A review of Touhou Suzunaan ~ Forbidden Scrollery (Vol. 1-7, complete)

The cover of Vol. 1, featuring new character Kosuzu Motoori

Each morning, Kosuzu Motoori opens her parents’ bookstore for business and waits on their customers. Suzunaan carries all sorts of books for rent and sale, both natively written and from the mysterious world outside of Gensokyo, its human village, and the surrounding wilderness. Some of these books aren’t even written by humans, and a select few contain potentially dangerous magical powers. Not that Kosuzu minds — as a true book-lover with the special ability to translate any text no matter the language, she’s happy to get her hands on anything interesting, rare, or valuable. And if it contains some sort of arcane power, so much the better.

Kosuzu is at the center of Touhou Suzunaan ~ Forbidden Scrollery, a manga based on the Touhou Project game series as the title suggests.* Written by series creator and game designer/composer ZUN himself and illustrated by Moe Harukawa (since ZUN famously can’t draw all that well) Forbidden Scrollery was serialized in Comp Ace from 2012 to 2017, producing 53 chapters over its seven standalone volumes. Forbidden Scrollery is only one in a series of Touhou-based manga, but as far as I know, it’s the only one that’s gotten an official translation and release in physical form.

I don’t bring Touhou up as often as some series here, but it is one I’ve been a fan of for a long time and that I still follow a bit. It’s had amazing staying power over the years, starting in the 90s as an indie shmup game series on the PC-98 made by one guy drinking beer in a basement. 25 years later, Touhou has produced dozens of both official and fan games and thousands of other fan or doujin works. I’ve already obsessed over the music a few times, considered by many, including me, to be the biggest draw of the series given just how good a composer ZUN is.

By contrast, I used to not consider the writing one of the series’ strengths. Touhou features dozens, maybe now over one hundred, characters, almost all girls who have magical laser/bullet-shooting powers displayed in the games that are central to the series. But the games don’t have much in the way of story to them. Most of them just seem to focus on series main characters Reimu Hakurei the shrine maiden and Marisa Kirisame the witch, both magically powered laser-firing girls, fighting through a gauntlet of youkai or non-human spirit/nature sort of enemies, or vampires, moon people, gods, or whatever other supernatural types are threatening their home of Gensokyo and the humans who live there.

Vol. 2 featuring central character Reimu Hakurei, the youkai-exterminating shrine maiden, on its cover.

This is where ZUN’s manga come in, fleshing out the small world of Gensokyo and its inhabitants, both human and youkai. Forbidden Scrollery is the first official Touhou manga I’ve read (though not the first unofficial one, not if doujins count) and it contains a lot of what I think makes Touhou so enjoyable from a story and character perspective. While the games are naturally full of action and fighting and present stories more or less about magical conflicts, Forbidden Scrollery is mostly a more relaxed slice-of-life tale centered on Kosuzu’s life at Suzunaan and her interactions with her customers and friends, most notably Reimu and Marisa and several non-human visitors who disguise themselves as humans to rent out books, make conversation, and occasionally to try to get their newspaper stocked (and fans already know that means Aya will show up.)

Before getting any deeper into the substance of the manga, it’s important to at least outline the setting of the Touhou series, since it’s where Forbidden Scrollery takes place and is central to the story itself. Gensokyo (literally “Fantasy Land” or more poetically “Land of Illusions”) is a small section of rural Japan home to a population of both humans and youkai, a varied set of non-human natural spirits and beings, who in the 19th century waged a series of wars with each other for control. After the powerful youkai started breaking out into neighboring lands, their home was cordoned off into its own dimension in 1884 by a magical and extremely powerful barrier meant to keep said youkai in.

As another result of the border’s creation, the human population was now trapped in this small dimension with their youkai enemies. Yet they still have a hidden advantage: because the youkai are born from and powered by human fears, they need the humans to exist. Partly for that reason, youkai generally do not threaten the one human village in Gensokyo, and the various youkai factions (foxes, tanuki, tengu, kappa, etc.) hold each other in check, with the humans as the central element in this balance of power.

Another reason for the youkai reluctance to mess with the humans too much are two of the other central characters in this story and in Touhou overall. Reimu is the shrine maiden and only employee of one of the local Shinto shrines, one that barely sees any human visitors because of its remoteness from the village (and so she’s always hurting for offerings, a running joke in the series.) Her friend and sometimes rival Marisa is a much more carefree girl, a witch who lives in a nearby forest. Both also double as “youkai exterminators”, a job you actually carry out in a lot of the Touhou games.

“Exterminator” might sound like an extreme description, and it really is especially considering that far more often than not, neither of them actually “exterminate” their targets. Even in the games, winning a bullet hell fight with a powerful youkai character doesn’t see you killing them but merely roughing them up, after which they’ll often complain about the rough treatment and make a joke that may or may not translate into English very well. And very often, these characters return in later works, sometimes even showing up at Reimu’s shrine.

Kosuzu Motoori in her bookstore Suzunaan with Reimu Hakurei and Marisa Kirisame as visitors

Official art by Moe Harukawa, a two-page spread from one of the volumes: Kosuzu tends her shop with Reimu and Marisa as guests.

This was one of my favorite aspects of Forbidden Scrollery. Though the story as a whole is still very slice-of-life/comedy, there is an underlying tension throughout having to do with this delicate balance between the human and youkai populations. This might be a little offputting for some readers at first, since most fantasy stories like this, both in manga/anime and in western works I’ve seen, involve a mix of fantasy races that are more or less treated as equals even if they’re at odds with each other.

By contrast, the humans of Gensokyo fear the far more powerful magic-using youkai for good reason — humans can easily be kidnapped or even eaten if they stray too far from the village unless they have their own magical abilities like Reimu and Marisa do (hence why they can survive outside the relative safety of the village.) At the same time, youkai who step out of line might be hunted down and punished or even eliminated, sometimes even by other youkai upset at this breach of protocol and the chaos it might cause.

The powerful disguised tanuki Mamizou Futatsuiwa drinking with a misbehaving newly formed youkai in the human village, about to teach him a rough lesson in youkai-human relations and etiquette.

As the story of Forbidden Scrollery develops, then, it becomes clear that the human-youkai relationship is a lot more complicated than simply “humans and youkai are enemies.” Reimu can come off as a real hardliner against the youkai, and when she learns that Kosuzu collects and obsesses over “youma books”, or books containing magical elements and often written by youkai themselves, she decides to keep a close watch on Suzunaan both for Kosuzu’s sake and for the village’s in general. Her hard line turns out to be more of a practical caution, however — as longtime fans know, Reimu spends a lot of time around youkai and is even on sort of friendly terms with some of them, but she does so partly to keep watch and because she knows how to handle herself. The same goes for Marisa.

Kosuzu, on the other hand, is still unaware of a lot of the dangers surrounding the knowledge she seeks out, and when youkai like Mamizou and Aya are attracted to her bookstore and start building rapport with her, she doesn’t understand quite what she’s getting into. Kosuzu is a great protagonist for the story Forbidden Scrollery tells because she’s such a novice in this way despite her intelligence and curiosity. A lot of this story has to do with her growth into a wiser person.

But the same is true for Reimu. Anyone who thinks Reimu is just a plain old anime girl main character should read this (or probably some of ZUN’s other manga, which I haven’t read yet myself) because there’s plenty both interesting and entertaining about her, not least of which is how she’s really kind of an asshole sometimes. But the kind you like. At least I like her.

Reimu complains to Kosuzu about rival shrine maiden Sanae Kochiya and her underhanded donation-seeking tactics (that Reimu also uses.)

It’s also nice to see so much Marisa in here, though since she’s practically a co-main character with Reimu that’s to be expected. Again, she might come off as a pretty typical “cute witch” sort of character you find in some manga and anime, but her tomboyish style and seemingly (but not actually) reckless approach to danger sets her apart. Together with the few new characters introduced in the manga and a whole load of recurring ones (the human historian Hieda no Akyu, tengu writer Aya Shameimaru, kappa inventor/engineer Nitori Kawashiro, and Reimu’s other other rival, the Buddhist nun/priest Hijiri Byakuren, and this is just a short list) there’s an excellent mix of characters to enjoy in this series. My only real complaint with this cast is that my favorites Patchouli and Alice don’t make an appearance, but then I guess they probably figure much more prominently into one or more of ZUN’s other manga.

But I don’t have any real complaints about Forbidden Scrollery. It was an enjoyable read with some nice art, a fine escape into another world (quite literally, since Gensokyo technically exists as a separate sort of pocket dimension in our own world in the Touhou universe.) I might even check out some other Touhou manga, though it may have to be less officially translated since I don’t think any of ZUN’s other manga works have been licensed. And to those readers who don’t know a damn thing about Touhou: I’d recommend picking this series up too. It works as a pretty decent introduction to the series and its world, especially if you don’t feel like jumping into the real deep end with Mountain of Faith or one of the other hellishly difficult bullet hell games that Touhou was built on. Though of course I recommend those too if you have the nerves for them.

 

* I can’t go without endnotes anymore, so here’s one about the title. Every official Touhou work as far as I’ve seen, whether it’s a game or manga, has a title formatted partly in Japanese, always Touhou [something], then the other part in English. This manga is sold in the West with the partial English title Forbidden Scrollery, which doesn’t make it all that easy to actually associate with Touhou unless you’re already familiar with ZUN as the author or the characters on the cover of each volume.

The Touhou part of the title rarely if ever seems to be translated anyway — if you’re interested, Touhou means “eastern” and Suzunaan translates into “Bell Hermitage”, though that’s really just the name of the bookstore in the manga and would probably cause some confusion if it were actually translated and put on the cover.

Games for broke people: Drunk edition

So I’ve been sober for nearly three years now thanks to my drinking so much in the past that my liver nearly exploded. It probably should have, really, but maybe God took pity on me or something. In any case, I didn’t cross that point of no return, and I’m now “enjoying” sobriety while my liver continues to repair itself.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t drink in games as a safe alternative. Today I’m continuing my long-running but extremely infrequent look into the free catalog of games on itch.io to find something actually worth playing among all the trash on the platform. Time to get virtually wasted!

Drunk As I Like: Gensokyo Chugging Contest

Starting with a Touhou fangame. Yeah, of course I wouldn’t pass on this one, especially not when it features one of my favorite characters, the constantly drunken oni girl Suika Ibuki. Suika is a fan favorite for good reason: she’s cute, ultra-powerful, and constantly carries a bottle of liquor that never empties no matter how much she drinks. Unlike me, she also has a supernaturally strong liver apparently. Truly Suika is living the dream.

But can she outdrink everyone else in Gensokyo? Drunk As I Like: Gensokyo Chugging Contest challenges the player to control Suika and a few of her youkai friends as they hold a beer-chugging competition at the local tavern. Apparently there are some extra rules to this contest that I’ve never seen before: instead of drinking normally, the players have to pour the beer into their mouths while tipping their mugs over their faces, and when their mugs are empty they have to fill them on their own to exactly the correct amount without under- or over-filling them. These rules up the difficulty considerably — working the tap can be tricky, and while you can manually control the angle of your beer’s flow with the left and right keys to make sure it enters your character’s mouth, a lot of it will still end up on the tavern floor and presumably soaking her clothes. On the plus side, the same rules apply to your AI opponent, and she tends to be pretty dumb, especially Aya who as you can see in the above screenshot is simply drunkenly holding her glass in the air.

For once, after a long stretch, I can highly recommend an itch.io game again. Gensokyo Chugging Contest was a very fun diversion for ten minutes or so. You don’t even have to know anything about Touhou to enjoy it, though it probably helps on some level. I like the cute art as well, and no surprise: this is the same artist who worked on that cappuccino girl game I wrote about years ago in my coffee version of this post. Try it out!

Drunk Drunk Goose

And finishing with another even shorter game, a simple puzzle with just one stage. Drunk Drunk Goose features a nameless protagonist goose who’s been drinking with his friends behind the Cinnabon as the title screen tells us. Your task is to get home by using the space bar, the only button the game recognizes, to shift between left-to-right to up-to-down movement.

It might seem easy enough to navigate through this mall maze at first, but there are two complications. Firstly, there’s a timer and it’s game over when you hit zero seconds (though it’s not clear what happens to the goose at zero seconds. Arrested for public drunkenness maybe? Reminds me of my days in my old college town, though thankfully I never suffered that indignity — I was a clever drunk.) And secondly, the god damn goose being as drunk as it is refuses to walk in a straight line, swerving and hitting walls and objects that send it waddling back in the opposite direction, so some precision and timing is necessary. It took me a few tries to make it home, and then with just a few seconds to spare.

I might sound frustrated with this game, but I enjoyed the few minutes I spent with it. Drunk Drunk Goose is a quick and minimalistic one, no music or other frills included. Though it might be nice to see a few more stages of increasing difficulty, there’s nothing wrong with a very compact game like this, especially when you can just play it in your browser, no installation required. And when you’re digging through the mostly garbage/unfinished-looking projects in itch.io’s catalog, finding a small gem like this one is refreshing.

And this is where I’m stopping. I normally try to cover three games in these sorts of posts, but I was really scraping the bottom of the barrel with that last one regarding the second entry, which I mainly decided to write about because of how unbearably snotty it came off. There’s also the issue that a lot of games on this platform are either meme-tastic tossed-off bullshit or extremely serious and sentimental to the point that I’d rather not touch them (not that the latter is always bad — that can be done well, but I already had my shitty travails with booze and don’t need to be reminded of them, so it’s more of a personal matter.) The best drinking-related game I’ve played by far is still VA-11 Hall-A anyway, though I’m still waiting for that damn sequel to come out.

Well, at least I managed to keep a consistent theme this time, which isn’t always the case with these posts. Yeah, that’s how far the bar has been lowered as far as my expectations for myself go. Next time I’ll write a post that requires more effort (probably.) See you then, and in the meantime remember to get pissed responsibly.

My favorite Touhou themes

No, it’s still not the end-of-month post, but that’s still on the way. By contrast — this post probably should have been written years ago, and here it is now. Talk about a post with niche appeal, anyway; a lot of readers might not know what the fuck I’m even talking about this time without some background. So let me briefly introduce you to Touhou (which I’ve done before on the site once or twice, but once more won’t hurt.)

Touhou Project is a bullet hell/danmaku shmup series created by Japanese indie game designer/music composer/beer enthusiast ZUN. Touhou is primarily about shrine maiden Reimu Hakurei and mischievous witch Marisa Kirisame along with a few other recurring main characters fighting a bunch of youkai who are also all cute girls who fire lasers and make puns at each other. This all takes place in Gensokyo, a part of rural Japan that was cut off from the rest of the world with a magical barrier in the 1880s, the result being that it now exists in its own dimension.

Touhou has been going strong for nearly three decades now, getting its start on the PC-98 in the 90s when ZUN was still a designer working at Taito. However, his work apparently didn’t get much notice until the release of Touhou 6: Embodiment of Scarlet Devil, which came out for the PC in 2002. With EoSD and its followups Perfect Cherry Blossom and Imperishable Night, Touhou exploded in popularity on the indie scene in Japan and among the Western niche weeb weirdo circles that I moved in back in the mid-2000s (and that I still do today, of course.)

If you’ve played or seen gameplay of an original Touhou game, a few aspects of it probably jumped out at you, like the intricate, colorful, and often extremely difficult to dodge bullet patterns or ZUN’s famously not-so-great character portraits (which have been long beloved in the community anyway, a lot like Ryukishi07’s slightly scuffed character art in the Higurashi and Umineko VNs.)

But to me and many other past and current fans, the most standout aspect of Touhou is its music. Each of ZUN’s games come with an excellent soundtrack, with pieces generally sorted into one stage and boss theme each over six stages, along with a few extra boss themes and a main theme. As it plays in sync with all that colorful bullet hell going on, the music adds to the effect, and it’s no exaggeration at all to say the games wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable to play muted.

That said, here are seventeen themes from Touhou 6 through 8 and 10 that I rank as my favorites. Yeah, seventeen, that’s right. I couldn’t possibly have reduced this list any more than I have. In fact, I still feel bad about leaving a ton of excellent themes out of it; that seventeen could just as easily have been seventy. The only reason I’m even limiting the selection to four out of the now 20+ original ZUN-made Touhou games is that these are the ones I played when I was really into the series way back before I kind of fell out of it for a while. So if you’re wondering where your favorite DDC or LoLK track is, I’m not putting those down at all — it’s just that I’m not as familiar with those soundtracks and games in general. I’ll also be listing these by order of play if you were playing through the series chronologically, since I can’t bring myself to rank them in quality either. But that also means you get to see some of the evolution in ZUN’s sound, which is pretty interesting in itself.

1) Shanghai Alice of Meiji 17Touhou 6: Embodiment of Scarlet Devil — Hong Meiling’s theme

Starting with one of the first hard hitters in the PC-era series. I’m not sure who “Shanghai Alice” is, aside from being the name of ZUN’s doujin circle — there’s an Alice who shows up not here but in Touhou 5 and again in 7 and ends up sticking as a major character in the series — but Hong Meiling is Chinese as the “Shanghai” suggests. But then the song sounds not Chinese but western. According to ZUN, he was thinking more about the 19th century Shanghai French concession, which would explain the western sound and the “Meiji 17” in the title, i.e. 1884.

More importantly, this theme fits Meiling’s character — she’s usually considered comic relief as early stage bosses sometimes are, but she’s no joke in combat, and the fast pace of “Shanghai Alice” reflects that.

2) Locked Girl ~ The Girl’s Secret RoomTouhou 6: Embodiment of Scarlet Devil — Patchouli Knowledge’s theme

“Locked Girl” takes a much more somber tone than the last boss theme, again fitting for its character. I admit Patchouli is my favorite Touhou character — she’s a shut-in who lives in a library reading all day and never even bothers to change out of her nightgown, what’s not to like about that? Very relatable; I’d do that too if I could get away with it. But it’s not just favoritism working here, because Patchouli’s theme is excellent too, and a nice showcase of ZUN’s skills at different sounds and styles.

3) Septette for the Dead PrincessTouhou 6: Embodiment of Scarlet Devil — Remilia Scarlet’s theme

And it turns out the big bad boss of Touhou 6 is a small vampire girl. Remilia might not look intimidating at first, but like a lot of the other girls in Touhou she has serious magical ability and can fuck you up with it. Remilia also claims to be the daughter of Vlad “The Impaler” Tepes, aka Dracula, the 15th century ruler of Wallachia in modern-day Romania. She’s confirmed to be over 500 years old, but her claim of descent from Dracula is a lie according to the Touhou wiki.

Even so, she’s powerful, and her stately theme fits her character perfectly. “Septette” is famously based on the third movement of Beethoven’s “Pathetique” sonata. They diverge pretty quickly, but the beginning of “Septette” is very similar, showing some of ZUN’s western classical influence.

4) U.N. Owen was her?Touhou 6: Embodiment of Scarlet Devil — Flandre Scarlet’s theme

Of course I couldn’t leave out this iconic piece. “U.N. Owen” is the theme of Flandre, Remilia’s younger sister they keep locked in her room because anyone having contact with her other than Remilia and a select few others ends extremely badly, usually as a splatter of blood and guts on her wall. Flandre’s theme is appropriately chaotic compared to her sister’s, and her fight is hard as hell. Even getting there requires you to beat the game at least on normal mode to unlock the extra stage, which is no small feat itself. I do like how Flandre’s theme is a little playful as well, though — she really just wants someone to play deadly danmaku laser games with and doesn’t seem to fully appreciate her own power.

The “U.N. Owen” in the song’s title is also a reference to an Agatha Christie novel, though I still don’t get the connection there. Maybe it’s all just meant to fit the generally western theme of the game.

5) The Doll Maker of BucurestiTouhou 7: Perfect Cherry Blossom — Stage 3 theme

Continuing the more western, European sound with “Doll Maker of Bucuresti”, my first pick from Touhou 7. The stage themes in these games are often considered character themes by the fans, even if they technically aren’t meant to be, and when the stage is dominated by one enemy character she ends up with two of them in a game (and sometimes more if she comes back to fight later on.) “Doll Maker” perfectly fits Alice Margatroid, pictured above, a returning character from the PC-98 era who ended up becoming one of the most prominent usually non-player characters in the series (maybe thanks in part to a remix of the next song on the list by IOSYS that got insanely popular in the mid-2000s.)

6) Doll Judgment ~ The Girl Who Played With People’s ShapesTouhou 7: Perfect Cherry Blossom — Alice Margatroid’s theme

And here’s Alice’s other PCB theme, the proper boss battle one this time, and it also fits with her character very well. Alice is one of my favorite characters in the series, usually depicted as somewhat of a loner who lives in a house in the woods with all the autonomous dolls she makes for a living. Despite the ominous sound to her PCB themes, Alice after this game is usually a friend to the protagonists, especially Marisa (though that relationship is sometimes depicted as more than just friendly, and sometimes extremely complicated. It’s been long accepted that the fandom makes up most Touhou lore.)

7) Border of LifeTouhou 7: Perfect Cherry Blossom — Yuyuko Saigyouji’s theme

One of my favorite final boss themes from Touhou, Yuyuko’s theme is a great mix of beauty and power that the series is known for. It fits especially well considering Yuyuko has an extra-tragic story, even if the fandom has made her into a bit of a joke character thanks to some of her lines during her appearance as a player character in Touhou 8. Well, that’s on ZUN, isn’t it? But this is still one of my favorite themes of his.

8) Song of the Night Sparrow ~ Night BirdTouhou 8: Imperishable Night — Stage 2 theme

Sometimes early stage themes aren’t quite as impressive as the mid- and late-stage ones, even according to ZUN himself, who writes notes for each of his songs he puts out with the games. But “Night Bird” stands up very well to a lot of the other pieces in Touhou 8, with plenty of tension building the player up to what’s coming next. And it’s no good scoffing at early stage bosses anyway — Mystia Lorelei, the stage boss and night sparrow of the title, doesn’t put up much of a fight on the Touhou scale, but she does have an interesting gimmick that can really annoy you your first play through. My favorite section starts at 1:27, which is perfectly synced up to Mystia’s appearance (where she starts shooting at you before her fight proper even begins — pretty common in Touhou games to have bosses drop in on you during the stage itself.)

9) Plain AsiaTouhou 8: Imperishable Night — Keine Kamishirasawa’s theme

Keine has one of the more interesting jobs in the Touhou series, even if she doesn’t show up so much these days — she protects the human village of Gensokyo from youkai threats through her power of hiding/erasing history so they can’t find it. Or eating history, which she can do in her animalistic form that she turns into during a full moon, which just happens to occur during Imperishable Night, so you’ll be seeing her again later on. I’m still not sure exactly what “eating history” involves, but there are a lot of weird concepts in the Touhou universe that you just have to accept.

No matter what pair of characters you’re playing as (these team-ups being another unique aspect of 8, at least at the time) Keine presents a fair challenge. But trying to play “Plain Asia” is way more of a challenge. ZUN really went nuts on the piano for Touhou 8; might be part of why it features probably my favorite Touhou soundtrack.

10) Love-colored Master SparkTouhou 8: Imperishable Night — Marisa Kirisame’s theme

In Touhou, sometimes you have to fight your friends, and so it is in stage 4 of Imperishable Night. If you’re playing as Marisa and Alice, you have to fight Reimu, and if you’re playing as Reimu and Yukari, you have to fight Marisa (and you still have to fight one of them if you’re playing as Sakuya/Remilia or Youmu/Yuyuko, but I forget how that breaks down.) I think Marisa might have had a few different themes throughout the series, but “Love-colored Master Spark” seems to be the most associated with her, and I can hear why. It has more of a rock sound, maybe thanks to the electric guitar-sounding synth in there, and fitting with Marisa’s somewhat wild and carefree attitude.

Now that I think about it, Marisa is sort of the Sonic the Hedgehog of Touhou in that sense, making the rock-sounding theme even more appropriate. I don’t know if anyone else has made that comparison, but it feels right to me. Does that make Reimu a non-oblivious version of Knuckles, then? I’m not sure. Maybe this character match-up doesn’t actually work so well.

11) Cinderella Cage ~ Kagome-KagomeTouhou 8: Imperishable Night — Stage 5 theme (or Tewi Inaba’s theme, why not)

“Kagome-Kagome” is another great stage theme that builds up the excitement as you approach the final parts of the game and hope to any and all gods or spirits or whatever else you like that you don’t run into a stray bullet or get boxed in by a pattern without a bomb to clear the screen. The title might be familiar — the main melody is based on a song that accompanies an old Japanese children’s game of the same name.

No idea what that has to do with moon rabbits or Princess Kaguya or anything else that Imperishable Night is about, but the piece works really well here anyway. “Kagome-Kagome” is also the closest thing stage mid-boss Tewi Inaba has to a theme as far as I know unless she received one later on. Usually these mid-boss-only characters don’t get much popularity, but Tewi is a pretty big deal in Touhou, even being featured on the Wikipedia page for the obsolete kana that’s part of her name. Do you have the distinction of being featured on the Wikipedia page for a dead letter? I certainly don’t, but if I had the chance I’d want to get on the page for ȝ.

12) Reach for the Moon, Immortal SmokeTouhou 8: Imperishable Night — Fujiwara no Mokou’s theme

Apologies to true final boss Kaguya for not including her theme Flight of the Bamboo Cutter ~ Lunatic Princess in this list (there’s her honorable mention anyway) but I like this extra boss theme more. Mokou is hell to fight, and her theme reflects that. If I ever got to be a boss in a game, I’d also want a theme with as cool a name as “Reach for the Moon, Immortal Smoke.” This one is the badass sort of piece that brings out the edgy 13 year-old in me, though I’m pretty sure that’s not what ZUN was going for.

13) The Road of the Apotropaic God ~ Dark RoadTouhou 10: Mountain of Faith — Stage 2 theme

Another excellent stage 2 theme with great build-up. The Mountain of Faith soundtrack feels like it has a lot more organ in it, which I like. Not much else to say about this one except I still don’t get the deal with Hina and why she’s constantly spinning.

14) The Gensokyo the Gods LovedTouhou 10: Mountain of Faith — Stage 3 theme

Now here’s a fucking song. “The Gensokyo the Gods Loved” is so iconic in the series that a lot of fans refer to it as the Gensokyo national anthem. A lot of them also say it has a nostalgic feel, which I agree with. Maybe it’s partly the fact that I’d gotten used to those synth trumpets ZUN loves so much (aka the ZUNpets, if you’ve heard that term — that’s what those refer to.)

I partly love this theme as well because of its contrast with the stage boss theme:

15) Candid FriendTouhou 10: Mountain of Faith — Nitori Kawashiro’s theme

Again, what a piece. More organ, with a slightly rock sound this time. I’m a big fan of Nitori as well, a kappa engineer who invents all sorts of strange machines some of which show up in later non-mainline games like Touhou Luna Nights (which I own, but I’m way too horrible at — I need to try it again.)

16) Faith is for the Transient PeopleTouhou 10: Mountain of Faith — Sanae Kochiya’s theme

If I don’t have as much to say about the Mountain of Faith pieces, it’s not because I like them less — I just wasn’t quite as hooked on Touhou by the time 10 came out and didn’t engage with it in quite the same way. I never stopped listening to the music, though. Sanae is another interesting character, a natural rival to Reimu as a fellow shrine maiden, though they eventually end up pretty cordial with each other. However, Sanae’s theme is appropriately fierce in Touhou 10, reflecting the fact that she doesn’t let up in combat either.

17) Native FaithTouhou 10: Mountain of Faith — Suwako Moriya’s theme

Of course. How could I not end this list with “Native Faith”? It’s another piece I don’t have a lot else to say about except how good it is. All of Mountain of Faith feels like it has an earthy feel to it, the music included, sort of like how Imperishable Night has a spacy one. Frog goddess Suwako’s theme caps that off nicely, though once again, as an extra stage boss she takes some effort to reach.

And that’s my list of favorite Touhou themes, again, with a lot of excellent music necessarily left out, otherwise this post would be even longer than 3,000 words, which is probably already too long. If you’ve made it this far, I hope I’ve been able to show just how special the music in this series is. Touhou is well worth picking up and trying out, though unfortunately most of the games on this list aren’t available to play legally very easily. I’m pretty sure the games from Mountain of Faith on are all on Steam now, but for practical purposes 6 through 9 are only playable as downloads unless you can track down physical copies. The PC-98 games take more work to play, since they require an emulator to run, but they’re available out there as well if you don’t have qualms about less than legal methods (and I was going to link to the fansite Moriya Shrine here and say ZUN apparently doesn’t have an issue with piracy of practically unavailable games, but maybe he does, since just last month it seems to have been hit with DMCA notices, so never mind? I own copies of EoSD, PCB, and IN but I got them at anime cons back when Touhou had more of a presence in those circles than it does now. Maybe go check the subreddit instead.)

Whatever path you choose, whether you’re already a fan or you decide to check the series out or leave it, I hope you at least enjoyed the music. If you did, there’s an unimaginably massive amount of fan-created Touhou albums out there in every style for you to explore, a few of which I’ve looked at here on the site, specifically the jazz stuff by Tokyo Active NEETs and DDBY, so be sure to check on those as well. Next post, I really will be getting to the featured articles from March and a couple of album reviews, so until then.

500 follower special!/Sunshine Blogger Award Part 5

After several years of just sitting around, this site has somehow accumulated 500 followers. I want to thank everyone who’s following, even the fake bot accounts that run sites about cryptocurrency.

So I’m doing two things to mark this occasion. The first is the new set of randomized header images/banners I’ve set up. They’re all from screenshots I’ve already used on the site because as you know I’m lazy, along with the one I’ve used all this time because I felt bad about dropping it. If you can guess what series all five of these are from, you’ll get some credit from me that you can’t redeem for anything valuable at all. Sorry about that.

And the second is the rest of this post, because I was nominated by Honest Gamer for the Sunshine Blogger Award a while back, and he provided nine questions for every nominee to answer. Once again, sunshine is absolutely not a word anyone would ever use to describe me or my personality or outlook on life except sarcastically, but I am still grateful. Thanks! On to the questions:

1. If you could have a new entry from your favourite video game franchise, but in a new genre, what would it be?

A Shin Megami Tensei-themed eroge/dating sim. I know it will never happen, but a man can dream. If you could have a shot with Lilim or Titania (or Cu Chulainn depending on your preference/angle, sure) wouldn’t you take it? The games even already have a negotiation mechanic in place that bears some resemblance to dating in how extremely frustrating it is, so half the work is done. Look, I’d even accept an all-ages game. Though knowing how Atlus is now, they’d include 18+ sections as double-priced DLC.

Don’t put it past them these days.

2. What video game crossover would you love to see happen?

None of the series I like the best would fit together well enough for me to want them to have a crossover, so none, really. Honestly, seeing Sonic and Mario in the same games was a big enough deal for someone who still vaguely remembers the old Nintendo vs. Sega console wars of the early 90s. Everything after that massive crossover pales in comparison.

3. What platform did you start gaming on?

The very first video game I remember playing is Super Mario Bros., so I guess it would be the NES, though I didn’t own it and I think I was barely four or around that age so I don’t know if you can even count that. A more certain answer is the PC, since that’s most of what I played as a kid — a lot of my console playing was done at friends’ houses back then. Afterwards I bought a few old systems along with a Dreamcast that I got a lot of use out of, then a PS2, but PC games are still what I remember best from my early childhood.

4. There is often talk about difficulty vs accessibility in video games. Do you think that developers should have to include difficulty settings in their games?

I don’t think they should have to, but I do appreciate it when developers include difficulty settings. Having some consideration for your player is a good thing, and there’s no shame in playing a game on easy or even in casual/story mode if that’s how you choose to enjoy the experience. The only caveat there is that I think if you’re a reviewer, and especially a professional one, you should be able to at least beat a game on normal mode or the closest equivalent to give readers an account of the standard experience the game provides.

Picture not related at all, no. But that old reference aside, I should try Cuphead one day.

5. Which legendary video game franchise do you think has the better music, The Legend of Zelda or Final Fantasy?

They’re both great, though neither is my favorite, so choosing one over the other isn’t as easy as it might be. I’d give the edge to Final Fantasy and Nobuo Uematsu, but that’s not putting down the music of Zelda at all; the guy is just that much of a damn genius. I’d put the music of FF just below that of Megami Tensei and the NieR games, but that’s still amazingly good.

6. What popular video game, movie or book series could you not get into?

There are a whole lot I couldn’t get into. Pokemon is something you’d think I’d love, and while I can appreciate the quality and body of work there I was just never into the series for whatever reason. Same for Harry Potter, though I did see some of the films later on and thought they were pretty good. Never was really “into it” in that sense, though.

7. Serious question now….dogs or cats?

I’ve never had either, but if I had to have one, probably a cat. As long as the cat is okay with me, because I’ve known from being around friends’ cats that they can be very particular about individual people. On the other hand, maybe a dog would be better for me, since I tend to stay inside 100% of the time when I don’t absolutely have to be outside, and I know that’s not the best way to live or whatever. Personal preference is still cats though, for their generally relaxed nature (though I know there are exceptions.)

8. What three indie games do you recommend and why?

There are many more than three I’d like to recommend, but I’ll narrow it down here to:

VA-11 Hall-A — The title is annoying to type, but otherwise everything about it is amazing. This is essentially a visual novel with a drink-mixing mini-game attached — you play as a sarcastic, dour bartender named Jill who has to serve all kinds of strange patrons in your boss’ bar in a futuristic cyberpunk dystopia. VA-11 Hall-A features an excellent soundtrack, great art, and interesting and fun characters.

Even now, I still want to have a drink with Dorothy, she is god damn crazy and I love her

It also mixes comedy and drama in a way that actually works, without the heavy and light parts weirdly clashing with each other, which isn’t an easy trick. I wholeheartedly recommend this game (and I fucking wish we’d hear something about the sequel N1RV Ann-A, which has been “coming soon” for well over a year now. But I’ll still wait patiently.)

OneShot — This is one of those games that really showed what independent game developers could do back when it was released. OneShot is an RPGMaker-style game in which you control a character who’s aware of the player’s existence. Yeah, it’s one of those weird meta types of games, but OneShot did it really well, using what otherwise might feel like a gimmick to tell a unique story. If you liked Undertale, you should really try OneShot as well if you haven’t already. (I also recommend Undertale, though most everyone’s played it already by this point, or else they’ve been sufficiently weirded out by the fanbase to be put off of it. The fanbase can admittedly be very weird, but it’s a great game with a fantastic soundtrack and you’re missing out if you don’t give it a look at least.)

The Touhou Project series — Sure, why not. The whole thing. Touhou is a very long-running shoot-em-up series with roots all the way back on the PC-98 in 1996, but most players go as far back as its first PC title Touhou 6: Embodiment of Scarlet Devil. Since that game, there have been many more official games in the series put out, along with about fifty million fan projects, including a ton of albums a few of which I’ve written about here. Magical shrine maidens and witches shoot lasers at youkai girls to excellent background music, all created by indie developer ZUN. It’s great stuff, check it out.

His art is a little janky, but you get used to it.

9. What do video games mean to you?

Video games are a unique form of art that I’ve always enjoyed. They’re also an escape from a reality I don’t enjoy all that much. I wish I could say otherwise, but that’s just how it is. I don’t get to live my life on my own terms (most of us don’t, really, so that’s nothing special) but at least I can escape into another world for a while through a game. The same is true of great novels and films and so on, but games provide that interactivity and sometimes that extra immersion that make them different and perhaps better for escapist purposes.

Of course, games can also have a lot of value as art aside from whether I think they can be used to escape reality for a while. But I think if a game is good enough, no matter how serious or light in tone it is, it can provide that sort of escape I’m talking about (and “light” games can still have a lot of value as art, but that’s getting into a completely different subject.)

I’m certainly not special in appreciating games this way either. It’s pretty obvious that a lot of people value games at least partly as an escape from the drudgery of everyday life. Whether that’s a healthy approach to life is a different matter, but it’s undoubtedly healthier than, say, escaping everyday life by drinking yourself senseless or doing similarly indulgent things and more productive than just banging your head against a wall, especially over things you can’t change. I don’t know if everyone reading will relate to this, but if you don’t, so much the better for you.

Anyway, sorry for getting dark here at the end, but I actually see all of the above as a positive. I think the last year in quarantine has changed my outlook on life somewhat, and weirdly enough for the better. If you can even believe that from reading what I just wrote, but this kind of fatalism is a better place than I was at a few years ago. If I think of it that way, I really do have a sunny outlook, at least relative to where I was before!

Of course, writing here is also a method of escape for me, so I want to thank everyone who reads this site again for following me here and for sometimes putting up with my personal nonsense when I get into it.

I don’t want to get that melancholic here again, at least not until the next depressing game or anime I write about.

As for nominations and questions, at first I wasn’t going to bother, but I actually did come up with some questions, so it would be a waste not to ask them. Here they are:

1) Are you buying or have you bought one of the new next-gen consoles, and if so, which? What factors played into your decision?

2) Related to that, how much importance do you place on the specs of a new console?

3) Are there any emerging technologies you’re especially excited to see develop? If so, what are they?

4) Is there an upcoming game, film, anime, or other work you’re especially looking forward to?

5) Is there a genre (of game, novel, film, whatever) you liked as a kid but now dislike? Alternatively, is there a genre you disliked as a kid that you now like or at least appreciate more?

6) We’ve probably all read, watched, or played through at least one story with a disappointing ending. Do you feel a poorly written ending hurts its entire work or series, and if so how much? Can you still enjoy or appreciate the work even if you feel the ending was lousy? (I think I’ve already written about this a bit, and I have a feeling I can guess what a couple of you will say to it, but still a question I’d like to throw out there because I think it’s an interesting one.)

7) Are there any good new blogs or sites you’ve found recently? I’m always looking for new reading material.

8) Are you planning to return to the theater/cinema soon, or once you feel safe going (assuming you liked going in the first place?) Is there anything about the typical moviegoing experience you’d change? (I’m only familiar with the typical American experience, but I’m always interested in hearing about how it is in other countries. Do you have that fake liquid popcorn butter, or is that just us over here being extremely unhealthy as usual?)

9) Finally, a vital question, and one that I think might have been asked before, but if it’s not, I’ll ask now: what’s your opinion of pineapple on pizza?

And the nominees. Sorry as usual if you’ve been tagged already:

Nepiki Gaming

Extra Life

Lost to the Aether

Frostilyte Writes (also pretty sure I need to answer one of yours from ages ago, sorry about that)

Later Levels

And also as before, anyone else who wants to join in is welcome. In the meantime, my best regards to everyone, and thanks once again.

The rabbit girl and the obsolete ゐ

Hey, happy December, and happy official official start of the Christmas/holiday/whatever you want to call it season.  Here’s a post that has nothing to do with any of that.  I mentioned before that I’m doing some Japanese self-study, and now I have some dumbass 外人 ideas about this language that, up until recently, I only slightly understood mainly through reading untranslated doujins.* And if one of those ideas happens to have a connection to games, anime, manga, or the usual kind of thing I write about on this site, I might just post about it like I’m doing now.  Whether you’re fluent, studying, or neither of those, I hope you find it interesting.

For several years, I’ve had the hiragana and katakana down, the two Japanese syllabary writing systems that are used to write out anything that’s not written in kanji, the character-based system derived from Chinese. The largest part of my study by far is of these kanji, of which there are over 3,000. Learning the kanji is a great undertaking, but not as difficult as many people think: the kanji themselves are composed of pieces called radicals, and once you realize how these pieces work, the task of learning the characters they make becomes quite a lot easier.  Still not easy — not even close.  But easier.

However, I’m not talking about kanji today. Today I’m talking about ゐ, a now-obsolete kana, or syllabary character. As the name of the writing system suggests, most of these kana represent a syllable instead of a lone vowel or consonant, the exceptions being the long a i u e o sounds and the lone consonant n. I learned about ゐ well before even properly learning my hiragana, however, thanks to Touhou Project, a shoot-em-up series made by independent game developer/music composer/guy drinking beer in his basement ZUN. One of the most popular games in the series was Touhou 8, subtitled Imperishable Night, which dealt with aliens called Lunarians and moon rabbits causing the moon to stay in the night sky into the day, which somehow causes the world to fall into a permanent night (also, just like in every Touhou game, all these characters are cute girls just like chief protagonists Reimu and Marisa, even the moon aliens.) No, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but none of the plots to the Touhou games make much sense.  You don’t play these games for their plots anyway.

A typically cute depiction of Tewi. You’d never guess she would ever try to murder you by firing hundreds of magical bullets at you. (source: poronegi, pixiv)

The connection to my language study comes with the introduction of Tewi Inaba, an Earth-native rabbit girl who acts as a mid-level boss in Stage 5 and dumps bullets all over the screen at you for a few rounds that you either have to dodge or waste your limited number of bombs on to clear. Tewi isn’t a very important character in the game — while she is distinct from all the common enemies around her and can be a pain in the ass to fight, she falls short of the honor of having her own boss theme, at least in her initial appearance in Touhou 8. However, her name is interesting from a linguistic perspective. Tewi’s name is written last name first in the Japanese fashion as 因幡てゐ, her last name in kanji, and her first name in hiragana: て, te, and ゐ, wi.  In 1946, however, the Japanese government decided wi wasn’t a syllable they’d need anymore since it had disappeared from common usage long before. Thus ゐ got the boot along with ゑ (we).  Since wi is no longer a sound used in Japanese, even Tewi’s name is pronounced when spoken as “Tei”.

So the question remains: why did ZUN use ゐ in Tewi’s name when it’s not pronounced that way anymore? The answer may lay in the setting of the Touhou Project games. Gensokyo is a piece of Japan that for centuries was populated with youkai, mythical beasts that have magical powers they can use to help or harm humans (very often the latter.) In 1885, this land was finally sealed from the rest of Japan with a magical barrier by Yukari Yakumo, an extremely powerful youkai, to protect the youkai within from the outside world, and ever since the human and non-human residents of Gensokyo have had to try to live side by side. Back when Gensokyo was sealed off, therefore, ゐ was still an official part of the Japanese language, so maybe it’s not strange for it to be used in Gensokyo.  Add to that the fact that despite her looks, Tewi is supposed to be over a thousand years old, and her name’s now-obsolete spelling makes more sense.

If you squint you can see the obsolete ヰ in the company’s name printed on the bottle, but not in the loanword “whisky” printed above it. (source: Hispania – own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.)

Either that or ZUN was just doing whatever he felt like doing with the characters’ names. Maybe I’m reading too much into it. After all, the wi syllable isn’t quite dead and buried in our modern world.  ヰ, the katakana counterpart to ゐ, is still used in a few brand names like the Japanese distillery Nikka Whisky, and both hiragana and katakana forms hang onto life in the character sets of the Okinawan and Ainu languages, though those are on the decline and nearly extinct respectively. Small comfort indeed. ゐ now has so little going on that Tewi herself is mentioned in the introduction of the kana’s Wikipedia page as one of the few remaining common usages of the character. The poor kana is relying on being featured in the name of a Touhou character.  Isn’t that rough?  At least Tewi is one of the more popular characters, but still, a long way to fall.

Again, I hope that was interesting.  Don’t know if I’ll write more of these posts or if I’ll make this a regular feature; I’ll just make it up as I go along like I always do.  It may also be a while until my next post — unless you want to read a lengthy, unedited mess of nonsense garbage, I’ll have to take some more time on it.  So I thought I’d post this as a kind of bonus.  Happy December again, and I hope you don’t freeze too much this season if you’re not one of those lucky people in the Southern Hemisphere or the tropics right now.  I’d say you can warm yourself up with some Nikka whisky, but it seems to cost at least 50-60 dollars a bottle.  Must be good stuff. 𒀭

*I’ll leave to your imagination the kinds of expressions I learned from reading doujins, but they certainly aren’t ones you’d say in polite society.