“The misanthrope lives!” – ZUN
In Touhou’s past, Reimu clashed regularly with a vengeful spirit wielding powerful sorcery and an intimate knowledge of the Hakurei Shrine’s secrets. This spirit was Mima and in the transition between the PC-98 and Windows canons, she vanished without a trace.
In Highly Responsive to Prayers, the first Touhou game, Reimu initially encounters Mima as she breaks free from a smaller shrine connected to the Hakurei Shrine. Though they don’t exchange any words at this stage, Mima’s appearance may provide some insight, specifically the bloody knife she holds.
This knife isn’t visible in her future portrayals and it’s never discussed in any canonical materials, but it may hint at her reasons for turning into a vengeful spirit. Perhaps she was murdered and unable to find peace or, given how she possesses the knife, maybe she’s the spirit of a murderer.
In her next escape, she recruits a young Marisa Kirisame as her servant and apprentice. During the events of Story of Eastern Wonderland, Mima sets up shop in the Dream World to restore her full power while Reimu slogs through small fry. Wielding a staff with a crescent moon tip, Mima starts off looking like a humanoid vengeful spirit, somewhat like Soga no Tojiko except with just one ghost tail. However, as she gains more power, she grows an increasing number of wings up to three pairs. Presumably, she turns into a Square boss if you let her go on any longer.
Once Reimu defeats Marisa and reaches her, Mima mutters about taking revenge on the whole of humankind and suggests that she has a use for Reimu since only a blood-member of the Hakurei Clan can capture and release immense amounts of power within the Yin Yang Orbs. Genji, Reimu’s turtle, later explains that the Yin Yang Orbs have very nonthreatening effects like preventing their user from getting fat, making them smell nice, or even turning them into a cat, so unless Mima’s goal was to become an anime high school girl, it’s possible her interest was actually in their energy-storing abilities or in Reimu’s own strength. Once again, Mima declines to elaborate on the specifics of her goals, and it’s quite possible she was falsifying everything just to annoy Reimu. She does make a few statements of interest though:
Only a blood member of the Hakurei Clan can use the Yin-Yang Orbs. The Yin-Yang orbs are influenced by their user’s power, and steadily absorb it. Once they taken their fill, they will release all this immense power at once. Yes, whether it is in a positive direction, or even a negative one. After that, they return to normal, and once again begin to absorb power.
It’s possible, then, that Mima’s endgame is to corrupt Reimu or otherwise put her in a negative state of mind so that the Yin Yang Orbs gather and release negative energy and cause chaos through whatever effect they have in this situation. This may help explain why Seija’s Bloodthirsty Yin Yang Orbs have a power that Reimu’s set doesn’t. The ability to teleport directly in front of an enemy seems insane since that provides no time to react to their projectiles, but perhaps this is a reflection of Seija’s contrarian personality and reversed logic.
“Well, I suppose it’s fine to dream big.” – Reimu
Mima’s third escape happened during Phantasmagoria of Dim.Dream. Here, we see evidence that she doesn’t actually have any sort of substantive grudge against humankind and is far more interested in annoying passerby, especially Reimu. Much like Phantasmagoria of Flower View, PoDD has multiple playable characters engaging in a free-for-all. While the canonicity of these character endings is debatable, Mima’s victory wish is for eternal night, which she just uses to pester Reimu around the clock.
Mima’s final appearance is in the fifth and final PC-98 Touhou game: Mystic Square. Tired of Makaians treading on her turf, Mima invades their homeworld and uses a combination of deception and violence to reach the Makaian god Shinki. In the aftermath of the battle, Mima reflects on one of her lies and wonders if she can ascend to godhood. Before she thinks too much about it, though, she decides there are more pressing matters and goes to spook Reimu while dressed as a bedsheet ghost. Curiously, she seems to have grown a pair of human legs between PoDD and Mystic Square, something that the games neglect to discuss.
“So weak, as always. I can’t believe you’re a shrine maiden. Hehehe.”
Personality-wise, Mima is a bit haughty and bit carefree. She’s very difficult to surprise or intimidate and even when Chiyuri threatens her with a futuristic weapon, Mima simply mocks her and tries to leave. She has supreme confidence in her power and seems to enjoy picking fights with people who don’t know better, which is her primary MO in Mystic Square. The one situation in which she loses her cool seems to be when she’s reminded of her deceased status, which she responds to with snappy irritation and violence.
Mima’s connection to the Hakurei Shrine is a matter of debate as no one except her seems to know and Mima herself isn’t keen on providing answers. Some fans speculate that she’s the shrine’s mysterious god, though this is unlikely since the shrine’s power is youkai extermination, which wouldn’t be very useful to someone with a supposed grudge against humanity. Speaking of her grudge, ZUN’s profile descriptions in PoDD and Mystic Square suggest that whatever malice she held against the Hakurei Clan and Reimu has since been replaced with something akin to playful mischief, which would explain her lack of activity in the Windows-era games. While her obsession with Reimu could be explained by the shrine maiden’s curious knack for attracting youkai, it’s entirely possible that Mima had some close relationship to the residents of the Hakurei Shrine in her previous life. If this is the case, it’s still unclear whether Mima forgot about the details of her connection or simply doesn’t wish to disclose them.
While Mima is Marisa’s master in the PC-98 games, their relationship is rarely discussed. Fans have placed them anywhere between Marisa using Mima as a source of powerful spells to steal (typical Marisa), them having a teacher-student relationship, and even acting like a mother and daughter. On the subject of that first interpretation, a popular point of discussion is the origin of the Master Spark. PC-98 era spell card information is fairly sparse, but Mima has some relationship with the technique. As with all things related to Mima, however, the details are murky and it’s not entirely clear whether Mima created the Master Spark or stole it from Yuuka by proxy of Marisa. The fangame Touhou Soccer gave Mima a unique, noncanonical ability called the Twilight Spark which is flashy to say the least and needlessly excessive.
Mima’s absence from the Windows games is a sore spot for a substantial portion of the fandom, with Ten Desires being particularly acrimonious since its theme of spirits and resurrection were seen as strong signs of Mima’s return. Ultimately, the real question is whether there’s a place for Mima in the Windows canon. While her character arc is by no means complete due to the great number of mysteries surrounding her, the shift in her personality to be less vengeful and more carefree has set her up to be more of a retired threat than an actual contender. Furthermore, Reimu and Marisa have more or less come into their own, leaving less of a need for their mentor characters to stick around. That said, there’s always the opportunity for a return since relatively unimportant characters like Cirno have appeared in more than their fair share of games, so we can always hope that Mima’s existence will be more directly acknowledged in the Windows canon at some point in the future. Really, the worrisome part is whether such a return would result in a personality change as drastic as Yuuka’s. If that’s the case, perhaps we’re better off clinging to our nostalgia for the old games.
Next time, we’ll tackle Touhou’s other great enigma: the human from outside world named Maribel Hearn and her connection to Yukari Yakumo.