The moe phenomenon has been around for a couple of decades now – long enough to see many sub-trends come and go, and for copious amounts of manga and anime to be based on almost nothing else. Small wonder then that moe as a whole has spun off into numerous different types and categories over the years, each of them catering to its own particular brand of fetishized cute: glasses moe, maid moe, and bandaged moe, just to name a few. Another distinct evolution of moe (or rather, several evolutions closely related to each other), are the ‘dere’ varieties, all of which have seen widespread fan usage since the early to mid-2000s. This article aims to loosely explain the four most common of these – tsundere, yandere, kuudere, and dandere.
Tsundere: I-it’s not as if they like you or anything!
Think of the tsundere as the type of kid on the playground who will call you names or shove you headfirst into the bushes in order to cover up their affection. In denial about his or her ‘secret’ crush, the most common form of the tsundere character is a cute girl (or occasionally guy) who is initially ‘tsun tsun’ (irritable, blunt, basically a jerk), but over time begins to display, or sometimes abruptly switches over to, their ‘dere dere’ (lovestruck) mode. Several viewers have pegged these types of characters as vehicles of wish fulfilment, since the base concept of tsundere seems to revolve around the idea that, inside the shell of every brusque or hostile love interest, is a blushing and vulnerable core just waiting to be discovered. However, it should also be noted that there are a few tsundere characters out there who act like this towards friends or family members as well; romantic feelings masked by a tsundere’s rough behaviour is typical, but not strictly necessary.
The term itself became popularised through bishoujo games – a subset of Japanese dating sims targeted towards heterosexual males – but particularly by the 2001 visual novel Kimi ga Nozomu Eien (also known as Rumbling Hearts). However, Comiket organiser Ichikawa Koichi has credited Princess Lum of Urusei Yatsura as being the original tsundere, the manga of which was first released in 1978 and the anime in 1981.
So enthusiastically received has the tsundere ideal been that it has since crossed over from gaming, manga, and anime into industries such as technological gadgetry and maid cafes. Given just how popular this type of character has grown, it shouldn’t really come as a surprise to find that it’s now possible to buy a PSP-based car navigation system featuring voice actresses saying things like, “Even a fool like you can obey the traffic rules, right? I’m not going for a drive with you because I like you or anything. Turn right in 700 meters!” Or that an Akihabara-based maid café called Nagomi has waitresses that will greet customers at the door with a surly “What are you doing here?”, but suddenly become clingy and emotional when the customers are leaving.
The number of tsundere characters now in existence are almost too many to be listed, but a few of the classics include Taiga from Toradora!, Kagami from Lucky Star, Naru from Love Hina, Shana from Shakugan no Shana, and Kurisu from Steins;Gate. However, male tsundere characters are far from unheard of – Germany from Hetalia: Axis Powers is one prime example, as is Kyo from Fruits Basket. On the milder end of the spectrum, both Syaoran and Touya from Cardcaptor Sakura could possibly be viewed as being tsundere, as could Watanuki from xxxHolic, another CLAMP title.
Yandere: Crazy about you… literally.
The yandere might be considered as the odd one out on this list, since this is the only type to cover up emotional or psychological issues with an outer layer of sweetness, rather than hiding a naturally soft and lovable core beneath a harder shell. The term is derived from the aforementioned ‘dere dere’ and ‘yanderu’ – the latter of which signifies a mental or emotional illness. In short, a yandere character exhibits an adorably cute and completely harmless surface persona, but has the unfortunate habit of being a total psycho whenever anything appears to either harm their significant other or get in the way of the pair’s relationship. Controlling, manipulative, and obsessive to the point of plain insanity, a yandere character has a strong tendency to attack or kill anyone seen to pose a ‘threat’ – particularly those viewed as potential romantic rivals. However, if the yandere can’t have what they want, then nobody will; when pushed to their absolute extreme, a yandere may end up killing their love interest (probably right before committing suicide themselves) in order to prevent somebody else from obtaining their one true love.
As with the tsundere category, widespread usage of the term yandere only emerged around the early 2000s, although the character type is said to have been around since the 1985 release of the Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam anime – particularly in relation to characters Reccoa and Sarah, and their actions as influenced by Scirocco.
Also similar to the tsundere archetype, the overwhelming majority of yandere characters are female. Yuno from Mirai Nikki is the most commonly cited example, but there are numerous others, including Misa from Death Note, Lucy from Elfen Lied, Nina from Code Geass, and Belarus from Hetalia. Have no fear though (unless of course you’re there to steal away their loved one) – there are enough male characters to go around: Rolo from Code Geass, Suzu from Peacemaker Kurogane, Toma from Amnesia, and Guy from Ai no Kusabi all easily make it into the yandere ranks.
Kuudere: The ultimate in moe snow queens.
Whether this is merely a subtype of the tsundere or a category all on its own seems to be a matter of personal opinion, although the differences between them are obvious enough. While the tsundere’s outer shell is typically all heated bluster, the kuudere is ice cold. Pragmatic, apathetic, and possibly armed with a cynical, sarcastic, or even downright snarky attitude, the stereotypical kuudere wears a frosty mask to protect a delicate heart. Since the kuudere usually takes being emotionally stoic and unaffected to the most extreme ends of the scale, their reasons behind this are often similarly dramatic. They might hide dark and tortured pasts behind uncaring facades, or their almost robotic-like indifference may be explained by the fact that they are, quite literally, part robot. They’re sometimes given supernatural powers, or are otherwise marked as being in some way isolated from the rest of humanity.
While nobody seems to know exactly who first coined the term or where specifically it originally appeared, research suggests that it grew up almost exclusively around Evangelion’s Ayanami Rei, now one of the most iconic and popular anime characters of all time. ‘Kuudere’ being derived from the English word ‘cool’, it’s easy to see how Rei became the poster child of this concept.
Other than Rei herself, others characters that fit snugly into the kuudere category include Kanade from Angel Beats!, Eureka from Eureka Seven, Ai from Jigoku Shoujo, Yin from Darker Than Black, Ein from Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom, and C.C. from Code Geass. Meanwhile, the only male kuudere that springs to mind is Yue from Cardcaptor Sakura – although even this example is somewhat debatable since Yue is, technically speaking, genderless. (Regardless, as you can see from this list, it’s probably safe to add white/silver/grey, green, and blue hair as being another relatively common feature of the kuudere.)
Dandere: Unintentional masters of the unspoken.
The dandere and the kuudere may seem interchangeable at first, as they often share at least one of the same defining qualities: silence. However, where the kuudere usually comes across as intentionally icy and emotionless, and are generally tough or cynical to boot, dandere characters are simply painfully shy or otherwise socially inept. Sweet rather than bitter, a dandere character becomes suddenly more open and talkative under just the right circumstances. Less likely to have a tragic backstory and more likely to be just plain awkward, dandere characters may either clam up only when facing their romantic interest until such time as the right buttons are pushed, or else present a near-silent face to the world at large, rarely speaking unless directly spoken to first and outright avoiding any kind of social interaction. Their antisocial behaviour may be mistaken by other characters as standoffishness, but dandere characters are not by their nature harsh or unfriendly – merely too afraid, unsure, or embarrassed to open their mouths.
If the specific origins of the term kuudere are uncertain, the roots of dandere are even more obscure. While it’s largely accepted that the name has its beginnings in ‘danmari’, meaning ‘silence’ or ‘to be silent’, it isn’t clear when it came into popular usage or what specific character, if any, first inspired it. However, due to its similarities to the kuudere, it’s possible that the now separate concept of dandere may have begun as a subcategory of this.
Hinata from Naruto is generally understood by fans to be a dandere character, although Sakaki from Azumanga Daioh and Lain from Serial Experiments Lain are other likely candidates. There’s also been some debate on whether Yuki from Haruhi Suzumiya qualifies as a dandere or a kuudere (or if she’s just a weirdo who doesn’t properly fit into either camp). However, given that the dandere necessarily involves physical silence while the kuudere doesn’t, and because Yuki doesn’t really appear to be sharp or hostile, dandere seems to be the more popular choice. The one male nominee immediately obvious is Yuki from Fruits Basket.
Question of the post: Love ‘em, hate ‘em, don’t care? Also, since male characters for both the kuudere and dandere types are especially thin on the ground, can you think of any examples other than those already listed here?