Touhou Project: Exploring What Makes This Japanese Doujin Shooting Game Such a Phenomenon - History

Comic Market 85 will be held this weekend. Comic Market is the world’s biggest otaku event at which many fans not just from Japan but abroad as well gather. In order to increase the enjoyment of the event for all who happen to be going, or to just increase the knowledge of all who are interested, we’d like to spend some time and talk about a certain phenomenon in the doujin world. We are referring, of course, to Touhou Project. For the next week, we will be publishing a special article each day looking at a different aspect of Touhou Project. Today, we will take a look at the series’ history.

The doujin game series Touhou Project is the most popular doujin series in Japan in recent memory. Set in the world of Gensokyo, the games in the series all share the same general story, that being the main character settling a calamity that befalls the world.

Touhou Project is the brainchild of game developer and doujin creator ZUN who is respectfully called "Kannushi" (Shinto priest) by his many fans. The series began in the ‘90s, back when MS-DOS still reigned supreme. Since the 2002 Windows game The Embodiment of Scarlet Devil, ZUN has been energetically developing and releasing new games in the series, solidifying his reputation in the process.

The characteristic of Touhou Project is, first and foremost, its playable characters. Up until Touhou Project, spacecraft were the norm in sci-fi-esque strategy shooting games. Touhou Project turned this upside down by offering the player a vast amount of choices for the playable character in the form of bishoujo teen characters that include a shrine maiden, a magician, a vampire, a maid, and even a princess from the moon. ZUN’s character designs that incorporated lots of frills really caught on with fans and attracted many people to the series.

Another characteristic of the series is what is called danmaku (barrage). This is a type of gameplay in which bullets fill the screen. This is a famous component to shooting games, such as those created by game maker CAVE Interactive. Being fascinated by the beauty of danmaku, ZUN made use of this in the series as a symbol for frankly expressing each character.

What Touhou Project may be most popular for though, its the leniency regarding derivative works. To start with, let’s take a look at the arrangement of the music. It’s permissible for anyone to use the games’ background music and create new arrangements from it. A countless number of arrangements have been created by amatuer composers, called doujin musicians, and this music is distributed through doujinshi events like Comic Market and online. A market for this kind of rearranged Touhou Project music has taken shape and the amount of doujin musicians who take part has increased.

Of course, doujinshi using derivative works from Touhou Project have also had a role in firing up this scene. The story of Touhou Project is expounded upon and explored in much deeper length than in the games through derivative works by doujin creators who have an urge to explain, speculate, or fantasize about parts of the series’ canon not discussed or divulged in the games. Touhou Project has become a huge genre at doujin events like Comic Market. It has even become so large that there are doujin events held specifically for the series. Hakurei Jinja Reitaisai is one of these. This doujin event devoted to Touhou Project has seen huge success, with the venue always overflowing with fans.

Touhou Project doesn’t just stop at doujin works, it has also advanced into commercial media. Several spin-off works based on ZUN’s original series have been developed including a story called Curiosities of Lotus Asia in which the male character Rinnosuke Morichika is the protagonist and the manga Touhou Sangetsusei which tells the story of three fairies who live in the world of Gensokyo.

With new works even being announced at Comic Market 84 held earlier this year in August, ZUN has no intention of slowing down when it comes to continuing to develop the series. Even as a doujin genre, the scope of Touhou Project is broadening with many CDs, novels, and other derivative works being released.

We hope you now have a better understanding of just how expansive Touhou Project is and how loved it is among its legion of fans. In tomorrow’s article, we will delve into the games of Touhou Project.

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Touhou Project Works on Tokyo Otaku Mode

Material used in this article was provided by Ichijinsha.
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