A useful word has sprung out of Japanese culture in recent years. Originating in the murky world (from a Western perspective) of bishojo games, which we could charitably call dating simulators, the concept has spread to anime and manga. The thing that it describes is nothing new, but the description itself is the new and useful idea, because it draws attention to a particular type of character.
The tsundere archetype describes characters who are generally (but not exclusively) female and are outwardly cold and hostile, or perhaps have a fiery nature. But they also have an inner warmth, a flip side to their character. Originally this was all about girls in fiction with a hostile attitude to a male character, but gradually falling for him as the story progresses. The term has widened since to any character who is outwardly hostile but has a softer nature as well, or perhaps runs hot and cold between two moods. The word is a combination of two Japanese terms: tsun tsun, which means to turn away in disgust, and dere dere, which means to be loving. There are subcategories of tsundere, most obviously those who have tsun tsun as their default mood and dere dere is brought out by someone special, or those who have dere dere as their default mood but also have that badass tsun tsun side when provoked sufficiently.
Characters like these have been a mainstay of fiction for a lot longer than anime has even existed, and there are plenty in Doctor Who. So let’s take a look at some Doctor Who characters who fit the tsundere description:
- Tegan. She ends up on board the TARDIS by accident and seems to be immune to its wonders, just staying angry about not being able to get to work. Weeks later, she is still harping on about getting back to Heathrow. She seems to hate everyone except Nyssa, especially the Doctor, but he gradually brings out her dere dere side, especially after the Mara knocks her confidence. Once Turlough joins the TARDIS he bring out her tsun tsun nature, but again she gradually accepts him.
- Donna. In The Runaway Bride she is almost entirely tsun tsun. Much like Tegan, all this alien stuff is getting in the way of her single-minded aim: to get to where she wants to be. When she joins the TARDIS as a regular then 99% tsun tsun isn’t going to work, so her character is immediately softened, to the point where she is soon teaching the Doctor how to be a good person (The Fires of Pompeii). Tragically, she is eventually returned to her default state, and loses her dere dere.
- Amy. Having her childhood dreams crushed by her Raggedy Man failing to show up and whisk her away makes her very tsun tsun towards him, and also she is holding back when it comes to committing to Rory. Her tsundere nature is all wrapped up in romantic connections, which makes Amy the truest representation of the trope. Circumstances throughout her travels swing her back and forth between the two sides of her character, but in the end her love for Rory takes her to that dere dere place.
- The First, Sixth and Twelfth Doctors. The Doctor himself can often be a tsundere character, although describing a male character in those terms is always stretching the trope. All three incarnations could be described as having a default tsun tsun nature of being a bit touchy or fiery, either easily angered or with a natural dispensation towards coldness. All three also have plenty of opportunities to show the softer side of their natures, and this is generally brought out of them by their companions.
Those are probably the most significant examples, but there are plenty of others who have tsundere elements to their characters. Sara Kingdom is a militaristic killer who somehow manages to fit the companion role (Bret Vyon is similar); Zoe is initially cold-hearted and out of touch with her own emotions, something that travelling with the Doctor and Jamie fixes; the Brigadier is initially firmly rooted in his xenophobic and militaristic ways to the extent that he is willing to attempt genocide, but mellows to become the Doctor’s old pal; Sarah Jane starts out as a logical, disbelieving and feisty journalist and ends up backwards-evolving into the Doctor’s cute little best buddy in an Andy Pandy outfit. Romana is cold-hearted, logical and looks down on the Doctor as somebody inferior and unreliable, but ends up wearing a female version of his clothes and having a romance with him in Paris. Ace has built up a hard street kid exterior (at least a version of that written by the least “street” of male writers), which the Doctor breaks down by making her face the things that have made her build up that barrier. Clara has a bad habit of slapping the Doctor and has a love-hate relationship that is at times akin to an addictive affair. There are also red-herring tsundere characters, such as Leela and Peri, who remain constant in their core characteristics until they get married off. If the dere dere comes out of nowhere it doesn’t really fit the trope.
What this all really shows is that strong characterisations come from contrasts. The tsundere trope offers up all kinds of story possibilities, but ultimately if you are looking to create audience identification characters then the dere dere side of tsundere will always win through in the end. RP
(note: tsundere is pronounced tsɯndeɾe (if you know phonetics). I could try to describe that but it is easier to just stick in a video clip!)
Leela started it all for me in this regard and not just in the Whoniverse. Thanks for this very thoughtful article.
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