GS: The Deconstruction of Moe Subculture 03 – Tsundere

Cold and beautiful

Cold and beautiful

She’s cool and refined, cold and efficient; a princess of ice and granite, and a madonna of steel. She’s respected by everybody, and feared by most – she’s untouchable, alien, and impossibly desirable

She also blushes bright crimson and gets angrily flustered whenever you call her cute. She pretends that having you help out with her homework’s demeaning and intrusive, and you pretend not to notice how she keeps on glancing your way, hoping you’d compliment her.

And on the rare moments you two are alone, you can feel her warmth as she shyly leans in on you.

She’s tsundere – and for all the verbal (sometimes physical) abuse you have to put up with, you’re sure you wouldn’t have her any other way.

(articles one and two)

“Tsundere” is a portmanteau of two behavioral characteristics: the cranky or cold “tsuntsun” and the lovestruck “deredere.” Originally, as infamously described in Lucky Star’s tsundere rant, it was further meant to define a change in personality from one to another – though Sebastian dates the term to 2002, it’s one of the oldest archetypes in the book, and especially popular amongst older Rumiko Takahashi characters. A character, almost always female, warms up to the protagonist… but takes the long way around to do so, usually meting violence both verbal and otherwise, and initially rejecting even the possibility of friendliness with the opposing figure, much less romantic feelings. They reconcile eventually – but, usually, only when the alternative is to lose somebody they’ve finally allowed themselves to cherish.

It’s a bit of a hard battle, wooing such a girl. Often, even after winning her, the battle isn’t over.

Akane and Ranma

Akane and Ranma

So why is the tsundere characteristic so damn popular? Why, specifically, does Rie Kugimiya, the Tsundere Queen of voice actresses, keep on getting the same gig over and over again, each time drawing in an almost embarrassingly large audience? We discussed in the first article of this series that the moe archetype usually expresses a certain level of female subservience to male ego – does this necessarily hold true to the often domineering, almost always competent, tsundere as well?

Certainly, the case to argue so is fairly easy to make, especially using the older examples of this behavioral trope. There is an inherent male arrogance in the psychological change of a character from tsuntsun to deredere – that, apparently, what they really needed to sate their dissatisfaction in the world and complete their life is a man. Something that not only rightfully irks the feminists, but the GLBT community as well (though, the heteronormative paradigm that afflicts anime romances, and the many deviations from that paradigm that Western entertainment culture seems to utterly lack in comparison, is worthy of a separate study altogether).

The other interpretation of the relationship between a tsundere and romantic lead is that the tsundere is necessarily lacking in self-confidence, or suffering some form of fragile insecurity or inferiority complex in general. Again, playing on the fact that moe characters elicit a protective response from male viewers. And, again, rightfully pissing off anybody that believes that the female half of the race should be treated as equals, not a brave but ultimately weak counterpart to the bearers of the XY chromosome.

Heck, even the physical traits commonly assigned to tsundere are meant to symbolize the unguarded, vulnerable aspects of the girl, from the childlike twintails (immaturely switching between the two characteristics) to zettai ryouiki – that gap of skin between thigh-high socks and short skirts, a symbol of budding, innocent sexuality and the obsession of many perverts.

Yeah, I know where your eyes are at. Pervert.

Yeah, I know where your eyes are at. Pervert.

So far, tsundere seems like a pretty crappy interpretation of strong-willed girls, and does nothing to alleviate the image of moe as male fantasy.

Oh, but there’s something right there. They are, ultimately, strong-willed girls. And one of the most important, and somewhat subtle, shifts in the interpretation of tsundere reflects that.

The important thing about the modern interpretation of tsundere is that they are no longer bound by a temporal drift from one personality to another. These days, the interpretation of a tsundere character has the “tsun” and the “dere” coexist in the same frame, regardless of how long the plot has run. Often, this isn’t necessarily done very smoothly – the character might have an almost schizophrenic switch from sweet and loving to murderous psychosis, and the purely satirical Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei’s Kaere/Kaede character reflects this (along with satirizing the Japanese view of foreigners).

That’s an example of the modern tsundere done badly (though, in SZS’s case, deliberately). But has it been done well? Er, yes. Yes it has. Actually, it’s been done well more often than it’s been done badly, and it’s quite heartening to see that this is so. Though Zero no Tsuikana’s Louise severely muddles the tsundere personality, her counterparts in Shana (from Shakugan no Shana) and Taiga Aisaka (from Toradora), actually does the archetype with a fair amount of grace.

Importantly, the latter two characters are somewhat believable. It’s not just a matter of alternating between blushing and abusing their love interests (in Taiga’s case, Ryuuji certainly doesn’t start out as a love interest), but a matter of making their behaviors a logical outgrowth of what we know of their characters.

Neither Taiga nor Shana are weak characters at any point of the series. Though they have moments of emotional frailty, it is portrayed more as part of being a believable and sympathetic human figure than as some fundamental weakness to their character. In the former’s case even more so – it isn’t that she’s struggling with unfamiliar feelings, but that a part of human existence is to feel alone and alienated sometimes, and that while having somebody to help you out is fine, it is only natural to not want to be subservient or in debt to another.

Double-team!

Double-team!

The modern interpretation of tsundere also opts to illustrate humanity in their characters without sacrificing their initial characteristics either. A lovestruck swordfighter’s still a swordfighter – still ruthless, and more powerful than usual, even, as her love interest and partner is effectively a self-charging battery, adding an additional quirk to that particular relationship. Taiga’s always been a school beauty, and Ryuuji hasn’t so much reduced her violence, as given it a safer release valve – and, apparently, her grades haven’t dropped at the slightest, despite the various emotional turmoils throughout Toradora. Kyou Fujibayashi from Clannad, even after the heartbreak she shares with her twin sister, shows absolutely no sign of relenting from her usual outspoken behavior – and that dictionary of hers remains the most lethal ranged weapon in the show.

(The melee award, however, remains in Tomoyo’s hands- er, legs. Kyou’s got a nice single-KO kick, but it’s nothing compared to the 500-combo aerial juggle masterpiece.)

Tsundere as moe, nowadays, defines a character that is sympathetically human – often unsure of her (and on the rare occasion, his) role in the world, but unwilling to back down to anything in the process of discovering their niche. With Toradora as the most recent example, the transformation on the audience’s side appears to be a switch from wanting to protect the female lead to aiding her. She’s clearly strong enough to stand on her own – though, as the latest episode shows, the loneliness of doing so is, to put it mildly, not what she considers optimal – but she’ll grudgingly accept any aid in her favor, and will attempt to return the favor in due course

The relationship between Ryuuji and Taiga isn’t so simple as having one dominate the other, despite Taiga’s insistence of referring to Ryuuji as her dog – there is a clear attempt at mutual benefit there, and a growing mutual respect. The relative positions in their relationship isn’t one over the other – even if Taiga would prefer it that way – but side by side, growing in a dynamic lockstep, where the gains of one are the gains of the other.

Notably, the more overtly moe Minori has been cast in a fairly harsh light as of late, her insecurities and weaknesses portrayed less as endearing traits, and more as painful obstacles. “Moe,” it appears, is undergoing a fundamental shift…

Weak? Her?

Weak? Her?

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~ by Gonzo Mehum on February 18, 2009.

6 Responses to “GS: The Deconstruction of Moe Subculture 03 – Tsundere”

  1. Geez, I guess I’ll comment on your article. I-It’s not because I want to!

  2. …OH MY GOD I’M DATING A TSUNDARE.

    Or at least, that’s how I’ve been looking at it (namelessly). The revelation that this is a male fantasy is certainly enlightening, there.

    Also, that picture? Your eyes are naturally drawn to the legs and the red armband for reasons having nothing to do with sex and EVERYTHING to do with composition and coloring. Perv.

  3. […] (articles one, two and three) […]

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  6. […] I get my friend to help set up the server – but, for now, the rest of the series: parts one, two, three, four, five and […]

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