Even if you are not a gamer, which happens to be my case as well, you should not be a stranger to Touhou. What started with a Japanese beer-loving gamer, for whom others’ shooter games weren’t enough of a challenge, has escalated into a fandom extraordinaire. For many the games aren’t important anymore, it’s more about the world, Gensokyo, and its inhabitants.
While I know the games and have attempted several of them, even though I’m not much of a gamer myself, that is not what this post is going to (mainly) be about.
In case you are unfamiliar with the games, here’s a gameplay video from YouTube.
If and when you manage to get through six of stages of the danmaku (shoot ’em up/bullet hell), you are treated to an end story, which can be good or bad – as in a visual novel. There are also dialogues between the player’s character and the other Touhou characters, who you battle throughout the game. Aside from the games ZUN has written four official and one semi-official fanbooks, a number of side stories serialized in various publications, five more stories as additional material in booklets of his music CDs and five graphic novels. While that certainly is enough to create quite the canon, it still leaves much to the fans’ imagination…
There are 19 games by Team Shanghai Alice (read ZUN) to date (if we count the Arkanoid clone, multiplayer danmaku, multiplayer fighting games he made with Tasogare Frontier, Aya’s photography and Cirno’s freezing games) and three Seihou games.
On top of that Touhou fans are a creative bunch and some of them can program. Therefore there are all kinds of fan games, some danmaku of course, but also card and other puzzle games, fighting, platform, racing, strategy or rhythm games, RPGs and even VNs.
Since each and every game introduces new characters as (mid)bosses, by now there are 100+ of Touhou characters. Most of them are female, some are of both genders (exempli gratia angel Sariel or gatekeeper Shingyoku) and a few are male. Of course with so many girls in one place, it is a yuri waiting to happen. Innumerable regular/shoujo-ai/yuri doujinshi have been created, released online and/or sold at conventions, such as Comiket or Reitaisai, and otaku-oriented stores – On FAKKU! only can you find 224 ero doujinshi to date, Magic Archive Voile currently lists over 1360 doujinshi of all kinds, while the mugimugi doujinshi database recorded 27021 of them.
What is beautiful about such an onslaught of characters in Touhou is that there is one for every otaku, whatever his/her tastes may be.
Taking the immense variety and popularity of Touhou characters into consideration, it comes as little surprise that on danbooru, my favorite image board for its remarkable tagging system, Touhou comes in first with a little over a fourth of all uploaded images. Personally I interpret this as a telltale sign of the enormity of touhou’s fan base. (I would include Pixiv Touhou fanart statistics, but it doesn’t seem to offer that kind of information…)
As I certainly will mention again, ZUN is not much of an artist. This fact is being taken advantage of by, among others, cosplayers, because pretty much anything you happen to stitch together will beat the in-game character designs. Without further ado, here’s a photo of Hong Meiling also known as China, which you may remember me posting if you are following me on Twitter.
The Touhou community generates countless memes and inside jokes. It being a lesser point in my opinion, I’ll mention just a few.
First off is ⑨, which refers to Cirno, a tiny ice fairy who is considered not the sharpest pencil in the box to say the least. (On the Phantasmagoria of Flower View manual, Cirno is labeled “9. Moron” in the explanation of the game layout.) Therefore the nine-ball is associated with her and stupidity. On a brighter note, the 9th of September (9/9) is called Cirno day and for that reason the internet was recently flooded with her likenesses.
Next up are Sakuya’s breast pads. Izayoi Sakuya is a knife-throwing maid at the Scarlet Devil Mansion and it was her visage in Immaterial and Missing Power (game 7.5, on which ZUN collaborated with Tasogare Frontier), where she was drawn by alphes, who works on character graphics, that sparked this meme as ZUN crude character design lacks a bit in the mammary area. The fans explained this with breast pads and the spark became an inextinguishable fire.
Lastly I’ll mention a song featuring Ibuki Suika, a chibi oni with a penchant for alcohol and a completely flat chest, which is exactly what the song is about – “Pettan, pettan, tsurupettan”, meaning “Flat, flat, smooth and flat”.
ZUN doesn’t seem to be the kind of a person to allow an (official) anime series based on his work (not to mention it would certainly make its way to gaijin, his hatred of whom is the reason Touhou games are not distributed to other countries), but despite that a number of fan videos, some done in almost a professional manner, is floating around video sites. Touhou Niji Sousaku Doujin Anime – Musou Kakyou also called Musou Kakyou: A Summer Day’s Dream, the first doujin project to employ professional voice actors, by Maikaze consists of two OVA episodes. Manpuku jinja sold two shorts called Memories of Phantasm and Memories of Phantasm 2, 16 and 2 minute animations respectively, at Comiket. A video closest to official was produced by ufotable, the Tokyo-based studio responsible for example for last year’s anime series Fate/Zero. With 40 seconds of content it is called Tenchou x Touhou Project.
All of in-game music is made by ZUN and all of it sounds 8-bit, though it’s not anymore. Since the songs are real music and not just there to have some BG sound, people listen to them outside playing Touhou and those friendly with music creation take it a step further. Of course most stick to remixes and arrangements, one example for all – IOSYS. But I’ve even heard some Touhou pieces performed on traditional Japanese instruments, such as the shamisen! (Because you’ll surely want to see that, I’ll spare you the searching – Bad Apple performed by ShouRinka on YouTube.)
To sum it up, the world is practically overrun with Touhou fans, who delve with joy into all kinds of fandom and spread it like influenza among those, who are willing to listen (or read in the common case of communication over the internet).