Come Jump Into the Crazy World of Yandere!
The yandere. A blood-soaked, wide-eyed, psychopathic love interest. A character archetype that has shot up to become one of the most popular and most recognizable anime character tropes around. To a new anime fan, someone more seasoned who has only just come back into the anime fold, or just a curious person on google who is trying to figure out what these kids are on about these days, it can all seem a bit confusing. Are these people really fantasizing over a wild axe murderer whose lines of dialogue sound like they come from an cross between an overly protective father and a stalker? Don't you worry though, for I'm here to help you. Take my hand and I'll guide you through the history and appeal of the yandere, and hopefully you'll come out of the other side having learned something more than just a definition of the term.
What is Yandere? What Does Yandere Mean?
Yandere Definition: A yandere is a character, male or female (but usually female), who is madly in love with someone but also is mentally crazy in some form or another to a level that causes them to act out violently. Usually this comes in the form of demanding the absolute, undivided attention of the love interest and using extreme measures to prevent other potential love interests to interact with their beloved. Alternatively, they could also go to extreme measures to prevent their romantic interest from ever leaving their side, tying them down or warning them to never look at another person of the opposite sex while holding a knife to their throat. If you imagine a stalker, except your stalker is armed with a giant axe and will use their weapon to chop down anyone who approaches your vicinity, then you're getting the general idea of the nature of a yandere.
The Origin of the Term Yandere
The yandere character archetype has existed for years and years. Ever heard of Phantom of the Opera? Yeah that kind of counts as a yandere, even if nobody ever really called him one. However it's only much more recently with the internet and otaku culture did we start categorizing characters with such minutia. Hey, there's a reason the influential Japanese media critic Hiroki Azuma called otaku "Japan's database animals". The term yandere sprung up after the popularity of the term "tsundere" to describe a character who acts harsh, or "tsun", only to reveal a softer, more romantic "dere" side. For yandere, it's a combination of the Japanese word "yanderu", meaning a sickness, and "dere" meaning infatuated or love-struck. In short, it means you have a sickness that stems from being love-struck.
When the term "yandere" was first used is buried somewhere on a Japanese internet forum, although we can at least assume it came after 2002 as that was when the term tsundere was first used. Much like the term "tsundere", it was in the dating sim and visual novel scene that the word really saw increased usage, in particular with the popular game Shuffle, with Kaede and her infamous box cutters. However it really blew up with School Days, a dating sim that was particularly infamous for having numerous violent Bad Ends. It's not that Bad Ends were uncommon in dating sims. You made some incorrect decisions and, in the worst case scenarios, girls you could have romanced left the country or died in car accidents. The difference in School Days was the incredible violent nature of these Bad Ends, usually involving yandere who felt they had been wronged.
How to Spot a Yandere
But how would you spot a yandere from your regular friendly neighborhood axe-wielder? It can be tough, as before they make the switch from "dere" to "yan", there isn't anything there to distinguish them, apart from maybe the faint smell of blood they haven't been able to scrape off their clothes. The trick is to keep looking at their eyes. When the yandere switch in their head flicks, you will see their eyes completely change. Their pupils dilate and become tiny, or alternatively their eyes could go completely dead, as though their soul has just disappeared in pure horror at what unfolded in front of them. That, and the part where they start swinging their axe above their head while giggling and talking about how much they love you and want to make sure you never leave them by chopping your legs off.
The Most Famous Yandere Unleashed
Kotonoha Katsura from School Days, and the "Nice Boat"
As I've already mentioned, while Shuffle may have introduced the concept of the yandere to a wider audience, School Days and its "nice boat" exploded it into wider anime fandom consciousness. Its anime adaptation gained special notoriety in particular for what happened with its final episode. Don't worry, I won't spoil. However given everything I've told you so far about yandere and the original visual novel's reputation, you can probably guess that it involves an axe murder (pretty much the yandere definition).
The problem was on the day the final episode was supposed to air in Japan, a 16-year-old girl killed her father with an axe in Kyoto. The Japanese TV producers, being extremely conscious about anything that could possibly lead to controversy, delayed the episode and instead showed a whole bunch of pretty scenic pictures with classical music playing in the background, including one picture of a particularly nice boat. Indeed the pull became so infamous that "nice boat" became a meme in Japan and among Western anime fans.
Gasai Yuno from Mirai Nikki, the Queen of the Yandere
While School Days and Shuffle were the original standard bearers for yandere back in the day when dating sim adaptations were the hottest things on the anime market, there is absolutely no doubt who is the face of the character archetype today. Step forward Gasai Yuno from Future Diary. The girl possesses a diary on her phone that tells her exactly what her love interest is going to do in the future, allowing her to follow his every move. Combine this with her already dangerously psychotic level of affection for the main character, and you have the perfect combination for the creepy yandere stalker girlfriend. She's frequently seen wearing a wide-eyed expression, splattered in blood, smiling because she has removed another obstacle between her and her beau. She's become so synonymous with the term that she's practically redefined the entire archetype, making it so that anyone who doesn't conform to the Yuno form of yandere isn't considered a yandere.
Different Classes of Yandere
Although creators are free, and indeed have, broken these rules many times, most yandere fall into one of two categories. A lot of them were just regular normal people until they met the love and it drove them to madness. Without their beau they would have lived normal lives. But bring up the object of their affection and everything changes. The second category of yandere are those who were just mad from the off. They would have been off their rocker even if they didn't have somebody to love. But they do, and that lucky individual shall ton the receiving end of so much fun psycho material. Many yandere fall somewhere in between the two in reality. They're already slightly mad but meeting their love is what drove them over the edge. Here's two great examples of the two main types.
Rena Ryuuguu from Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, a village full of yandere
Back in the region of visual novels, although anything but a dating sim, came this crazy story about a small town village going gradually insane. And as the saying I just made up goes, where there's insanity, there's yandere. Rena was a cheerful, if slightly dumb, teenage girl whose smiling face hid the mind of a complete psycho would would hide pins in people's food and swing an axe with deadly precision. What's interesting about Rena is that you wouldn't necessarily say it's the love that caused her "yan" mental illness side, so much as she was just a crazy person anyway. You could say the same about the whole village in that show though. Rena is arguably a similar, less recognized term, "yangire", which means "crazy ax-swinging girl, but not because of love". For the purposes of this article and for character archetypes, let's consider yangire to be the same as their lovestruck relatives.
Mikasa Ackerman from Attack on Titan, normal until she's around her man
I had heard Mikasa was considered something of a yandere before Attack on Titan aired, but wasn't sold on the idea until quite late on into the series. Her feelings towards Eren really are just prime yandere material. The shadow dropping across her face when she thinks Eren might have betrayed her in some way speaks to her true yandere character. Or at least, that's the arguments of people who say she's a yandere. It's stretching the term somewhat, but I shall allow it. In this way, Mikasa fits into the category of being quite a normal person until Eren shows up.
But What About the Yandere Boys?
Don't you worry ladies (and gay men too). Tomoko from Watamote had her CD entitled "Yandere Boys" in which a series of sexy voice actors whispered in her ears about how they would kill her if she ever thought about leaving their side, that wasn't just a silly joke invented for the series. Yandere boys are gradually increasing. In the olden days you had to really reach for boys who could be considered yandere, like Griffith from Berserk. But now there's a new frontier where anime producers have realised yandere boys have existed for years. If you've been paying attention while reading this article, you probably know where they're all originating from too. Yes, visual novels. Dating sims for ladies: otome Games. When it comes to churning out character archetypes, your digital significant other simulators have that ground covered. I must admit it's not an area I personally have a huge amount of expertise in since we're still in a relatively recent period of anime producers actually looking at visual novels for women and realizing there's gold to be found in them there hills (blame the massive success of the Uta no Prince-sama anime adaptation for that).
Lindo from the recent Dance with Devils is an excellent example of a yandere from an otome game adaptation. The brother of the main character who locks his sister in her bedroom so none of those sexy demon men can get near her, while singing to himself about how much he has totally not-platonic feelings for her. Yeah he fits the yandere mold pretty well. I'm not so sure about the other otome game adaptations though. Although the guys in other otome game adaptations like Amnesia and Diabolik Lovers acted terribly towards the lead character, I don't think they were actual yandere. I think they were just arseholes.
Yandere-Specific Stories and the Yandere Simulator
Somewhere in all of this, yandere material got really popular, to the point that you have started seeing plenty of manga, light novels and visual novels proudly displaying the word Yandere in the title. How about the rather wonderfully titled light novel "Yandere-kei Otomege no Sekai ni Tensei Shite Shimatta Youdesu ", or in English, "It Seems like I Got Reincarnated into the World of a Yandere Otome Game". I think you can probably guess what happens in that story. Or there's a visual novel which is just called straight up "Yandere", featuring a bunch of psycho girls who all really like you. Or the psuedo-BL manga "Yankee to Yandere no Karera ni wa Tomodachi ga Inai", or "Yankee and Yandere Don't Have Friends", in which a delinquent and a yandere guy form an unlikely friendship. Don't, however, make the mistake of diving into Yandere Kanojo expecting that to be about yandere. The author there used a combination of "Yankee" and "Dere" for his heroine. No axe-wielding psychopaths in that one. She just has herself a baseball bat.
That's before we even starting into merchandise and video games. T-shirts with girls covered in blood, gripping axes, proclaiming their undying love for you, are everywhere. They usually sport Gasai Yuno on the front, but many other generic anime girl designs are available. The thing that appears to have caught the eye most of all of anime fandom is the upcoming game Yandere Simulator in which you play a girl who must wipe out her potential love rivals so they don't get near to her beloved sempai. It started as a minor personal pet project of one person, only for it to turn into something much larger, and better funded thanks to many a generous donor, than certainly even the creator themselves ever thought it could turn into.
So... What is the Appeal of the Yandere, Then?
Don't get me wrong. I think Gasai Yuno is a pretty great character. However the idea of ever getting romantically involved with someone like that would leave me screaming for the hills, or at the very least the closest police station. But for a not insignificant number of people, yandere are sexy. See the 2015 anime Shimoneta with its character Anna Nishikinomiya. Her crazed actions, where she would chase after the main character with a hoover intending to attach it to his private parts, were supposed to represent the mental damage and misunderstanding that results from the censorship of any sexual content from minors. However forums on the show were full of people saying how much they wish they were in the main characters position. So why is that?
The main reason seems to be this idea that a yandere will love you unconditionally. They are so madly in love with you that it requires no effort on your part to get them attracted to you. They will do anything for you and anything you ask them to do because that is how crazy in love they are, which is pretty kinky when you put it that way. Similarly, it could also be the feeling of security you get from allowing the object of your love control your life. Anime fans aren't typically known for being the alpha male types, so allowing yourself to be completely taken in by this sexy person who has complete and utter devotion to you could be an attractive idea. Or maybe some people are just turned on by fear? Hey, anime fans have been into much weirder stuff in the past.