The Perfectionist Trap of Nostalgia ~ Pricked by a Shining Needle

As a writer, I once felt a desire to replicate my best performances.  I suffered a year long writer’s block because I wrote something so gorgeous, that I expected to write equally high prose in everything, but there are inherent flaws to replication.

  • Creative skills are diverse, multi-faceted, and often intangible to the schema and science of high art.  That one high point was something of a convergence between desire, inspiration, and a situational fit of writing skill to the story at hand.
  • What passes as excellent within one court of imagination does not excel so nicely in others.  A magically styled prose won’t fit nicely to a dark and gritty science fiction novella.
  • Skill does not progress linearly, nor does future skill copy its historical highlight reel.
  • The moment you replicate and cease experimentation with new ideas, you die as a creative.

I think all creative types could agree on these things, but it’s a different issue altogether when you’re talking about a fan following a series of creative products: be it a book series, album series, video game series…  The moment the internal critic shifts from cracking down on the self to analyzing the products of others, it’s ALL about the high point.  Putting down your best step first might forever forge the reputation, “It’s just not as good as that first thing he/she did!”

To say that Touhou had a successful first few games is an understatement.  When ZUN made Embodiment of the Scarlet Devil as a marketable for-sale product, followed by Perfect Cherry Blossom and Imperishable Night, I don’t think he anticipated that Touhou would become sensationalized across the Internet, that his music would spawn tens if not hundreds of thousands of arranges and remixes, and that his request to involve the fan community into the story would be met with so much zeal that many Japanese anime/manga convention goers complain about the over saturation of Touhou at these events.

Here in America, Touhou remains nice and niche, and easy to enjoy (I’d probably like Touhou a whole lot less if I lived in Japan), and the Internet makes it easy to forage for stuff like music; because Touhou is about music before anything else:

Silent Ensemble by TAMUSIC, original composition: Phantom Ensemble by ZUN

If you didn’t click that video: click it now.

Phantom Ensemble hails from Touhou 7: Perfect Cherry Blossom, which may as well be perfect.  Aside from an underwhelming stage 1 boss/boss theme, pretty much everything about it indulges the senses with mesmerizing musical composition and a good sense of visual artistry that makes up for the lack of graphical technology.  I appreciate math and programming both as true creative fields, and so it’s fun to see mathematical formulas and programming logic wielded to create art.

Yuyuko is my favorite fight in all Touhou, and sometimes I just do a practice run of Stage 6 just for the fun of it:

PCB Stage 6: Lunatic Difficulty, played by SadisticPenguinOfAND

You don’t really have to watch that one.

I play Touhou as my designated break-from-writing-game.  It’s concentration intensive, and so cleans my mind of sticky thoughts; but at the same time Touhou’s musical and visual arts stimulate a creative mood that I can carry back into writing.  Also, it runs on my crabby laptop.

Beyond playing Touhous 6, 7, and 8, re-arranges and remixes of everything from EoSD to Subterranean Animism permeate my playlists, my CDs, and much of my mind.  ZUN has a unique style as evocative as film score music, but deep and lasting like professional compositions; while simultaneously fulfilling the function as a video game soundtrack.  ZUN produces the most emotionally relevant music I have ever heard.  I have not discovered music quite like his, nor music that possesses the endless satisfaction of listening to more and new arranges created by fans.

His work stands alone; and somewhat separate from his latest games.

Fans can withdraw from their interest at any time, pick their loves apart and take only what they favor.  I played FF6, FF10, and Chrono Trigger, but not the rest.  I listen to football podcasts, read Cat Scratch Reader, and watch games but I’ll cut the TV when I’m watching Manning or Brady lead another rout.  I enjoyed Dead Space and Mass Effect, but I never felt compelled to play their sequels through.

From Outlaw Album and Burning Bright, I read the short stories that catch me.  I wouldn’t ask you to read my short stories here on this blog unless you wanted to; because love and interest builds upon desire, not obligation; and I would not feel offended if you said “I’m just here the poems/music/whatever, sorry”.

However, I listened to pretty much everything from Touhou 6 through 11.  ZUN tapped genius for several years and I grew accustomed to that prowess, to that musical design that allows infinite arranges and remixes.

Like that melody?  Find other renditions arranged by that circle of musicians.

Like that style?  Find other Touhou melodies performed by different musicians.

With such a stupidly vast array of selections, you can afford to be very picky when it comes to Touhou arranges.  My favorite circle is TAMUSIC, and I tend to hold them to the standard of their best:

Capital City of Flowers in the Sky as performed by TAMUSIC, original by ZUN

If I sift through their violin volumes 1 through 9, I’m going to come away with the best 80 minutes on a mixed CD; because even if the rest is still “good”, I’m going to listen to whatever stands level to the peak performance, which brings me back to my main point:

ZUN went on a streak over a hundred compositions long; bar one, maybe two duds per game, and there was usually nothing wrong with said duds, they just weren’t Septette for the Dead Princess.  It’s something I’m thankful for, because such a high quality streak is a rare thing in any field.  Throw on the sheer number of musicians that dedicated their time to taking these compositions and transcending them further, and it sets an unrealistic standard going forward when a new Touhou game comes out and it doesn’t kick you out of your chair with just its OST; when there are only early arranges that experiment with mixed results.

It wasn’t perfect, so I left Unidentified Fantastic Object (12), Ten Desires (13), and Double Dealing Character (14) to my apathy.  Heian Alien was the only melody I actively pursued.

Heian Alien in dramatic orchestra as performed by Tutti Sound, original by ZUN

Much like my writing block; an unrealistic standard obfuscated the mind into picking out problems when I could still enjoy something new, something good.

Nostalgia is a dangerous thing.  As a flavor, it’s wonderful, but as a desire it corrupts the mind to refuge itself within an endless cycle of the familiar.  Nostalgia obsession can develop into the very real, very serious psychological condition of Neophobia: the fear of new things.

I developed Neophobia about two years ago and it’s a truly awful way to survive while feeling dead.  I didn’t arrive to such a fragile state of mind through Nostalgia, but I came to savor Nostalgia as a result of Neophobia; and let me tell ya, that gum gets old fast!  I’m better, or getting better at least, but that’s a topic for another day, another post.

Nostalgia and a love for the proven commodity permeates every facet of our society and especially creative fields; from books to cinema to music; it takes a damned good review to pull the softcore moviegoer out of the comfort of his/her chair for something new, something original, but when yet another comic book movie hits the big screen, when another reboot of Godzilla or Disney hits the big screen we’re there for it; blessed or damned; whether we know anything about its source material or not.

All I knew about Godzilla was all this such and stuff and such I overheard…  I remember an awful Jurassic Park rip-off in 1998…  And um…  I think he shoots laser beams?

Why did I go out and see it?

Because I recognized the name, the brand, and everything I would be walking into just from watching the trailer.

Familiarity imprints a subconscious comfort onto our sense of association.  That comfort roots and stems Neophobia.  Companies pay millions to annoy you online, on TV, in the theater, so that when you see their product standing beside an unknown, their product can stand on the leverage of that subtle, almost intangible comfort.

If you’ve ever asked yourself, “What happened to originality in <Creative Field>?” well, comfort sells.

Experimentation can lead to something new, something eclectic and dangerous and wonderful; or bad.  You never know till you try, both as a creator of materials and as an absorber of materials.

Based on the latest Reiteisei, the largest convention for Touhou in Japan, musicians seem favorable to the Good Old Touhou.  My favorite circles in particular: TAMUSIC pulls from 6 through 11 mostly, and Xion releases another PCB album.

Of course, when you’re awesome like Xion or TAMUSIC, you can do whatever you want and people back flip for you:

Lotus Forest by Xion, originals Dollmaker of Bucuresti and Doll Judgment by ZUN

My favorite pianists in Assault Door have three performances from Touhou 14: Double Dealing Character; which I look forward to listening to once they hit YouTube, and while I’ve never been fond of SOUND HOLIC, I applaud them for rolling out an entire album based on DDC.  They’re among the few.

ZUN’s been experimenting with some new styles and instrumentations.  At first preview with the OST for Double Dealing Character, he has taken to utilizing some of the more synthetic sounds available to modern composers; and while I’m a sucker for my favorite trinity: violin + piano + guitar,  I have come to appreciate the Dramatic Trumpet that proliferates and leads almost every one of ZUN’s pieces.

Prior to Touhou I was an enemy of horns.  It took an open mind and fascination for new musical style to adapt my tastes to a larger variety.

I didn’t realize I had clammed up again, until a perusal through youtube led me to watch the final stage for Touhou 14: Double Dealing Character, and oh, Sukuna is such a silly character!  She wears a ramen bowl on her head.  Also, she wields wields a giant needle and a cutesy mallet.  She’s like a ball of yayness wrapped in a kimono.  ZUN creates a lot of quirky and ridiculous characters, but I think Sukuna leads the list of irrationally awesome appearances.


Shining Needle ~ Little Princess by ZUN

Reimu (Cropped)

It’s actually 3:40 long, this video just loops it 4 times.

Shining Needle ~ Little Princess is the kind of awesomeness I’ve come to expect from ZUN.  It’s a bit simple in design for ZUN, but the background piano really props this track up.  It also opens more like a stage theme than a boss theme, but hey, no need to copy Border of Life, Necrofantasia, Nuclear Fusion, Venerable Ancient Battlefield, etc etc etc+100.

The melody that kicks in at 1:27 is arguably the strongest and weakest part of this theme.  It provides such a good emotional impact that perfectly fits into a fight meant to be final, but the repetitive quality lends it to depend heavily on the background piano; and many an arranger/remixer makes the mistake of dropping that piano, without introducing a new supporting melody, which can render that part of the music rather shallow.

I love it, and after growing enamored to Shining Needle ~ Little Princess, it makes me wonder what I’m missing out on, because the signs were there all along.

Desire Drive as performed by TAMUSIC, original by ZUN

I can credit my best work of writing, Waltz on Water, entirely to this piece.  Literally nothing else: just a bunch of energy charged into me after listening to Randal Keenan and Daniel Woodrow speak at the WCU Literary Festival, and then I just played this on loop while letting my imagination give physical character and imagery to to the sounds.

More importantly, it came out of Ten Desires: the game I ignored the most.

I did so; first out of intention; to play it from a standpoint of ignorance, but that idea eventually became a chore I kept pushing off till I wanted nothing to do with Ten Desires.  I haven’t even listened to the original Desire Drive yet!

Based on comments I read around Youtube, I sense that some Tou-fans like myself did not play the recent games.   I know I’m not the only one who settled into the comfort of Touhou 6 through 11 plus maybe Cosmic Mind ~ Emotional Skyscraper and Heian Alien from UFO.  It was such a cozy, spacious bed that I could sleep in it forever, kick my legs around and roll round and round without fear of falling off the edge.


Nothing lasts forever. Self-publication is not self-sustaining by default. Indie game/book/movie/music authors don’t succeed with crazy ideas unless you give their experiments a try, and yeah, the brand spanking new is usually a flawed piece of work. If you don’t like it, that’s fine to say so.  Feedback helps.

Touhou in particular feels like “The Indestructible Indie” because of its absolutely absurd fan-contributions and fan-involvement. Touhou is still the only franchise I know of that was founded with a built-in desire for and dependency upon fan fiction, fan art, fan music, and fan everything; where the constant changing perceptions of the fan base quite literally determines canonical results; and where it’s totally okay to completely differ on interpretations, and share completely opposite forms of subjectivity. Canon is a very loose, very flexible and friendly thing in Touhou; and that preference for opinion and subjectivity makes Touhou special, though not immune to apathy.

If I don’t play the games, or at least invest myself to giving the new musics a chance; and others do the same; ZUN will eventually stop Touhou.

It’s really easy to just poke through a brand new OST and say “Whelp, that’s not Perfect Cherry Blossom”.  Shining Needle ~ Little Princess is not the most elegant piece ZUN has made, but there are so many other characteristics to enjoy about it.

When critique relies upon comparison instead of definition; when judgment can deface and ignore based solely on difference from the standard; then the mind has shrunk, closed on itself, and decided to hide within a memory.

Perfectionism is a trap, a fallacy: something we strive for, but we can only achieve perfection by altering the criteria for success, by eliminating categories harboring error, by setting a specific, concrete example as a standard to copy instead of concepts to interpret through our subjectivity, our individuality.

It’s just too easy to kill something by comparison.

Shining Needle ~ Little Princess is not like Capital City of Flowers in the Sky (ZUN), Scherzo Diabolico (Alkan), Crystallize (Sterling) or something else high up my favorites, but I still love, love, love it:

Shining Needle ~ Little Princess piano arrange by 37467524

It’s something new to me, something unique to me, something its own: which is best kind of music.

So, how about you?  Ever been tied down by something magnificent in your past?  Or found your present interests difficult to enjoy because of a memory?  Is Nostalgia your enemy or your friend?


2 thoughts on “The Perfectionist Trap of Nostalgia ~ Pricked by a Shining Needle

  1. I don’t play Touhou, but my sister does and I’ve heard a lot of the music come from her room a few years back. I really enjoy Flandre’s theme and I don’t know if this is the original name but Night of Nights is good too.

    Anything that’s continuing from something I’m a huge fan of, I’m always scared this new addition will ruin it. For example, after season 3, Dan Harmon left the set of Community, but it was still to continue with new writers. I don’t think I was the only one who was afraid for the series, and I think that fear led me to really judge the next season too harshly, despite the fact that the cast was the same and they had the most freedom during the shooting of that season.

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