Is ‘tsundere’ really a character type?

July 8, 2006 at 9:58 am (Analysis, Anime)

Granted, I am no expert on tsunderekko, but “tsundere” is an easy enough concept to understand. The girl is initially cold to the protagonist, but gradually warms up to him. Is that really a character “type” though? It only defines one character interaction in the story. The ways in which the girl can be “cold” vary heavily. The only character she has to “warm up” to is her male love-interest, and she does not necessarily have to be cold to everyone else.

The English Wikipedia Tsundere article is probably a straw-man for any argument I would make, but it provides some useful food for thought. I’m only familiar with a few of the characters they list there as examples, but some examination might prove illuminating.

Suzumiya Haruhi, Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi
Okay, I have to avoid spinning this into a MoSH post here. Haruhi is a pretty good example of what I think most people consider to be a tsunderekko though. She is, actually, cold toward pretty much everyone in the beginning. She very slowly develops an attachment to Kyon, and Kyon alone, mostly ignoring the rest of the show’s characters, except for Mikuru, whom she approaches with basically the same attitude for the entire show. Haruhi is kinda bipolar. She’s pretty genki most of the time, but realll quiet when she gets depressed.

Shana, Shakugan no Shana
Shana has a pretty standard tsundere-progression with regards to her love interest, however, unlike Haruhi, she doesn’t unilaterally behave coldly toward all other characters. She’s very close to her caretakers, for instance. Compared to Haruhi though, Shana is pretty withdrawn almost all of the time, excepting melon-pan encounters.

Kaname Chidori, Full Metal Panic
I don’t remember the first FMP well, so this is pretty much based on Fumoffu. Chidori is far less cold in her personality than Shana or Haruhi. She’s actually pretty friendly to most people, she just feels it is necessary to kick Sousuke in the head when she deems his behavior unacceptable. Yet it’s pretty clear that she’s attached to him throughout Fumoffu, and while she does have her “dere phase” with him at times, it seems like less of a gradual progression and more of a general dynamic. Does that make her more tsundere than Shana or Haruhi? Less tsundere? Just a different kind of tsundere?

Kagura, Azumanga Daioh
See, this is where I get confused. How can Kagura be tsundere? She doesn’t have any romantic relationships in the show. Is this based on some Kagura – Yomi doujinshi that I never read? I’m gonna pass this off as the wiki-writers getting overzealous with their examples and ignore it.

Well, looking at Chidori, Haruhi, and Shana, I think they are quite distinct in their characterizations. Yet, they are all considered tsunderekko? Tsuyokiss, a title that cites “All the girls are tsundere!” as one of its selling points, is another example of the diversity of characterization among tsundere girls in anime. Pulling some random lines out of a discussion that I think was about Tsuyokiss (I don’t really remember) in #animenano, here are some “sub-types” of tsundere used in Tsuyokiss:

(Disclaimer: All the context is cut out of this, so don’t assume this represents the speakers correctly)

<Waterfall> So there all the standard harem cliches but with extra tsundere?
<Waterfall> loli tsundere
<Waterfall> oppai tsundere
<Waterfall> katana tsundere
<Waterfall> megane tsundere
<tj_han> rich lady tsundere
<Waterfall> loli imouto tsundere
<tj_han> otona tsundere
<tj_han> stupid osananajimi tsundere
<Waterfall> ojousama tsundere
<tj_han> tsuyokiss's tsunderes seem just there to make up the genre

So, if you take the show’s claims seriously, you can basically apply this tsundere template onto pretty much any other character type. I think it’s sort of wrong to think of it as a character type in that case. It’s really more a relationship template than a character template. Okay, so if it’s a template for a relationship, how good is it? Honestly, the transition from “doesn’t like” to “does like” is a really generic framework. Still, there are certain mannerisms associated with a tsundere relationship characterization. Perhaps the most common is the reluctant gift, given with a blush and a denial of motive. I’m tending to think that ‘tsundere’ is getting absorbed as a marketing buzz-word for otaku media. Tsuyokiss certainly reinforces this.

But on the other hand, it’s easy to see tsundere everywhere if you watch a lot of love stories. It’s pretty easy pathos to take a character who is withdrawn for some reason (Haruhi, Shana) and let a love interest slowly bring the character out of her shell (well, more Shana than Haruhi, but Haruhi is all weird). An interesting thing about Haruhi and Chidori is that similar criteria for tsundere-classification could easily be applied to their love interests. Sousuke doesn’t really understand how to speak about emotions, or really any kind of “normal” human interaction, and he’s kinda screwed up from his background, so he some growth as a character to go through. Kyon, also, though he admits he’s attracted to Haruhi, gets frequently irritated with her and is very slow to reciprocate her advances (probably because he’s too stupid to recognize them). So I’m a lot more dismissive of this sort of sub-type of tsundereism, where the transition to dere phase means bringing a withdrawn or depressed character outward. Compared to, say, Chidori, who just likes to hit her “totally not my boyfriend” when she gets irritated with him.

Most likely, “tsundere” is going the way of most music genres: over-generalizations of the concept (counting more and more different things as tsundere) over time make it unuseful for describing anything.

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5 Comments

  1. Maestro4k said,

    To me there’s two types of girls who are tsundere, those that are naturally tsuntsun (or mean/haughty/hateful/etc.) to others but will show a deredere (or lovey dovey) side to the ones they care about (like Viita from Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A’s); and those that are tsuntsun to the person they like most of the time, basically using it as a cover since they don’t want to admit their feelings. The latter ones tend to occasionally do something deredere but it may be followed up by a major tsuntsun incident when they get embarassed.

    I think all Tsuykiss has done differently is to take all the standard character stereotypes (loli, imouto, ojousama, etc.) and make all of them tsundere. Generally there’s one girl who’s tsundere, not all of them.

    I think Kagura was somewhat tsundere in the manga towards Sakaki but it’s been so long since I read it that I don’t really remember it too well.

  2. tj han said,

    Kagura is tsundere towards that tall sporty cat-enemy girl.

    And I agree with Maestro4k’s 2 main types.

    Good example for the first type: Anna from Shaman King. She treats everyone like her slave, even her husband Yoh. But she’s nice to him sometimes, like giving him money to buy his favourite CD.

    2nd type would be Eri of School Rumble.

  3. sethjohnson said,

    Okay, I was confusing Kagura with another character. That makes a really vague sort of sense.

  4. Picture Perfect Paranoia»Blog Archive » Back in KoJiKan said,

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