As we bid a fond farewell to September’s Cover Game Fate/stay night, it’s only fitting that we celebrate one of this incredible visual novel’s most enduringly popular waifus.
Rin Tohsaka is a constant presence in all three of the main narrative routes in Fate/stay night, despite only Unlimited Blade Works technically being “hers”. As such, aside from protagonist Shirou, she’s arguably the character we get to know the best over the course of the complete narrative.
She’s noteworthy not only for being a great character in her own right, but also for arguably being one of the most significant defining influences on what has become an incredibly popular — some might argue clichéd — character trope today: the tsundere.
Fanart by latealatea (Pixiv)
Rin has an important role in Fate/stay night as a whole: she’s the resident “expert” on the situation that helps to explain complicated concepts and lore to both the protagonist Shirou and the player. This becomes abundantly clear in the game’s prologue, which primarily unfolds from her perspective. She’s clearly a young woman who sets high standards for herself — and usually manages to achieve them, too.
As much as she wants to be “perfect”, however — and she outright states that this is something she strives for on more than one occasion — she’s as fallible as anyone else. She doesn’t know everything about the circumstances of the Holy Grail War that forms the basis for the main conflicts of Fate/stay night, and she doesn’t understand everything about magic, particularly that outside her area of specialism. She’s ill-tempered and, at times, impatient, often berating Shirou for not being up to the standards she expects of him — even though it’s clear from the outset that she and Shirou are on completely different levels of ability.
Fanart by yosi135 (Pixiv)
But these flaws make her more likeable and “human”. While Rin is regarded by many as the codifier of the tsundere trope, she’s much less “sweet and sour” than many modern examples and repeatedly shows herself to be a character depicted with depth and nuance. Her relationships with the other characters throughout Fate/stay night’s three narrative routes are complex and interesting to explore, even outside of Unlimited Blade Works, and the narratives she is involved with often head off in unexpected and surprising directions.
One of the reasons Rin is an interesting character from the perspective of the narrative as a whole is that she is technically Shirou’s “opponent” in the Holy Grail War, but they end up cooperating with one another in all three routes for various reasons. This means that there’s a sense of fragility and instability to their relationship, particularly in the early hours of the story, and indeed there are a number of occasions where these shaky foundations look like they have given way completely. But this means that when things do go well, these moments feel all the more precious, particularly given that Fate/stay night as a whole has no qualms whatsoever about abusing and even killing its characters at a moment’s notice.
Fanart by Scarlet Dango (Pixiv)
Looking at her position more broadly in terms of popular culture, Rin is obviously appealing for a number of reasons. We’ve already touched on the tsundere aspect, which remains a commonly used trope because it’s a good source of interpersonal conflict and drama, but this isn’t the only now-widespread trope that Rin stands as a good example of; she has a few aspects of her visual design in particular that have proven enduringly popular, too.
Specifically, her “casual” outfit, which she wears any time she’s not in the elaborately designed, rather traditional-looking school uniforms seen in the game, features a number of common and popular visual aspects that always seem to be well-received whenever they crop up.
Fanart by Nina (Pastime) (Pixiv)
For starters, Rin’s formidable use of zettai ryouiki (“absolute zone”, or the tantalising gap of bare thigh skin between stocking top and skirt hem) is often regarded as one of the defining examples of this particular piece of common character design, and for sure it’s hard not to gaze upon her magnificent thighs whenever they put in an appearance. Indeed, the first time Shirou gazes upon Rin in her casual clothes in Fate/stay night, he is all but dumbstruck for a good few minutes before he is able to compose himself and conduct himself appropriately — a tacit acknowledgement by Nasu and Takeuchi that yes, they knew exactly what they were doing.
More subtle aspects of Rin’s design that frequently crop up in modern anime, manga and visual novels include the “magic skirt”, which seemingly never flips up to reveal panties even in the most challenging of environments or situations, and the related phenomenon of “Schrödinger’s pantsu”, where one can never quite be sure whether or not she’s actually wearing any underwear, particularly as we never see it in the H-scenes of the game’s 18+ incarnation. (The most commonly cited example of Schrödinger’s pantsu as of 2017 is, of course, Aqua from the anime Konosuba, but Rin was doing this long before that useless goddess ever flashed her arse at us.)
Fanart by Himaya (Pixiv)
All of these aspects of Rin Tohsaka combine to create an enormously appealing character, but one who never quite feels like a textbook example of the tropes she embodies — despite her pretty much writing said book in a number of regards. Throughout Fate/stay night she repeatedly shows herself to be a complex character with plenty of her own internal conflicts to resolve over the course of the three narrative routes, with both Unlimited Blade Works and Heaven’s Feel in particular putting her through the emotional wringer.
She’s also had plenty of additional development in a number of other Fate works since her original appearance, so if the 80+ hours you spend with her over the course of Fate/stay night didn’t provide you with quite enough Rin Tohsaka in your life, there’s plenty more places to get your daily dose from.
Fanart by Jay Xu (Pixiv)
The perfect student, the perfect young woman, the perfect magus? Perhaps not, but she’s probably as close as anyone’s going to get.
More about Fate/stay night
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