Anime Archetypes: What Is A Tsundere?
The Masters of Passive-Agressive
We know the tsundere character packs a punch when they’re initialy seen in the story. They are the kings and queens of passive-aggressive behavior and are borderline bipolar, but that’s why they’re memorable and in some weird way, charming. So, how do we make a tsundere that doesn’t blend in with the rest of the loudmouths? Well, here are some ingredients on how to make a “tsundere” and prompts to help your character stand out. [General Definition of a Tsundere: a character that appears hostile at first, but eventually shows their warmer side.]
Well Known Examples: Taiga Aisaka (Torodora), Asuka Langley (Neon Genesis Evangelion), Misaka Mikoto (A Certain Type of Railgun), Naruko Anjou, Inuyasha (Inuyasha), Kyo (Fruits Basket).
Most Common Alignments: Chaotic Good or Chaotic Neutral
Strengths: Bold, Driven, Stands up for self and others, Clever, Loyal
Weaknesses: Dishonest, Mischievous, Manipulative, Resentful,
The Seven Ingredients of a Tsundere
- Backstory: What Made Them So Mean? – A Tsundere’s backstory isn’t just about a harsh relationship with their parents, fellow school peers, or childhood friends. Something was stolen from them, which led them to create a battle fortress around their heart hoping to never experience that kind of pain ever again. It’s usually matters of betrayal that start to make the Tsundere’s heart harden. Tsunderes do have a tragedy in their life that makes them “angsty”, but we have to make sure it is traumatic enough to damage the part of the them that is sweet and caring. It's also important to show what led our character to believe that being aggressive, whether that’s verbally, physically, or both, was the most logical defense system. Keep in mind: The target of a Tsundere's backstory is to explain the damage done to their “dere” or “sweet” side. It’s significant, but also relatable.
- What Does The “Dere” Side Want? – After the Tsundere experiences their traumatic event, they will develop a strong desire to find a place for their “dere” side to be safe. This longing should be so strong that it eats away at them when their “tsun” side is weakened. Keep in mind: The “dere” is their “loving” side. What or who do they love? When did this love happen and how?
- Appearance or Presence: A Tsundere usually portrays innocence and kindness until they punch someone. Their outward appearance will most likely contradict the front the Tsundere projects to not come off as weak or dares anyone to underestimate them. The more innocent or charming he or she looks, the more their aggressive actions will impact other characters and the audience. For them, it's a form of compensation. Keep in mind: Their appearance may contradict their personality, but it also reveals a sliver of who they really are.
- Strengths: The Best Offense Is A Good Defense. – Taking the time to think about how your Tsundere puts others in their place is important. Our characters should have a list of reasons that justify their abusive actions toward others, although we know that the ultimate reason is what happened to them in the past. How a Tsundere attacks others should fit their character and their reputation and those attacks may or may not be predictable. Something should “tick” or make them “snap” when a particular event happens, whether it’s a simple verbal interaction, a touch, or even an item. Whatever the trigger is, it must encourage other characters to keep their distance. Keep in mind: A Tsundere’s attack should be bizarre enough to strike fear into the hearts of other characters, but logical to the Tsundere. Their attacks should segue to their backstory, but be unique enough to foreshadow significant upcoming adventures.
- Pour Salt in the Wound: An essential part of building the Tsundere character is portraying the bad or damaging habits they have as a consequence of their past. For example, Aisaka is very distant from her parents, so she’s not very hygienic and doesn’t eat very healthy. There has to be more to a Tsundere than just having a bad temper and attacking everything. When they’re alone what do they do? Do they have a habit that is secretive because they know it’s wrong? Do they have an outright habit where they’re oblivious to it being “good” or “bad” for them? Are they self-destructive in private? Those are the kind of questions that should be asked if you want the Tsundere’s personality to be more memorable. Keep in mind: Their flaws or bad habits are meant to be a conscious or subconscious result of their background.
- Trials That Summon A Haunting Past – The Tsundere’s interactions with others eventually lead up to them facing their inner or past demons. Events in their life should trigger memories that take them back to the time they “lost” something or something special was “stolen” from them. These interactions aren’t meant to only cause the Tsundere to relive the past, but to also give them the opportunity to conquer their fears, lower their defenses, and choose, or at least consider, to connect with another more intimately to show that they at least want to trust. Keep in mind: A Tsundere needs a moment to “break free” from their defense in a natural way. The trials aren’t meant to force them to open up, but rather provide the opportunity to.
- Do they ever soften up or get more twisted?: This is mostly up to the author, but the most uplifting transformation a Tsundere can go through is feeling secure about showing at least some of their true feelings to someone he or she can trust. Tsunderes are naturally stubborn so they will most likely keep to their brash and reckless ways, but perhaps show more mercy to those that have changed their heart. On the other hand, they may not get a happy ending and end up being more twisted and broken as ever. Either way, the transformation for a Tsundere is either a nudge towards softness, still keeping their front, but feeling a bit more secure about their loving side or an extreme spiral into darkness, since Tsunderes tend to expect and accept the worst of the worst to come their way. Keep in mind: This transformation is usually around the climax or resolution of your character’s story. A pivotal event that connects from the past to the character’s present should make the Tsundere’s change dynamic and understandable.
Now that we have the basic ingredients for a "tsundere", please consider these "What if?" suggestions that can help to make your character stand out a bit more.
- What if the Tsundere had more variety? - The most memorable Tsunderes are female, fair skinned brunettes or redheads. If your character’s has enough Tsundere qualities that will be impressionable to your audience, then push their physical boundaries to make him or her visually memorable. Keep the charm, but play around with everything else: race, species, genetics, and gender. - I heard a half-dog demon half-human guy with white hair and golden eyes was a pretty big hit.
- What if more males were Tsundere? It’s a common social trope for the male not to be as “emotional” as a female, but showing emotions shouldn’t be considered an act of shame. Instead, it should be a chance to make the character worth taking the time to understand. You may initially feel led to make your tsundere a female, but male Tsunderes are just as attractive. If you feel led to go with a transgender or no gender, more power to you.
- What if the Tsundere wasn’t searching for “romantic” love? Tsunderes are commonly seen in “slice-of-life” or “school” stories that are striving to gain the attention of their crush. If you fiddle around with that backstory enough, your character could long for something along the lines of friendship or family, which is good to uphold in a story. Perhaps, even reaching a dream and knowing that bonding with others will be the only way to get there. Not everything is about romance for the Tsundere. It’s common and fine to use, but it may make your story predictable. (Example of predictable character behavior: Naruko Anjou).
© 2014 Kris Colvin