Happy ⑨ day everyone! Today is 9/9 on the calendar, and you know what that means? CIRNO DAY! Although, if you’re one of the many people who have no clue what I’m talking about, sit back, because to celebrate the day I’ve decided to offer my word on the ever-expanding cult classic: Touhou Project.
Cirno, the main character of the day, is just one of many (MANY) characters in this franchise.
First, a brief introduction on what Touhou Project is, exactly. Touhou Project is a series of Japanese Doujin Curtain-Fire Shooters created by Team Shanghai Alice, a one-man doujin development team. He calls himself ZUN. Doujin games are the Japanese equivalent of western Independent Games. Cutrain-Fire Shooters, or Danmaku, are a subgenre of side-scrolling shooter games which are distingushed purely by the amount of bullets on screen at any given time. It’s no exaggeration to say that every centimetre of the screen is covered in bullets 90% of the time in these games. The main goal, in particular with Touhou, is to weave through these innumerable waves of bullets while trying to fire back at the hoards of enemies releasing them. I think a visual aid is necessary to get my point across:
These are just some of the fantastical scenes that you’ll encounter regularly while playing any of the Touhou games. It may look impossible, but the hitboxes of the playable characters are absolutely tiny, so with a bit of skill (and a perhaps a lot of practice), you’ll be weaving through the danmaku in no time! I won’t say it’s easy, because it’s not (most gamers struggle on the normal difficulty, AND THERE’S TWO HIGHER). But it’s not impossible either. Unless you’re playing on Lunatic difficulty, eheh. Gameplay in the main entries in the series revolve around dodging the bullets, grazing them for points (putting yourself as close to death as possible is ENCOURAGED), shooting the enemies with your own constant barrage of fire and taking on the bosses placed in the middle and end of each stage. Most games have six stages of increasing difficulty, to keep you on your toes til’ the end.
The origins of Touhou Project date back to as early as 1996, with the very first game in the franchise – ‘Highly Responsive to Prayers’ – being released for the now-ancient PC-98, a Japanese microcomputer. Funnily enough, the first game in the series wasn’t a shooter, but a game similar to Arkanoid. It introduced to us the main protagonist of the franchise, Reimu Hakurei, the shrine maiden. The second game – ‘Story of Eastern Wonderland’ – was the first danmaku game in the series, and was the progenitor of the Touhou formula we see today. It also introduced the second protagonist of the series, Marisa Kirisame, a western witch (Although she was actually an enemy in this game). Touhou 3 – ‘Phantasmagoria of Dim. Dream’ – was a two-player versus danmaku. Touhou 4 – Lotus Land Story – was the second ‘traditional’ Touhou game in the franchise. And Touhou 5 – ‘Mystic Square’ – was the third danmaku game, and the last of the PC-98 line of games.
Following the release of Lotus Land Story, Touhou Project remained inactive for 4 years, until ZUN himself decided to take up the task of reviving the franchise. And a monumental entry in the series, the first of the ‘modern’ Touhou games was created: Touhou 6 – ‘Embodiment of Scarlet Devil’. The game was released for Windows, and everything about the game was given a complete overhaul. Newer, stunning graphics, wave format music, and some new gameplay elements which would later become staples of the series as we know it today.
Before I discuss the series further, I’ll give a brief rundown of the entries in the series so far:
Touhou 8 – Imperishable Night. One of my personal favourites, this was another danmaku, and probably the ‘deepest’ experience in the series, filled with heaps of secrets and unlockables for the skilled players to dig up. It replaced the need for continues with the ‘time’ system, in which you need to play the game well to prevent the time from reaching 5AM before the game’s conclusion.
Touhou 10 – Mountain of Faith. A turning point for the series, in which the Danmaku formula reverted back to a more simple, arcade-style experience. Simpler, infinite continues, but quite possibly more of a challenge than ever.
Touhou 10.5 – Scarlet Weather Rhapsody. The second fighter in the series, and my personal favourite of the franchise. It introduced customizable decks of spell cards, and the ability to fly around the stage to dodge bullets.
The design of the games have become admired by fans as almost an artform. Sure, the character portraits are nothing amazing to look at, but take for example the beauty of the danmaku itself. Some of the bullet patterns are not only great fun to navigate, but really amazing to look at. They’re made to be visually stunning, like a good fireworks presentation. The music has had a lasting effect on the fans as well, with almost a cult following revolving around the music of the series alone. Just youtube ‘touhou music’, and you’re bound to get over 9000 results for covers, remixes, PVs and so on, paying tribute to the unique style of music Touhou Project brings to the plate. Moreover, the characters and story, while not necessarily the focus of the games, have become the subject of an infinitely large fanon universe. Sure, the canon world of Touhou project is surprisingly deep for the small amount of dialogue we are given, but it pales in comparison to the immensity of the fan universe. Oh, on the topic of characters, did I ever mention how many there are? If you’ll refer to the image at the top of this post, that’s only a small glimpse of the character roster in the franchise. I am dead serious. And for some reason they’re all female, I never really understood why. (Except for that one guy in the official manga…) Each game introduces at least 10 completely original characters in the form of bosses (on rare occasion new playable characters), so the roster will keep getting bigger and bigger until some kind of singularity occurs and they all get crushed into their own bodies. Uh, yeah… But even with such a huge cast of characters, thanks to the dedication of the fans, every single one gets attention. Not to say all of that attention is desirable, there’s a lot of ugly stuff out there, but it’s still nice to know that a big sphere can be made so much bigger by the fans. Some of the fanon is even accepted as red truth, sometimes even adopted by ZUN himself, which is kind of amazing. But because the medi
um of Touhou fandom is the internet, many characters and elements of the canon (or sometimes even fanon) have ascended to meme status. One prime example is Cirno, who’s popularity is nothing short of a meme itself. But you may be asking, what’s so remarkable about Cirno that caused her to become a meme? Quite simply, it originated in the instruction booklet for Phantasmagoria of Flower View. On the page explaining the layout on the screen, component no. 9 of the screen was labeled as ‘baka’ (or moron), directed at the opponent on the screen (Cirno). This little joke has inflated to astronomical proportions, and so the nine-ball, the idiot, Cirno, has arguably become as popular (if not more popular) than Reimu and Marisa themselves due to her meme status. Another example of memetic mutation in the Touhou franchise are the infamous Yukkuris: floating disembodied superdeformed heads of touhou characters, which have gained some kind of seperate entity in Touhou fandom as bizzare creatures. Their origins date back to a poorly-executed Shift-JIS portrait of Reimu and Marisa that was posted on 2ch, leading to a drawn depiction of the portrait which has become the memetic Yukkuris we know today. They are often pictured in grotesque and violent situations in fan works, for some reason. I guess 2chan’s love of corrupting innocence is to blame for that one.
So, what exactly is it about Touhou Project that has garnered the admiration of so many fans the world over? Is it the quirky and unique characters? Is it the beautifully hypnotic danmaku patterns? Is it the original breed of music the games present? Is it simply the gameplay? Or is it the fandom itself? Touhou Project’s cult following continues to grow to this day, and already covers every corner of the globe. Everyone may find themselves coming back for different reasons, but one thing’s for certain: there’s nothing else quite like Touhou Project.
PS. I forgot Fairy Wars. Google it. :3