a mystery. But if the reactions from the fandom are any indication, there’s a ton of kilig-inducing material on the show. Valentina’s snakes even asked Regina in a recent episode, “Mahal mo si Narda?”
To get a look into its largely sapphic fandom and why the ship matters, we had a chat with Darlentina and JaneNella fans: Darlentina group chat (more details on this later) admin Ely, Eli, as well as JaneNella Official members DJ, Luxe, Auric, Esme, K, Kai, Jeyaa, Amber, Nine, and Rawr.
Possibly the most compelling queerbait in recent years
The Darlentina fandom isn’t new to rooting for two fictional women to get together. There are those who’ve supported local sapphic ships before such as RaStro from the first mainstream lesbian series “The Rich Man’s Daughter” (TRMD), “BetCin” from the GL of the same title, PearLex from “Pearl Next Door,” and FrankiAna from “Pinoy Big Brother.” Some fans came from fandoms from foreign ships like “Supergirl’s” SuperCorp, “Glee’s” FaBerry, and K-pop pairings.
But others naturally gravitated towards Darlentina as fans of De Leon, Salvador, and even the JoshNella loveteam. “TBH, I tried to be a NaRian (Narda x Brian) shipper before. But I fell in love with Narda and Regina’s friendship—the way they talk, the way they look at each other, the way they comfort each other. Wala eh. Ito yung chemistry na hinahanap ko,” says Ely.
One of the things that sets Darlentina apart from others is the layers of the relationship that one fan explained in this diagram. When we say Darlentina, who are the fans really talking about? What makes it so compelling?
While there are fans who are suckers for the enemies-to-lovers tension, Eli tells me that most of the fandom are mainly shipping NarGina. “I personally started rooting for them during their first meeting at the cliff in episode two. We all think that they make a compelling pair, and it makes sense because they respect, trust, and value each other,” she says.
“They had an impact on each other’s lives since the very beginning. There is emotional power there that is hard to resist. Intertwined origins and having a villain as a driving force in a hero’s journey make for a great story,” adds Amber.
Luxe favors NarGina because of their relatable motivations. “I see parts of myself in both Narda and Regina—being an eldest sibling who had to give up their studies so the younger sibling can, my firm political stance, and the ever-present need for my mother’s approval,” they admit.
Attributing much of NarGina’s popularity to JaneNella, fans also couldn’t help but gush about the actresses’ cute moments like the retellings of the kwek-kwek story which one fan compiled in this thread.
All these in consideration, it’s understandable how most fans find the love triangle with Joshua Garcia’s Brian unnecessary. The showrunners may have been gunning for sisterhood at the start, but there’s definitely queerbait now.
“I think that the writers know what they’re doing. It’s 2022. There might still be some hesitance in making someone as iconic as Darna a queer character. But their target demographic has already witnessed countless queer superheroes. It’s time for Filipino mainstream media to catch up,” says Luxe. “If they don’t end up as endgame, I would prefer if neither Narda nor Regina end up with a male significant other. Leave it open-ended. It’s been long overdue for female main characters to be left independent in teleseryes.”
K thinks that a vague ending similar to the one in “The Legend of Korra” is more possible than an explicit confirmation. Amber would also settle for subtext à la “Fried Green Tomatoes” or a canonically bi Regina.
Nine points out that the show airing on the A2Z channel which also airs religious shows makes the endgame less likely. Could there have been a bigger chance for it if it aired solely on YouTube and iWantTFC? Maybe.
Breathing new life into Darlentina
A fandom as big and diverse as Darlentina is bound to be loud and full of personal and fan base projects dedicated to the show. Among them are the daily hashtag trends, a fanfiction writing contest, a billboard project, and upcoming cupsleeve events.
They’re not just organizing these to promote the show’s message and to manifest future projects for JaneNella. Esme says they’re advocating for representation for lesbians and sapphics on the mainstream media. A call to protest, if you will. “It’s to let the masses know that we can be as vocal as they are. That the sapphics are here and are staying,” Luxe adds.
Pag mahal mo, ipa-billboard mo! Mga Vadeeeng! The Billboard project is now booked and scheduled in not just one but TWO sites!
Maraming salamat sa inyong suporta! Let's go, Vadengs!
Of course, these also celebrate creatives within the fandom. “We have young people who have discovered a support group through us and the adults who are providing that support because we wish we had this community when we were at their age,” says Eli. “This fandom is rich with talented artists, writers, editors, etc. We also regularly conduct Twitter Spaces to discuss the episodes, to provide constructive criticism, to gush about the cast’s performance, and to relate to the characters’ issues.”
Speaking of creatives, I just had to ask about the fanfics. Is the AU (alternate universe) characterizations different from how NarGina are on the show?
On this they all agree that Narda has the “jeje typings” and Regina has the “pogi typings.” Village Pipol wrote an explainer on typings for non-socmed AU readers. “I absolutely love how Narda is characterized as a jejemon and that Regina may come off as someone that is ‘masungit’ but she just has a resting mean face who’s actually a softie,” says Luxe.
Eli, who’s a fic writer on Archive of Our Own herself, says, “We’ve mostly established that Narda and Regina care for each other. Most times, it’s Regina who is the first to figure out her feelings for Narda, because it is also what we have translated from canon.”
All this work and love from the fandom doesn’t go unnoticed. You may have heard of the Darlentina group chat that JaneNella and co-star Mac Manicad are part of.
“I’m the one who created that GC,” says Ely. “We were all surprised when someone added Janella and, minutes after, she sent the meme saying “‘Tignan mo, Emily. Ang daming bakla.’ Everyone got shookt!”
“At one point Jane’s photo was sent using Janella’s Twitter account. We aren’t sure if it was Jane using Janella’s phone or Janella sending Jane’s photo, but we’re kilig nonetheless,” Eli says.
Amber likens Salvador’s stan culture awareness to Lil Nas X’s. “[She] interacts with us, using stan culture memes to joke around with us. It also shows that she reads [fan posts] and gets our inside jokes.”
With great fandom power comes great responsibility
Darlentina might have started out as a niche ship but it now has people from different parts of the world wanting it to become canon. Local GLs do have an audience. Darlentina catering to this could have a big effect.
“Imagine a new generation of queer Filipino kids seeing representation in something as iconic as Mars Ravelos’ Darna, where their gender identities and sexualities are not played as a joke, running gag, or something that just happens in the background but is centralized and not seen as a weakness,” Luxe says. “As someone who grew up having to seek validation in international fandoms about my gender identity, I think it’s a beautiful thing to be able to be represented by a local show and fandom.”
“They have the best prime time slot and families watch it. It would be great if they will be the way to open this topic to Filipino families who usually don’t talk about it,” adds K. Amber observes that even TRMD, which had the biggest WLW fandom prior to “Darna’s” release, can’t compete with Darlentina’s audience engagement.
Fans share frustrations over the direction JRB Creative Production is taking and hope that the showrunners would be more open to their constructive criticisms because it goes beyond trying to push a ship. They want Darlentina to be more independent and strong. They want more interesting extras teaming up with the pair. And they want less cops on the show.
Of course, they also share so much love and pride for JaneNella. And I wish I could include all their messages to the tandem in full. “I love you so much. Hindi pa kita nakikita sa personal pero ganun pala yun. Mahal na kita kaagad,” Auric quotes Maja Salvador. “Walang mang-iiwan sa inyo. Wala na kayong kawala sa aming mga vadengs,” promises Esme.