Tsundere Sexuality: A Second Cut

Tsundere? Her? Nah...

October must be Tsundere Appreciation Month here at BtNHRV. Sorrow-Kun‘s random twitter thought seemed to have generated much discussion and debate amongst the readers of this blog. I happen to think that there’s no direct correlation between tsundere and sexuality or promiscuity. Each character is different; it is our reaction to them remains constant across series.

Let me begin with a bold assertion: the modern tsundere is not inherently more sexual. While I did argue on twitter that tsundere characters seem to usually get curvier character designs or Kugimiya Rie‘s voice, closer analysis reveals that this is not necessarily true. (I will treat Kugimiya Tsunderes as a separate, distinct class; there are many salient features of characters voiced by Kugyuu, enough that they warrant their own analysis.) Take a look at Inami (Working!!), Kei (ef series) or Mikoto (Index, Railgun). All three characters are flat, outwardly boyish and belligerently hostile towards men, at least towards the beginning of their respective series.

Perhaps tsundere don’t possess two, but rather, three distinct major classifications. We first have the classic tsundere: “tall and shapely, but still cute,” in the words of Sorrow-Kun. Characters of this sort would include Asuka (Evangelion), Senjogahara (Bakemonogatari), Kyou (Clannad). We then have the Kugimiya Tsundere, which are the polar opposite of the classical tsundere: flat, short, angry with Kugimiya‘s voice. Look at Taiga. Finally, the tomboys: characters which are most notable for their distinct lack of female characteristics.  These characters are interesting because they inherently possess a hidden female side. I’ve raised three examples of such character in the preceding paragraph.

Let us examine tomboys further. Upon first glance, it may seem that their distinct characteristics support to Sorrow-Kun‘s idea that tsundere can exist without a male lead. Tomboys are tsundere for femininity. For whatever reason, these characters can’t get over the fact that they’re girls— hiding their feminine side beneath a stereotypically male exterior. Their bodies, too, are not congruent with notions of femininity: flat, with short-cropped hair. These girls are usually overtly physical— Kei plays basketball, Inami beats up men, Mikoto accelerates pieces of metal to supersonic speeds, et cetera. Their hidden feminine side is only revealed in small flashes, often to the great embarrassment of the character herself. As the series (and presumably, the romance) progresses, we see these characters becoming less and less boyish— an acceptance of their “expected” social role as a woman.

I argue that Maya (Occult Academy) actually falls squarely within this classification. Obsession with the occult is seen in Japan as something of a purely feminine phenomenon, and even within Occult Academy, it is the feminine characters who are most interested in the supernatural. Maya’s warming towards the occult can also be viewed as her acceptance of her own femininity. It is interesting to note, however, that Maya’s looks are slightly incongruous with the tomboy stereotype: her outward appearance is extremely feminine.

Which makes Maya the perfect springboard for us to dive into the heart of the issue— gap moe. I’ve said previously that tsunderes are necessarily gaps. This is because the entire attractiveness of a tsundere comes from the juxtaposition and apparent paradox between love and hate. We revel in watching a tsundere slowly melt away into a perfectly docile, submissive core.

But perhaps this is not the only juxtaposition which drives the tsundere archetype. More fundamentally, it may be conceivable that all tsundere, not just tomboys, are perceived as masculine. We can construct tsundere as a gap between masculinity and femininity. This may come from the ingrained Japanese notion (which is admittedly slowly wearing away) that women should be submissive and docile, most accurately summed up in the Japanese adjective sunao (素直). While this term is frequently translated as “honest”, it has many layers of implications. Being kind, being honest, being considerate— these can all be considered different facets of sunao.

Tsundere are also labeled as sunao jya nai (not sunao), which, by extension, makes them not feminine. Tomboys are simply a hyper-exaggerated manifestation of the tsundere tendency to be masculine; inherently, tsundere and masculinity (or, at the very least, non-femininity) are bound together. To separate a tsundere from her belligerence is to destroy her character.

Yet, deconstruction is also a crucial aspect to the development of the tsundere. At some point, she must melt and become a woman again, shedding her combative, masculine exterior. We delight in seeing her return to her stereotypically feminine hole. The tsundere was created to serve as a foil to stereotypically feminine characters— docile and submissive, willing to follow the protagonist wherever he goes, a “doormat”, in the words of a friend. The tsundere is the anti-doormat, yet, she must become one in order for the picture to become complete. Perhaps this is the root cause of the perceived augmented attractiveness of tsundere— instead of being submissive off the bat, we start seeing glimpses and shadows of her attractive femininity. These small glimpses excite us, and we become more and more vested in watching the protagonist “conquer” the tsundere, fully destroying her belligerent exterior, giving way to a perfectly docile doormat. We shun masculinity within our female characters. The tsundere’s masculine aspects are undesirable and unattractive to us, which makes their female traits seem even more appealing in our minds.

This masculine-feminine dichotomy is augmented further when we take the tsundere to the bedroom. They are frequently depicted as being entirely submissive, incredibly shy, and always on bottom (at least the first time) all of which are stereotypically feminine traits. It is always the protagonist who leads in these situations, even if he is just as inexperienced. The tsundere is rarely combative in bed, giving herself entirely to him. Flipping through any random selection of ero-doujin featuring tsundere characters confirms this fact. The construction of sex with a tsundere, in which she is on bottom, further reinforces the image that the protagonist “owns” her.

All of which is to say that the tsundere can not truly exist without a male romantic partner, or a female romantic partner to fill the male protagonist’s role. Kagami and Mio are not tsunderes. We can interpret the two of them in a variety of ways. From a high-flown and pretentious viewpoint, Kagami and Mio are meta-parodies of the tsundere archetype. Cynically, they are gimmicks to entice male viewers. The truth is somewhere in between. However, the creation of a successful tsundere requires that she be deconstructed romantically. She must return to her feminine self in order to complete the picture; the lack of a romantic partner would prevent such a thing from occurring. This may explain why Kagami and Konata quickly became a pair; the rapid creation of a pairing represent fans’ desires to see Kagami’s belligerence deconstructed by a romantic partner. A hanging tsundere makes viewers uncomfortable. She is simply belligerent and combative, with nowhere to release her anger.

Thus, the “conquering” of a tsundere manifests itself as the tsundere becoming affectionate and loving, but more fundamentally, it represents a return to femininity. This is the source of tsundere charm— a return from manhood to womanhood. It naturally follows that tsundere are perceived as more “sexual” creatures, for highlighting physical and sexual aspects of a relationship represents the main way in which we can understand that the tsundere has become feminine. As our notions of feminine and masculine change, and as the lines between the two are blurred, the tsundere should change accordingly to reflect the ever-increasing complexity of gender norms and roles in relationships.

Notes:

1. Kugimiya tsunderes are a class of their own. They fit the basic model proposed in this post, but they represent the tsundere archetype taken to its extreme. A Venn Diagram will illustrate:

I highly dislike Kugimiya Rie, mostly because she gives me the Kugimiya Disease, where all my thoughts are narrated by her. It's awful.

2. I purchased a vast quantity of Mikoto doujin over the summer, all of which follow the expected pattern of Mikoto being submissive in bed. They are also fairly cute. In one particular doujin, Mikoto sparks during sex. Touma says to her, “If you do that, you won’t be able to have sex with anyone else.” She replies, “I don’t want anyone else but you…” Awwwww.

3. The idea of a tsundere is not new. I (somewhat facetiously) point to William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew as the first proto-typical tsundere romance. It is highly patriarchal, as all tsundere romances are.

4. Image from danbooru, which is not safe for work.

8 Responses to “Tsundere Sexuality: A Second Cut”

  1. Are you two disagreeing? Because it doesn’t really look that way. Seems like there’s some minor picking of the nits here and there (Kagami / Mio argument, etc), but essentially you’re both on the same trail that there is a strong inherent sexuality to the nature of tsundere characters.

    If you ever wanted a more literal viewing of the male-tsundere deconstruction relationship, look no further than Max Jenius and Miriya Fallyna Jenius relationship from start to finish. Not only is Miriya literally conquered in battle by Max, but her cultural heritage is completely conquered by Micronian society, to the end that she inevitably assumes the role of typical female in child bearing and motherhood. Albeit naively.

  2. I don’t know about directly disagreeing, but Akira certainly fills in a lot of the holes I left, especially to do with cultural tidbits. The point about the gender dichotomy is a really interesting one which didn’t occur to me. I’d say it explains why, ultimately, we as male viewers, inherently want to see the tsundere embrace her “dere” side.

    I’m not quite sure why, Akira, you say at the beginning that “the modern tsundere is not inherently more sexual” because your conclusion almost runs exactly counter to that. Are you arguing that the fact that tsunderes are seen as more sexual than other moe archetypes is simply a matter of perception? I mean, there’s probably no point in disagreeing with you if that’s the case, but if it is, would not the important question be, whose perception? If the answer is “male audiences”, then doesn’t that make the tsundere’s sexuality inherent, and we’re right back where we started? Not that it really matters that much. In my own article the question of tsundere sexuality being innate was more of a furphy. I was more interested in exploring aspects of tsundere sexuality than trying to come up with a comprehensive answer.

  3. I have no argument for this well written post. That’s exactly how I see tsundere and why they are so attractive to me personally.

  4. @TIF: I’d like to think that we are disagreeing. At the very least, I’m fleshing out Sorrow’s train of thought. My argument is that tsundere characters are not designed to be more sexually appealing, it’s that we associate a stronger sexual component with them because of the way we’ve been trained to look at them.

    @S-K: It is indeed “male audiences'” perception of tsundere characters that makes the tsundere more sexual, but I do not agree that our perception of tsundere sexuality makes it inherent within the archetype. If anything, I think that just proves that we project sexuality upon tsundere, instead of tsundere being consciously engineered to be sexual.

  5. Hmmm… I think everyone’s tsundere’ed out after our trio of articles.

    Anyways, I was never really convinced that tsundere are more sexual, so I’m with Akira by default. The fact is that pretty much every female archetype has been sexualized by anime. For some reason, I think we may be just more conducise to this particular trait. So I presume tsundere is the moe of choice for the NHRV.

  6. My argument is that tsundere characters are not designed to be more sexually appealing, it’s that we associate a stronger sexual component with them because of the way we’ve been trained to look at them.

    And who trained us to look at them that way?

    In your argument you point out the standard male and female gender specific role association that we all have. We do have an inkling of what is masculine and what is feminine. If the point of the tsundere character is to get to the “dere” part, thus achieving “normalcy” for the character insofar as the aforementioned roles, then the creation of the tsundere character is based on those already inherent beliefs.

    To put it another way, which came first, the tsundere or the feminine role?

  7. Patriarchy’s been around since 3000 BC.

    Tsundere came way after that.

    Female gender roles definitely came first.

  8. What I’m getting at is was the tsundere trope created to act upon those cultural teachings. If it is, that makes the trope inherently sexual in nature.

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