Pairing: Junpei (J.P)/Izumi (Zoe)
Spoilers: Probably most of Digimon Frontier
Our heroine, the one and only major female character in Digimon Frontier, is Izumi Orimoto (or Zoe, if you go by the dub). Though she is Japanese by birth, she spent some of her formative years in Italy, picking up a bit of the language and culture along the way, as well as a tendancy to chatter in Italian when she's happy or excited. She also picked up a strong independent streak, and moving back the more conformist country of Japan was difficult for her. Her way of refusing to do anything she didn't want to do, regardless of whether it was fashionable, didn't earn her any friends at school. She was taunted for being a "snob" for her refusal to follow the latest trends.
Izumi's personality is outgoing and determined. She may be the weakest fighter on the team physically, but she is mentally strong - whenever she sets her mind to something, she does it! She's not afraid to stand up to the guys or even slap them around if she thinks they're getting out of line. On the other hand, she's also quite affectionate, and will deliver that affection to anything within range when she's feeling happy. Dealing out hugs is common for her. Above all, she is true to herself, and will never compromise what she believes in for the sake of fitting in.
Junpei Shibayama (aka J.P.) looks on the outside to be an unlikely choice for a hero, being rather chubby and awkward. He's always suffered from low self-esteem that has led him to have difficulty making friends with his peers. Believing himself unworthy of friends, he instead opts to buy their affection and admiration by performing magic tricks or handing out gifts, especially candy. (He has a taste for good food, and also a seemingly never-ending supply of chocolate that he hands out freely.) Obviously, this attempt was less than successful.
Personality-wise, Junpei is an easygoing guy who prefers peace to fighting, but when his friends are in danger, he's been known to turn into a juggernaut who won't stop until his enemy is defeated, no matter how much he gets hurt in the process, or even if it could cost him his life. Generally, though, he'll go with the flow and try not to rock the boat unless it's absolutely necessary. Junpei craves affection and is easily manipulated by flattery. Despite his unassuming looks, he actually has a chivalrous nature, and wants to be a "knight in shining armor" type of person who can protect other people, but it doesn't always work out the way he'd like. His strongest trait is his loyalty to the people he loves.
The first time Izumi and Junpei meet, it's on the Trailmon to the Digital World. It can hardly be said that it was love at first sight (though the dub version of events has J.P. offering her one of his ubiquitous candy bars). However, something about this charming blonde must have grabbed Junpei's attention, because by the time the group leaves behind the Flame Terminal and sets out for points unknown, Junpei is already being teased that he's only tagging along to spend time with Izumi. While he denies these accusations at the time, he does start tagging along after her and agreeing with whatever she says (even when she's saying it in Italian, and he has no idea what she's talking about). By episode eleven, his feelings have intensified to the point where he fantasizes about marrying her - and consequentially passes out in the middle of the street with a blissful smile on his face.
Izumi, however, is not so easily won over. In the beginning, she's more likely to use her hold over him to persuade him to do things, rather than to show him any real affection, such as in episode four, when she persuades him to do yardwork for the Floramon by telling him she likes big strong guys who are willing to help out. Her first sign of warming up to him comes in episode eight, The Odd One Out, when the two of them visit a Digimon schoolhouse together. They encounter a young misfit Digimon who reminds them of their own difficulties in fitting in, prompting Izumi to tell Junpei about her own problems at school. It's worth noting that he is the only one she is ever shown confiding this in; she's never shown discussing her past with the other boys. Later that same episode, the two of them work together to stop a flash flood from destroying the schoolhouse and everyone in it, and Izumi finally admits that maybe Junpei has more to him than she first thought.
Later in the series, Izumi's H-Spirit is stolen from her, and Junpei becomes determined to get it back. He is injured by the attack of a crazed Whamon, making it difficult for him to fight at all, but he insists on evolving and attacking anyway. Fighting while already under serious strain ends up earning him the first of his near-lethal poundings, but it also allowed him to get the B-Spirit of Thunder, destroy Grottomon, and win back Izumi's Spirit (as well as earn him an admiring look from Izumi). Near the end of the season, as Izumi is worrying about what will become of Takuya and Kouji (who had been fighting recently), she confided her worries in Junpei, and he advised her. By the end of the show, it is plain that the two of them have become good friends and confidants.
Unfortunately for us shippers, it's not clear that they ever become anything more than friends. Well, that's excusable - they were both still young at the time the show ended (she was eleven, he was twelve), and they both had more important things to do than worry about their love lives. But now the adventure is over, the two worlds are safe, and I, for one, feel that there's no reason why they couldn't eventually come to care about each other in a romantic way. Here is what I think makes it work.
The greatest thing about them is the way their personalities complement each other so neatly. The two of them have similar backgrounds. Both of them know what it's like to be lonely and misunderstood, and to not know how to fit in with their peers. That kind of mutual understanding would be useful in a relationship, when it came to relating to each other in a meaningful fashion. However, they both had very different ways of coping with their problems. Junpei is an adapter by nature; Izumi stands her ground no matter what. At the beginning of the season, they both carried these traits to undesirable degrees, and it was largely through each other that they learned that there are times when you have to stand your ground and times to compromise for the sake of unity.
Izumi is a proud person. She also demands a lot of respect - for example, the day she meets Takuya, she scolds him for addressing her familiarly, and insists he call her by a more respectful term. She is not the kind of girl who would be willing to be ruled by her partner. For the relationship to be healthy, she would have to be paired with someone who was willing to follow her lead. Certainly Junpei fits that description! He is definitely non-controlling, and seldom shows any signs of jealousy. In fact, he seems to express a preference for letting her be in charge of the relationship. In his wedding fantasy in episode eleven, he pictures the scene with her proposing to him, rather than the more traditional method. The closest he comes to laying a claim on her is to declare himself the president of her fanclub. Rather than act as if she is his property, he acts as if he sees himself as hers. Even when she hints that she might be interested in dating someone else, his only reaction is to sigh and slump in disappointment. His utter devotion and willingness to agree with whatever she says can only be considered an asset - at least, as long as it doesn't turn the relationship into something unequal. Fortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case. Izumi has proven that she is willing to listen to him and even consult him about her problems, and will follow his lead when he has a good idea. For example, the seventh Digimon movie has her following him trustingly into the middle of a dangerous situation: a battle between two warring Digimon tribes. Junpei is adaptable enough not to cramp her style, but not so spineless that she'd get fed up with him. It's also likely that he'd be more tolerant of her tendancy to hug, slap, and push people around than some of her more sensitive teammates. For example, Kouji has expressed a dislike for being touched without his permission; Junpei's reaction to seeing her handing out hugs indescriminately was to say he wanted one, too!
Likewise, I think that Izumi would be good for Junpei. A peaceable nature can be a flaw as well as a strength. Junpei isn't leader material, and usually takes a backseat to the more authoritative members of the team - not just Izumi, but Takuya and Kouji as well. (Which is possibly a good thing, since the plot takes a turn towards having everyone but Takuya and Kouji act as "batteries" towards the end of the series. Or maybe it isn't.) Left to his own devices, it would be far too easy to just coast through life, going with the flow. It would be good for him to be with someone with a strong personality to give him some direction. Izumi has that kind of personality, but she's affectionate and caring enough not to rule over him or run him down.
Besides, they both love good food, and you can't go wrong with common interests, right?
She was a beautiful, spunky girl on the verge of young adulthood. He was a sweet, sensitive, devoted guy with an undisputable crush on her. It has the makings of a pretty good fan-pairing. What's missing? Why, fans, of course! For whatever reason, this pairing has turned out to be surprisingly unpopular. Most of the Digimon Frontier romances tend to be geared towards Kouji/Izumi fiction, and finding anything Junpei/Izumi related is tough going.
To me, that's sad. I was looking forward to seeing the two of them together from the day the fourth episode aired in Japan, and I first caught wind that there would be a canon crush. I like these two together. For the first and only time in Digimon history, a crush was allowed to play out and develop gradually over several episodes, instead of being stated from the beginning or tossed in casusally in the background. It's fun watching the chemistry and tension the two have together - him making his clumsy advances, her gently deflecting him without ever quite rejecting him. Maybe it's because the two of them seem to be the only two characters in Frontier who can't be dropped into neat categories (the Goggle Boy, the Little Kid, the Cool Loner, the Boy With A Tragic Past), but come off as genuine, unstereotyped people. It could just be the fun of rooting for the underdog. In many ways, the two of them come off as the model of what a first love is like. It's not all sweetness and shoujo-bubbles, and it's not all angst and weeping in corners. Junpei's not a bishounen who needs saving from his angsty life, and Izumi's not a perfect angel needing to be rescued, nor is her only purpose in life to warm the heart of some cold loner. He's just a guy like any other guy - good natured, not stunningly good-looking or talented, a little awkward, and totally unsure of what to do with girls. She's just a girl like any other girl - a little insecure with being an almost-teenager, but strong enough to handle whatever life throws at her. They're genuine and down-to-earth, and that makes them loveable. Writing them together is, for me, an assertion that ordinary, unglamorous people can find love and be happy.
However, as I said, most of the fandom seems to be geared toward other pairings, Kouji/Izumi being the most popular, and there's a wicked amount of Junpei-bashing going on - the common fan picture of him has him as a jealous lout who does nothing but eat and chase after Izumi. (Which is also kind of sad, because she worries about food as much as he does, or possibly more!) I can, however, point you to some good reading. I have a small C2 community, Junzumi: A Chocolate Romance where I have rounded up the best Junzumi fanfiction I could find. It's small, but I'll add to it whenever I find anything new. My friend Cynthia also manages a Junzumi LJ community, junpeiizumi. Not much happens there, but if anything Junzumi-related comes up, it'll probably get mentioned there. I'm sure she'd love some new members to liven things up.
Just because something is unpopular doesn't mean it's not good. Just because a girl isn't a popularity queen doesn't mean someone doesn't think she's the center of the universe, and just because a guy isn't a Prince Charming doesn't mean he's not worthy of love. Just because a pairing doesn't have a thousand squealing fangirls declaring it to be their OTP, that doesn't mean it can't be as sweet as candy. That's why I love this pairing.