Monthly Archives: April 2013

Introduction to Touhou 10: Meiling

Meiling Banner

“The job of guarding is given to incompetent people, and only a position in name” – Patchouli

If you thought Japan was the only country represented in Touhou, guess again. China’s in there too! What diversity! Yes, Meiling Hong is the only confirmed Chinese member of the cast (Seiga Kaku lived in China, but her country of origin is uncertain) and fortunately does not have a rice hat, buck teeth, slanty eyes, speak with a hilarious accent, work on the railroad, or subscribe to other such stereotypes. However, she’s reputed to fall asleep on the job and wears a generic Chinese dress. One step at a time, I suppose.

Whoa, Meiling, you look different.  Is that a new hat?

Whoa, Meiling, you look different. Is that a new hat?


Meiling serves as the gatekeeper and gardener of the Scarlet Devil Mansion and keeps the riffraff out. Despite her human appearance, Meiling is a youkai and boasts supernatural strength along with martial arts prowess. In a world where combat is primarily ranged, however, she rarely gets to capitalize on these skills.

That's cool, but can you kick lasers?

That’s cool, but can you kick lasers?


The exception is in the Touhou fighting games, in which her nemesis is a giant catfish. This is canon. I’m not even kidding.

"From Hell's heart, I stab at thee!"

“From Hell’s heart, I stab at thee!”


It’s difficult to extrapolate a definitive personality from her few lines of in-game dialogue, but she seems fairly laid-back and on friendly terms with most of the people in the mansion, which stands in stark contrast to how fans see her.

Resisting Sakuya is the leading cause of knife in head.

Resisting Sakuya is the leading cause of knife in head.


In fanon, Meiling is portrayed as immensely stupid, lazy, and incompetent. Firstly, she almost universally fails at her gatekeeping duties, either being perpetually asleep on the job or completely incapable of keeping people out even when she tries. To be fair, the latter has a slight basis in canon as Marisa Kirisame enters and leaves the premises with impunity (possibly with the house mistress’ approval). I’m hard pressed to blame Meiling since stopping a psychotic, laser-shooting witch traveling at high speed isn’t exactly a trivial task.

I suspect Meiling has the highest medical expenses in all of Gensokyo given how much abuse she takes.

I suspect Meiling has the highest medical expenses in all of Gensokyo given how much abuse she takes.


These ascribed traits make Meiling a natural butt for jokes. The most standard Meiling joke by far is her being punished for falling asleep by the mansion’s head maid, Sakuya. Said punishment usually involves a knife in the bum or in the head, which Meiling typically takes in good humor. I’m tempted to say the knife in her hat is at this point as much a part of her character image as the rest of her outfit.

Best friends forever.

Best friends forever.


Another very common gag involves people butchering her name or calling her something completely incorrect, whether by accident or intentionally. The first of these names, Kurenai Misuzu, is an alternative reading of the characters that form Meiling’s name that results in a Japanese name. The other, China, is obviously in reference to her country of origin. As one would expect, Meiling doesn’t take kindly to being called either of these names, which only encourages people to torment her with them.

In fanworks, Meiling’s laid-back personality lets her get along with the more childlike characters in the series, including a certain basement-dwelling vampire known for her murderous psychosis. The idea is that the much more casual and personable Meiling is better able to connect to the violent but lonely Flandre than either her more formal elder sister and her head maid or the other denizens of Gensokyo that fear her power. Of course, sometimes this just gets her killed, so you win some you lose some.

Meiling2
Next time, we’ll head deeper into the Scarlet Devil Mansion and look at the sickly librarian: Patchouli.

Introduction to Touhou 9: Cirno

Cirno - Banner
On the shores of a misty lake wanders a powerful fairy whose mastery over the freezing wind threatens an icy grave for those who dispute her strength. Luckily, she can’t carry out this threat since she’s an idiot. I’m not even being mean, it’s written right on the manual:

Figure 9: Idiot

Figure 9: Idiot. And thus, nineball/circle 9/nine was born.


Cirno’s character isn’t especially complex and can be boiled down to a few quirks. The first of these is that she claims to be the strongest with undue confidence. She’s certainly the strongest fairy, but that isn’t saying much since fairies are cannon fodder enemies in Touhou and countless scores of them are harmed with the making of each game. That said, her brashness has turned out well once in a while, like when she defeated series heroine Marisa. Whether this was due more to Cirno’s strength or to no one taking her seriously (Marisa’s excuse) is up for debate.

The second trait is her power. The phrase “manipulation of cold air,” a rather cumbersome description, serves to differentiate it from control of ice, which is the domain of another character. The implication is that she’s just freezing water vapor to use rather than generating ice directly.

Most Dangerous Icebox

Most Dangerous Icebox


Her final trait, idiocy, is Cirno’s most well-known feature. Apart from being literally labeled as such, she acts like a child despite her 60+ years of age. That’s right, she can collect a pension. In the games, one of Cirno’s spell cards leaves a safe spot directly in front of her, thus requiring no effort to overcome.

Her childlike and moronic behavior combines a reckless overestimation of her abilities with a capacity for brutality and cruelty that can be likened to a child burning ants with a magnifying glass. Her “hobby” is freezing and thawing frogs to practice her abilities, but her success rate is only 66%, with the other third of the frogs shattering into pieces. This has gotten her eaten by a giant toad once, though she froze its stomach to escape.

Amazingly enough, despite her reputation for being dumb, Cirno actually isn’t the stupidest character in the series, displaying literacy and a rudimentary understanding of numbers that her fairy and lower-level youkai peers do not.

As we’ve seen in the IOSYS article, the most common fandom rendition of Cirno takes her idiocy and exaggerates it to the levels you’d expect from an idiot character in the average anime. Her antics range from misspelling her own name as Saruno to running around with or playing pranks on her cadre of friends collectively known as the Baka Rangers.

Cirno and her cadre of buffoons.

Cirno and her cadre of buffoons.


Cirno is frequently paired with characters based on being in the same stage of a game, having similar powers, torture of frogs, and her total lack of presumption. Daiyousei, a midboss with no dialogue, falls into the first category. It’s because she’s a fairy, isn’t it? Racists. Letty, the ice youkai, falls under the first two categories, as Cirno is the midboss of her stage and has similar powers. Her animal cruelty makes her a picture perfect nemesis/lesbian frenemy to the frog goddess Suwako. Finally, Cirno’s headstrong confidence lets her occasionally connect with feared or otherwise misunderstood people like certain versions of Yuuka Kazami.
Joke's on you, Cirno.  Pi goes on forever.

Joke’s on you, Cirno. Pi goes on forever.


On the other end of the spectrum is Genius Cirno or an unexpectedly intelligent Cirno. The former is a pretty straightforward appeal to contrast with the ice fairy busting out insights on mass-energy conversion, cryogenics, and advanced mathematics. The latter, however, is my personal favorite since surprise within context always makes for good comedy. This more subtle intelligence manifests in Cirno defying expectations and doing arithmetic correctly, intuiting universal gravitation, and even something as simple as calling a certain gatekeeper by her correct name.
So if I get ripped and speak in math equations, will I become the strongest in Gensokyo?

So if I get ripped and speak in math equations, will I become the strongest in Gensokyo?

Next time, we’ll cover the gatekeeper of the Scarlet Devil Mansion: Kurenai Misuzu. Or was it China? Meyrin Hawke maybe? I forget.

The Nine Hells of Anime Podcast Episode 19: Ringing Bell

This week, we discuss an outrageously traumatizing children’s anime called Ringing Bell. When a young sheep’s mother is killed by the wolf of the mountains, he sets off on a quest of vengeance that will take him through a living hell to change from a defenseless lamb into a killer. This is no Bambi.

Chirin_no_Suzu_[XviD](A68403D2).mkv_snapshot_06.11_[2013.03.28_14.15.32]

Hosts: NoMachineGunForHim, Moonhead, and Zaburai.

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Introduction to Touhou 8: The Core Games and Story

Danmaku Games Banner
In writing the Easy Modo course, I glossed over the core Touhou games: the danmaku games where you desperately dodge screen-filling projectiles. The reason for this is that I’m horrible at them. Given that they’re the foundational blocks of the fandom, however, dealing with them is a necessary evil.

Our discussion will focus on the Windows-era games (Touhou 6: Embodiment of the Scarlet Devil and onward). The prior games are far less accessible and have their own quirks that merit a separate article.

While my knowledge of the shoot ‘em up genre is limited, Touhou seems to share many of its common features: no saving, a lives system, screen-clearing bombs, top-down perspective, vertical scrolling, and stage-ending boss battles. While standard schmups focus more on firepower, Touhou and other bullet hell games place far more emphasis on precise movements and evasion. Characters have very small hitboxes, but in exchange, there is far less safe space on the screen. If you run out of lives, you can continue a certain number of times, though using continues gives you a bad ending.

An artist's rendition of a danmaku battle.

An artist’s rendition of a danmaku battle.


All of the Touhou danmaku games have six levels and a bonus “extra” stage. There are also difficulty settings ranging from Easy to Lunatic (though the extra stage’s difficulty is fixed at around Normal mode). “Easy” is a misleading label though, because even easy mode is unforgivingly hard. On the other end of the spectrum is Lunatic mode which, by the way, is aptly named for the questionable sanity of those who master it. Case in point:

Personally, I think the games are better watched than played, but they do have outstanding music and pretty patterns (pretty faces, less so). If you’re looking to get into these games (read: are a masochist), here are some pointers:

1. Play as Reimu

She has the smallest hitbox of the playable characters and has homing on her basic attacks, meaning you can focus on dodging.

2. Hold shift for focused movement.

Doing so slows you down and allows for more precise movements. Otherwise, you’ll be flying all over the place and probably run into a hail of bullets. That said, full speed has its moments:

3. Start with Touhou 7: Perfectly Cherry Blossom

While Embodiment of the Scarlet Devil has more memorable characters and Imperishable Night has better music, PCB is purported to be the easiest Touhou game and consequently the one most appropriate for new players.

Because the games were printed in limited runs, physical copies are only available through secondary markets and are in Japanese. As such, downloading them and using fanmade translation patches is the preferred method. Doujinstyle and the Touhou Wikia can help here.

Plot-wise, none of the Windows-era games are especially complex. A lot of stuff happens, certainly, but the primary plot threads tend to be pretty straightforward. Something strange happens, our heroines go on a rampage, and lots of people get hurt, including bystanders (collateral damage). The following summaries give the bare bones gist of each game:

Touhou 6: Embodiment of the Scarlet Devil

A little vampire girl fills Gensokyo with a red mist so she can go outside during the day and it’s up to Reimu/Marisa to beat the crap out of her Chinese gatekeeper, librarian, maid, and eventually, her psychotic, basement-dwelling little sister and save the day.

Collateral damage: A youkai and two fairies.

Touhou 7: Perfect Cherry Blossom

The heroines (now including Sakuya the maid) investigate an abnormally long winter and find that the Keeper of the Dead and administrator of the Netherworld is stealing the essence of Spring to feed a supernatural tree and make it bloom. Oh, she has a half-ghost samurai gardener too. The enigmatic Yukari Yakumo also makes her first appearance as well.

Collateral damage: An ice fairy and demon, a cat, a puppeteer, some musicians, and a fox.

Touhou 8: Imperishable Night

During a seemingly endless night, 4 teams (Reimu/Yukari, Marisa/Alice, vampire/maid, and PCB’s two antagonists) uncover the plot of the immortal Moon Princess to replace the moon with a fake one (?!), but not before beating the ever-living shit out of her nurse and two pet rabbits.

Collateral damage: A firefly, a sparrow, a schoolteacher, and a nice pair of pants.

Touhou 9: Phantasmagoria of Flower View

Spider lily flowers start blooming everywhere and rather than enjoying the view, everyone accuses each other of being the culprit, setting off a free-for-all. The perpetrator is a shinigami (death god) who fell asleep on the job and let souls pile up on the wrong side of the river of the dead. Her boss shows up to give everyone a talking-to, but our cast of brutes obviously doesn’t take kindly to that.

Collateral damage: Literally everyone.

Touhou 10: Mountain of Faith

Reimu hears there’s another miko in town and, ever the good sport, goes to trash the competition. She roughs up her rival and then picks a fight with her god.

Collateral damage: Two harvest goddesses, a curse goddess, a scientist, a reporter, and a frog.

Touhou 11: Subterranean Animism

Reimu/Marisa head underground to Former Hell and find that a certain goddess from the last game has given the gift of nuclear power to a stupid raven. Said raven misinterprets the goddess’ wishes as an order to obliterate all life on the surface, so that’s no good.

Collateral damage: A spider, a Persian, an oni with bad fashion sense, a mind-reader with really short arms, and her pet cat.

Touhou 12: Undefined Fantastic Object

While chasing down flying saucers, our heroines board a flying ship and look for treasure instead. They uncover a plot to resurrect a Buddhist nun who only wants racial harmony, but attack her anyway. Man, these chicks are evil.

Collateral damage: An alien and some idiot with a tongued umbrella.

Touhou 13: Ten Desires

A Vocaloid Taoist prince (?!) and his/her nondescript friends come back to life. By the way, there’s a zombie. Just one. Little do they know that a storm of violence and exposed armpits is about to hit them.

Collateral Damage: Nobody anyone cares about.

Come back next week when we start our look into the notable cast members of Embodiment of the Scarlet Devil with Cirno, the Ice Fairy.

The Nine Hells of Anime Podcast Episode 18: Moldiver

In this episode, we talk about the magical girl/superhero anime Moldiver where a combination of 6 separate directors (mostly from porn) and a large number of talented voice actors combine to accomplish abolutely nothing of worth. Why on Earth is the villain named Machinegal? Does anyone dive into moles? Who deserves the title of Supreme Technologist? Listen and find out.

Moldiver Thumb

Hosts: NoMachineGunForHim, Moonhead, and Zaburai.

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Introduction to Touhou 7: Fandom Resources

Welcome to the final lesson in the Easy Modo segment of our journey through the world of Touhou. Now that I’ve given you a strong foundation of the series’ most fundamental elements, it’s time to give you the tools to pursue your own tracks of interest at your own pace. The next segment of the course will be character-focused, but still deal with the games, music, etc, so don’t think we’re finished. However, the fandom has so many branches that it won’t be possible to cover every interest at a reasonable pace. Thus, I present to you the most critical tools of the fandom:

1. Characters and Canon

The Touhou Wiki gives you far more information than you’d ever need and is the place to go when you want to flesh out your knowledge of the series’ characters, their place in canon, and even some fandom details. I’ll be drawing heavily from this wiki and its sources in writing this course.

The Touhou Wiki

The Touhou Wiki

My caveat about this site: The trivia and fanon details can be written in an extremely unprofessional style (even by Wikipedia standards) with limited citations, so take these details with a grain of salt.

The TV Tropes pages for Touhou are also an option, though these are organized and written in that site’s jargon, which I loathe, so your mileage may vary.

2. Images and Fan Comics/Doujinshi

Pixiv and the Reitaisai Festival convention are the true sources for most Touhou art and literature, but they obviously aren’t very accessible due to their Japanese origin. That’s where Danbooru and Safebooru come in. Danbooru has a wealth of Touhou-related images and, more importantly, translations of comics. The translations are areas over the original text you can mouse over to see the English version. Two notes:

1. The search engine is extremely picky, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t get a result the first time. For instance, entering “Reimu” or “Reimu Hakurei” won’t get any results, but “Hakurei_Reimu” will. My advice? Just enter “(character name) Danbooru” into Google if you know what you want.

2. Danbooru does contain racy or otherwise pornographic content, so if that bothers you, Safebooru is a, well, safe alternative.

Danbooru

Danbooru

If you’re looking for wallpapers, Zerochan offers high quality images, though the site is slow as hell.

3. Music

The sheer variety of musical remixes and arrangements makes diving in a daunting task. Fortunately, there are people who have sorted through quite a bit of music to find quality works. Two such examples are the Merlin Classical and Lunasa Metal playlists on Youtube. These are named after the Prismriver Sisters (there is a third, techno playlist but I can’t vouch for its quality) and while updates have been sparse as of late, each has hundreds of songs.

The Classical Playlist

The Classical Playlist

If you know which band or artist you want to follow from using the playlists, there is a site that can help you find more:

4. Doujinstyle: Music and Game Downloads

Doujinstyle has an index of direct downloads of Touhou canon materials (games, OSTs, and books), fanmade games, and fan music. The organization is a bit unwieldy, so you generally want to know what you’re looking for before going here.

Doujinstyle

Doujinstyle

A special note on /jp/ – 4chan’s /jp/ board is the de-facto Touhou board and has the usual imageboard mix of pictures and massive cynicism, if that’s your thing. I can’t vouch for the sort of experience you’ll have here, but it may be worth a shot.

That concludes our Easy Modo segment of the Introduction to Touhou. Next time, we’ll start Normal Mode with a look at the core Touhou games, their mechanics, and their stories.