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

In this final article exploring the phenomenon that is Touhou Project, we will take a look at the growing genre of derivative works for the series.( Illustration by Pirou Ikeda )

Comic Market, the world’s largest doujinshi event, will be held from Dec. 29-31. This year marks the 85th Comic Market, and roughly 600,000 people are expected to attend. The event, which started in 1975, has a history of almost 40 years, and in recent years, its popularity has expanded beyond just Japan to become worldwide. It attracts otaku from all over the world and continues to become bigger and bigger each year.

Every year, there is a flood of applications from doujin circles applying to participate in the exhibition area of Tokyo Big Sight, the venue of the event, so much so that participants have to be chosen by raffle with very low odds of being selected.

Approximately 35,000 circles are projected to participate in Comic Market 85 (C85). Even among such a huge number, Touhou Project has an unmistakable presence. Roughly 2,400 circles from this genre are participating in C85. When one thinks about the thousands of works in genres such as anime and games, such a scale does indeed seem exceptional.

Illustration by KNJ

Why then is Touhou so extremely popular as a theme for derivative works? Finding an answer to this question is actually a bit difficult. One reason for its popularity stems from the legion of gamers who support the many games released in the series. Many fans have also been cultivated due to the music created by ZUN that is used in the games. Circles who create and sell rearrangements of this music are increasing and the genre is showing even more expansion. Also, we touched on this in a previous article, but there is an uncountable amount of works being created based on the series due to many creators being stimulated creatively by the series’ fascinating characters and world. However, above all, it is the lenient stand toward derivative works that creator ZUN has taken that has made the name Touhou synonymous with Comic Market.

This isn’t limited to circles that participate in Comic Market, but many circles active in the doujin scene base their works on a primary work––original anime, manga, game, etc.––of another creator and add to what has already been created, either by delving deeper into the story to develop the work’s canon in a new way or to just add their own style to it. That is was derivative works are.

Most of the time, these kinds of works are only created by and shared with a group of friends, so copyrights aren’t an issue. However, wanting as many people as possible to see your work is a natural thought that many creators share. In order to achieve this, a large quantity of books must be printed. This process costs money and means that someone must bear the burden of having to pay for production costs up front, which are then included in the book’s price.

From this point of view, it’s like a business. Many start out creating doujin works as recreation, but once these business aspects come into play, it’s a whole new ball game. At that point, copyrights held by a work’s original owner must be taken into account. Doujinshi events like Comic Market are able to be held because of tolerance from the copyright holders.

Illustration by Sakura Suou

In response to such derivative works, creator ZUN’s circle, Team Shanghai Alice, has put together a set of guidelines that give doujin artists permission to create derivative works based on Touhou Project as long as they adhere to the guidelines. This may rarely be seen when it comes to commercial series, but it is because of this understanding shown by ZUN toward derivative works that has allowed Touhou to become such a huge genre among fans, one in which the fanbase keeps multiplying exponentially and hugely popular content keeps being cultivated.

A symbol of this is the exclusive doujinshi event for Touhou Project called Hakurei Jinja Reitaisai that began in 2004. This event was held for the 10th time this year and more than 5,000 doujin circles participated. Never before has there been such a large-scale fan event devoted to a single work, even among commercial works.

Just by browsing through the Touhou Project tag on Tokyo Otaku Mode, you will likely come to understand just how much it is loved by fans. We are sure that you will be moved by the devotion and effort that creators pour into their countless high-quality derivative works of the series.

Well then, we hope we have been able to pique your interest in Touhou Project or at least increase your understanding of why it is such a huge phenomenon. For those who will be attending C85, make sure to do so on Dec. 30. You are likely to see a sea of Touhou Project doujinshi from its dedicated and loyal legion of fans.

Team Shanghai Alice HP (Japanese)
Touhou Project Derivative Work Guidelines (Japanese)
Hakurei Jinja Reitaisai Official Site (Japanese)
Touhou Project Tag on Tokyo Otaku Mode

Illustrations by
Pirou Ikeda
Sakura Suou

This is a Tokyo Otaku Mode original article.

Illustration by KNJ
Illustration by KNJ
Illustration by Sakura Suou
Illustration by Sakura Suou
Illustration by Pirou Ikeda
Illustration by Pirou Ikeda

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