Why the popular Touhou Project game series may never get an anime

Despite its huge underground popularity, supernatural shoot ’em up franchise Touhou Project has yet to get a proper anime adaptation. Here’s why.

Although still considered an independent franchise, the Touhou Project games have amassed countless fans all over the world. The franchise debuted in 1997 and its most recent game, Touhou Gouyoku Ibun, released in October 2021. There is also a myriad of fan-made manga and artwork produced by the huge fandom. Despite its growing popularity in the underground, there is no official yet Touhou lively.

The games fantastic premise and multitude of cute and beloved characters would make Touhou the perfect franchise for an anime adaptation. Despite this, no major anime studio seems to even be considering bringing Gensokyo to life – and it could all come from the franchise creator.

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What is the Touhou Project and how did it become so popular?

Touhou Project video game

Touhou Project is an arcade-style shoot’em up game franchise, in the vein of retro classics such as Galaga. They primarily belong to the “bullet hell” or “bullet curtain” subgenre, where enemy projectiles fill the screen and are borderline unavoidable. Contrasting this hellish difficulty is a cast of colorful female characters, many of whom have vast supernatural powers that allow them to unleash their own long-range magical attacks. These great ladies of Touhou reside in the world of Gensokyo, a mystical realm where all kinds of paranormal events occur.

The main characters are the mystical shrine maiden Reimu Hakurei and the witch Marisa Kirisame, with others including the cryogenic fairy Cirno, the rat-girl Nazrin and the vampiric Remilia Scarlet. Mythological creatures such as Tengu and several gods also appear in the games. Outside of Reimu and Marisa, many others are just bosses, despite having been playable in the many spinoffs of the fighting game. Plots are generally more comedic than anything deep, although they arguably have a lot more story than typical “shmups”.

With this massive cast of characters and a magical world for them to interact with, it’s no wonder fans have taken it upon themselves to expand on the sparse story. Hakurei Shrine Reitaisai is an annual convention in Japan dedicated solely to Touhou, where many fans sell and trade fan-made doujinshi art, crafts, and manga. There were even some fan-made animations Touhou works, many of which are based on remixes of popular game music. Despite all the hype surrounding an indie series, there’s still nothing animated on a professional level.

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Why is there no Touhou Project anime?

Reimu from the Touhou Project

Touhou Project is the brainchild of a one-man army by the name of ZUN, who started the franchise in the 1990s while in college. ZUN is more than okay with fans taking the characters and doing whatever they want with them through independent doujinshi and other works. He also feels that the lack of definition of most characters in games allows fans to thrive with that creativity, and so he keeps them as pristine as possible.

ZUN had previously worked for the video game company Taito, an experience he did not enjoy. Given this history with the mainstream gaming industry – as well as his frustration with games becoming easier and catering to a wider audience over the years – it’s no wonder he continues Touhou on a leash so tight. By allowing an official anime adaptation of Touhou to be produced, ZUN would have to give up some of that official control over its franchise, with any “mainstream” production likely becoming the face of the series in the future. Since he created Touhou to escape his grievances with the big game industry, he probably doesn’t want it to get too corporate in any medium.

Although it’s definitely a disappointment for anime fans who want to see Touhou finally getting his big break, staying underground presents a unique opportunity. The ever-growing fanbase will be able to create as many fanworks as they want, and these are no less valuable than the games themselves because of Zun’s philosophy. In other words, these fan-driven videos count as Touhou anime, and need no validation from the big boys. It also allows fanworks to avoid legal red tape that could complicate fanfic for other franchises. While the games themselves can be hell, this lack of corporate studio oversight is creative heaven for Touhou Fans.

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