About Me

Newfoundland, Canada
I've been a big anime fan for about 10 years or so now. My five all-time favorite animes at this point are, in no particular order... Puella Magi Madoka Magica, El Hazard: The Magnificent World, Love Live!: School Idol Project, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. However, there are hundreds of anime shows that I like. The main purpose of this blog is to provide meta-commentary on anime, and the anime industry - to try to cast a critical, though appreciating, eye upon this entertainment genre that I believe has tremendous potential, but can also be easily wasted. I have always been a fan of animation in general - in the 80s, I grew up on western cartoons like He-Man, She-Ra, Transformers, and G.I. Joe. Through out the 90s, I was a hardcore comic book fan, for the most part. I'm also a big fan of Star Trek. Right now in my life, though, anime is my principal entertainment passion.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Degradation of the Term 'Tsundere'.

Rin Tosaka, of Fate/Stay Night, is probably the best recent example of the classical or traditional tsundere. What do I mean by 'classical or traditional'? Well, let me try to explain in as concise a matter as possible, as understanding the evolution of the term 'tsundere' is key to the main thrust behind this blog entry.

Traditionally, a tsundere was a female character that started out as very cold and icy, and/or tempestuous and abusive, towards a particular male character, or to all other characters in general. However, the tsundere character would, gradually and steadily, move from "tsun-tsun" to "dere-dere" over the course of the manga/anime that she was in, and basically her cold exterior would melt, or her fiery nature would be salved, and she would become a largely caring, kind, responsive, and sweet character... usually to the great benefit of the main male protagonist.

In the case of Rin, the beneficiary may be Shiro Emiya, although Rin certainly isn't with out competition there.

So, in a classical sense, a tsundere wasn't merely a personality type; it was frequently also a compelling narrative type. It was the story of how a genuinely good guy would gradually pierce through the harsh facade of a girl that he liked through showing affection and concern towards her, and how the girl would become a sweeter and more well-rounded person because of it, particularly in relation to the guy in question. Frequently, the tsundere tried to hide her feelings for the guy in question, adding drama and suspense to the gradual withering away of the veil that she used to cover her feelings with.

I have to admit that the old-fashioned romantic in me finds a lot to like about this sort of story. And, no doubt, many fans - old-fashioned romantics and otherwise - liked the idea of imagining themselves as the main male protagonist overcoming the icy walls of the (typically) beautiful and/or sexy tsundere in order to capture her love, and/or have her admit to it.

However, over time, and for reasons that I'll let any responders to this blog try to explain to me (because I, myself, can't really fathom why), the term tsundere has been drastically changed, and seems to continue to become ever more broad and catch-all.

The first change in the understanding of the term tsundere saw the term alter in this fashion - it was no longer necessary for the tsundere character to actually evolve as a character. She merely needed to have a harsh side, and a sweet side, and to somewhat regularly flip back and forth between the two. And with this one bold stroke, the narrative allure of the tsundere character type was completely lost - tsundere is reduced to simply a personality type, no different than a Yamato Nadeshiko. With this first change, the tsundere would need to be a character that displayed both sides (sweet and harsh) of her personality in fairly equal degrees. Manga Naru Narusegawa (but not her even more violent anime self, I would argue) is a good example of what I will call Tsundere Version 2.0 .

At some level, the first change in tsundere at least preserved a personality type definition of some real descriptive value. Tsundere Version 2.0 was a character with a consistent and intriguing internal dichotomy to herself. Time could be spent speculating as to why the tsundere switched back and forth so much, and what could be contributing to her frequent and rapid mood swings.

Then, however, more changes began to seep into the understanding of the tsundere. Increasingly, the following became true of tsunderes:

Any anime female character that...

1) Isn't a Yamato Nadeshiko

2) Has more overt personality than Yuki Nagato

3) Isn't entirely sweet, or entirely firm/rough/tough

In other words, the character could be harsh 90% of the time and sweet a mere 10% of the time, or sweet 90% of the time and harsh a mere 10% of the time... and still get labeled a tsundere.

Well... if this is the case, I don't see what makes the tsundere special at all anymore. Most girls, or for that matter, most people, have their harsh moments and their kind moments; it's called displaying a full range of emotions. :P

And, to take it to even another level, I recently heard it argued that a female character could be called a tsundere for no other reason than simply holding hidden feelings for a guy.

Well... gee... that's rare, isn't it? I mean, most girls just come right out and say, with out any hesitation whatsoever, how they feel about a guy that they're interested in, don't they? I don't know about you, but I think that those girls that have a hard time admitting their feelings for a guy are a supremely rare and notable bunch, aren't they? ;)

Please forgive me my sarcasm... but I have to admit... I really am finding the most recent usage of the term tsundere to be largely absurd and pointless. It's almost as if people are in love with the term itself, and just like seeing it in print for some reason... and perhaps that is some of it.

However, I think that there is a different reason for why tsundere has become such an incredibly overused term. The term has degraded to such a degree that I don't think it reflects its classical meaning much at all any more. Rather, I think that tsundere, for western anime fans, anyway, has come to mean something entirely different from Tsundere Version 1.0 or even Tsundere Version 2.0 .

What do I think tsundere now means? Well, the answer is profoundly politically incorrect. And it may get me in hot water with what readership I have. ^_^; However, I've always placed a high premium on truth, regardless of how unpleasant it may be... even though, I will admit, a truth like this one is one I'm usually too careful and cautious and reserved to speak out on. But, if I can't admit a truth like this one on my own blog, then just where can I? Heh.

So, with that long build-up out of the way, what does 'tsundere' now mean, to western anime fans at least? Here is what it means:

A typical western girl personality.

If you look at the meager prerequisites to being a tsundere these days, the only characters that always get filtered out are, again, the entirely sweet, the entirely harsh, the Yamato Nadeshiko character type, and very quiet girls like Yuki Nagato. So, basically, I'd say that 80% or more of modern western girls would be a tsundere if we took the term as its currently commonly used, and applied it to real life people.

As for the real life Japanese? Well, that's a matter of debate, and one that I don't feel that I'm informed enough to comment much on. However, I do suspect that many western anime fans think "Yamato Nadeshiko", and/or very sweet and quiet, when they think of the typical real life Japanese school girl. So... has "tsundere" become a term that means nothing more than a culturally based preference in the sorts of women that western guys tend to like to have as girlfriends?

If so, I think that it does a disservice to the rich history of the term "tsundere" to use it in such a fashion. Rather, western anime fans that love Tsundere Version 3.0 should simply be honest:

"I like anime female characters that are like the girls that actually live around me".

Sure, it's politically incorrect, but at least its honest.

And it may restore the term "tsundere" back to something rare enough to be of some value as a personality type label. As it is currently used, "tsunderes" are so common that they're a dime a dozen... maybe even a nickle a dozen. It does a disservice to classical tsunderes like Rin Tosaka, and even to the prototypical Tsundere 2.0 like Shana of Shakugan no Shana fame.

Truthfully, I'm not really a fan of the personality type labels to begin with. But if we're going to use them (and most anime fans seem hellbent on just that), then they should at least have a definition narrow enough to be of some genuine descriptive worth. So, my position, is that we should try to start using tsundere in its Version 1.0, or Version 2.0, sense.

Idealistically, though, it could be argued that we should shed labeling altogether. I tend to like characters that can stand on their own two feet and don't need to have a label attached to them in order to impress, inspire, and captivate. And, as a hint to Dr. Casey of what I'll be doing a blog entry on soon, here's a very good example of just the sort of character that I'm talking about...

Yes, Miss Takamachi, you're a hero. You're also a character that defies labels.

But... if my fellow anime fans need to label you, then I have an unique one to suggest...

Superdere. ;) Because you're sweet, and more than any other anime character, you remind me of this guy...


  1. Hmmm, this post made me think. I think you are correct about the changes of tsundere, until the 3.0 version.

    What you missed, in my opinion, is that tsundere is not just a personality trope, but a relatinship trope as well. Not that every girl who has a hidden love is a tsundere (yeah, that is stupid), but a girl who act like your 2.0 toward a single person (usually her love interest, but not aways).

    Rin, for exemple, acts cool(tsuntsun) when talking with her school friend, classmates and even a closer person like Archer. However, she flip regularly to her sweet(deredere) side when talking with Shirou and Sakura. Naru, by the other side, is gentle and cheerful to everyone but Keitarô, to who she flip a lot between tsuntsun and deredere.

    That is, a tsundere is someone who don't know/don't want show properly affection toward someoone. For that definition, Asuna, from Negima!, is not really a tsundere (exept, maybe, for the first few volumes), she acts tsundereish for two people(Negi and Ayaka), but not deny she likes then. Even tvtropes, seen to agree that she don't really fit the trop (despite being listed).

    In the end, I agree that the term has 3 definitions. the first, is a narrative trope. The second, a personality trop. And the last a relationship trope.

    PS: The second image of the "Moe is NEET" still not appearig for me. Who tis guy is suppose to be?

  2. The 'degeneration' of the term is even commented in anime itself. Minoru Shiraishi makes an analysis of it in Lucky Star basically identical to your own point. And then Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei (a great series you should watch) does it twice, when in separate episodes both an extremely apologetic wallflower and a nasty evil girl with no dere side at all are labeled Tsunderes for all the whole reasons, despite the protagonist's protests.

  3. Heatth and OverMaster - Thanks for the replies!

    Heath - The guy in the second image is the alcoholic character Barney from The Simpsons. Barney is basically Homer's drinking buddy. Your "three types of tsunderes - a narrative trope, a personality trope, and a relationship trope" point is a very interesting one. It's a neat way of looking at it.

    OverMaster - I never watched all of Lucky Star; it sounds like I probably should. :) And I'll definitely look into Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. Nice to see one of my CBR friends here commenting on the blog!