Steins;Gate : Keeping it Real

This isn’t a Steins;Gate Episode 22 review so much as its a broader commentary on a certain character type that Steins;Gate has done an exemplary job of portraying. That character type is the tsundere, displayed beautifully by one Kurisu Makise. In this blog, I will discuss how Kurisu has almost single-handedly rescued this character type from complete mendacity, and into something strikingly sincere.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the tsundere character type is not a pure creation of fantasy. She’s not a pink pixie-dust Princess that bears no resemblance whatsoever to real life girls or women. However, what the tsundere character type has become, in my view, is an “assembly line character”.

What do I mean by “assembly line character”? Simply put, it’s a character that might as well have been mechanically constructed and then distributed off of an assembly line.

Indeed, tsunderes have even become much like automobiles…

Do you want your KugRie Tsundere in green, white, or blue?

 

Now, I actually like Shana a lot, but I’m not fond of how she’s basically become like the prototype of a new make and model of car.

The modern tsundere is typically a mechanical product. She is rarely organic, which is to say that the tsundere does not have a personality that is gradually fleshed out and understood over time. The mere sight of two or three scenes of the tsundere acting like a tsundere is all you have to see of her in order to know her inside-and-out. From that point on, you know precisely what to expect of her in any given scene, with few if any deviations.

Fact is, real life people are not like this. Real life people have personalities and psyches and backgrounds that help to shape who and what they are. They’re capable of recognizing how different contexts may call for different actions, and it’s a rare person who constantly jumps to conclusions like tsunderes tend to do.

Yet… fictional character types do not arise in a vacuum. Fiction is frequently a reflection on reality, and so popular character types must be inspired by something that is real, as reflections require an original image to be based on. This is true even if the reflection is a very distorted one displayed by a fun-house mirror.

What real life thing gave birth to the tsundere? Kurisu’s characterization, particularly in the latest episode of Steins;Gate, has prompted me to reflect on this. She has done this, because unlike most of her fellow tsunderes, Kurisu comes across to me as an actual human being; an organic sentient life, and not the latest KugRie Tsundere produced by JC Staff Motors.

Yet, she is a tsundere. She blushes like a tsundere, she’s excitable like a tsundere, she can be a bit rough like a tsundere, and she’s not the most straightforward when it comes to expressing affectionate and/or romantic feelings.

So I think that Kurisu helps to bridge the gap between the tsundere character archetype, and the real life personality traits/types that inspired it in the first place.

What I’m talking about here can be summed up in one line. You probably won’t find it on TV Tropes, Wikipedia, Google, or Anime News Network. But I think it hits at the very heart of where the tsundere came from.

That line is the following:

 

“If a girl teases you, it’s because she likes you.”

 

Long before I ever heard of the term “tsundere”, I heard this line in junior high. It was said to a mystified guy who couldn’t understand why his female classmate was “picking on him” so much.

Here’s the thing: Not all people are equally adept at expressing emotions of love, romance, and affection. Many find “that mushy stuff” unbearable to straightforwardly say. I recall watching a Dr. Phil show where a female guest was discussing how much it bothered her that her husband of many years would never say “I love you” to her. However, I could tell by the husband’s body language, and his words to Dr. Phil, that he did love his wife; he just didn’t have it in him to actually utter the words themselves. He has a strong psychological block against being “mushy” in other words.

Most people aren’t this severe, of course, but many lean in this direction. The words “I love you” do not come easy to them. I personally believe this sort of thing is rooted in a fear of emotional intimacy. A fear of letting the person you love know that he or she holds that sort of influence over you. When you tell a person “I love you”, they may appreciate it simply as a show of deep affection, but you also give them the knowledge that they can hold influence and sway over you. That’s not an easy thing to reveal. It takes trust in the other person, real trust that they won’t abuse the fact that you love them in order to manipulate you in ways you wouldn’t want them to.

And some people have difficulty trusting other people at all, ever. They value their independence, and they don’t want to feel like they’re tied down to another person.

This, I think, is the true real life source of the tsundere.

 

A tsundere should be firmly independent, someone inwardly fearful of losing that independence, and someone who is annoyed by romantic feelings as such. And so, to some degree, she lashes out at the source of those romantic feelings.

“She teases you because she likes you.”

Indeed, that is exactly it. She likes you, but she doesn’t want to, because these emotions worry her, if not scare her. So she is paradoxically drawn to you, while disliking how you affect her. This continues until the time comes when she learns to trust you. It’s ideally not that “the shrew is tamed”, it’s that the tsundere’s trust is earned.

Okabe has earned Kurisu’s trust. It didn’t happen overnight. It took a long, long time of them talking normally to one another, openly discussing problems with one another, and, yes, teasing one another. It’s probably no coincidence that this trust was earned when Okabe (mostly) took leave of his “Mad Scientist” persona, and allowed Kurisu (and the other lab members) to see the more normal side of himself. It was here that Okabe’s sincerity, his frenzied faithfulness to his friends, and his trustworthiness, was openly displayed to Kurisu.

But even so… the strong, independent, intelligent Kurisu has some lingering reservations about emotional intimacy.

And so, in Episode 22, when Okabe said “I love you” to Kurisu, it was simply not her nature to say those exact same words back to him.

But… and this is a key but… while Kurisu is a tsundere, she’s also a basically good human being. She knows that it would be wrong and disrespectful of her to fail to respond to Okabe’s serious confession. She can’t ignore it. She must answer the  implicit question in the first “I love you” one person says to another – the question of Do you love me ?.

So, in a genuinely very cute scene, Kurisu asks Okabe to close his eyes, and when he does so, she kisses him on the lips. That is her wordless answer, the one that makes her feelings known without having to state them verbally.

 

And this, good reader, is reflective of reality. This is not artificial. This is not the tsundere being so caught up in her own fears of emotional intimacy that she has completely taken leave of basic human empathy.

The tsundere, like any other character archetype, is given so much leeway to live up to that archetype. But being an archetype does not mean it’s acceptable for a character to no longer feel human.

There’s a certain level of empathy that viewers, readers, and video game players, tend to expect of the fictional protagonists portrayed before them. Just because a character is a tsundere doesn’t mean its acceptable for her to be a complete bore of a person. She can, and should, have her tsundere idiosyncrasies, but that doesn’t excuse her from being held to the same basic standards of likability that all other characters are held to. Nor does it excuse the tsundere from being a mechanical construct, bearing little resemblance to the original reality that spurred her creation, I believe.

 

Tsunderes will continue to populate anime in great numbers. That much is assured.

But the quality of the tsundere in question can make a big difference to the quality of the anime show featuring her.

It can make the difference between shows like Steins;Gate and shows like…

 

My sister can’t possibly be this cute?

Personally, I prefer “My tsundere girlfriend can’t possibly be this real.”  Thankfully for Okabe, she is that real, and I hope more tsunderes in the future are like her in that way.

Thumbs up to you, Kurisu, and thumbs up to what you’ve done for the anime that you are in.