Almost all fan-made Touhou story material revolves around comedy and interprets the entire world through silly putty, Jello, and googly eyes. This includes subject themes that would not provoke humorous responses if taken in realistic context, such as Reimu’s poverty.
Despite what her profile says on the Touhou Wikia, Reimu is rarely portrayed as easygoing, curious, dutiful, and optimistic. Based on Reimu’s dialogue from Embodiment of Scarlet Devil and Perfect Cherry Blossom, I’d hardly call her an openly kind person. She’s a good person for sure, but she doesn’t make it particularly obvious. Fan interpretations usually portray Reimu as grouchy, temperamental, and snarky.
I have no problem with this, because Touhou in its entirety is based upon subjective interpretation. Touhou can be comedy, action, drama, art, music, or whatever you want it to be: that’s the point!
For my take on Touhou, I like to bridge magical fantasy with realism. For my writing, I like to put a literary spin on things. I love literary fantasy despite how peripheral the genre is compared to real-world literary fiction, and the Touhou universe offers far too many good introspections to ignore and defer to simple comedy.
For this short story, I visit Reimu’s life and how I think she feels about her less-than-desirable financial situation.
Red and White
Reimu checked her donation box every day she could, twice or a dozen times when too much idling left her mind to hope and wander. She kept the box, kept the entire patio sparkling clean so to not deter prayers and their tithes, sweeping and wiping and polishing because she and her shrine lived off the generosity of others, and oh, generosity was a fickle thing; ever so ready to change its mind at the first sign of dirt or rags or poverty. Lately Reimu had taken to kicking the box. Just kick it, listen to the brief thud as her sandal heel stomped the backside and hear no rustles of pouches or the jingle of loose coins. Just kick it and savor a little spite for the sorry state of her palette.
Beans, leeks, and foraged vegetables boiled in water. That was yesterday’s meal, the prior day’s meal, and every day’s meal for the last two weeks. Reimu loved her vegetables, but it was hard not to envy the wealthier citizens of Gensokyo enjoying their cakes and meats. Even the villagers supposedly poorer than herself managed to eat meat every few days; managed a cup of milk too. Reimu just ate her vegetable soup, though ‘soup’ might be too lavish a compliment for her cooking.
Even the soup couldn’t last forever, and when winter made good morning’s bid Reimu knew nothing wild and edible would survive the season’s first snow. She dressed to freezing airs and checked her donation box as the world collapsed white and bleak around her. A swift kick, an empty resonance, and she went back inside and curled up on her futon. Best not to move too much, not to spend too much energy or she’d feel her stomach sooner than she’d like.
The day she passed sleeping and waking and sleeping again, catching up from days spent listless and active without so much as a wink to rest her eyes. Gensokyo was a weird little place, with no shortage of demons and fairies and overpowered humans to stir trouble and lure her interest. Reimu loved it; loved getting into duels with deathly entities that should command fear from a seventeen year old girl. She had made many a friend from her defeated foes, but when no friend paid a visit, when her shrine chilled to the elements and her stomach began to quake, Reimu couldn’t help but wonder if she had chosen a poor life.
She hoisted herself from her blankets and went to the back of her shrine. This was her “kitchen”, her storeroom for water and food with a makeshift stove in the middle of the floor. Reimu had taken a wide iron plate with stilts or legs or some like, surrounded and buffered it with rocks to keep heat off the wooden floor and then erected two adjacent posts with a strong cable between them. That empty donation box had a way of encouraging creativity. A rich donation box would encourage more fun kinds of creativity, but Reimu patted herself on the back when possible.
She hung an iron pot over her stove and stuffed kindle and charcoal underneath and set the whole thing aflame with a match. These matches were nifty things, a convenient product that filtered into Gensokyo from the outside world. Take a stick out of the box, strike it on the box and then a flame she beheld. And there so many! So small! So effective! According to her best friend, Marisa, everything in the outside world ran on some amazing invention and that the plights of disease, famine, and war had all but been eliminated, but Reimu had to wonder and question. All they knew about the outside originated from the strange dialects in newspapers and magazines that fell into Gensokyo; nothing more than tiny fragments, a few views from a few angles quite probably biased.
If Reimu’s shrine existed in the outside world, would she live with an empty donation box and naught more than vegetables and water for sustenance during the winters?
“A few more springs each year would be nice”, she thought as she poured water from a jug into the pot and then added beans and leeks and a few remnants of onion leftover from her previous soup. She had a few mushrooms, plucked by Marisa and given to her. “I guarantee their edibility!” she had said. Marisa was a magician who styled herself a witch, so surely she knew mushrooms, but then why did she give them to Reimu? Reimu cut them up and threw them in, figuring at worst the mushrooms would be poisonous and spare her another rationed winter.
A knock beckoned to Reimu from the front door and she shot up. She rushed to the door, smiling giddy and silly, happy to finally accommodate a visitor to her shrine, but instead of Marisa trolling her door she found a bat flapping its wings against the wall. It crawled inside where the airs pretended to feel warmer, and Reimu shut the door and picked the poor thing up.
A message was tied to its leg, a rolled up slip of paper bound by fine thread.
Tea party at my mansion at sundown
Since you hate the vampire bats so much, I sent you a brown bat.
Reimu stored the paper and thread to re-use or sell and then coaxed the bat to thaw by the fire. Remilia had thoughtlessly dispatched one of her courier bats in this weather, though such selfishness suited her. That pampered, selfish vampire couldn’t see beyond her own whimsy and the sycophantic adulation of her mansion staff. Oh she was kinder and far more perceptive than she let on, but if a hot bath or a warm fire could absolve a painful errand then she’d doubtlessly send a minion on that errand, if only to garner and maintain a tyrannical image.
She put a hand cloth over the bat as it crawled close to Reimu’s small cooking fire. It had a smooth skin of matted fur, quite short but indisputably a kind of fur. Vampire bats had these black hairs so sleek and seamless they just melded together to look ghoulish and naked. Black, naked, blind, red-eyed, fanged: five good reasons to squeamishly avoid those ugly things. Reimu usually smacked Remilia’s vampire bats when they got close to her, adding a touch of her spirit power to drive the point home, but this fuzzy little guy only got a finger as she poked and rubbed the top of its head.
The bat squeaked, and so Reimu kept playing with it until her pot boiled.
Marisa had given Reimu some dried up, ground up black pepper and Remilia had gifted her some paprika, so she threw a pinch of each spice into the broth. When the soup looked done and the vegetables soft, Reimu ladled some into a bowl and tasted her vegetables through the heat on her tongue, but her mind savored only the delicious broths served at Remilia’s mansion: hearty waters that had basked a juicy carcass, that had cooked rice and spice and a dozen different flavors found in Remilia’s estate gardens.
The bat squeaked at her, and so Reimu filled another bowl with just some broth and set it onto the floor. It plunged its head below the waterline and drank it down. “Hungry, aren’t you?” and Reimu gave it another ladle with a few vegetables this time. Watching it rapidly gnaw and chew away on a soggy piece of leek brought a smile to her face and forgot her the waning ration she could ill-afford to spend on some pet of Remilia’s, but that was Reimu. Plight or smile changed her mind so long as she could see suffering or happiness, and she’d give her whole pot away if it’d cure the despair nearest to her. Poorness left her woefully shortsighted and temporally present. If she had a mind for the future, she’d see her eventual death by altruism and hoard her food, her time, and herself. She’d cease her reckless forays into each and every incident that bewildered Gensokyo and find herself a steady job at the village. She’d sit on a dusty porch, counting coins and always looking toward a tomorrow that was supposed to better, brighter… and all the while, Remilia and Marisa traded bizarre stories over some night tea, without her.
Reimu could change her lifestyle to know plenty, but she’d savor plenty alone.
The front door had grown dim; the gray skies finally settled without the sun lashing their backs. Reimu snuffed the remnants of her cooking fire and scooped up the bat. She took it with her to her futon and tucked it under her blanket. She’d keep it overnight and send it home come morning. Hopefully then, things would be warmer.
Another knock roused Reimu to the front door. Something black flew close to her neck and she instinctively smacked a naked black bat and sent it spiraling and dizzy to the ground. Another rolled up letter was tied to its back.
Get over here already! We have hamburgers!
Remilia says to bring her bats back.
Only her ridiculous friends could serve hamburgers at a tea party. Reimu put the letter away where she could find it later and then scooped up the bats. She wrapped them in some old cloth and then took off from her front porch. Flying through the snowing skies would freeze her to the bone by the time she reached Remilia’s mansion, but she could only feel the warmth of hot tea, a sizzling grill and the fun conversation shared between friends.
And really, what was her life without friends?
Reimu couldn’t help but smile as she looked forward to another winter spent poor, but happy.
In some ways I feel like I brought to light those traits I rebuffed, such as optimism and generosity. I also think of Reimu as temperamental and easy to provoke, though like any real person I take these aspects as a few amongst infinite facets.
Reimu has quite a few pieces of music tied to her name, but my favorite is Spring Lane ~ Colorful Path from Phantasmagoria of Flower View.
Here is the original theme in all it’s video-gamey sounds:
A laid back song with just enough upbeat tempo to really feel like a walk on a spring-laden road.
Here’s a piano rendition by Kituneyuu:
I find this one a little boring because the background sounds have been cut, but I doubt the pianist really had a choice given that it’s a solo recording.
And then this awesome song by Jillian Aversa: Never Ending Night