The Evolution of the Tsundere

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The tsundere has always been a popular character type. What’s not to love? Like most character types common in anime, they embody every fan’s completely unrealistic fantasy of extraordinary girls falling for ordinary guys like themselves. Now I’m no tsundere historian, but I’ve noticed a gradual change in personality for tsundere characters over the past few years. Previously, tsundere characters tended to be young, spoiled, and Kugimiya Rie; such as Nagi from Hayate no Gotoku. Now, it seems like fans prefer an older, more mature tsundere; mainly Hinagiku also from Hayate no Gotoku, Kyou from Clannad, and Kagami from Lucky Star.

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Until recently, the most popular tsundere girls have been the three shown above, plotted relative to each other on their level of tsun and dere. What they all have in common are being young, flat chested, and bratty. They’re also inept at traditionally female tasks such as cooking and cleaning. This ineptitude and their flat chestedness are both common triggers for tsun behavior. So why are these kinds of characters popular? I think it may be because they remind lots of otaku of female childhood friends. They may have been best friends when they were younger, but as they grew older, their friends developped into social, mature women, while the guys developed into otaku, and their girl friends suddenly became too cool for them. The tsundere embodies this change in reverse over a much shorter time scale, allowing otaku to reminisce to better times. The ineptitude and spoiled behavior add to the childishness of the tsundere characters, which reinforces my childhood friend theory. However, the new kind of tsundere does not fit this theory quite as nicely.

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Characters that fall under this new brand of tsundere have several traits in common. They tend to be older, typically high school aged, and more physically developed. They are also more capable and mature. They are usually class presidents (or school president in Hinagiku’s case), get good grades, and are generally good at cooking and other housework. However, behind their masks of perfection, these girls have a softer side, and just want to be loved by the main character. So why have these mature tsunderes become more popular recently? I believe that its because the market became saturated by Kugimiya Rie tsundere characters. Shakugan no Shana 2 and Hayate no Gotoku were being broadcast simultaneously in 2007-8 and this was quickly followed by a third season of Zero no Tsukaima in the summer of 2008. I think that fans got tired and moved on. Mature tsunderes also have the mixed appeal of both mature and childish character types. While they have the dependability of an older sister character, they also have the inexperience of a young girl, especially in matters of love.

At this point you may be asking: djwhack03, you stunning example of manliness, can’t these two character coexist? Will my beloved Shana get swept away and lost by a wave of Kagamis? How can I be as awesome as you? The answer to these questions in order ar yes, no, and hard work and guts. Of course the two types of tsundere can coexist, even in the same series. Case in point: Hayate no Gotoku, where Nagi and Hinagiku. What I’m saying is that mature tsunderes are much more popular right now. Take a look at the popularity contest results from Chapter 110 of HnG. Hinagiku won first with an overwhelming 3728 votes, more than second and third place Maria and Hayate combined. We already see studios responding to the popularity of these characters. Kagami had her own story in the Lucky Star OVA and Hinagiku has gotten a second character album, and as I mentioned before is the focus of the ED of HnG S2.

Don’t get me wrong, I like both kind of tsundere girls. I’m eagerly waiting for the inevitable 4th season of Zero no Tsukaima, and hopefully a Clannad OVA about Kyou. Both kinds make me laugh, and tend to be my favorite characters of their series. So here’s a salute to the girls who love/hate. The few, the proud, the tsundere.

3 Responses to “The Evolution of the Tsundere”

  1. Shay Guy Says:

    I think this needs a little perspective. The oldest anime you’ve brought up here is Shakugan no Shana, begun in 2002 and adapted into an anime in 2005. The character type is much older. Remember Naru Narusegawa? Asuka Langley Soryu? Akane Tendo? Lum? Hell, it was at least thirty years old when the first Shana novel came out — Sayaka Yumi was the main love interest in Mazinger Z.

    • djwhack03 Says:

      I know that the character type has been around for decades, but I felt the need to cover the changes in the character over the past couple years. In retrospect, it’s not really accurate to call this article an evolution since I don’t talk about any characters from previous decades.

      Maybe one of these days I will write a full doctoral thesis on tsunderes and their effect on modern visual culture.

      • Shay Guy Says:

        “Recent trends” might have worked better than “evolution.” There were also a few matters of word choice that may have made it less clear that the “status quo” was only a few years old. I wonder if Shana’s own impact can actually be measured.

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