Highly Responsive to Prayers and Story of Eastern Wonderland were both released to the public on 15th August, 1997. It’s been 20 years since then. And I missed the date. Damn. Since I can’t go without giving some kind of tribute to such a great series, let me re-post here a Reddit post I made upon reaching my fifth year as a Touhou fan, where I paid tribute to its brilliance. (Bear in mind this was in May prior to HSiFS’ release.)
I don’t remember exactly when I found the one thing that ultimately got me here. But judging by how long ago I put the first picture into my vast Touhou folder it was probably a little over 5 years ago now.
When people get asked how they got into Touhou, there’s a lot of different ways that come up. There’s the usual suspects. U.N. Owen. Bad Apple. Maybe something from IOSYS. There’s the great elements that come together to make Touhou what it is. The music, the games themselves and of course its lovely, lovely characters. My gateway to Touhou wasn’t quite as conventional as that.
My way into Touhou was a video on YouTube of a fangame, Touhou Soccer. You know, that game I won’t shut up about. The one I wrote a guide about last Redditaisai. I was just binging YouTube, as we all do, when my deep, deep search eventually led me to a video titled ‘An unfriendly game of Touhou Soccer’. Being a football fan, I clicked it on through curiosity. And I fell in love with it almost instantly. Not because of the girls, though their presence certainly helped. But because I knew exactly what the game was based on. From there, I slowly but surely got to know the girls in it and, well, I haven’t looked back.
Now, I had heard about Touhou before I properly got to know it. In fact, you hear that non-Touhou music playing in that video? Yeah, I’d heard all of that a long time ago, remixes of the Captain Tsubasa series’ music. (Although due to a similarly named team in that series, Toho, I had mixed that up with Touhou.) But mostly this I’d only heard of Touhou before because I’d seen it mentioned a lot on TVTropes – specifically the fact it seemed to be the hardest game ever devised in the history of history. Of course, I now know that not to be the case. But I’m glad I did know it before I went out and actually played the games. Not that it’s made me any good at them, of course. For all my five years of playing Touhou, all I really have to show for it is a grand total of one 1cc. And that was with MarisaB in MoF. Which is the single easiest way to get one. (Well, apart from Stage 4.) Mind you, I have at least cleared some of the games with continues. I’ve done MS, PCB – which was my first game, and should be yours too – and…erm…oh, actually, that’s it. I came within one spell of doing EoSD once, though. And I can’t actually remember if I’ve really cleared IN. The way the endings work there are just way too weird. And I could probably do DDC one day. I’d count PoDD and PoFV, but that seems like cheating. So, no, I am really not very good at Touhou itself.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the games themselves. If I just sit back and watch someone who can actually beat them, I can take in just how brilliant some of it is. Heck, even when playing it myself, it can sometimes give me just such a rush. I mean, recently, I’ve been as hooked as I’ve ever been on some of the PC-98 games, and even they, despite being some 20 years old, can still thrill so much. I mean, have you played PoDD recently? That’s just an awesome game to play first hand, and also, have you noticed the soundtrack to it? It’s almost…perfect. Some of its songs are incredible. There’s some gems in PC-98’s locker, that’s for sure. Listen to its songs. Some are really damn good.
But, of course, it’s the Windows games that it’s all about, really. Sure, EoSD looks very dated now, and it doesn’t seem to work on my laptop any more. But some of the stuff in the game is timelessly classic. It’s unforgettable. PCB is a magical game, too. There’s a reason I tell everyone to start with it (and it’s not because I did too). It’s because it’s the most original, defining game of Touhou. And it’s still capable of raising chills for me, even today. And, if you can look past all the complexities of IN, there’s a properly epic feel behind that too. I have my qualms with the game, but there’s no doubt that Stages 4 and 5 are thrillers in that game.
But surely the best period of the series’ history was 2007 to 2009. That new engine made all the difference. Everything feels fuller, more action-packed from MoF onwards. MoF just feels like an awesome game to play, more frantic, more lively. It’s terrific, but not as much as SA is. I can safely say Subterranean Animism is one of the best games I’ve had the joy of playing. Every single bit of it is perfect. Nearly every single part of the game, taken individually, is the best in the series, and it makes for the series’ crown jewel. While my personal favourite stage in Touhou is SA’s Extra Stage and its boss, Koishi, I reckon the greatest fight in the series has to be Reiuji Utsuho’s. You can’t believe that it comes from a game that’s nearly 9 years old now. Because it’s still jaw-dropping even today. In fact, SA is, on the whole. And UFO is another wonderful game, and even its gimmicks can’t bring it down. So all in all, three successive games which are among the series’ best. If you’re new to the series, get to them when you can. Because they are all terrific.
Then there’s TD. But let’s pretend it’s not there because I don’t want to lower the tone or anything.
DDC was the first shmup to come out once I’d become a fan, and while it’s never fully won me over, I now see it as a pretty terrific game on the whole. It feels pretty cool to play and it certainly has its epic moments, even if it’s not exactly the hardest game in the series. But with ZUN releasing games less often than in the past, I was wondering if perhaps I’d never quite see a truly, truly great new Touhou game in my time as a fan. I thought I might have come a bit too late, but in 2015 I got shut right up by the incredible Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom, an astonishing game. For all its many and varied flaws, the game itself just feels utterly incredible to play through. It’s as lively as any Touhou game has ever been, as mad, and as difficult as any game. ZUN went mad for this one and he made something special. A game that really encapsulated what Touhou was all about. Not only that, getting to play as all of Reimu, Marisa, Sanae and Reisen is as good a roster as we might ever see. And, whilst it took me a long time to warm to the music – no surprise there – once I did, I realised some of it was just phenomenal. LoLK has proven a divisive game, but I firmly believe it is amongst the very best in the series. However, it seems ZUN might have gone a little too mad with the game. HSiFS looks like it should be another strong game, but it’s clearly a lot calmer than the last game. Certainly, ZUN seems to have reined it back for this instalment. Hopefully it should still be pretty great though!
And let’s not forget some of the side games. My favourite of all is Soku, which is a great game to just sit back and play when I feel. But ULiL is another good side game too, and I even have that on PS4 now. AoCF looks like it should be a nice evolution on that, and will presumably bring closure to the aerial fighters, so hopefully that should be nice too.
But, as we all know, Touhou is so much more than just the games which provide the crux of the series. There’s the music, which obviously, is mostly very excellent. Except just about the only bit of Touhou I’ve never gotten into is the massive collection of remixes, weirdly. Obviously, there are several terrific remixes of different songs all around, and I’ve found some which I really love. But I’ve never found myself going all round searching and finding countless remixes from countless different musicians. Rather, my preferred way to listen to Touhou music is simply to sit back and listen to the original songs. Much as I’m doing right now, actually. (Reincarnation‘s on at the moment.) Of course, I can’t do justice to every single excellent song in the series, but I can at least point out some of my favourites. My favourite from the PC-98 era is a lot closer to call than it used to be, but I’d give it to Doll of Misery. It remains one of the most chilling songs in the series, and sounds epic as well. Honorable mention to Illusion of a Maid ~ Icemilk Magic, Vanishing Dream ~ Lost Dream, Maniacal Princess and Strawberry Crisis. From the ‘first trilogy’, as I like to call it (that’d be EoSD to IN), my favourite is Lunatic Eyes ~ Invisible Full Moon. It’s one of the only songs where every single remix I’ve heard of it seems to be absolutely brilliant. That speaks volumes about the song itself, which is clearly very excellent. By the way, my second favourite song of that era is…Cinderella Cage ~ Kagome-Kagome, from the exact same stage. Yeah, IN Stage 5 got a damn good draw on music, in my mind.
The ‘second trilogy’ (MoF-UFO) has my four favourite songs, and three of them come from SA. My favourite from MoF is Cemetery of Onbashira ~ Grave of Being, a song so epic I didn’t get tired of it even while having to hear it so often when playing the game in my attempts to clear it. But SA’s last three songs are my favourites from that game. Solar Sect of Mystic Wisdom ~ Nuclear Fusion is the perfect accompaniment to the stunning final battle. Hartmann’s Youkai Girl encapsulates Koishi’s astonishing fight to a T. But my favourite song in the series is Last Remote. It’s not just the fact it works well as a stage song, it’s the fact that musically it is just perfect. It’s perhaps the best song I’ve heard in any game, ever. And my favourite Touhou song of modern times is Pierrot of the Star-Spangled Banner. An absolute epic of a song that defines Clownpiece and her fight so, so well. Honourable mention to The Lake Reflects the Cleansed Moonlight, The Mysterious Shrine Maiden Flying Through Space and DDC’s Magical Storm.
And there’s all the little things with Touhou, too, such as the print works. Most of the comics are pretty great, but my favourite of all is Wild and Horned Hermit. All its stories are most interesting and it has that most lovely of art styles by Aya Azuma. And there’s other small things about Touhou that make it just that little more lovable. Gensokyo as a whole, an absolute fantasy of a world. The spell cards, some of which can astonish you in all manner of ways. Even the dialogue from the characters, which might be a dying art today, but which is a real source of amusement from EoSD to around UFO.
But if there’s one thing above all that I love most of all about Touhou, it is its numerous, wildly-dressed, and beautiful characters. After all, they’re what sold me on this series first and foremost. And since I first found them I’ve realised just what a difference they’ve made to me. Some of the characters are so good, they’ve redefined my standards of what’s possible from a character in any form of fiction, period. There’s something to like in a majority of the series’ characters, and in the case of the very best, there are several things to like about them. Make no mistake, some of Touhou’s cast really is truly, truly special.
Of course, not all of them are great. But when was anything in life ever perfect? What’s important is that there are far, far more characters I like than I don’t. And, of course, I happen to like plenty of the series’ characters. So I’ll give a small mention to the ones I think are the very best of the best. And beforehand I’ll give an honourable mention to this seriously good lot: Sakuya, Alice, Reisen, Aya, Satori, Koishi, Byakuren, and most of all, to Maribel and Renko. All seriously, seriously good characters, but not quite as good as this lot.
When I first got into Touhou, as I was getting into more and more characters, a few initial favourites came up. I was keen on Yukari, Remilia and Flandre, I took a good liking to Yuyuko especially and I really rather admired Sakuya as well, as indeed I still do. But the first character I really fell for was Yuuka Kazami. She’s just such so agonisingly pretty and yet also had a damn cool feel about her deep down. She remains one of my very favourite characters and my first year or so as a Touhou fan was all about her.
But there was one small problem. Due to the relative age of the game with which I got into Touhou, I never really got into any characters past PoFV (Touhou Soccer came out in 2006). So for well over a year, I didn’t know about nearly half of the series. Eventually, I went and took the plunge, and after finding out how terrific SA was in particular, one character stood out as a particularly outstanding person, and that was Reiuji Utsuho. Quite apart from also being another damn pretty character, there was more to her than her appearance. As I’ve already said, when I saw her fight in SA I was utterly smitten by that too and it made me wonder why the hell I’d missed out on this for over a year. And so ‘Okuu’ stands out to me as one of the most important characters in the series, the one who really made me a Touhou fan. Her brilliance inspired me to go on to further things with Touhou, rather than simply admiring it from afar. That’s how I found, for instance, this subreddit.
Over that time I’ve come to like all sorts of different characters more and more for all sorts of different reasons, but one I don’t think I’d have come to like quite as much was one who was there right from the start. As time has marched on, I’ve come to admire none other than the series’ very own protagonist, Reimu Hakurei, for her obviously pivotal role in Touhou. Yet it’s not just the fact you see her left, right and centre in Touhou itself, or the fact she is therefore its defining character. Because I’ve realised she is truly a magnificent character in her own right. She’s obviously a clearly flawed individual, but that gives her a genuinely human quality as a character – and not just because she actually is a human, within a sea of youkai. I mean as in someone who actually feels real. She’s a top-class character, and it helps that I am permanently amused by her snarky antics. Oh, and it also helps that she is, of course, really cute. Like, I don’t care what you say. She just is.
But even she’s not my favourite miko in the series. That accolade lies with my favourite character in Touhou, and probably in anything ever made ever. That’d be Sanae Kochiya. And the thing is, I’m still not quite sure how she became so. I actually found out about Sanae long before I cared to look into who she actually was, thanks to her sheer popularity. Five years ago I was a far naiver person than previously, and I thought going too lewd on something as simple as Touhou was just wrong. However, Sanae seemed to bring it in spades. Not knowing who she was, 2012 me promptly said “Is she just a fan-serviced version of Reimu, or something?”, and promptly wrote her off as a character. Oh how wrong I was. By the time I’d actually got round to finding out about all the characters, my views on Touhou had changed markedly and so my view on Sanae gradually softened to a point where I thought she was fine. And then…I dunno. Something musta just clicked because suddenly I realised that actually Sanae was really rather brilliant and I couldn’t stop looking for art of her and oh my god what is this feeling I don’t even. Since then, I’ve been smitten. Sanae is my favourite character in the series, and most of all I’ve put this down to her being about as attractive as a character can get. But it also helps that she is a genuinely very amusing person and a little bit silly all at the same time. She’s a great person, I think. And it helps that her shots in UFO and LoLK are really damn good! But yeah, Sanae is basically perfect.
But wait…how do we get to love all these characters most of all? If we just took them for what they were in canon we wouldn’t get to see enough of them all. But that’s where the true most important factor in all Touhou comes in. The reason it’s so great, is because its characters are so popular, that so many artists have come along, and given their take on what they think they should look like. And the answer is: mostly, they all look absolutely brilliant. The characters are the heart of Touhou that makes it tick, but all the fan art of them is the bloodstream that makes them work.
I’d gotten to know a good few artists from previous looks at art from anime I liked. But Touhou took my love of fan art to another level. I’ve discovered several artists so utterly brilliant, that it is their representations of each of these characters that I look at, and think “That’s what she looks like in my mind.” They take all these lovely girls and make them beautiful in so, so many ways. The magic of fan art has let me discover the likes of An2a, whose art you’ve doubtless seen before. There’s more genuinely artsy types such as Kirero, plain cute artists like Cierra and Shironeko Yuuki. There’s my personal favourite artist, Minakata Sunao, an artist capable of mixing coolness and beauty to the point of absolute perfection. And there’s all the fan favourites we know and love, too; the likes of Banpai Akira, Hammer and Ke-ta. All of these artists, and more, are, to me, the single most important contributor to the fabric of Touhou itself.
And all those artists are, of course, just like us, fans of this series. I’m proud to be a part of this fanbase, one which has plenty of wonderful people to go around. The loveliness of a great many Touhou fans would be more than enough to make me proud to be a fan too, but it’s not just about those who love this series like I do. Just as admirable, if not more so, are those whom are capable of creating absolute wonders in tribute to this magnificent series. And not just art – there’s musicians all around, game makers, writers…and more. I hope to be one with them soon, too. I’ve already written my fair share about all manner of things Touhou. And now I’m planning on going to the next step: writing some Touhou fiction itself. I’ve tried it before, but it proved too soon. It isn’t now. I’ve loved this series for five years now. I say, it’s time I tried to create a story of my own now. Redditaisai is two months away. Hopefully, my endeavours will be there for you all to see.
Before I got into Touhou, I saw myself very much as a general anime fan first. Of course, Touhou is not an anime. But as it’s clustered into much the same culture, it was always likely to attract me when I found it. Five years on, I could never have imagined how much I’d love it. Or how much it has changed me over those five years. Now, I am a Touhou fan first, and an anime fan second. Nothing else will be as good as this. Ever.
Touhou is a most valuable thing in my life. I will forever be a fan. And I hope you will be, too.