It is once again Guest Review Wednesday here on Okazu and this time, we have yet another special treat! Guest Reviewer Mara wrote me to suggest that he provide an overview of a series that has had way more longevity and breadth than I could have ever imagined – Touhou. I’ll editorialize after the post, so take it away, Mara! /applause/
Touhou Project (東方Project) is a shooting game that stands out by being more about dodging bullets than shooting them. Set in a fictional part of Japan called Gensokyo; the Touhou games mostly follow Reimu, a shrine maiden, who is dragged into solving supernatural incidents. Produced by Team Shangai Alice, run for the most part by a single person who trades under the moniker Zun, Touhou has enjoyed unusually high successes.
With success comes a large fandom and in my small opinion Touhou fandom is the most productive fandom in the world. I say this with absolute certainty that I am wrong. There are so many fan communities that are larger, older and have far more cultural clout than Touhou.
Still I believe it would task you to find another fandom responsible for not only fan produced comics and fiction but video games, music remixes, fake manzai competitions, anime and more. The level of fan involvement in Touhou is staggering for such a niche series.
This leads me to two important points. Firstly, that one does not need to be a big fan of shooting games to enjoy the Touhou fandom, you can enjoy all the jokes and story of Touhou though fan-produced work. Secondly, Touhou while not taking place in a fantasy all-female world, does take place in a fantasy world where, if you want to be an important character in the games you had better be a snarky cool woman.
So when you combine the two reagents of a highly creative and productive fan base and a huge cast of varied women Yuri is not far behind. Thus it is not surprising that there is a sizable segment of the Touhou fan base who ‘ship two (or more) characters together and go so far as to produce doujinshi. Doujinshi that is readable and enjoyable even to those who have never played a Touhou game.
That is where this article comes in. To a person with no starting point, Touhou can seem an inscrutable mess, full of in-jokes and an indecipherable collective understanding of the characters within it. So to help those who may want to get into Touhou without playing the games I have created the following list of doujinshi circles that someone new to Touhou might like to try.
This list contains circles that produce comics and also fulfill two other criteria:
1: Have produced at least two Yuri (according to the Okazu definition) Touhou doujinshi at the time or writing that I have physical evidence of.
2: Have a working web presence I can provide a hyperlink to so that you can search out and buy their work legally.
The name of the circle should be hyperlinked to the circles homepage, or what passes for one. Followed by what parings the circle prioritizes, if any. Also those names are also hyperlinked to a wiki page about that character so that those of you just starting can get a feel for them.
Because we are dealing with doujinshi here do not click any of the links to a circle’s web page if you are younger than the age your country requires to view adult content. There was no way for me to check each circles output to a level that would be without doubt, also that would exclude some good comics so please be responsible and age yourself the appropriate amount before visiting those links.
Keine X Mokou
First off we have a comedic circle. Atmosphere pairs the Keine and Mokou characters in a kind of domestic teasing relationship. Where one tries to be romantic and everything just spirals out of control with over-reactions abound. Very good circle as far as art and writing goes but they need to experiment with their panels more as there are shapes other than rectangles.
Canary and Swallow
Everyone X Mystia
Marisa X Yukari
Mostly cute stories paring someone up with Mystia. They even produced a two part story that pairs Mystia and Alice. Sadly in my collection except for one book that pairs Marisa and Yukari none of these stories have much substance despite being technically apt as comics.
Kaguya X Mokou
Now this is more like it. If there is one problem with fan created content is the desire to keep the same tone throughout the whole work. Chihagura bucks this trend were a single book can have a few jokes but also a very romantic or sad element that runs through them too. They also never permanently stable the label of ‘Uke’ or ‘Seme’ on any of the characters they use that makes for far more possibilities and ensures each book is different.
Reimu X Cirno
This circle’s main achievement is a long running series named Cirno and Reimu’s 1-2-3. One of those love stories where everyone is blushing and working out their feelings rather than acting on them or living with them. Still very well executed and genuinely pleasant work. Not my cup of tea but I would be at a miss to not include it.
Marisa X Alice + lots more
Artwork so cute it might give you toothache but a genuine sincerity and a good long running series that pairs Marisa and Alice together very well. Gets a bit to angst filled for its own good and should have more payoff after the climax considering how sugar sweet the art is.
(Should be Colour)
One of my favourites on this list and highly recommended. Personal … Color (ugh) has the three technical aspects of comic creation down. Their work has no real deficit in writing, artwork or composition. They also manage good adaptations of the more serious back stories without losing themselves in angst completely. They only downside is that overt romantic tones must take a back seat in a few of their longer stories and must thus rely on references that would only be noticeable to fans of that paring to begin with. But some of their shorter releases are more direct romance stories.
Meiling X Sakuya
A circle almost entirely dedicated to this paring and very good at it. Not their only output but I have only bought their books that ship Meiling and Sakuya. Because of this we do get a fantastic sequence of standalone stories that show these two characters in many different situations and most crucially many different points of their relationship.
Everyone in the Scarlet Devil Mansion
Two of the artists in this circle also work in Frontier Aja who made the Koumajou Densetsu games. Touhou fan games with Castlevania’s mechanics. Their output is thus rather small but worth mentioning because what comics they have released are one: very funny, two: contain truly beautiful artwork and three: knowing about the early work of Minakata Sunao will allow you to look really ahead of the curve once Riddle Story of Devil comes out soon.
Yuuka X Alice
Now if there is one circle that provides the stories I wish for more of it is Shako. While they actually produce a lot my collection of their work is dominated by the books that pair the characters Yuuka and Alice. These three books do not merely pair these characters but show them start then build and continue an actual relationship. It also uses the characters and their back stories in a way that someone unfamiliar with Touhou cannon can understand. Easily my most highly recommended circle on this list.
Again a favourite circle of mine that focuses on a favourite paring of mine. Both the art and the stories manage that difficult balance of being cute without going too far and becoming ‘cutesy’. Even better for you beginners they have released an omnibus addition of most of their Mouku X Keine stories. It includes their multi part ‘how they got together’ story and a few other short comics.
That is the end of my list. If you know of a circle that you feel should be mentioned I am sure everyone would like to hear about it in the comments. I hope this list can provide you with some entertaining manga at the very least.
Erica here: Terrific overview, Mara, thank you very much. In my opening statement I said that this series has more longevity than I would have imagined. Well, that’s not some kind of crazy accident. While the doujinshi fanbase grew, the anime/manga store chain Tora no Ana took notice and invested in the series. For a while Touhou dominated an entire floor of their Akihabara store, in fact.
Touhou is now an established sight in doujinshi sections and goods stores and I don’t see it going anywhere for a while. ^_^