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.
“A satori who can’t read minds. A kitchen knife that can’t cut. A bland, unscented spice.” – Akyuu
The satori race of youkai is feared and hated for its mind-reading third eye, but what happens when a satori closes this eye and rejects the power that defines them? The result is Koishi Komeiji.
While her sister Satori escaped persecution by isolating herself physically in her palace, Koishi instead isolated herself emotionally from the world around her. In doing so, she closed her third eye and lost her mind-reading abilities, but instead, they mutated into something far more terrifying.
Koishi’s subconscious-manipulation power is perhaps one of the most fearsome in the series as it far surpasses that of her sister. Satori can only read someone’s surface thoughts and her ability to exploit these thoughts is limited by the imperfections of human memory. Koishi on the other hand can penetrate into the core of someone’s being and understand their deep fears and underlying motivations. Moreover, the manipulation of the subconscious allows her to create hallucinations and bring these fears to life in her spell cards.
“What’s the power of the sun? Photosynthesis? Sunburn?” – Marisa Kirisame
Utsuho Reiuji, also known by her nickname Okuu, is a Hell Raven, a particular type of youkai native to Hell. Her species is notable for being born not directly from the fears of humans, but from the darkness of the abyss. I dunno about you, but that sounds metal as hell.
Suika: She’s a humble bird that eats the corpses of the dead in the Hell of Blazing Fires.
Reimu: She must eat mostly fried meat, then. That’ll be bad for her when she’s older.
Utsuho’s job is to manage the temperature of the Hell of Blazing Fires, a mindless and monotonous task best left to those of little intelligence. This same simpleness also made Utsuho the perfect target for Kanako in her plan to bring nuclear energy to Gensokyo. Within the depths of this particular hell resided Yatagarasu, the sun crow. By devouring it, Utsuho could gain the power to bring the surface world into a new age, or so Kanako’s voice told her. Tempted by the goddesses’ words, Utsuho consumed Yatagarasu and became its vessel. Though most would have been destroyed in attempting to control such a powerful being, Utsuho’s lack of willpower made her a blank slate of sorts that could coexist in the same body with the Sun Crow.
“Yatagarasu? A sun crow inside a crow? She’s like one of those Russian dolls! – Reimu Hakurei
This absorption warped the Hell Raven’s body, however, and many of these changes manifested in nuclear power-related symbols. These symbols merit some discussion and the first of these is her right leg which is encased in cement. This is a reference to the elephant’s foot of Chernobyl, which was formed when nuclear material and buffering sand leaked into the rooms below the reactor and mixed to form lava which then hardened into odd structures like the elephant’s foot. These structures were intensely radioactive and served as symbols of the terrifying lethality of radiation.
“What you’re thinking speaks volumes beyond anything you could say with your mouth.”
Satori Komeiji is part of a youkai race of the same name that is known for roaming around mountains. I do have to question what Satori’s parents were thinking since naming her Satori is akin to naming a dog as Dog, but I digress. When a satori encounters a human traveler, it will start tormenting them by reading their thoughts aloud. When Reimu and Marisa encounter Satori during Subterranean Animism, she begins reciting their thoughts, which includes the usual “Thinking about this is too much work. Let’s just beat her up.” That’s not exactly news to the rest of us, but now we know they mean it.
It’s worth noting that this power is represented by the presence of an external, third eye that’s somehow connected to her body through a series of tubes. Aside from being a convenient source of reaction jokes in fandom, this eye also has symbolic importance that will come into play later with Satori’s sister Koishi.
No one likes having their thoughts read, least of all out loud, so Satori lives in relative isolation, kept in check partly by her own antisocial disposition and partly by Oni in the surrounding area like Yuugi, who don’t believe in deception and will just say what they’re thinking anyway. After all, it’s one thing to know that an Oni wants to smash your face in. It’s another matter entirely to do something about it.
“I’ll trust you this time, based on what your strength and this sake tell me.”
Yuugi Hoshiguma is an Oni residing in the Gensokyo’s subterranean cave system. Specifically, she occupies the city within a region known as Former Hell, which previously housed all those subject to eternal damnation before the Ministry of the Afterlife found it inadequate for some unexplained reason and relocated elsewhere. The official byline is that they were trying to reduce costs, but how exactly one reduces the cost of delivering excruciating suffering to the damned by moving from one hole in the ground to another is something of a mystery.
Parallel to this process, the Oni abandoned the surface world, either due to boredom or on account of humans developing increasingly efficient ways of killing them, depending on who you ask. The specific reasons for the Oni exodus have already been discussed in talking about Suika, so I’ll spare you the repetition. The Ministry and its judges were either unable or unwilling to transport certain evil spirits to the new Hell, creating a need to station a force to contain these remnants. In exchange for uncontested control of Former Hell, the Oni agreed to police the evil spirits and they became its primary residents. Though the surface world’s youkai, presumably led by Yukari, had reservations about allowing the Oni to consolidate power, they agreed to noninterference under the condition that the underground youkai sever contact with the world above. It’s this agreement that later forces Yukari to use Reimu as a proxy in Subterranean Animism. Though a human’s presence in the underground realm would be highly irregular, it wouldn’t be in direct violation of this crucial treaty.