This is a different way to look at characters as constructions compared to the currently accepted notions of what they are in anime and manga. Note this probably doesn’t apply to real people, but the principles may be truisms to some extent. And what I’m about to say is probably common sense anyways.
Put aside what you know about tsunderes for now. It’ll just get in the way.
Japan, culturally, is a group that value subtle forms of communication over overt ones. A person who stands, sits, walks, and otherwise does what s/he would normally carry on daily communicates by the way s/he stands, sits, walks, and stuff s/he otherwise does daily. It’s not to say they don’t commute overtly, but that is just a necessary part of the deal. It’s hard to exchange marital vows with body language only, right? A typical confession scene is beautiful because it’s an act that symbolizes the coming-to-terms of a bandwagon full of feelings, and not merely the expression of those feelings. The viewers have long knew those feelings before the character does, anyways.
But the ability of one to express these feelings, within the social and cultural constrains of interpersonal sensitivity and elegance, on top of the usual fears of social rejection and self-rejection, can be a tall order for some. We can break down the tsundere archetype (and many others) in these terms.
As a character, there are some feelings which motivates, drives, and explains the thoughts and actions of a character. In fulfilling the character’s fundamental motivation (such as being compelled to satisfy a growing feeling of affection of our Tsundereko for the Harem Lead, for example) things will get to a point where s/he has to internalize these feelings and motivations. Then s/he has to externalize them. Depending on what and who the character is, we will see that they will have varying success to do both. In essence, the expression of “tsun” represents a process of feelings being internalized, and the expression of “dere” represents these feeling being externalized.
Maybe some examples help to explain.
1. The Hard Tsun. What makes a hard tsun “hard” is an incongruity between the character’s normal image and the way the character cope with his/her feelings (when being ‘tsun’). How drastic the incongruity is, the harder the Tsundereko she is. While the schtik of a tsundere hinges on the two-face element, it achieves a uncomfortable disjoint rather than the cute outburst of the stereotypical tsundere. In translation, the Hard Tsun is a brute. She just overpowers herself with something else to let the emotion pass.
2. The Ordinary Tsun. For characters like Rin Tohsaka and pretty much a large portion of ordinary people, we don’t really have a lot of experience dealing with emotions of romance, affection and infatuation. Especially as teenagers. For archetypical anime girls, there may be some of that “maiden in love” thing going on which really hits the “moe” buttons for many, that perhaps “sprouting” becomes an adequate analogy for an intangible feeling, but overall we’re just inexperienced. Sometimes this inexperience shows up in body language, which is also another approach or outlet for expression in anime and manga. In translation, the normal tsun is…normal. We see the character struggle to cope with her feelings in a sensible fashion, but is still having a tough time with it.
3. The Real Tsun. It’s harder to pinpoint an example, but the real tsundere is someone who has the same inner struggle as the Normal Tsun, but is more of a klutz at dealing with her emotional circumstances. It’s not a cut and dry line between this and the Ordinary Tsun, and some are more klutzy than others when it comes to expressing that strange feeling.
4. The Un-Tsundere. Some people are faster with dealing with unfamiliar feeling than other. Of course a large portion of TV anime is about high school romance and stuff like that, so this is more the unexpected state of things. There’s some difference between this and the Ordinary Tsun; both can run into awkward situations and attribute like suaveness and courage are perpendicular to how well they handle their own feelings. For example, Yuumi Hoshino would not be a tsundere, but Asuka Sakino would be, although both of them have a very good grasp of their feelings. Yet, in general, Asuka deals with her feelings with some maturity and courage unlike Yumi. Both of them are klutzy but one is more proactive about it.
I’d like to end this post with Clark Kent. The alter-ego of Superman is a klutz because, well, he’s in restraint of his super powers when living a life in incognito. Being a minor klutz is almost endearing to his love interests at times, but also it lends him credibility as a harmless and unguarded individual that you don’t need to watch out for. It also makes good juxtaposition to his alter ego in some sense; that you’re not some hired gun by The Man, but you’re just a normal guy doing what you’ve got to do.
Props to the notenki among us I suppose.