Fatevember: Fate Stay Night’s Rin Tohsaka: The Tsundere with the Iron Will.

When it comes to anime, there is no greater stock archetype than the Tsundere. If you aren’t aware of what that means, the Tsundere is a type of (usually) female character who presents herself as cold, stand-offish and prone to anger, but behind her mask is a kind, warm and loving person. In terms of romance, they will often be dismissive and hostile to their love interest, but deep down harbor deep and loving affection towards them.

Simply put, if you have ever heard a variation of the phrase: “It’s not like I like you or anything” then you are probably seeing some type of Tsundere.

A fair criticism of the Fate Franchise is that most of its main cast are just stock archetypes and that despite being affected by the story, they don’t really do much to set them apart from the vast sea of other anime males and females. Shirou is the plucky young hero, Sakura is the quiet shy girl, Saber is the strong and duty-bound fighter and so forth. All of these traits have been done in other, possibly better animes. Now while I would argue that Fate does try to wrap these characters with depth and complex emotional stories, I must admit that after watching every single piece of Fate media there is, the cast of Fate Stay Night still feel very…basic.

Now I would argue, as I have done in the past with this years’ How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord, that basic can be good, even great. Sometimes just playing within your limits and doing what you know can lead to some truly great work. As I once heard: “You can eat all the caviar you want, but sometimes you just need ham and eggs.” I think Fate Stay Night succeeds in part because it doesn’t try to veer too much outside its comfort zone. Yet from within that zone, they can create wonderfully memorable characters and that is no clearer than with who we are talking about today. After the cut let’s take a dive into Fate Stay Night‘s second leading lady: Rin Tohsaka.


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Anime’s crystallization of “Ham and Eggs”

Rin Tohsaka, while not my favorite character in the series (three guesses who that is), I do believe she is its best character, and her role in all three routes of Fate Stay Night presents her as someone with the inner strength and iron will that in my mind, has yet to be surpassed. Simply put, I think Rin Tohsaka is one of the strongest female characters ever written in the Anime, ever.

Rin is a Tsundere, a pure, authentic, no holds bar 100% concentrated Tsundere. She’s is so much this archetype that she is actually both a Tsundere and a Reverse Tsundere. There are many times at the start of Unlimited Blade Works where the trope of the Tsundere is reversed, and Rin is quiet, calm and loving on the outside, but is rash, loud and obnoxious in private, and that is funny to see when most of the Blade Works route is Rin having to struggle with her growing feelings for Shirou. All of their conversations are laced with those classic tsundere tropes and every time she tries to help Shirou, she is compelled to let him know it’s for any reason but her attraction to him. All of this is basic anime storytelling and in the almost fourteen years since Fate Stay Night first arrived, you can see that in comparison to other characters of her type, Rin feels very basic, even in her other alternative universe incarnations. In the almost decade and a half since her introduction, other animes have just done her tsundere character better.

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Keep telling yourself that Rin.

But what makes Rin stand out so much to me, is that both within the world of Fate and outside of it, Rin Tohsaka is a character of unbelievable inner strength and fortitude. Like every other character in Fate, Rin suffers from a tragic past with her father being brutally murdered, and her mother abused and driven insane by the actions of her uncle. However, unlike the other characters, Rin shows no outward signs of being affected by it. She grieved yes, but compared to the other characters Rin does not seem to be haunted by the trauma of her past and by all accounts has accepted it as part of her and made peace with it.

The other main characters of Fate Stay Night all suffer from unresolved issues with their past. Shirou Emiya reels from the guilt of being the lone survivor of the great fire. Saber is consumed by self-doubt and a lack of confidence in herself, and there isn’t enough therapy in the world to deal with the trauma and horrors inflicted upon Sakura Matou. Rin, having suffered losses on the same level as most of them (except Sakura, holy FUCK), she is the only character whose past does not haunt her, at least from what the viewer sees. She is strong, independent, and would rather move forward into the future than be stuck dwelling on the past. In fact, her whole reason for fighting the Holy Grail War is to prove herself. She does not seek the grail for personal gain like many of the other cast members do, only so she can prove to both her and her father that she has the ability to do so. There is no desire to recreate herself into something great or attempt to rewrite the mistakes of the past. There is just a raw drive and will.

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In many ways, Rin is the anchor that helps Shirou reforge himself in Blade Works, despite having it far worse than he does.

Furthermore, as each of the routes plays out and the Holy Grail War devolves into chaos and insanity, Rin always remembers to keep her head, despite suffering personal betrayal, loss and the realities of what is happening around her. She is not an emotionless robot by any means, she reacts to everything as one would expect of her, but Rin never feels hopeless or falls into despair, she deals with the situation at hand and pushes on forward, ever forward. It is only in Heaven’s Feel, where Rin is confronted with the truth that she never once attempted to rescue Sakura, despite it being well in her power to do, that she shows any hint of regret and sorrow, and this is after she had resolved herself to killing Sakura for the sake of everyone else.

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Her will is Iron, but she is not heartless, and Rin knows she could never bring herself to kill Sakura, despite everything that happens.

This carries on even in the alternative Fate series, In the anime Fate Kalied Liner Prisma Illya, Rin is more of a mentor and big sister to the young Illyasviel. She admits the fault in thrusting the task of capturing the servants onto an innocent girl was wrong and doesn’t argue when Illya has a moment of crisis and wants to quit. Even after that arc has past and Rin remains steadfastly supportive of Illya and maintains that strong strength of characters even if she is portrayed more comically.

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Comical yes, but Rin is the girl you want to have to watch your back.

In the world of Fate, the characters are often defined by the horrors of their past, but it is Rin Tohsaka alone who stands above it all. Despite being well within her rights not to be. her immense inner strength, her drive to move forward, and an iron will all shape Rin into one of the most put together and strongest characters I have seen in all my years as an anime viewer. In the west, we often criticize the “strong female character” as lazy writing and an easy way to score points with certain viewers, but Rin is a STRONG character who happens to be female and is an example I will always point to when it looking for an example of a well done female character, and anime have MANY to choose from.

Other anime and manga may have done it better, but Fate Stay Night in my eyes did it first.

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And this final hairstyle? *faints*


2 thoughts on “Fatevember: Fate Stay Night’s Rin Tohsaka: The Tsundere with the Iron Will.

  1. Rin is one of the best things about Fate. She works so well as a tsundere archetype because she’s literally one of the trope codifiers; she wasn’t the first by any means (there are a number of opinions on this ranging from Urusei Yatsura’s Lum to various characters from Evangelion and Love Hina) but she’s definitely one who helped to popularise the trope, give people a firm understanding of what it meant and its core appeal. She also helped define some of the now-common visual tropes that go along with the tsundere archetype.

    I gave Rin a Waifu Wednesday article of her own a while back, where I explored some of her more appealing aspects: https://moegamer.net/2017/10/04/waifu-wednesday-rin-tohsaka/

    Liked by 1 person

    • An excellent post, and tbh, i never realized that Rin might have been ground zero for the tsundere trope, so thanks for that!

      She really is one of the best things about the show, and her relationship with Shirou is probably the best out of the three, in fact I’m planning a character dive on that very topic. Glad you enjoyed the post!

      Liked by 1 person

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