By TheBigN(ot a Nintendo Fanboy)
Huge-sized pictures appear on this post, just to warn you. And I’m also probably not the best person to talk about this either, so feel free to correct me. Just to warn you.
If you’ve been paying attention to this blog on some means other than just the posts and such, you might have noticed that I have a little fascination with this thing called Touhou. The header image should give that away if you know who the character is (especially when you notice that she tends to appear in many of my posts :P), as well as some of the sites that I link to on my blogroll (and these aren’t all of them) which have a strong focus on Touhou (BTW, if you’re going to Otakon, check out the Touhou panel there! </shameless plug>). I don’t remember too much about how exactly I became interested in the world that is Gensokyo, but I do know that conversations on IRC about the characters and their “quirks”, fan-created or otherwise, helped fan things. Now that I think about it, it’s interesting that I didn’t go first to the original and official source of the concept by playing the games and finding out how things worked from there. Instead I read some comics made by some fans (wholesome of course :P), and I was gone from there, despite not knowing too much about the main inspiration for all of them. Considering that usually, going from the original source to what the fans make tends to be the way to go, maybe something special was in the (spell) cards or something.
What got me about Touhou was that from all the translated doujinshi that I read, regardless of the source, more often than not, the way the world worked had that slice-of-life feeling to it. The doujins tended to present vignettes of girls living warmly, doing nothing in particular, but doing it entertainingly, however that works. You couple that feeling with the fact that most of the characters was amazingly overpowered in some way, from things like overwhelming power and speed (ze), to controlling things like time, life and death, distance, borders, the elements, and then some.
Gensokyo to me was a world where some really strong humans were able to coexist with things like vampires, ghosts, and oni (oh my!) among other things. There are so many characters in the world that it would be hard not to even find one that you could like, though I’m sure that some people have tried. Most of the characters consisted of basically living WMDs in the shape of cute girls (when drawn by people other than ZUN, the official creator, most of the time, sad to say) with interesting personalities, mannerisms, characteristics, etc., yet things seemed mostly peaceful and relaxed, unless a couple of girls who were up to no good start making trouble in the neighborhood. And when things did stir up, even to the point of a knockdown drag-out war, a human shrine maiden, witch, and/or maid will always clean things up, everyone involved will chill out and drink some tea/have a party at the end. Rinse and repeat. And it was all good (for me, that is. Nomad will come around someday in the future. :3).
Given that this impression comes from a series of shmups (and the odd picture-taking game or fighter), and some stories and a manga or two from the one man army of ZUN officially, it’s amazing to see how Touhou’s fandom has taken all of these and ran with them. Though the original games themselves can be fun to play, I’d like to think that you don’t really have to do that in order to get into the Touhou experience. The fanculture that spawned, and who’s flames are fanned by ZUN giving the okay to have fun with it (or so I hear), is amazing and an unusual example of what supporters of a cause can do when them come together.
Brief conversations between some characters and the narrations in the game, as well as some extra articles from ZUN become the basis for fleshed out people in the hands of fans. These become expanded into certain character traits, histories, relationships and likes/dislikes/hobbies/preferences/etc, making simple characters more complex (duh), more interesting, and more fun to mess with when used in fan made works, and even canonized by the creator himself in some forms. Already nice music composed by ZUN and used in the original games gets remixed into many different styles of music (I’ve yet to hear a Touhou country album though, not that I mind), with some pieces remade into something almost unrecognizable from its origins. The original character designs (which really aren’t that great, tbh) spawn beautiful, interesting and epic fan art.
While this isn’t too unusual regarding the otakusphere (where some pretty surprising things can get fawned over sometimes), the amount of content generated definitely is. When you have Touhou versions of many anime openings, endings and the shows themselves, numerous Touhou-related doujin games beside the original works (soccer, RPG, shooter, visual novel), or even Touhou-based Manzai comedy, you kinda notice that it’s not really a passing fad (whether or not if it’s a really popular is another story though). When you can have a full fledged yearly convention dedicated to Touhou, that’s something special. While it’s been interesting to see how people have worked for things like the Genderbend of Suzumiya Haruhi and how quickly material of that has spread, that explosive generation has been done before by ZUN and his fans for a while now, and as long as he thinks up more content, I don’t see things slowing down anytime soon. At least give us the Touhou anime that most of us have wanted to see, please.
The fandom regarding Gensokyo and all that lies within it (and without it in some cases) does raise some interesting questions though. Referring back to the characters as an example, even though in all the fan works produced there are some set traits, as everyone throws their own little spin on things, you wonder if the will of the people becomes the will of official continuity. And since it has happened before for some things (Isn’t it sad, China?), it isn’t wrong to wonder if since more characteristics are added on to these originally defined traits, which of the many various interpretations that we can end up with happens to be the best one, or the right one.
A good answer of course is that ZUN’s concept is the be all and end all, but that becomes iffy when fanon does become canon. Some creators can run away and create new aspects/memes/mannerisms/personalities of the characters that general fandom seems to agree with, despite the original concept, as seemed to be the cause with Touhou’s resident doll maker/lover, Alice. Given that ZUN seems to give free reign on most original works (as far as I know, which I’m not too sure about), and that once an idea gets momentum, it’s hard to stop, it doesn’t seem to raise too many concerns as long as the user-made content remains interesting and compatible in some way with the original concept. Touhou’s loose enough that many different interpretations are possible.
Saturation of the fan made works can become a problem as well. I’d like to learn more about some of the factors that led to the growth of the current community (word of mouth seems to be a strong one :3), since you don’t see this type of monolith anyway. Whatever led to the continuing explosion of materials, there is a vast amount of material out there for people to keep, promote, or spam on forums and stuff. I’ve several gigs of (wholesome, seriously) Touhou doujinshi on my computer, and I’m trying to do the same with Touhou music (so also give me some recommendations here please). If you’re looking for a specific thing, be it a little techno version of “天空のグリニッジ”, or some nice doujin for your own yuri goggle setting, there’s a lot to sift through, and as much as I want to think so, not all of it good, though again, that’s what recommendations from others are for. I do wonder if after a while, this continuing influx of work will burn itself out, and though new games, works and the like come out, if Gensokyo loses its luster, especially when coupled with other factors like a potentially annoying fanbase or just a loss of interest.
But I guess we’ll try to cross that river when we come to it. Though depending on how things are set up, it could take quite a while to do so.
Update: This is a brilliant link explaining what has made Touhou so successful and fan-productive as it has been.