A series of popular shooter and fighting games featuring little girls.
- Developer: ZUN
- Release Date: 11/1996
Touhou Project is a series of Japanese doujin (independent) games in which almost all of the characters are young girls. ...actually, many of the characters aren't little girls, but ZUN (Junya Ōta), the creator of the series, has admitted that he cannot draw very well, and is thus unable to draw characters that look like grown-up women. It can be assumed that the same reason explains the lack of male characters in the games - of the three male characters in the franchise, one of them only appeared in spinoff media, one is a cloud-genie-entity, and one's a tortoise.
Most of the games are "danmaku" (aka "bullet hell") shoot-em-ups, in which enemies often shoot dozens, or even hundreds of projectiles. The majority of the game's challenge, and in fact its appeal, revolves around keeping track of everything that is happening on the screen and successfully maneuvering around each projectile. There have been two spinoffs on this formula, where instead of shooting bullets, you shoot bullets. Yup, taking photos of them clears them, and the goal is to take impressive photos of the characters and their attacks.
A small number of the Touhou games are fighters. These are similar to other fighting games, but with a much, MUCH larger emphasis on projectile attacks. There have also been a few "versus" danmaku games, which play similarly to the standard games, only with an emphasis on danmaku combat between players.
Characters and story
There are loads of characters. Loads of them (over 100). However, some are more popular than others. A more comprehensive list of characters can be found at the Touhou Wiki.
Events in the Touhou games take place in an alternate dimension called Gensokyo, which is similar to feudal Japan. Nearly all of these characters are yokai (a catch-all term for various creatures from Japanese folklore). Many of the plots involve some strange occurrence in Gensokyo, and Reimu (or Marisa) setting off to investigate. Despite the all-girls setting, you should not expect the typical lesbian "comedy" that's so prevalent in just about every all-girls anime. In fact, the dialogue (in canon) is relatively tame and somewhat archaic.
As mentioned, there are many, many, many characters. Despite most of them only having one appearances, each girl manages to have their own fanbase.
- Reimu Hakurei is arguably the most popular character. She is a miko, or shrine maiden, who wears a red and white kimono, and is the main character in most of the games. Because her sleeves are not attached to her shirt, her shoulders are revealed, and therefore her armpits have been some sort of in-joke with fans. Some songs (yes, songs) even focus on her armpits.
- Marisa Kirisame is a human witch who flies on a broom. She likes stealing things and using her Master Spark spell, which is a powerful beam of magic. Her philosophy is that when in doubt, fire big lasers. She is more difficult to play than Reimu because she is a slightly larger target (although she has more speed and firepower in return). She's just as popular as Reimu.
- Sakuya Izayoi is a maid who is the servant to the vampires Remilia and Flandre Scarlet. It's generally assumed that she's a tribute to JoJo's Bizarre Adventure villain Dio Brando, as she employs the same style of combat (stopping time and using throwing knives) and even has an attack named after Dio's Stand power. A common in-joke among fans involves "pads" - some people noticed a change in her bust size throughout her portraits in the games, and guessed that she wore padded bras.
- Suika Ibuki is an oni (ogre) who is always drunk. Originally created as the final boss of one of the fighting games, she uses melee attacks much more than the danmaku the series is known for. Because of this, she usually takes on a supporting role in the main danmaku games. She's flat-chested, and is the main focus of the tsurupettan meme.
- Sanae Kochiya is a shrine maiden, though she does not tend the same shrine as Reimu. She seems to have replaced Sakuya as playable character in recent games, and occasionally sees some backlash. Fans consider her either "a good girl" or a sadist, depending on who you ask.
- Alice Margatroid is a magician who collects and fights with dolls. She is usually paired up or contrasted by Marisa. She's a popular character, but most of it comes from general mistreatment, and being labelled a blow-hard tsundere, spineless with a speech impediment, and/or a maniacal sadsack. In the games themselves, Alice is rather snarky and crabby, but she's portrayed just as often (if not more so) as spineless and lovestruck thanks to a certain IOSYS flash.
- Suwako Moriya and Kanako Yasaka are the gods of Sanae's shrine. Suwako is the great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother of Sanae, and wears a frog hat, which may have a mind of its own. Kanako supposedly overthrew Suwako as god of the Moriya shrine long ago, but they currently seem to be on pretty good terms.
- Cirno is a very ditzy ice fairy. Her lack of intelligence was noted in the instruction booklet for Phantasmagoria of Flower View, where she was labeled as "Fig. ⑨: Idiot". As a result, fans often refer to her as ⑨, or "nine-ball". Despite (or perhaps because of) her stupidity, Cirno is known for being extremely confident, with a catchphrase of "eye'm the strongest!" Expect the same "lul Chiruno is so baka xD" gag in almost every fanwork.
Touhou's music (also composed by ZUN) is incredibly popular. There are many groups that focus on doing covers or remixes of Touhou music in different genres, including metal, folk, dubstep, trance, classical, and so forth. The most notorious group in the west is IOSYS, whose Flash videos became Internet memes. IOSYS are generally regarded as being fairly polarizing among the fandom, as their extremely cutesy (even by Touhou standards) lyrical remixes are either extremely amusing or extremely grating depending on who you ask. The fact that most of their alternative interpretations of characters (such as lovestruck Alice) tend to become more popular than their personalities from the games further adds to the controversy.
The Touhou franchise is known for being something of a memetic juggernaut. Nearly every character has a meme or three associated with them, from newspaper reporter Aya Shameimaru's portrayal as a perverted paparazzo to minor stage-boss Chen having a knack for honking bicycle horns (it's a long story). Listing all of these memes would make this article several times larger than it already is, so this list focuses on the memes that have gained prominence outside of the Touhou fandom. The most famous Touhou memes include:
- Yukkuri: Weird blobby heads of Touhou characters who say "Take it easy" ("Yukkuri shitteitte ne" in Japanese, which is where the name came from). Originating from a failed ASCII of Reimu and Marisa's heads, somehow it became a creature of its own.
- Tsurupettan: A song by Silver Forest about Suika's flat chest. Some enjoy it, others view it as a forced meme.
- Ran ran ruu: Clips from a Japanese McDonald's commercial synced up to a theme from the Touhou games, making it sound like Ronald McDonald is performing some sort of melodic, terrifying incantation. Also known as the "McRoll," it has since expanded to both other Touhou songs and non-Touhou songs.
- Touhou hijack: An image of a Touhou character (usually Marisa) signaling a thread about an unrelated topic that will turn totally Touhou. Started in 4chan mostly at /a/ before the advent of /jp/, during which time nobody was really sure where Touhou threads should go. As a matter of fact, Touhou hijacks are one of the primary reasons why /jp/ was created.
- HONK HONK: Originally started with one fan artist named bkub, who mainly draws surreal-but-entertaining comics featuring relatively obscure mid-boss Chen (here portrayed as mute and
vaguely toddler-liketotally badass). For reasons unknown, one comic depicting Chen honking a bicycle horn at a passed-out Suika struck a chord with the Internet, and has since become extremely popular within the Touhou fandom. The comic reached memetic proportions when people began cutting-and-pasting panels and dialogue from bkub comics to construct new abominations.
While the games themselves are good, it's the fandom that makes Touhou so popular. Obviously, Touhou has one of the biggest fandoms in Japan, and dozens of fan art, fan music, and doujinshi are pumped out every single day. Even a fan anime with high-profile voice actresses was made. It also doesn't help that Touhou seems to be pasted into every other games or series, so there's never a shortage of crossovers and homages/parodies/bootlegs. The fan materials are so prevalent that many fans have heard of Touhou through fanworks, and some fans have never beaten a Touhou game, let alone played one.
Despite its popularity, the only reason Touhou has not gone commercial is because ZUN does not want it to be. He creates Touhou because he wants to. Even if Touhou wasn't that popular, ZUN would still make the games.
The series started with Highly Responsive to Prayers, released for the Japan-only PC-98. In 2002, the series had a reboot with Embodiment of Scarlet Devil for the PC, and the games have been for the PC ever since. The PC-98 games aren't nearly as popular as the PC ones, but there are ports available for those who wish to try them.
Touhou 13: Ten Desires is the current game of the series.
- Everything about the games, from the art to the programming to the music, is created by one man. ZUN's fondness for alcohol is well-documented, to the point where some suspect that he may have been drunk for most of the concept phases of the games (which would actually explain a lot).
- Spawned many memes, some more famous than others (i.e. more know about "Tsurupettan" than "Pads" for example.) Most Touhou memes aren't well known outside of its community.
- Reimu is the most popular character, with Marisa, Sakuya and Cirno also being extremely popular.
- An average of 30% of the content distributed at Japan's Comiket conventions (where fanartists and independent developers can sell fan-works without fear of copyright infringement) is Touhou-related.
- Flandre Scarlet's theme, "U.N. Owen Was Her?" was used in the Ronald McDonald "Ran ran ruu" (aka McRoll) clip.
- Has spawned a massive empire of fanworks, from comics to music to models (or garage kits). ZUN is fine with this and doesn't want royalties, so long as large companies don't distribute Touhou products via the mainstream.
Sakuya, and her pads (not shown.)