The Provocateur


an analysis of the popular extension to the tsundere archetype in Japanese cartoons

The provocateur (/pʁɔ.vɔ.ka.tœʁ/, French borrowing, one who engages in provocative (intentionally shocking) behavior) is my name for an archetype which has seemingly gained a lot of popularity in manga and anime (Japanese comics and animation, respectively), or at least is a pattern in some of the manga I've found myself reading, in the last five years. The archetype describes a character (usually a girl) who routinely bullies or annoys a target (usually a boy). The provacateur is designed to be the antithesis of their target in almost every way: she is loud, confident, extraverted, has a strong circle of friends, and talented, while the target is quiet, bashful and self-deprecating, introverted, has no friends, and believes his talents and interests to be strange or mundane, if they have any at all. The provocateur crashes into the life of the target without the his consent, causing the target stress and to lose further confidence in himself due to a daily onslaught of taunting. Usually, the provocateur's cruelty is eventually spun by their author into a sort of tough love, as too much bullying can cause the provocateur's actions to be percieved as unnecessarily cruel instead of funny, enabling the target to "grow a backbone" and grow more confidence, while the provocateur either never really learns any kind of lesson--if they did, the story would lose its main source of humor--or becomes more comfortable with showing a softer side, but either way finds herself falling in love with her target and attempts to express that love in anyway other than straightforward. This archetype, commonly seen in romance comedies, has found much popularity in both the East and West, with manga series that have the archetype as the main focus, such as Don't Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro, Teasing Master Takagi-san, and Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out!, finding mainstream success in terms of sales, awards, and television adaptations. The purpose of this essay is to attempt to connect the provacateur archetype to its tsundere origins, evaluate the morality of a person who embodies the archetype, and to understand why readers (including me) enjoy it so much.


The tsundere (/tsɯ̥ndeɾe/, Japanese compounding of to turn away in disgust or anger and to become affectionate) is a common character archetype in romance comedies, where a character (usually a woman) who initially treats her love interest very harshly before gradually showing a softer side over time. The tsundere mirrors the provocateur in two key ways: both make a mess of their interest's daily lives (tsunderes are stereotypically quite nasty both verbally and physically), and both slowly allow themselves to be more vulnerable around their interest, usually having a hard time directly expressing their feelings in the process. An anthropologist much smarter than me would likely study the last twenty years of Japanese media to try to find the direct point at which the provocateur was birthed from the tsundere, but I'm not that, so I'm simply going to note the similarities in terms of writing, state semi-empircally that a lot of people (including me) who enjoy the tsundere archetype also enjoy provocateurs [citation needed], and move on.


I began wondering about the morality of someone who acts like a provocateur after reading the self-published works of 774, which he wrote prior to the serialization of Don't Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro. Compared to her manga incarnation, Nagatoro, our provacateur and the underclassman of her target, whom she never refers to by name, is significantly more cruel. She has no issue with actively tearing down her target, calling him a manchild, creepy, unkempt, lanky and pale, while dangling the possibility of a sexual and romantic relationship in front of him, physically assaulting him and laughing at him while he cries at his situation, unable to keep eye contact with his bully. The target, even though being with Nagatoro makes him feel utterly powerless, stays by her side because she is the only person who bothers interacting with him; without her, he is truly alone. While the target in this situation may not be the best person, Nagatoro's teasing and berating certainly isn't helping him become the best version of himself, but instead stay in that low valley of loneliness and dependence on his manipulator. Nagatoro was also like this to a certain extent in the first few chapters of the manga, but 774 eventually toned her down, likely realizing that a romance story will not be fun to read if the one of the main characters is extremely abusive to the other. Other provocateurs, while none as cruel as pre-serialization Nagatoro, don't treat their targets much better, engaging in lovely activities such as invading their target's personal spaces, gaslighing, embarassing their targets in public, making fun of their target's virginity[1], and using their target as a secondary wallet.

As is the case for many fictional archetypes, while the concept of the provocateur may be amusing when there is a fourth wall between them and me, I would immediately find this kind of person annoying, if not aggravating. Bringing people down instead of bringing them up or simply leaving them be is overtly cruel, especially when you for for particulary sensitive parts of their identity. If you find parts of yourself in the provocateur, please realize that you may be a bully and aren't even fully conscious of it. When poking fun at someone, please make sure you're laughing with them, not at them.


My father loathes the tsundere because he finds it frustrating that someone has to be the target of physical violence because someone can't properly process their feelings, which I agree with to an extent. Sometimes, a writer does a bad job of preventing their concept of a coy character from becoming a jerk; that's made me put down a few stories with provocateurs. I think the fact that the the line between writing a character as playful and frustrating is the reason why I enjoy the provocateur when done right so much; it's inately because it's so hard to create that very interesting relationship development process. A provocateur-ian relationship is initially extremely one-sided, with the provocateur always initializing interactions while the target meekly responds and just lets it all wash over them. As the story progresses, the target is able to hold their own in conversations, sometimes themselves initializing interactions, while the provocateur begins to treat them more like a person than a toy as they learn more about them. Eventually, the two begin to realize that they have feelings for one another and I get to regularly say "aww" at the end of every chapter or episode. It's a nice mixup from the usual romcom formula which can create funny moments, even if its shaudenfruede nature can understandably cause some to feel a bit uncomfortable.

  1. The topic of virginity being used to belittle men in recent times after being used to opress women for hundreds of years is an essay for another day. ↩︎