Tag Archives: Music

Introduction to Touhou 44: The Music of Subterranean Animism

Music of SA

Whereas the music of Embodiment of Scarlet Devil was defined primarily by the eccentricities of its characters, Perfect Cherry Blossom by its otherworldliness, and Imperishable Night by the vastness, grandness, and emptiness of space, Subterranean Animism is defined by its explosive and relentless energy. In many ways, this game is scored like an action movie, moving from one heart-pumping setpice to the next.
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Introduction to Touhou 28: The Music of Imperishable Night

Now we come to my personal favorite Touhou soundtrack. While Embodiment of Scarlet Devil has provided us with powerful character pieces that persist even today and Perfect Cherry Blossom’s haunting and otherworldly atmosphere likewise left their mark on the series, I will argue that Imperishable Night is the absolute high point of the series’ music. Imperishable Night possesses memorable stage themes, a comparatively consistent level of quality, and a synthesis of Windows and PC-98 styles to create an experience that none of the following games could even come close to matching save for the possible exception of Subterranean Animism.

Title Theme: Imperishable Night ~ Eastern Night

While the core of the title theme is the same across games, there’s always some twist tied to the specific game’s concept. In this case, there’s a sense of vastness that give the sense of the boundless night sky, which will return in later stage songs.

Stage 1 Theme: Illusionary Night ~ Ghostly Eyes

The night is the domain of nonhuman creatures and with the endless night in place, the youkai are out in force. Right from the start, there’s an immediate sense of danger as if monsters lurk just out of sight, waiting for the slightest sign of hesitation. This track’s threatening tone stands in contrast to the more adventurous opening stage themes from Embodiment or Perfect Cherry Blossom.
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Introduction to Touhou 21: The Music of Perfect Cherry Blossom

Perfect Cherry Blossom is the game in which ZUN seems to settle on a general musical feel that persists throughout the remaining game. While Embodiment of Scarlet Devil had strong singular character themes, the music of Perfect Cherry Blossom works more closely as a whole with more consistent elements shared between tracks, though there are of course anomalies.

Title Theme: Mystic Dream ~ Snow or Cherry Petal

Unlike the version of the opening theme from EoSD this is far less dramatic. Instead, its softer piano tones are indicative of the long winter the game is set in and kick off the seasonal and otherworldly theme of the music as a whole.
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Introduction to Touhou 15: The Music of EoSD

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.
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Introduction to Touhou 2: IOSYS

A cynical person might say that the most popular things are also the stupidest ones, and it wouldn’t be entirely unreasonable to level such a claim against IOSYS. This circle of musicians has created some of the most well-known Touhou videos and proliferated (for better or for worse) the most prevalent characterizations in the fandom. Here is the single best example:

“What the hell did I just watch?”

You just watched what is, by my estimate, the single biggest introductory point into the Touhou fandom. Note the high-pitched vocals, the simple and repetitive lyrics, and one-note characterization. This is IOSYS and the bread and butter of the least common denominator.

Such is IOSYS’ influence on the fandom that when IOSYS characterizations and the video game canon conflict, the former often wins out. Alice, the irate blonde in the above video, isn’t actually a tsundere in canon, she’s just an asshole. This isn’t to say that IOSYS is the origin of tsundere Alice, but it popularized the concept.

Here’s another popular IOSYS work:

This is Overdrive. Well, its actual title is “Stops at the affected area and immediately dissolves ~ Lunatic Udongein” but that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue so we just call it Overdrive. It has the repetition and vocals described above (in addition to an odd fascination with suppositories), and is most notable for the phrase “Eh, maji? Easy modo?” which mocks people who play the games on the easiest difficulty which, by the way, isn’t easy in the slightest.

The third and last major IOSYS video we’ll cover is Cirno’s Perfect Math Class:

Once again, there’s a basic characterization (the ice fairy Cirno is a moron) and high pitched vocals. We’ll get back to the significance of the number 9, why there are trains in Gensokyo but no buses, and Cirno’s inability to hit targets directly in front of her some other time.

At this point, it’s worth noting that IOSYS doesn’t animate these videos, as the circle itself only includes the arrangers, vocalists, and lyricists. IOSYS’ success can be strongly attributed to Locker Room Production and TETLA POT’s work but at the same time, their most successful videos are ones based off IOSYS songs, so there’s a symbiotic relationship between them.

If this cutesy, sort of mindless side of IOSYS irks you, fear not. The circle has an awesome (and metal) element by the name of minami (all lowercase) who has, at the time of this writing, done five very solid albums with no vocals and no accompanying video. My personal favorite is this arrangement of “Faith is for the Transient People.”

To return to the circle as a whole, they’ve become influential enough to spawn quite a few remixes and arrangements of their work. We’ll cover a few to round out this overview. The first of these is their own remix of Overdrive, which doesn’t sound especially pleasant, but is memorable in its own way.

Finally, released on their Gossun Remix Ein album (the first of two Marisa Stole the Precious Thing guest remix albums) is the Detroit Marisa City Version of that particular song. They even threw in Border of Life at the end, therefore it must be awesome:
That does it for this week. Come back next time when I introduce the most pivotal and longest-standing Touhou character: Reimu.