I have no idea. I just feel it. I am crucified."
The Japanese term tsundere refers to an outwardly violent character who "runs hot and cold", alternating between two distinct moods: tsuntsun (aloof or irritable) and deredere (lovestruck).
The term was originally used to describe characters who began with a harsh outgoing personality, but slowly revealed a soft and vulnerable interior over time, which made this a plot trope as much as it is a character trope. Over the years the character archetype has become flanderized, and is now generically associated with a character who flips between the two emotional states at the slightest provocation, and usually at a specific person rather than a general sociability problem. The former is usually referred as Classic Tsundere and the latter as Modern Tsundere. A tsundere, especially a classic one, is usually a Tomboy with a Girly Streak.
The tsuntsun can range from the cold "silent treatment" to the hotheaded "kindergartener who pushes you into the sandbox." The reasons behind a Tsundere's behavior vary widely, but usually boil down to the conflict between their feelings of affection towards a love interest, and their reaction to having those feelings. Though in most examples the reason has something to do with a Madonna-Whore Complex or at least a fear of Slut-Shaming.
The Tsundere stock characterization is very popular with writers of Romantic Comedy because the conflicts between the two personality facets can be easily utilized to generate both drama and comedy. It also acts as a source of Wish-Fulfillment: specifically, the idea that every independent, hardened and just plain jerkish love interest (male or female) has a squishy emotional center that will embrace you after you crack the outer shell. Can be entirely Played for Laughs by pairing the Flanderized version with The Stoic or the Cloud Cuckoo Lander. Either both parties can't admit their feelings for a bittersweet tale that might end with a Dying Declaration of Love or all of the Tsundere's shenanigans are completely unnecessary.
Almost all example of tsunderes are female, but very rarely you'll run into a male one who similarly can't admit their feelings to themselves.
Tsundere can be divided into two main categories, depending on their default mood:
- Harsh/Spicy (or Tsun): These Tsundere have tsuntsun as their default mood. It takes someone special to trigger their deredere side. The intensity of the tsuntsun can range from simple grumpy pessimism to "I must glare and fight my way through life". It's about which part of the tsundere personality is the public face and which the hidden. If the Tsundere is The Rival, she is more likely to be Harsh. Helping a rival out is usually accompanied by a line like "Don't get me wrong, I'm not doing this for you."
Harsh types can overlap with a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, but usually not. The moods of a Tsundere tend to switch in reaction to the actions of select people or adverse scenarios; the deredere side usually only comes out when someone has acted in a way to trigger it. A Jerk with a Heart of Gold is jerkish in general regardless of whether the other person is mean or nice, and shows their Hidden Heart of Gold only when the situation warrants, regardless of how the other person had been acting.
- Sweet (or Dere): These Tsundere have deredere as their default mood. They are sweet, kind and generous, but just happen to have a hidden violent side as well. Don't confuse the sweet tsundere with Bitch in Sheep's Clothing because in this case, they have a temper almost always triggered by someone or something else, usually a Love Interest. Either they have Belligerent Sexual Tension, are an Accidental Pervert, or just have no idea how to handle feelings of love and attraction. In some cases, an Armoured Closet Gay character may act like a Tsundere to mask their feelings for the object of their same-sex affection. May also overlap with Violently Protective Girlfriend if her Love Interest is threatened or in danger.
Sweet types should also not be confused with a Yandere. If a Sweet Tsundere were really convinced that their Love Interest didn't want them, they would revert back to the deredere side and probably enter an I Want My Beloved to Be Happy phase, while Yanderes are Not Good with Rejection at all and have been known to get downright murderous under such circumstances.
See also the Analysis page for more detailed information on common "strategies" employed by Tsundere characters, and other, related topics. This site has an explanation on the appeal of the Tsundere character.
A common way of showing that a Tsundere has mellowed or has had her heart won over by the Love Interest is to have her shift from Harsh to Sweet. If her motivations are inquired, she will often engage in a Suspiciously Specific Denial, complete with a Luminescent Blush and total evasion of eye contact (cue the squeaks of Moe).
Tsunderes are also rife material for a deconstruction depending on the love interest's response. Should they not be able to read between the lines to discern their feelings or simply not have the patience, they may just regard the tsundere as rude and/or a bully and distance themselves accordingly. In some cases, the love interest is aware, but has to decide if consigning themselves to dealing with the tsundere's less agreeable side regularly is worth the trouble — and they could very well decide that it isn't. This is why tsundere characters can be difficult to write without presenting them as a straight Jerkass; hurling abuse at a love interest (even in jest) typically isn't the most coherent way for someone to voice their feelings, and the fallout if the love interest has had enough of it can run the gamut from a Jerkass Realization all the way to Ship Sinking if left unchecked. Sometimes it can even leave viewers scratching their heads if they get together after all, despite their relationship having no indication that it won't be abusive or vitriolic.
When paired with a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, together they produce Belligerent Sexual Tension. If done poorly, the result is an Unintentionally Unsympathetic Jerk Sue. Compare with Well, Excuse Me, Princess!, Jerkass, Jerk with a Heart of Gold, and Bruiser with a Soft Center. Contrast with Sour Outside, Sad Inside, which shares the spiky exterior but has depression and self-doubt rather than kindness hiding underneath. When Flanderized tends to overlap with Mood-Swinger. Also see Don't You Dare Pity Me! and Anger Born of Worry; both of them likely actions with this character type. The more benevolent examples are very likely to be Good is Not Nice (or anti-heroes). Aloof Ally may show the same hot-and-cold behavior but for differing reasons. Because of their low tolerance for stupidity, they are always Enraged by Idiocy. These character types can fit both variants of Jerkass to One (for the first variant, they only act harsh with their love interest while is gentle with everyone else, and for the second variant, they act harsher with their love interest more than they are with others.) Tsunderes, especially the first type, are often The Unapologetic; if they warm up to their love interest, don't expect them to apologize for their hostile behavior towards them.
Please do not confuse this trope with a Mood-Swinger, who flips between all the emotional states (not just tsuntsun and deredere) and is more of an inherent mental problem encompassing more than just their romantic life. Also don't confuse with Playing Hard to Get, where a love interest deliberately chooses not to reciprocate her pursuer's interest until she's sure he's hooked, or Unknowingly in Love, where a character is unaware of their own romantic feelings.
While male examples do exist, the tsundere is more likely to be female and interested in a male protagonist. This is likely due to the Unfortunate Implications of a male love interest constantly deriding and insulting a heroine because of his unspoken feelings for her. Male love interests with tsundere-like traits are more likely to have mutual Belligerent Sexual Tension with a girl equally as tsundere as he is, or act aloof and detached as more of a Kuudere type character.
Psychologically, tsundere-like behavior could be an example of "splitting", a maladaptive coping mechanism (and a feature of many personality disorders, including Borderline Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder wherein a person alternately idealizes and undervalues others, including potential romantic partners).
This trope is Older Than Dirt, dating back to at least ancient Mesopotamia.
Now comes with a Self-Demonstrating page.
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- Wolnie from Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf is of the "harsh" type. She tends to be a jerk to her husband Wolffy and will even whack him with her Frying Pan of Doom whenever he winds up unable to capture the goats, but she genuinely loves and cares for him and shows this every once in a while whenever she's actually nice and romantic towards him for a change.
- The Karen's Diner restaurant chain that started in Sydney, Australia, is basically themed as this, with the staff advertised as being the rudest on earth.
Statler: Like we're ones to talk! We're still here aren't we?