Introduction to Touhou 30: Yuuka

Yuuka 1

“Do you know why flowers can be a symbol of death as well as happiness? That’s because they’re the same as humans. Souls gather, flowers bloom, and when souls leave, flowers scatter. “

Sometimes they see, amidst the senseless landscapes of their dreams, a lake of blood. From the sanguine depths emerges a woman with green hair and eyes as deep and red as the water around her. Her smile masks her insatiable bloodlust and unimaginable cruelty and she begins to stride towards them, each step leaving an eviscerated corpse in its wake. She reaches out, but before she can touch them, they awake with a scream and the sense of relief that it was all a dream. Little do they know the nightmare has become reality.

Originally from the fourth Touhou game, Lotus Land Story, Yuuka received a minor wardrobe alteration and a significant personality change upon her reintroduction in Phantasmagoria of Flower View. Much like Alice, the Yuuka of PC-98 and the Yuuka of the Windows games are completely different beasts and there are two conflicting stories regarding Yuuka as a result of the divide.

In many ways, PC-98 Yuuka is the Freddy Krueger of Touhou, a sadistic monster with a sense of humor emerging from the realm of dreams to cause chaos and suffering wherever she goes. Yuuka lived on the edge of a world not strictly part of Gensokyo: the world of dreams. Sleeping in her mansion of Mugenkan underneath a lake of blood, she got out of her bed, still in pajamas, to kick the heroines’ asses. Her theme song is even called Sleeping Terror and she comes right back in the next and final stage, fully dressed, to finish the job. This makes her the only character in all of Touhou to be a stage boss multiple times in a single game.

“You’ve certainly got guts. ♥ I’ll kill you instantly.”

Her most infamous rampage occurred in Mystic Square during the invasion of Makai. Mystic Square was the last of the PC-98 games and certainly ended that era explosively. Sporting an all-star cast of playable characters (Reimu, Marisa, Mima, and Yuuka), Mystic Square is only really matched by Imperishable Night in how action-blockbustery it is. Though all four of our protagonists tore through Makai’s defenses with brutality, Yuuka in particular would taunt her victims and imply that she was doing far more than just beating people up. When asked by Alice why she would do such horrid deeds, she simply responds, “I came to play of course.” Her twisted sense of humor and complete disregard for the lives of others may make her seem similar to Flandre Scarlet, but the important distinction is that Flandre’s issue is that she has no concept of control over her powers whereas Yuuka knows precisely what she’s doing and does so with malicious intent.

“Genocide is just another game. It doesn’t matter whether they’re humans or Makaians.”

At one point in the aftermath of Mystic Square, Yuuka tries to learn magic before giving up out of boredom. Marisa ponders the catastrophic consequences that would occur if a malevolent being like Yuuka ever gained control of such powerful sorcery.

When she reemerges in the Windows games, Yuuka loses her overt sadism and instead becomes a pathological liar who speaks in plant lingo, becoming less Freddy and more Poison Ivy. For instance, when fighting Tewi she claims that her umbrella is the one flower in Gensokyo that’s always in bloom. The flower metaphor is probably just another way of saying she never closes her umbrella, which isn’t exactly true since she sometimes does so to shoot lasers. She immediately flips around and changes her story to say that the umbrella helps her gather the scent of flowers and so forth.

Her motives, however, share similarities with her PC-98 counterpart albeit with a floral twist. When the flower-blooming incident occurs, she understands that the causal phenomenon is the result of a tremendous loss of life in the outside world on the scale of a World War, yet wants the event to continue forever. While her stated reason is to admire the spider lilies, it’s highly likely that she finds their embodiment of death beautiful in its own right. Her status as the flower youkai makes her the primary suspect in this incident, and while she wasn’t the culprit, she takes the opportunity to pick fights with everyone by claiming responsibility.

Eiki: If you rest here, you’ll become insane. No, you might already be a little strange. Whether it be humans or youkai, or ghost or fairies, you’ve attacked them. Without much reason, as well.

Yuuka: I was just teasing them. It’s a daily thing.

However, this isn’t to say she’s any less of a threat than her PC-98 counterpart, as in any form, Yuuka is the single most dangerous youkai in regards to her hostile nature. While beings like Yukari and Suika have similar or greater power levels and both Yukari and Remilia are capable of rallying armies of youkai, they either keep to themselves or are friendly in Suika’s case. Yuuka does stay in her Garden of the Sun most of the time, but she will provoke and attack any entity that isn’t beneath her consideration. This spares regular humans to a degree, but only because there are so many more choice targets around. In Akyuu’s Perfect Memento in Strict Sense, Yuuka holds both the highest threat level and lowest human relationship scores, exceeding the Scarlet Sisters by one level in each category.

“Luckily, she isn’t interested in boring battles, so as long as you don’t attack, set up a trap, or set her field of flowers on fire, you should be fine.“

This makes her incursions into human territory immensely tense for the locals as she’s said to frequently visit Hakurei Shrine and the flower shop in the human village. Though Yuuka is polite during these interactions and goes around with a smile, her very presence is immensely unnerving to those around her, who claim to sense her malicious intent. She also seems to have been in contact with a certain shopkeeper at least once as he seems to know the precise properties of Yuuka’s umbrella (projectile deflection and top grade UV ray protection).

Yuuka nominal ability is the control of plants, but this is essentially cosmetic. Yuuka is the likely originator of the Master Spark technique and additionally wields immense physical strength which she will use to literally beat people to death if given the opportunity. Fortunately for the world at large, her fling with sorcery was mercifully brief.

“Sunflowers spin and spin, sunflowers turn and turn, Sunflowers spin and spin, body blow~♪” – Mystia Lorelei

Though Yuuka is classified as a youkai, Hieda no Akyuu speculates that she’s more a force of nature similar to the fairies. If this is true, then Yuuka cannot be killed in any permanent sense, which is an absolutely horrifying trait for an entity hostile to life. While canonical works tend to avoid this line of discussion, the doujinshi Inquiry About Yuuka Kazami attempts to puzzle out the many apparent inconsistencies surrounding the plant youkai and the PC-98 divide.

Much like her canonical traits, Yuuka’s fan depictions also diverge in two different directions. Her most common portrayal is as the USC: Ultimate Sadistic Creature. Her power is feared across Gensokyo and strikes terror into even the most hardened shrine maidens. This interpretation often follows her PC-98 incarnation more closely but with more emphasis on her violence and less on her perverse humor.

Alternatively is the kind but misunderstood Yuuka, who wants to have friends or play with small children but is met with fear, revulsion, or excessive displays of paranoia. Usually there are one of two reasons for this behavior, the first being that she somehow got her Ultimate Sadistic Creature reputation anyway. The second is that her facial expression or manner of speech is so terrifying and monstrous that others naturally assume the worst and enter fight or flight mode. One rather sad example involves Yuuka stealing Reisen’s detachable ears and wearing them to amuse children, only to have them plead for their lives and even wet themselves in Tewi’s case for fear of having her ears torn off.

This moe Yuuka interpretation has a basis in ZUN’s very bizarre profile for her in the Seihou game Kioh Gyoku:

“A youkai. Yes. Youkai moe~. The reason she doesn’t feel oriental at all is because she’s a Youkai. Yes. Youkai moe. By the way, I think that 10 out of 10 people would read the level 1 barrage 萌風 as “moekaze”. Wonder if a Youkai would come out. Like in my room, or my workplace. A shrine maiden is fine too. Also, after Mystic Square’s extra ending, as planned, Yuuka received the ultimate magic. The author himself doesn’t know exactly what it is. It’s definitely something moe. Moe~.”

The Seihou series of games aren’t made by ZUN and have no consistent relationship with Touhou so I won’t be talking about them often, but Touhou characters like Reimu, Marisa, and Yuuka have made guest appearances in two of the three games. As you can see, the above quote makes little sense but makes it quite clear that Yuuka is supposed to be cute/lovable in some mystic way.

A less frequently cited characteristic is Yuuka’s awful speed stat in Phantasmagoria of Flower View. This often translates into Yuuka having difficulty dealing with speedsters like Aya or being unable to even play hide and seek with children on account of neither being able to catch nor outrun them. Speculation runs rampant as to the reasons for this lack of agility.

"I won't be controlled!"

“I won’t be controlled!”

Yuuka has many strange character interactions in fandom, the first of which is with Marisa Kirisame. The kleptomaniac witch’s tendency to steal applies not only applies to magical artifacts, but to abilities as well. Her signature skill, Master Spark, is not a creation of her own, but rather a replica of Yuuka’s own Double Spark.

The second relationship is with Yukari, who acts as a natural rival as another one of the most powerful youkai. Fanworks often place the two in opposition for any number of reasons including Yukari trolling for the sake of trolling. The strangest reason by far is that their nicknames are too similar to each other. Yukari is often called Yukarin by fans, but this is only off by a syllable from Yuuka’s nickname of Yuukarin. Compounding matters is the fact that the translations of these nicknames are off by only a letter.

Perhaps Yuuka’s most well known fan pairing is with the celestial Tenshi. Yuuka’s sadism fits perfectly with Tenshi’s masochism and the two behave more or less the way you’d expect such an arrangement to go. Yuuka dishes out abuse and Tenshi loves it.

The headstrong ice fairy Cirno is another source of peculiar interactions as Cirno often has no concept of the threat Yuuka poses. Consequently, Cirno is one of the few characters willing to interact with Yuuka as a friend and without reservation.

Yuuka 2
Normally I try not to comment too much on whether I like a character or not, but I feel compelled to say that Yuuka is my single favorite character in all of Touhou, just barely edging out Remilia. A part of the reason is that even within canon, there’s a lot of complexity to the character by virtue of the PC-98 divide and by the ambiguity of her speech. This in turn prevents fandom from creating the sort of single, simple interpretation that plagues characters like Marisa. The Ultimate Sadistic Creature running joke holds a lot of sway, yes, but even that gag has many faces and isn’t the only game in town.

Beyond just keeping the fandom on its toes is a much more central character aspect that appeals to me: joyfulness. This may seem odd to say about a sadistic mass murderer, but Yuuka turns even the most dire situations into a game (usually with a violent twist, but that’s beside the point). Even when two upstarts invade her house and wake her up, even when she’s falsely accused of starting the incident in PoFV, and even when the judge of the damned shows up to lecture her, Yuuka finds a way to have fun with the situation. This shows the most strongly in her PC-98 dialogue, filled with hearts, squiggles, and the word “play”, but this fundamental joyfulness comes through in PoFV and most fan interpretations as well. There’s no sense of obligation like there is with Reimu, Youmu, and Reisen or cryptic and mystic tragedy like with Yukari, Yuyuko, and the Lunarians. Unburdened with the weight of her own history, Yuuka does as she pleases and when things don’t go her way, she has fun regardless. This is the joyfulness I’m talking about and this is what makes Yuuka an enjoyable character and the lack of which makes someone like Seiga Kaku so appalling in my eyes despite the fact that Yuuka’s transgressions are several magnitudes more reprehensible.

Indeed, this lack of joy is symptomatic of problems that will appear in the 12th and 13th Touhou games: Undefined Fantastic Object and Ten Desires. However, that’s a discussion that will have to wait for another time as we need to continue our look into the 9th game with the lazy reaper Komachi.