Say what you want about Rie Kugimiya, but I think she’s an absolutely fantastic seiyuu. Definitely one of the most prolific in recent history. Her name has practically become synonymous with the term tsundere as of recent and for good reason. Rie’s voice is moe-fied tsundere incarnate and is as much a part of tsundere as the inhuman intolerance for being teased, the zettai ryouiki, the distinctive twin-tails, or the nervous blush inevitably accompanied by a dismissive *hmph.*
Due to Rie’s extreme exposure over the past couple of years, her talent has become a heated point of contention. Some people have grown tired of her incessant pigeonholing while others can’t stand the sheer stridency of most of her performances. It’s something that’s honestly difficult to measure objectively and one’s mileage will depend almost solely on personal preference.
I personally find Rie Kugimiya’s voice to be moe as hell and endearingly cute. Especially due to the fact that most of the characters she voices are pint-sized powerhouses of spunk and verve, belying genuine tenderheartedness. Oh-so-huggable, but still frighteningly fearsome.
I might as well broach on the topic of Rie strutting her saucy tsundere ‘tude first. Like many people, my first experience with Rie was by way of a little series known as Shakugan no Shana, where she made a name for herself as the short-fused tsundere loli known as Shana.
Ah, Shana. One spicy Flame-Haze wrapped up in a neat, portable package of adorable snuggliness. The zenith was definitely Rie's lusciously fluttery stammering and stuttering when the time came for Shana to go all dere. Simply irresistible.
After Shana, Rie has gone on to voice Louise from Zero no Tsukaima, Nagi from Hayate the Combat Butler and Taiga from Toradora!
Out of the four pillars of tsundere, Louise is probably the weakest as there’s absolutely nothing refreshing about her in particular. For example, apart from being the first, Shana’s obsession with melon bread gave her that spark of humanity and yet another trait of endearing cuteness. Louise is just as deliciously cheeky and vociferously prideful (and powerful) as Shana is, but it’s unfortunately not too much of a stretch to say that she’s literally just Shana minus the feverish melon bread fixation.
Hayate the Combat Butler, on the other hand, is an unrelenting comedy series whereas the Shakugan no Shana and Zero no Tsukaima were a mix of comedy and action or adventure respectively. Accordingly, Nagi puts a welcome spin on the whole flat-chested-loli-tsundere schtick by sprinkling in some added flavor. She’s still spunky and dangerously-irascible, but is more of a cross between a typical tsundere and a hikikomori otaku.
Nagi is an aspiring manga artist and is reluctant to leave the confines of her mansion for trivial things such as school. The fact that she’s an otaku surrogate further endears her to the audience (although some would level accusations of pandering), and with her wealth and status, she’s also got that aristocratic air of haughtiness, much like the ojou archetype. It’s clear that the series is trying to wring every ounce of fun out of Nagi as possible and it does an admirable job.
However, my favorite Rie Kugimiya role is by far Taiga. At first glance, she’s just Shana minus the Flame-Haze-iness, but she’s so much more than that. First off, Taiga is far more openly abrasive and impetuous and even skirts the borders of being an outright abusive little Jerkass. Okay, so her tsun’s been beefed up. Big deal. Well, there’s more to it than that, obviously.
What differentiates Taiga from the other three pillars of tsundere is that she actually undergoes genuine character development. Sure, Shana transitions from being a no-nonsense warrior to a soft-hearted high school girl, but it’s all too obnoxiously textbook to be praiseworthy. Louise falls victim to the same basic problem as well. And as for Nagi, while she’s a fun character, she’s unfortunately stuck in a comedy series where development often takes a backseat.
Taiga, on the other hand, matures over the course of Toradora!, going from a high-strung, bellicose brat to someone with a modicum of self-control and compassion. The great thing about Taiga’s development is that it’s not just black and white with defined stages of progression. It’s more fluid, smooth, and natural. When it comes down to it, Shana’s nothing more than a straightforward case of Defrosting Ice Queen, albeit in a somewhat subtler fashion. Contrast with Taiga, who is dealing with all the realistic complexities of trying to slowly strip away her reinforced defensive barrier and struggling to channel her adolescent frustrations in a manner that’s productive. And she’s prone to failing spectacularly more often than not, making it impossible to not sympathize with the adorable little palmtop tiger trying her damnedest to rein in her incorrigible belligerence.
So, it’s obvious that Rie knows how to pull off the catty, yet still charmingly squeaky voice with commendable zeal, but how does she fare outside of her natural habitat? Despite appearances to the contrary, Rie is actually not in danger of sinking too deep into the pigeonhole. She can do (and in fact often does) anything and everything and has tremendous success outside of Shana and co. Case in point, the role that first cast the spotlight onto her, aka Alphonse Elric.
Yes, it was quite a shock to me when I first found out about it. Shana as Alphonse? Madness! Well, that is until you realize that Alphonse came first. Rie effortlessly captures all of the complex nuances of the character just as excellently as Aaron Dismuke, even if she ultimately lacks the unattainable authenticity that made Aaron’s performance a paragon of voice-acting. It’s still a wonderful, honest performance, straight from the heart, that breathes so much life into an empty suit of armor and makes the Elrics’ journey that much more poignant and emotionally engaging.
Finally, Rie does an absolutely bang-up job as Kagura, the crude, foul-mouthed little scrapper. Again, Rie is quite unopposed in selling the endearingly childish nature of Kagura, which is at odds with the character’s blunt, tomboyish, and undignified personality. Kagura’s more of a straight-up idiot, but Rie still nails the role, right down to the quirky speech mannerisms and proclivity for shrieking, vomiting, snarking, and even rapping, aru . Kagura is definitely a lot of fun, and even one-ups Nagi by being exposed to some fairly decent character development.
Rie’s voice is definitely not for everyone. “Urosai, urosai, urosai!” in the screechiest of voices can degenerate into nails-on-chalkboard after the umpteenth time and that’s if you even make it that far if you’re someone who’s easily put off by the stale, unrealistic, and often pandering nature of tsundere romance. I personally am not one of those people and while I’m not really a fan of shows like Shakugan no Shana or Toradora!, the sublime enthusiasm and utter moe-ness of Rie’s tsundere voice is simply infectious to me. Who knows? Maybe, I’m just a sucker for the oh-so-cuddly-wuddly, dripping with diabetes, mound of treacle that is the sound of Shana scarfing down melon-bread.
But at the end of the day, I have to admit that Rie Kugimiya is still one talented, hard-working seiyuu who has definitely earned her place as the undisputed Queen of Tsundere and as the moe-est seiyuu in the business.