Wondering What Tsundere Means? It's a Character Development Process!
On my latest visit to Japan, a friend of mine asked if I was familiar with the concept of tsundere. After a bit of back and forth, we had sussed out a decent English definition, and the word has quite an interesting meaning!
As it happens, tsundere is a character development device involving a character who is at first cold, or even outright hostile, becoming lovey dovey. The 'tsun' part of the word comes from the Japanese word tsun tsun , which means 'to turn away in disgust.' The 'dere' part comes from dere dere , meaning 'lovey dovey'. If we were to make an English word equivalent, I suppose it would be Enebuddy. Or Hatove. Or meanice.
Tsundere first became popular as a word when disguised within the context of relationship games, but quickly expanded to discussion of manga, anime, and other forms of entertainment. My Japanese friend even told me about a tsundere maid cafe in Akihabara, Tokyo where the waitresses are at first cold... then clingy!
The word tsundere was first popularized in the discussion of Kimi ga Nozomu Eien, a bishōjo game in Japan. Bishōjo games are 'pretty girl' games- video games centered on developing relationships with attractive girls. If the concept is utterly foreign to you, try to imagine a choose-your-ending romance novel that has been turned into a video game. It's that simple.
As one plays Kimi ga Nozomu Eien, cold characters with whom you, as the main character, begin to develop a closer relationship, eventually confess their love for you and all that amusing rot. This, my dear friends, is tsundere in action.
Tsundere is far too universal a concept to be relegated to mere video games, however. The term was quickly applied to other otaku-centric fields, such as anime and manga.
Tsundere Maid Cafes
By 2006, tsundere scenarios were being reenacted in maid cafes. One Akihabara-based maid cafe called Nagomi began hosting the occasional tsundere event in which the waitresses (clad in maid outfits) would not fawn over their guests, but rather start off with scornful remarks, such as "What are you doing here??" and ignore customers' orders. Other cafes caught on, capitalizing on the otaku love for this odd character trait.
Instead of getting what you want, a waitress at a tsundere maid cafe will bring you whatever she feels like bringing and scornfully tosses your order onto the table.
By the time you're ready to leave, however, your tsundere waitress will become sad to see you go- and unexpectedly clingy! Perhaps this makes for the ideal serving environment. After all, you can foist whatever you like on your customers, then make them not want to leave!
The whole format reminds me of a This American Life episode in which a waitress did a test to see which approach would yield better tips- being nice or being cold. Surprisingly, she found that being aloof around customers brought her better tips! I wonder if the guys showing up at tsundere maid cafes end up leaving more cash behind, too!
If you're curious to know what the general tsundere maid cafe visit is like, have a look at the video to the right. The Nagomi maid cafe has a little sister theme, so that's the role this girl is trying to play, but not all maid cafes have this theme.
Tsundere and Moe
Why are tsundere characters so popular? Simply put, the tsundere concept (much like other random plot devices, such as nekomimi: girls with cat ears and tails) evoke feelings of moe.
'Moe' is Japanese slang for the feeling of love an enthusiast feels regarding that which he or she loves (specifically that which is related to anime, manga, and idols). The word is a homonym for the Japanese word 'burning' which helps to bring across some of the feeling one experiences, plus it's also a pun on the word 'budding' - like a plant that is about to flower.
Is it strange that tsundere is a particularly moe-friendly concept? Absolutely not! If you're too unfamiliar with Japanese manga or anime to appreciate the plot arc created by a cold character eventually confessing her (or his) love, just contemplate the fabulous characters in English classics such as Pride and Prejudice (more on that later).
Bonus Word: Yandere!
Yandere is a subset of tsundere which involves a character (again, typically female) being at once in love with another character but also violent or psychotic toward him!
The easiest translation is 'sick love' and could involve a character poisoning, attacking, or otherwise harming the character with which he or she is obsessed.
- Shinchi Chiaki from Nodame Cantabile (LOVE him)
- Kyo Sohma from Fruits Basket
Tsundere Characters in Anime & Manga
Tsundere characters don't all have to be female, but most are.
Here are some of the most commonly pegged female tsundere characters (from anime/manga that is somewhat recognized in the States):
- Narusegawa Naru from Love Hina
- Mokoto Aoyama from Love Hina
- Kagurazaka Asuna from Mahou Sensei Negima
- Chisame Hasegawa from Mahou Sensei Negima
- Ayeka Jurai from the Tenchi Muyo series
- Rei Hino from Sailor Moon
- Sakura from Naruto
Tsundere Characters Elsewhere
Tsundere characters are by no means limited to Japanese entertainment. To be perfectly practical, the concept of tsundere has been around for ages!
Tsundere is simply a new word applied to an age old character development device. Here are some of my favorite tsundere characters from the classics:
- Mr. Darcy (and Jane!) from Pride and Prejudice
- Katherine from Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew
- Princess Leia from Star Wars
- Buttercup from The Princess Bride
- Edward Cullen from Twilight
I bet you are already thinking of more this very moment!
Where have you encountered tsundere?
Are You Tsundere?
The more one thinks of it, the more one finds tsundere everywhere!
Do you have a tsundere friend; someone who was initially cold toward you, but has since become one of your closest friends- or more?
Or are you yourself tsundere? When you have feelings for someone, do you start off cold- or even outwardly hostile? I know I have in the past!
If you have a favorite tsundere character- or if you or one of your close buddies is tsundere IRL, tell us about it in the comments... or weigh in in the poll to the right!