A very important factor in Touhou’s exploding popularity was the shift in musical style between the PC-98 games and the Windows games. The first of these new titles, Embodiment of Scarlet Devil, did away with the frantic pace of its predecessors and instead took a more deliberate approach with a mix of styles, including Jazz. ZUN himself mentions a desire to make the EoSD soundtrack brighter than that of the older games. This choice would differentiate the sound of the new Touhou games from the brooding orchestras and droning techno that were trendy in videogaming during the 2000’s.
The burden often falls to the games’ music to develop and otherwise personify the series’ tremendous cast in ways that the limited conversations and art cannot. While I lack the formal education in music to really pick these tracks apart on a technical level, there’s still much to be said about this varied and memorable soundtrack both on its own merits and regarding its connection to the characters.
All quotes presented in this article are from ZUN’s commentary on his music. Continue reading →
“I went squeeze and it went boom.” – Flandre Scarlet
Within the basement of the Scarlet Devil Mansion resides a monster driven mad by half a millennium of imprisonment. Her insanity and destructive power ensures that she’ll only be seen by outsiders in times of crisis. Whether she’s the solution or the cause is a different matter altogether.
One of the most popular characters in the fandom, Flandre Scarlet is Remilia’s younger sister and many of the SDM’s darkest secrets revolve around her. Firstly, she’s completely deranged and can’t maintain a coherent train of thought for any length of time. In an interview with Aya Shameimaru, Flandre speaks incoherently and seemingly at random, suggesting the inability to communicate beyond a fairly childlike level. That said, she’s perceptive enough to make and pick up numerous references to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and to call Remilia out as being full of shit in her boasts. Continue reading →
“You know, the masters of the night with tons of weaknesses for some reason…” – Marisa Kirisame
Remilia Scarlet is a vampire and the head of the Scarlet Devil Mansion. While she puts on airs and attempts to play the role of a dignified aristocrat, this diminutive lord of the night is every bit as childish as she appears. This duality is reflected in how she names her spell cards, as half of them are powerful and threatening-sounding like “Queen of Midnight” and “Mountain of a Thousand Needles” while others sound completely moronic like “Remilia Stretch”, “Remilia Stroker”, and “Bad Lady Scramble.” While “Bad Lady Scramble” may have been an acceptable anime title in the 90’s, that shit doesn’t fly anymore.
Her fickleness and arrogance have caused or exacerbated a great number of incidents, the most well-known of which is the Scarlet Mist Incident in which she and the other residents of the SDM flooded Gensokyo with a thick mist so that she could walk around freely during the day. Continue reading →
“The only thing I touch humans with would be my cold steel.” – Sakuya
One of the most well-known characters in the Touhou fandom, Sakuya is a veritable box of wonders including the ability to manipulate space and time, a seemingly limitless supply of knives, and an immensely controversial bustline. Formally, Sakuya Izayoi is the head maid of the Scarlet Devil Mansion and right hand woman of the vampiric mistress: Remilia Scarlet. While her title is head maid, she may as well be the only maid in the mansion as the rest of the cleaning staff consists of incompetent fairies. Who’d have thought that hiring whimsical, childlike creatures would make for poor productivity? I mean, there was the one time when they hired hobgoblins, but that went about as well as you’d expect. Fortunately for our industrious maid, however, she boasts the ability to stop time with her trusty pocketwatch, meaning she can take as long as she damn pleases to singlehandedly keep business running as usual. That and it’s difficult to keep an elegant character image while scrubbing toilets.
Combined with her knife-throwing skills and manipulation of space, this time-stopping allows Sakuya to pause the action, surround people in a rain of knives that clearly exceeds her bodily volume, and resume combat to give her opponents virtually no time to react (a modus operandi that has elicited more than a few Dio Brando comparisons). Fear not, however, as this dangerous maid has one fatal weakness: knives cost money. Being able to store an infinite number of sharp objects is cool and all, but only if you can actually afford enough knives. I did a bit of math and given that silver knives cost an average of 15 dollars each and she can put out around 80 knives at once in the Lunatic mode version of her spell card Illusion Ghost “Jack the Ludo Bile”, each repetition costs 1200 American dollars. If you actively shoot her, she’ll only be able to repeat this process three or so times for a conservative total cost of 3600 dollars to use a single spell card. Continue reading →
“An unusual face to see in the Underworld. Well, you look dead anyway.” – Youmu regarding Patchouli
Patchouli Knowledge is the sickly librarian of the Scarlet Devil Mansion with a surname that’s a tad too on-the-nose. There’s a certain stereotype that Touhou characters are all girls running around in pajamas and silly hats, a stereotype that Patchouli fits perfectly with what I can only describe as a pink/purple nightgown and nightcap combo. It’s not like she leaves the mansion often, but would it kill her to get some clothes that don’t make her look like a shut-in?
Two thumbs up to Patchy’s alternative wardrobe.
Patchouli is Remilia’s freeloading magician friend, thus making her one of three people in the entire Scarlet Devil Mansion who isn’t under the vampiric mistress’ employ. The two are on a first name basis, calling each other Pache and Remi.
An artist’s depiction of the SDM’s library.
Patchouli primarily resides in the mansion’s vast library doing research as her combination of anemia, asthma, and generally bad health prevents her from doing much else except periodically drinking coffee to show her independence in a world full of tea-drinkers. What a rebel.
Warning: Maids are larger than they appear.
Personality-wise, she’s quiet and keeps mostly to herself, though when she does speak, she’s actually quite rude towards everyone else in the mansion. Meiling and Sakuya suffer the brunt of her abuse, at one point being compared to cats that are really shitty at catching mice. When Meiling tries to warn her of a supernatural earthquake, Patchouli says, “Earthquakes are getting old now” and blows her off.
A far more radical version of the library.
Patchouli does have a relationship with Marisa, but while the latter may steal her books and even her abilities, she hasn’t stolen her heart. Indeed, the librarian finds Marisa immensely annoying and has threatened to dose her and Alice with rat poison on at least one occasion. Rather charming, isn’t she?
I suppose they do get along about as well as the Anarchy Sisters.
As a magician, Patchouli manipulates the Chinese phases (Fire, Water, Earth, Wood, and Metal) and the Sun and Moon, boasting tremendous power that she can’t properly use most of the time due to her perpetual illness. In Embodiment of the Scarlet Devil, she can only use two-element combinations because her asthma gets so bad that she can’t breathe long enough to use longer incantations. Her Eastern magic sets Patchouli in opposition to the supposedly Western-styled Marisa, because Western magic is all about wearing witch outfits and shooting lasers. It says so in the Malleus Maleficarum.
A Yuki Nagato comparison? Now that’s way too on-the-nose.
In fanon, Patchouli runs a wide spectrum of personalities ranging from a generic shy girl who just wants friends to a sardonic alchemist who doesn’t have time for anyone’s shit. A very common theme in these depictions is her love for Marisa, whether it’s subtle and unrequited or overt and in direct competition with her arch nemesis: Alice. In the latter case, their rivalry can manifest in snide comments, attempted murder, and even rap battles. Think I’m joking?
Given her presence in the library and lack of athleticism, Patchouli is commonly accused of being a shut-in (hikikomori). Despite not being well-traveled or even a playable character in the core games, she’s actually the third most prolific character in the Windows canon behind Reimu and Marisa. Speaking of the games, Patchy has somewhat of a catchphrase originating from one of the fighting spin-offs: Mukyuu. In the tradition of nonsensical catchphrases, Mukyuu can mean literally anything whether it’s a cry of distress, a groan of pain, or even an expression of dominance.
“Do you even lift, Mukyuu?”
Next time, we’ll examine the Head Maid with a breast complex responsible for keeping everything in the Scarlet Devil Mansion working on schedule: Sakuya.
“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?
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?
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Next time, we’ll head deeper into the Scarlet Devil Mansion and look at the sickly librarian: Patchouli.