It’s Not Like I Wrote This Post for You, You Idiot!
November 4, 2014 § 2 Comments
To be frank, Yamada Ayumi saved Honey & Clover for me. She didn’t save the entire show, because nothing could save the insipid and childish mess surrounding Hanamoto Hagu, but she saved it from being something I never think about, let alone write about, again. She was able to do this because I’ve loved the tsundere archetype in the past, and she’s a tsundere the likes of which I’ve never seen a show attempt.
Starting with Meryl Stryfe from Trigun, I’ve been watching anime with tsundere in them for as long as I’ve been watching anime. A year ago, on a different blog, I wrote a think-piece on the death of the tsundere as a relatable character, at least for me:
So after finishing Arakawa Under the Bridge, which actually became quite an endearing anime by the second season, I started watching Valkyria Chronicles on the recommendation of no one I can recall. To be blunt, it’s not great, mostly because it’s a show about war from someone who knows nothing about war (and specifically a show about tanks from someone who knows nothing about tanks, which my recent and positive experience with Girls und Panzer has made painfully clear to me), but there’s also the female protagonist, who’s the worst kind of tsundere. Now, I used to like the tsundere archetype back in the day, because a hostile and standoffish woman who warms to you in little ways seems to recreate over and over the emotional arc of falling in love, at least as I remember it. Moreover, the impossibility of true tsundere like Asuka from Neon Genesis Evangelion ever really falling themselves (or rather, letting themselves fall) makes it all the more tragic, for which I’m always a sucker.
Yet, despite all that, it’s become the kind of character that I dread seeing in the average anime. I think the problem is that, unless the writer knows exactly what they’re doing, the tendency is to turn every interaction between the tsundere and the object of her tsun & dere into a tsun interaction, because those are easy to write and usually quite funny. But she’s not a tsundere without the dere, so the writer just has her do that between beats in the script, most often when she’s alone. Fair enough, you do what you have to do, but the combination of the two (mean to his face, nice behind his back) just makes the tsundere out to be insane, rather than someone who can’t face her own feelings. How can I fall for or even sympathize with someone who is mercilessly cruel to someone she supposedly loves, one hundred percent of the time? It’s just annoying. Then again, maybe that’s the evolution of the tsundere archetype, from an object of audience affection into an object of audience resentment. Okay, maybe, but why?
In the time since then, my opinions have really just solidified. Elements of tsundere are still incorporated into various characters most often as a means to protract or even stymie their arc. Takanashi Rikka from Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai!, I’m looking at you. If you can’t bear to kiss your boyfriend of several months in a dream you’re having about your wedding, maybe you don’t really love him that much? See, the tsundere is, at her core, a character afraid of her own development, which makes her excellent filler for any show with a dearth of impactful moments elsewhere.
On the surface of it all, that’s the larger part of the function that Yamada fulfills in Honey & Clover. From the first episode, she has feelings for someone who cannot return them and they both know it. Her arc within the show is one of sadness, anger, and frustration at a useless love that is too precious for her to give up yet, expressed whenever possible by punching or kicking the object of her affections, Mayama Takumi, and calling him an idiot. Classic tsundere, right? Maybe. I’m not sure.
The thing is, we don’t really get to see Yamada from the perspective that usually frames a tsundere. About a quarter of the way through the first season, the interactions between her and Mayama drop off drastically. He graduates and gets a job somewhere else, leaving her unable to behave towards him as a tsundere should. Instead, we get to know her through herself and her friends. There are some long and introspective moments on her history with her love, like the beautiful parable of the beefsteak plant in episode thirteen, but otherwise Mayama’s absence leaves Yamada more dere than tsun, at least with regards to how the audience sees her.
I must confess, I love this iteration of the trope. Instead of constantly pushing away the object of her affections against her own wishes, Yamada is pushing away those wishes, since the object is already gone. Instead of being afraid of change, Yamada is afraid she cannot change. With this one character, Honey & Clover shows the good sense to take unrequited love and make with it a tsundere whose heart has a reason for being divided, because her conflict is not with the object of her affections but with her own self. It’s also a conflict that does not get resolved within the show’s forty episodes. All other things being equal, and granted there are a lot of other things, Yamada is still as much in love with Mayama at the end as at the beginning. That’s how it usually works in life, after all, and it goes well with the show’s decision to build her character through her platonic relationships rather than her romantic ones. I can’t help but wish the entire anime were about her, which I haven’t thought about a tsundere since… I don’t know, Penguindrum? Vandread? Evangelion?
And it’s funny, because the next show I watched was Uchouten Kazoku, which also has a tsundere, although this one doesn’t save the show because the show is already good enough not to need saving. Ebisugawa Kaisei is the younger daughter of a crass and venial tanuki clan, with a shadowy but cordial connection to several of the main characters. She’s also so tsundere that she doesn’t appear onscreen for most of the anime. Discounting her magical disguises as a ladder or as a dresser, she spends most of her time under a bridge, in the trees, behind a bathhouse wall, in a bush, on the phone, through a window, behind a door, and in a crowd.
Not to belabor a minor character from a show well-loved elsewhere on the internet, but I found it really intriguing for Kaisei’s contrariness to be made manifest by refusing to be seen, even if the anime couldn’t keep up the conceit for its entire run. Even after she actually begins to show her face, it’s only ever briefly and under duress, so Kaisei continues to exist in this permeable space where she only makes her presence known if her presence cannot otherwise be known. It’s all very tsundere in addition to playing up her uncertain loyalties, isn’t it?
I know it’s been a stretch for me to connect these two shows, removed as they are from each other by age, quality, and genre, but it is more than a little surprising that both have shown me variations on what often seems to be the tiredest of anime’s many tropes. It’s encouraging to see that the archetype of the tsundere doesn’t just grow through the accretion of features from writers of varying talents, but also through their removal. The audience is deprived of what they are used to regarding as essential diagetic information, in order that they not be able to see Yamada as defined by her lovesickness for Mayama or Kaisei by her sheltered upbringing. With a couple of seemingly superficial changes, these characters are actually elevated by the elements of tsundere that they incorporate, which makes me a bit more ready to accept such an awful character as Alicia Melchiott from Valkyria Chronicles as an exception rather than the rule.
Anyway, here’s to hoping that the next show I watch also refuses me validation in new and unexpected ways. It’s not too much for me to ask from a tsundere, is it? I mean, not from the tsundere herself, she’d just tell me no, but… I don’t know, never mind. Forget I asked!