So let me get this straight, so the source material is somewhat sparse but gives great characters. There is a sprawling fan community creating art, stories, games, music, and much much more. This question is easy! “Alex. What is Touhou?” “Oooh, so close. The correct answer was ‘What is My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic?’”
What’s up everypony? The inverseman is here again this time with commentary. By the way, Cheshire had a wonderfully insightful piece on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, as Western animation is her forte. So let’s have some east meets west.
Photo by Mii-kami
The phenomenon sweeping the nation is fan-generated content, doujinshi, taking hold everywhere across the nation. Seeing the huge amount of MLP:FiM content growing over the months at comic conventions and even anime conventions is staggering. From fan art, to libraries of fanfics, and all-out fan videos, games, and music, the United States has very industrious pony fans. This is nothing new to Japan but seeing America take it on does my heart good. After all, series like Touhou Project have huge followings that even deserve their own conventions, and the US is catching up with its own brony cons. So then, what are the elements that trigger these huge doujinshi cultures?
A Robust World
Both series have a grand world about them. ZUN has books and source material dedicated to painting out the world of Gensokyo, leaving gaps in all the right places for fans to build upon. Ever wanted to know the difference between a ghost and a phantom? ZUN’s gotcha covered (Yuyuko is a ghost, Youmu is half-phantom, by the by). Ever came across a youkai? Pull out your handy dandy field guide and you can get her “threat level”. Meanwhile in Equestria, the land is fleshed out to where ponies dictate seasons, maintain the flora and fauna, and down to their cutie marks are symbols of maturity and occupation. When you give your fanbase a wide open and rich world to work in, there’s so much creative feeding to build your own characters for that world and what kind of scenarios they would see.
Since My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is an episodic television series, you need solid characters for their day-to-day adventures. If your characters aren’t distinct, writers will have no clue how to write them into this week’s episode. And quite frankly, the characterization is amazing in MLP. The ponies act more like people if anything, caring, laughing, arguing, and crying in the daily life in Ponyville. Fans here in the states jump right to and attach themselves to strong characters. Even characters with much less presence, like Luna, have followings where in the roil of the solid Mane 6, have given her an identity of her own. On the flip side, Touhou is a shmup, you only have about two or three lines of dialog between characters for an entire game. And the danmaku shmup genre isn’t particularly famous for quality writing.
So how does ZUN stand out from other guys? Well, for starters, the powers of the cast are incredibly vague; border manipulation, history eating, and eternity manipulation are just the surface of a huge list of barely defined powers for a staggering cast. Visually, ZUN has a fascinating design style; only a drunkard could draw such a mass of frills and hats. With barely much to go off of, the fans paint out a girl’s character. The sky’s the limit to what can come out, and everyone mutually and loosely agrees on how most characters act. So in a stark comparison, on the west, a well-defined and very well-written cast tends to draw fandom whereas where the source material is very limited, to only a couple lines of dialog, the fans receive a burden of development.
Art by modern-warmare
Content Rich Works
The plots of MLP:FiM episodes are rich with culture, life lessons, and good writing “even in” a kids’ show. Part of what sent the franchise from a simple girls’ consumer commodity to the national stage was the creators desire to not settle for a droll cliche shallow pool of a show, but really paying attention to what they were showing viewers. The lessons Twilight Sparkle and her cohorts learn are lessons even grown adults could be reminded of every now and then. And seeing those lessons play out realistically (well, as realistic as magical talking ponies can get) makes a very worthwhile watch rather than a twenty-two minute toy ad for my daughter.
Over in the east, Touhou moves beyond the average shooter with the artfulness of its spell cards, its fantastic design, and its rich music. Most other shooters will spray a much harder mass of bullets… That happen to take the shape of a big mass of purple whereas the average spell card has an abstract design, placed not to simply challenge the player, but to artistically reveal the character. It’s dying with beauty. The characters of the fantasy setting are unlike any other; ZUN’s odd drawings evolve into splendid Pixiv entries. Even the game mechanics have purpose specially attuned to the game’s theme instead of shoot, bomb, and some kind of super scoring mechanic. Then comes the music; it’s not “mere video game music” but the muse for remixers everywhere. It is built not just to excite the player but to deliver the character’s essence with each note.
Connections to the Fans
Lots of parental bonuses are laced in MLP, and I wouldn’t expect kids to immediately get the joke when Pinkie Pie is basking in a “chocolate rain”. Lauren Faust’s team is well aware how big their reboot has gotten, and they love to kick in sly jokes that one would have to be older or more net savvy to get. In turn, fans continue to produce more content on Ponychan, Equestria Daily, /co/, and many more sites. ZUN however, is much less hands-on with his fandom. He sets the very loose canon and then lets fanon take over in whatever form it takes along numerous message boards such as Pixiv, /jp/, and others. Since ZUN also releases once a year, the Touhou fan community receives little presence, if any, from its creator, allowing the strange collective consciousness we fans have to congeal. Both series are nothing like the regular head-canon of say, popular Disney franchises, where the creators dictate explicitly what can and cannot happen in their world. When it comes down to it, both series thrive off fan involvement, which drive their creators to keep going in whatever way they choose.
After a quick chat with Cheshire, I concluded that while what the US is witnessing is unique, we probably shouldn’t expect an explosive doujin scene in the States immediately under current conditions. However, it certainly is an encouragement in a country where IP ownership is safeguarded with lock and key (and lawsuit) that there exist good folks at the Hub who see a healthy fandom of quality television. It’s curious how in a way My Little Pony has, for the time, become the “Touhou of America”. I look forward to seeing what the bronies put forth and tasting the fruits of an animation team in good telepathic communication with its fanbase. Meanwhile, I have more Touhou fan projects to work on, for these acts spawn more creative producers, something we can use more of anytime. Just hop on deviantART or anywhere and see. Oh, and of course due to geek overlap, there is a crossover on the internet.
Art by sudro
Join me next time when I usher in the grand opening for a complete shrine I built dedicated to Kanako Yasaka.