Aesthetics: tsundere facial expressions

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I noticed something interesting the other day about an anime character’s face. I was trying to explain to my roommate why I found the above ‘tsundere face’ cute, but I had a surprisingly hard time describing her exact facial expression. All I could say was that the she looked something along the spectrum of feeling concerned, mad/annoyed, flustered, and/or shy.

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Now these aren’t all tsundere characters/faces, but these are the expressions in question. You’ll notice that they have two conflicting expressions in common: concerned or angry eyebrows and an embarrassed blush. What’s makes these faces even more interesting is that even though we can infer the emotion(s) that these characters are experiencing — via mirror neurons or something, right? — when you think about it, these expressions do not exist in real life.

Part of my job involves teaching kids how to derive emotions from facial cues. I’ve had to Google terms like “kid crying ice cream” or “girl proud game medal” and come up with a backstory to give contextual cues for the target emotion being taught. If I had to do that with these faces, they’ll be something like the following:

  • I like you but I’m mad at you for the fact that you don’t know that I like you
  • I’m embarrassed that you may have realized that I like you
  • I don’t like you but what you did just now was nice
  • Of course I like you, you’re my friend aren’t you

It’s this kind of self-perpetuated embarrassment that comes from establishing that you’re not the type of person to show feelings. My friend Helena offered a possible explanation that we as humans do actually make all these facial expressions as a reaction to a scenario but only one at a time, whereas these characters are showing all of the expressions in one dramatized face. This is certainly an interesting idea.

If I had to make a guess, I would say that these faces contain expressions of vulnerability that evoke moe. You get the feeling that you should be extra sensitive to these characters because they look strangely frustrated/upset. It’s the anime culture’s way of illustrating tsundere, characters known for struggling with such repressed reactions stemming from past trust issues. Somehow this translates to cute; idk LOL.

On a much broader topic of character design and their purposes, RCAnime has a video called What Goes into the Character Design (in Anime)? that you may want to check out.


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Images are from Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata, et al

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Quick thoughts on Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata (2015)

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In my viewing of Saekano (Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata) about a month ago, I was left with the impression that it was an entertaining character driven comedy that tastefully parodied the otaku culture. Of course, by its nature, such a meta narrative is going to be derivative and indulgent, but even if Saekano’s plot wasn’t very original — both of its otaku life plot and making a video game plot — its characters had enough original motivations to make the show engaging. And I enjoyed the parodying because, rather than just referencing the culture, the characters acted as their own individuals — albeit being grounded in their character trope — who came into working in the otaku culture (this idea is further elaborated on here). Moreover, I enjoyed their dialogue as it was similar to the conversations I’ve had in real life.

I won’t hide the fact that I tend to be partial to meta things and parodies. But I think that this a natural progression as one familiarize themselves to a certain culture and become interested in the sub-cultures. And I’m not claiming that parodies are necessarily smart or clever, but the familiarity they bring can be engaging to someone who has been fully exposed to the various trends and themes of a culture. The downside, of course, is that theses shows (such as the Monogatari series) aren’t as accessible to everyone.

I recently learned that the second season is coming out in April. I was honestly satisfied by how the show resolved, but I am curious nonetheless to see how the conclusion will play out. Going into Saekano, I had my reservations for the fact that the show was made by A-1 Pictures. From what I’ve seen from titles such as ErasedOreimo, and Sword Art Online, I got the feeling that this studio does not care for having interesting (multi-dimensional) characters. I also think that their character designs are flat and generic looking. Saekano did not suffer from these problems, but it did bother me in that about 2 full episodes had distasteful ecchi. The OP is a bit problematic as well, highlighting the weird ‘male gaze’ thing that happens in those 2/3 episodes.

First is the OVA (‘episode 0’). I didn’t have a big problem with this episode actually, since the ecchi (albeit quite explicit) is only present in the beginning and can be excused for the setting (the classic OVA hot springs scene). Episode 6 is where we start to run into real problems. Now I understand that the ecchi is used here to communicate the idea that one of the characters is very sexual, but I felt that the shift in tone threw off the pacing of the story.

And then there’s episode 10. This episode was actually annoying to watch. For much of the episode, the ‘camera’ never stays still as it continuously pans over girls’ bodies. The camera becomes an eye sore of a character as it seems to do its own thing independent of the characters. It’s disgusting to be honest. Once again, one of the characters is supposed to be empowered by her sexuality, but this was a level of objectification that most porn don’t even do.

What makes these aspects of the show so frustrating is because it was otherwise a really solid show. I particuarily enjoyed the subversion of the harem trope in that the MC had no problem interacting with the girls. The lovable gang of “I’m only interested in 2-D girls”, deadpan, tsundere/childhood friend, yandere/senpai, and Kanbaru/cousin hilariously parodied the otaku culture while embarking on their coming of age project. And then we get these weird male pandering fanservice that degrades the show. But I digress.

From what I understand, this show is quite popular and many are understandably hyped for the second season. If you ask me, I wouldn’t mind seeing a romantic development — and as always, I’ll root for the tsundere girl. This won’t happen of course, but I think the shows risks being annoying with all the ‘will they or won’t they’ if nothing happens. But we’ll see.


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Image is from Saekano S01E12