Introduction to Touhou 19: Yuyuko

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Ahh, it feels horrible to lose to someone with no real aim. – Sakuya

Presiding over the land of the dead is a woman with hair much like the cherry blossoms that cover the realm in spring. Her eyes fall upon the one tree that fails to bloom every year and a plan begins to form.

Yuyuko Saigyouji is the administrator who oversees the Netherworld from her shrine Hakugyokurou and essentially ensures that the dead stay in the realm of the dead.

Yuyuko likes to play the fool and often speaks apparent nonsense, but these ditzy remarks are often very obtuse or cryptic hints. These moments indicate a much sharper intellect than her behavior would otherwise suggest, with Yuyuko often being the first one to figure out the party responsible for a given incident.

Youmu: What do you think of these divine spirits, Lady Yuyuko?
Yuyuko: I doubt that some troublesome individual is about to make a return, or that there’s any secrets or anything in, say, the cemetery behind the temple…
Youmu: Hm? A-anyway, I’ll be off.
Yuyuko: Bring me back a souvenir!

Yuyuko’s history is deeply intertwined with that of the Saigyou Ayakashi, the one tree in the Netherworld that never blooms. This tree is a youkai whose origins can be traced back to the poet Saigyou, who chose the tree to lay under during his final moments. Over time, others who heard of his tale came to admire the tree’s beauty and even die as he did underneath its leaves. As this continued, the tree began to develop and became a youkai with the power to tempt mortals into resting underneath it before stripping them of their souls. To nullify its terrifying power, the tree was eventually suppressed using the corpse of Yuyuko as a seal to ensure it would never bloom again.

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Presumably this ritual was done some time after Yuyuko had died as she was completely oblivious to the tree’s power and the identity of the corpse resting upon its roots during the events of Perfect Cherry Blossom. Indeed, only Youki Konpaku and Yukari Yakumo knew this information and Youki was no longer at Hakugyokurou while Yukari was in a deep sleep at the time. In the archives of the shrine, the ghost queen discovered a document detailing the presence of a corpse sealing the Saigyou Ayakashi. As corpses should not physically exist in the spiritual Netherworld and desiring to see the most beautiful tree bloom, Yuyuko wanted to uncover their secret.

Yuyuko and Youmu collected the essence of spring from Gensokyo, plunging it back into the depths of winter until the blossoms were only a sliver of life from returning. This last bit of spring came in the form of the three heroines investigating the matter: Reimu, Marisa, and Sakuya. While Yuyuko failed to defeat them, she instead decided to use the gathered energy to resurrect the corpse obstructing her progress, with the others unable to interrupt her final spell card: Resurrection Butterfly. In fact, the only thing that stopped Yuyuko from completing the resurrection was unconscious self-preservation. Upon channeling 80% of Resurrection Butterfly, Yuyuko was unable to continue as doing so would mean transferring her soul back into her human body and immediately being consumed by the awakened Saigyou Ayakashi.

The darkest aspect of Yuyuko’s character relates to the circumstances surrounding her death. As a human, Yuyuko developed the power to invoke death and instantaneously kill living creatures. Upon realizing the true nature of this ability, the horrified Yuyuko committed suicide. The method of suicide is unknown, but fans generally gravitate toward her own power or a dagger. The concept of Yuyuko’s suicide has left a strong enough impression that enough fanart exists to merit a separate tag on Danbooru for Yuyuko (Living). Ironically, the vast majority of these images are of her dead or in the act of committing suicide.

Becoming a ghost, however, has changed her outlook to the point where she has accepted her power and the responsibility to manage the dead. Despite her eccentricities, Yuyuko does not use death invocation frivolously and has only attempted to murder two people, both of whom are natural enemies. The first of these is Eirin Yagokoro, the creator of the immortality-granting Hourai Elixir, whom she tries to poison but releases when that fails. The latter is the immortal Fujiwara no Mokou, who Yuyuko immediately attempts to kill with death invocation upon their meeting.

Yuyuko: Youmu, don’t get close to her.
Youmu: ……? Miss Yuyuko…
Yuyuko: That girl, she’s different from other humans. Don’t touch her. Her curse will be passed on to you. Don’t eat her. Her poison will curse you. Furthermore… My powers can’t affect her.
Mokou: That’s a pretty sour way to talk about someone you just met. So, what exactly is the power you refer to?
Youmu: Miss Yuyuko can invoke death in humans. But if it fails on you…
Mokou: So you already tried to take my life? My, what active ghosts.

This exchange suggests that Yuyuko’s power has no visual signs and that she can use it at will. A most terrifying weapon indeed.

Yuyuko is the subject of a rather hilarious and humiliating demotion from the final boss in Perfect Cherry Blossom to the first boss of Ten Desires. She received an entirely new theme song called Ghost Lead since her more bombastic final boss theme wasn’t deemed appropriate for the occasion. That and it would made the best song in Ten Desires one from a completely different game, but my myriad criticisms of the thirteenth Touhou game can wait for another day. A probable reason for this apparent demotion was that Yuyuko was only interested in pointing the heroines in the right direction rather than actively obstructing them, and choosing to fight them was about as normal as saying hello in Gensokyo’s language of violence.

Youmu: Speaking of which, Lady Yuyuko, why’d you call her a bird? She looks like a rabbit…
Yuyuko: When skinned and eaten, they’re the same thing. Remember that.

One character trait that’s often exaggerated by the fandom is Yuyuko’s insatiable hunger. The origins of this behavior can be traced back to Imperishable Night, in which Yuyuko makes numerous food references and threatens to eat in whole or in part at least half the cast. In fanworks, this idea is taken to the extreme with Yuyuko gobbling up everything in sight and earning more than just a few comparisons to Kirby. While no one is truly safe from the ravenous ghost, the most common victims are the bird youkai Mystia and Youmu’s ghost half. Eating the latter would of course make Yuyuko a cannibal.

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This hunger was partially canonized in the fighting game Hopeless Masquerade in which she’s in the background and eats more than her bodily volume in riceballs during the average battle. Youmu is, as one would expect, stuck shoveling them into her open maw.

In terms of relationships, there are three major ones that the fandom concerns itself with. These descriptions will be brief as Yuyuko is no exception to the rule of the most complex canon characters being distilled to a few gags repeated ad nauseam in fanon. The first of these relationships is with Youmu, whom Yuyuko loves to tease, spook, or keep busy cooking. The hapless Youmu is dragged into her mistress’ schemes and often comes out worse for wear as a result.

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Next is Mystia, who is by far Yuyuko’s favorite victim. Depending on the circumstances, Yuyuko will either eat Mystia’s entire stock of grilled lamprey and run her out of business or just eat the bird youkai directly.

Finally, there is the ever-present Yukari, who is Yuyuko’s friend and confidant. They’ve known each other at least since Yuyuko’s rebirth as a ghost and possibly even before depending on the interpretation, with some going as far as having a mourning Yukari seal the Saigyou Ayakashi upon witnessing her friend’s suicide.

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One odd association Yuyuko has is with the doomed gaming console Dreamcast due to the shape of the pattern on her hat. That aside, Yuyuko has three major pieces of iconography: cherry blossoms, butterflies, and a fan. The blossoms make sense considering the story of Perfect Cherry Blossom and Yuyuko’s history with the cursed tree, butterflies are heavily featured in her spell cards (most notably Resurrection Butterfly), and she carries a fan around while also having a gigantic one featured in many of her spell cards.

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Next time, we will finally begin to unravel the mystery of Yukari Yakumo, the key that holds all of Gensokyo together.