“Am I myself a butterfly of night, human of daytime?”
In a not too distant Japan, there is one who dreams of worlds unseen by human eyes. Tired of the stale, creatively sterile world of modernity, she dreams of exotic locales filled with unusual creatures and, surely enough, they become reality. This dreamer is Maribel Hearn.
Maribel is a very curious character as she has never been in an official Touhou game. Instead, she’s the protagonist of a series of music CDs and their attached stories. Along with her friend Renko Usami, Maribel forms the Sealing Club, which is ostensibly a club for spiritual mediums (or in some translations, necromancers), but rather than doing activities associated with either of those terms, they really just go on adventures while investigating supernatural phenomena or otherwise philosophizing.
Maribel possesses the ability to see and interact with the boundaries that separate Modern Japan from realms like the Netherworld, Gensokyo, and the Lunar Capital. This power plays a key role in the events of the Sealing Club stories, beginning with glimpses or fleeting visits to other worlds during her dreams, but developing into something far more potent.
It’s somewhat difficult to piece together Maribel’s personality due to the disjointed nature of the Sealing Club stories, but she initially seems very impatient, going as far as noting that Renko was precisely 2 minutes and 19 seconds late to one of their meetings. In Retrospective 53 Minutes, Maribel expresses dissatisfaction with the world around her, namely the artificiality and smallness of everything given the prevailing attitude that humankind has all the answers.
“It’s just that there are hardly any mysteries left on Earth.”
In Changeability of Strange Dream, Maribel dreams of Gensokyo and while being chased by a youkai rabbit, appears to develop the ability to fly within her dreams. She’s saved by a figure cloaked in flame, who is implied to be Fujiwara no Mokou. However, they do not speak to one another, perhaps because Maribel hid out of sight or this encounter happened during Mokou’s berserk phase wherein she mindlessly slaughtered youkai for several hundred years. From this encounter, Maribel picked up one of Mokou’s talismans, which was there when she woke up.
After this incident, Renko fears that Maribel may be at risk of getting trapped in this dream world and considers destroying the objects she brought back to convince her that it was a hallucination, but ultimately she concludes that the two should work to make Maribel’s dreams into a reality that would supplant their own.
“As things are now, she might be eaten by youkai in a dream. Or experience a spiriting away. Her mind is swaying through so many worlds. When she is in another world, if she doesn’t think she’s in a dream, she might possibly not be able to come back. She might think this world is the dream. Even though she herself does not realize it, she’s in grave danger.” – Renko Usami
During the events of Trojan Green Asteroid, Maribel manifests the ability to transport both herself and Renko with the aid of shrine gates. She uses this power to explore a defunct science vessel in Earth’s orbit, but their adventure is cut short when a Chimera-esque creature attacks them and Maribel awakens back on Earth with an injury from the encounter.
In the aftermath of the Chimera encounter, Maribel is sent into isolation as, during her hospitalization, she was diagnosed with an unknown disease with symptoms including fevers, sleepwalking, and hallucinations. It’s unclear whether this is the result of a virus aboard that space vessel or simply the consequence of her being able to see boundaries, but when she’s finally released from quarantine, her powers have grown even stronger. Now instead of just glimpsing other worlds or being able to teleport with focus, she appears to unconsciously drift between periods in time and space.
While the consequences of this gradual de-anchoring aren’t explicitly dealt with in the Touhou albums, it contributes to the body of evidence suggesting a connection between Maribel and the de-facto youkai master of Gensokyo: Yukari Yakumo.
It’s interesting to note that during both cases where she shared her visions with Renko, Maribel had to interact in some way with a shrine or a shrine gate. Perhaps the nature of her power is in some way connected to Shinto shrines, which would explain why Yukari considers the Hakurei Shrine essential to the maintenance of the Great Hakurei Barrier.
It’s strongly implied that Maribel is from a different country, not just because of her English name, but also because she refers to Japan in ways that suggest she’s a foreigner. For example, she refers to how “the people of this country” have trouble pronouncing her name. Renko often calls her Merry for this very reason.
Design-wise, the two share commonalities in that they’re blonde-haired with a taste for purple and white color schemes. Yukari’s casualwear from Perfect Cherry Blossom has the same color scheme as Maribel’s usual dress and the two both wear white mob caps.
Maribel’s ability to see and interact with boundaries is weaker than Yukari’s much finer degree of control, but given the tremendous growth of Maribel’s power over the course of the Sealing Club stories, it’s possible that Maribel continued to grow stronger until her power became like Yukari’s. The fact that Yukari existed in a time period before Maribel’s birth can then be explained by Maribel traveling through time and space to early Gensokyo before adopting the name Yukari. Maribel’s ability to time travel is established both by her dream of meeting Fujiwara no Mokou and Akyuu’s discussion of a note that was discovered hundreds of years ago. This memo details Maribel’s exploration of the Bamboo Forest and mentions Renko by name.
This would also explain Yukari’s long absences from Gensokyo and unusual sleep habits. Just as Maribel went to Gensokyo in her dreams, it’s possible that Yukari sees the Outside World in hers. In Ghostly Field Club, Maribel peers into the Netherworld by tampering with a graveyard boundary, finding cherry blossoms despite the fact that it was autumn. At one point in the games, Yukari muses that she gets to see the cherry blossoms three times because she can traverse the boundaries between Gensokyo, the Netherworld, and the Outside World.
If indeed Maribel transported herself to a period in Gensokyo’s past, then it’s unclear what happened to Renko. Yukari herself has never spoken of the matter, but the simple fact that Renko is a normal human means that she either opted to remain in the modern world or came with Maribel but died at the end of her natural lifespan. Some fans speculate that the line of Hakurei shrine maidens in Gensokyo are descended from Renko, citing the similar appearance between her and Reimu. However, there is no concrete evidence to support this idea, leaving Renko’s fate very much a mystery.
Discussions of Maribel’s connection to Yukari often mention the name Lafcadio Hearn, who was a Greek-Irishman who wrote about Japan and its legends. Later in life, he took on the name Koizumi Yakumo as a naturalized Japanese citizen. He became well-known internationally for his translations and compilations of Japanese legends, and these collected stories form the basis for many of Maribel’s adventures and discussions in Touhou. His book Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things inspired the events of Ghostly Field Club and one of its stories on rokurokubi likely influenced the creation of Sekibanki later on.
The Dream of Akinosuke, a story that was translated by Lafcadio Hearn, has parallels to Maribel’s tale as its main character dreams of a different world, only to find out that it’s real upon waking up. His soul is symbolized as a butterfly, which is parallel in Maribel’s story by descriptions of her own butterfly-like form in her early dreams.
Maribel expresses a strong dislike of Spider Lilies, due to a combination of their unusual appearance or their symbolic association with death. This may explain why Yukari was completely absent during the events of Phantasmagoria of Flower View, where such flowers blossomed in great numbers.
In Magical Astronomy, Maribel sees the true moon and its inhabitants reflected on the surface of a lake, which is the exact method Yukari uses to create a portal and invade the moon in the first Gensou-Lunar War.
Finally, Renko’s discussion about immortality ends with the following quote, “Immortality doesn’t mean absence of death, it means the boundary between life and death disappears, and you are in a state neither alive nor dead. Just as if you were in the living world and the Netherworld at the same time, a Necrofantasia.” Aside from very un-subtly title dropping Yukari’s theme, the notion of living in the boundary between life and death applies quite literally to Yukari due to her unusual residence and how both she and Maribel live in a world of blurred boundaries. Maribel breaks them to get access to her desired reality while Yukari creates them to preserve hers.
“The truth of reality and the truth of dreams, the real me and the dream me, each of them exists.”
Aside from speculation about her connection to Yukari, Maribel holds a fairly limited place in fandom with artistic portrayals focusing on her visits to unusual settings or a lesbian relationship with Renko and sometimes even herself via Yukari. The strangest subset of Maribel’s fandom makes her out to be the postergirl for LSD and other recreational drugs.
Nah, man, I was like looking in the pond and like saw the Moon. And I don’t mean the Apollo landing sound stage, man. There were rabbits and shit and they shot suppositories out of their finger guns.