My Tsundere Life

Growing up, I wasn’t an angry adolescent so much as a frustrated one. I always had a temper, compounded by the social immaturity and drop in grades that came with undiagnosed ADHD. I felt betrayed by the way my body was changing. Nothing in my life felt quite right. The media I consumed growing up – Clarissa Explains It All, Animorphs, horse novels, a huge variety of Disney movies, and so on – showed me how to be a kind girl, a smart girl, an empathetic girl, even a tough girl – but there seemed to be nothing out there for a weird, awkward, temperamental girl. I felt like I was wandering through life without a guidebook, until one day I discovered Ranma ½.

I stumbled on an ad for it in the back of a Pokemon manga when I was twelve years old. An acquaintance at school lent me a VHS of the second movie and I was hooked. I had no allowance, so each $30 VHS or $15 manga volume was hard-earned, but I devoured as much information as I could about it via pre-Wikipedia fanpages on the internet. Here was a series where girls were strong and tough and fought, even if they were never on a level with the guys. The female cast was huge, a far cry from the token female friends that dominated American animation. Though she wasn’t my favorite (that honor goes to okonomiyaki chef Ukyo Kuonji), I developed a particular affection for Akane Tendo, whose hot temper and disgust with men closely matched my own.

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Not the best introduction to the series, in retrospect…

Ranma ½ began its run in 1987, decades before the term “tsundere” was coined in the porn game Kimi ga Nozomu Eien, but Akane is often cited as a classic example of the character type. She treats most people kindly, but is quick to anger and predisposed toward jumping to conclusions. In the first installment of the series, Kasumi tells Ranma, “Akane is really a very sweet girl, just a violent maniac.” It sounds absurd, but to me, it made perfect sense. When I first read that line, I laughed and said, “That’s me!” The duality between Akane’s kindness to people she cares about and her ferocity toward people who angered her felt real in a way that no other fictional character had. What’s more,  much of her anger was justified. In the beginning of the manga, Ranma enters her dojo appearing to be a girl, soaking wet and carried in by a giant panda. The two engage in a quick friendly sparring match, but when Akane goes to join her new friend in the bath, she’s been replaced by a teenage boy, who gets an eyeful of Akane’s nude body.cb2941d91280a9c5a960a7289bb0220e Even when it turns out the girl was always Ranma, just cursed to shift bodies when exposed to hot and cold water, it’s understandable that Akane feels betrayed and embarrassed. What’s more, the sweet, shy girl she sparred turns out to be a total asshole who laughs and says, “I’m built better, to boot.” Her family even forces her into an engagement with him. Meanwhile, at school Akane must fight her way through the entire male student body, since one student announced that anyone who could beat her in combat would be able to go on a date with her.

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Akane’s life is confusing and frustrating. She enjoys fighting, having grown up in a dojo, but she’s constantly forced into battles she has no interest in. Her fiance routinely treats her like garbage, insulting her looks, her fighting skills, and her lack of traditional femininity; his favorite insults are “macho chick” and “uncute”. He also has a tendency to switch between having a male body and a female body, causing his competitive nature to extend to things like how much more attractive he is than other girls. Despite all of this, she does like him because of plot contrivances, but there are other women throwing themselves at him constantly, calling themselves his fiancees and hurling insults at her as well. Akane may have always had a short fuse and a tendency to assume the worst, like all Rumiko Takahashi heroines, but anyone would be losing it in her situation. Thankfully, she is rarely shamed for her anger within the narrative; Ranma may be rude about it, but he consistently acts like a prick, so I never felt like I, the reader, was supposed to agree with him.

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He almost definitely deserves this

Akane was the only start of my love affair with temperamental manga girls. In high school, my friends and I read and shared the manga of Love Hina. Modern fandom doesn’t remember the series fondly, but at the time it was relatively fresh and popular. I fell in love enough with the characters enough that I could look past the fan service, and of course, I particularly loved the romantic female lead and by this point obligatory tsundere, Naru Narusegawa. To be honest, I can’t remember why I liked her so much at the time, other than the simple fact that she was a tsundere. The duality still held appeal to me, I suppose; I still needed to see girls in fiction who were often sweet but had a violent temper, just as my fondness for harem anime sprung from a need for stories with multiple women. This is all conjecture, since I now cringe at the very idea of half the story’s concepts. Naru was an ill-tempered bully who abused the mild-mannered Keitaro for no reason other than “comedic” misunderstandings.

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I still hold the tsundere archetype near and dear to my heart – when my boyfriend compliments me, I’m more likely to curse at him than thank him – but it has evolved in directions I don’t like in the past decade or so. Like I mentioned, the term was coined in a porn game in the early 00’s by putting together two onomatopoeic terms: “tsun tsun”, meaning “to turn away in disgust”, and “dere dere”, meaning “lovey dovey”. Dozens of pre-2000 characters fit the description: the aforementioned Akane Tendo; deeply damaged, competitive Asuka Langley Sohryu of Neon Genesis Evangelion; and rebel without a cause Madoka Ayukawa of Kimagure Orange Road, to name a few. Some even consider Lum of Urusei Yatsura, which began its run in 1978, to be the progenitor. They tended to populate romantic comedies aimed at young men, most often as the endgame love interest. As such, they were obviously written to appeal to young men, but they often had an appealing degree of complexity as well. Their hostility usually stems from some sort of life circumstances, and any sort of cooling off is a result of natural character development. They become dere because they’re happier in general, not just because of being gentled like in a modern “Taming of the Shrew”. It was rarely ever a complete transformation, either – as the main characters moved toward mutual understanding, they were less likely to have comedic misunderstandings that led to fights, but the girls usually kept their hot tempers and sharp tongues. I could relate to their frustration and hostility, and seeing them move toward greater contentment without ever being fully tamed or gentled was something I wanted for myself. It felt like I could be lovable while staying true to myself.

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Since the coining of the term, the landscape has changed significantly. In his book Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals, Hiroki Azuma posits that rather than enjoying narratives, otaku prefer to engage with “derivative simulacra” displaying their favorite traits. Rather than enjoying the whole character within the context of the story, an otaku may seek out a girl with glasses simply for that trait, and other traits that have come to be associated with it, in a concept similar to TV Tropes. This database culture goes hand-in-hand with the rise of moe anime with characters designed specifically to inspire a protective urge in the viewer. Giving a name to the character type introduced them into the database, and they became a staple of moe media. Thus, rather than their temper being a natural part of their character and circumstances, the only thing that matters is their “tsun”-ness progressing into “dere”. Their hostility gives way to stammering and blushing and declaring, “It’s not like it’s like you or anything!” in response to affection, rather than justifiable anger. Their anger has a performative, inauthentic quality that alienates me compared to the tsunderes of yesteryear.

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To-Love-Ru

I suppose I don’t really have much right to complain. After all, these angry girls were a staple of shonen romance aimed at young men; they were never really for me. They weren’t mine to claim. They’ve merely shifted to match the evolving taste of their target audience. Nevertheless, I can’t help but feel a little possessive and a little robbed. After all, these mallet-wielding young women once gave voice to my frustrations in a way that western media never did; is it a wonder I want to defend and preserve them for future generations of girls who need their negative feelings reflected and validated on-screen without being punished?

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9 thoughts on “My Tsundere Life

  1. I must admit, having never had any particular personal liking for the tsundere archetype to begin with, I’ve never really thought about the term quite in this way before. So this was a really interesting read for me – it wasn’t what I expected and it made me look at the term in a whole different light.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Elisabeth O'Neill

    I understand completely. I feel protective against the negative press that tars all moe characters with the same misogynistic brush, and had the same feeling of “At last, a whole heap of female characters I can relate to!” Just as getting angry doesn’t make a woman “uncute”, being cute in moe doesn’t automatically make a character weak. At least, not all the time. The “derivative simulacra” may be doing their thing there too, but I will forever defend the girls who buck that trend.

    Liked by 1 person

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  5. smashman42

    I used to find those early Tsunderes like Akane & Asuka so interesting, but find the modern ones boring. Glad to see I’m not alone in thinking they were more complex back then & it isn’t just rose coloured glasses.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Reading this post was really nostalgic for me! I grew up on bits and pieces of Ranma, and I have a lot of sentimental feelings towards Love Hina, even if it has a lot to cringe about in retro-spect.

    That last bit really struck a cord with me too. I still love anime, and I keep up with shows that are currently airing, but I feel like some shows don’t focus much on character motivations and raw human emotion so much as just…checking off little check-boxes in neat little boxes. “Does the Tsundere have twintails? Is she a Loli? Does she say Baka a lot? Perfect! We’re done here”. Like??? That’s it?? What human being even acts like this? ;_;

    Liked by 1 person

  7. AG

    One of the fascinating phenomena I encountered was for male writers to take those “watered-down” tsundere characters and treat them very seriously and as complex women in their fanfiction. And this not incompatible with their still maintaining the harem and male power fantasy aspects as well. Tohsaka Rin of Fate fame is the biggest example of this, but the tsunderes of Sword Art Online, Asuna and Lisbeth, have also received this treatment. These depictions also tend to be the most popular fics, so it’s not just on the writers’ end, but in the readers’ desires, as well. It’s much like a gender-reversed situation of how female fans construct elaborate elaborations on their favorite woobie characters. (And the male version of the tsundere reigns supreme in J, K, C, and T-dramas alike)

    So this points to not a simple consumption of database, but that otaku (of either gender) are filling in the complexity on the potential hinted at by canon.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. “”…decades before the term “tsundere” was coined in the porn game Kimi ga Nozomu Eien””

    I was wondering if you had links/refs to any further history/discussion on the evolution of the term, as well as other “dere’s’ as variable women’s char types (built primarily-not exclusively for guy comprehension). Stalled on an essay. Your mention of Azuma is part of it — his database a problematic evasion, even an erasure.

    Was guessing the term evolved from a guy’s game, an eroge at that. Role policing. Guys can only be interested in personal interaction under limited conditions — sez so here in the manual.

    Thanks for the good reads

    Like

  9. Pata Hikari

    Ranma 1/2 is great to this day. It’s really funny and a wonderful example of an archetype that modern anime has forgotten what made it work.

    Honestly I’d say that Akane *isn’t* a tsundere by the modern anime usage of the term, and since she predates the concept entirely she’s just… herself.

    Honestly the bickering she and Ranma do actually makes their relationship feel more real since you see both their good and bad sides in the entire story.

    Though, one random comment about you saying this: “After all, these angry girls were a staple of shonen romance aimed at young men; they were never really for me. They weren’t mine to claim.”

    I don’t know how it is for the other female characters, but this actually isn’t the case for Ranma 1/2. Takahashi wanted the work to be enjoyed by both boys and girls.

    “And also, I wanted it to be popular among women and children. ”

    Apparently it actually had a larger female fanbase then male when it was being originally published.

    The story actually will usually use Akane as the viewpoint character, the lens through which we see the comic’s silly world too.

    So yeah, feel free to claim at least one Angry Girl. 😀

    Like

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