Time is the cruelest kindness.
Welcome to my first rant, and the rebirth of Rooftop Confessions. Luckily, that particular mistake of youth was erased forever, but the lessons learned will never be forgotten.
Today, I’d like to discuss one of the foundations of modern anime, the character archetype known as the “tsundere” (ツンデレ). Its etymology stems from the words tsuntsun, meaning prickly or abrasive towards others, and deredere, meaning mushy or loving. As I’m sure you know, when put together they describe a character (often female) who is at times harsh to the one they love, and at others bashful, submissive and loving. The tsundere is a staple of the harem genre, and there are often many types within a single series. When localized, it often becomes “bipolar”, “sweet and sour”, or “hot and cold”, among other such nonsense, but those fail to truly capture the meaning of the word.
So why the quote? If you’ve been watching anime for long enough then I’m sure you understand my anguish at the changing meaning of words over time. In the original lexicon, a tsundere was defined as a girl who really does dislike the protagonist. She may abuse him physically or verbally, and she may have good reasons or not, but in the end, she drives most others away with her spiky exterior. But love and hate are two sides of the same coin. As the foolish protagonist continues trying to get close to her, our little tsundere slowly develops feelings for him and starts to open up. It is at this point that she may utter that legendary line, “I-It’s not like I made this for you or anything, so don’t misunderstand!” and make our hearts overflow with moe. Much like the chestnut, it is a reward that comes only after much toil, and that makes it all the sweeter. Although there may be slight relapses out of embarrassment, a permanent, positive change in the tsundere has occurred. Ideal tsundere of this type include Narusegawa Naru (Love Hina) and Louise Françoise (Zero no Tsukaima, first season).
But as time is wont to do, it started to erode those things we had the most trust in. The ever-so-vital time aspect of the tsundere became shorter and shorter, until the day came when the coin deformed enough for both sides to be seen simultaneously. Now we have characters who flip back and forth at the drop of a hat. Instead of a nicely toasted marshmallow, all we’re getting is sugar on fire. It has become such a joke that most parody anime have at least one meta-gag about it. For a small selection of choice examples, see Shinonome Houki (Infinite Stratos) and Fuyuumi Ai (OreShura).
Is the tsundere dead? Of course not. As I said at the very beginning, though the passage of time may be cruel, within it is a warmly glowing kindness. Neo-tsundere are not inherently bad, and they have even paved the way for some extremely unique characters like Senjougahara Hitagi (Bakemonogatari) and Inaba Himeko (Kokoro Connect). Times will continue to change; who knows what the next winds will blow in.
I would’ve like to end at such a good point, but any good tsundere explanation can’t go without the mention of the Queen of Tsundere, Kugimiya Rie. Known for her very similar roles such as Shana, Louise, Nagi, and Taiga (among others), her voice truly is the epitome of tsundere. And yet, despite their similarities, within each character is a unique element, and her ability is such that those with a trained ear can pick out who she is voicing without reference. But talk of seiyuu should be left for yet another time, another place. Let’s meet again, at the next Rooftop Confessions.