Review first posted in 2014. Edited in 2018.
Review of: Touhou Project (Memories of Phantasm)
Memories of Phantasm is an unbelievably high quality anime for being a doujin project. At the time I am writing this, I have seen four episodes. Three with English subs and the fourth with no voices whatsoever (English or Japanese) and no English subs, so I had to infer what was going on, which wasn’t hard at all and I still enjoyed the episode. For those who don’t know, Touhou Project is a totally doujin (or fan made) franchise consisting of tons of video games which have come out approximately one per year since the 90s, with an exclusively female cast of characters. Created and helmed by a single guy, best known as ZUN, Touhou has become a phenomenon. It has a large, devoted, and creative fan base, who add their own works to this doujin project. And that is what this anime is. To avoid confusion, there is another, readily accessible Touhou anime out there titled “A Summer’s Day Dream,” but it is of decidedly inferior quality in every respect when compared to “Memories of Phantasm.”
Now, before you get the wrong idea, this is not one of the best anime I have ever seen. It’s incredibly impressive as a doujin project, but it still has its flaws. If you are already a Touhou fan, and are familiar with the characters and the franchise in general, you will probably love this. If you are diving into this with no background, just because you came across the “Bad Apple” AMV and then found out there was an anime, you are probably going to be a little confused.
The four episodes are actually split into two story arcs. The first episode is a standalone story, probably because they didn’t know if there would ever be another episode. Episodes two through four are a second story arc, and the creators were so sure of the future of the project that they even have cliff hanger endings. For those who have played the game, you will recognize episode one as a slightly abridged telling of the plot of “Perfect Cherry Blossom,” the seventh game in the series. It’s snowing outside when it should be spring. Marisa is upset because Reimu won’t do anything about it, so she goes off on her own. She ends up fighting Youmu and Yuyuko, and eventually Reimu gets off her butt and shows up to help. It ends with a party in which you see a plethora of Touhou characters (a delight for any fan of the series.) The next three episodes give a pretty detailed “flashback” of the events of “Embodiment of Scarlet Devil,” the sixth game in the series. This arc is head and shoulders above the first episode, with plenty of character interaction, lots of your favorite characters, and some absolutely amazing fight scenes (and I mean for any anime, not just for a doujin).
Lets break it down:
ART: 8/10. Wow does this look good! Absolutely professional through and through. I loved the look of all the characters, the sets, and most of all, the action! This is truly beautifully animated. The fight between Reimu and Sakuya is really outstanding. If you liked the way Homura Akemi fights in “Madoka Magica,” then you’re going to like this. Same style: stop time, throw a ridiculous number of knives, start time again. Interestingly, some of the fight scenes even pick up the aesthetic of the game with bolts of energy flying everywhere and you are desperate to find that one spot where you won’t get hit.
MUSIC/SOUND: 8/10. I highly enjoyed the music. In particular the ending credit song from the second episode was memorable. Great vocals. There are some outstanding piano pieces in the series with reprisals of themes from the game. Yuuhei Satellite has done some outstanding work with Touhou music, and it really shows here, but I'm afraid some of their best work didn't make it into this series, but each girl has a distinctive theme, a remix of the game soundtrack, which anyone who has played the games will instantly recognize, especially Flan's theme, U. N. Owen Was Her?. Sound effects were also outstanding, and the voices really worked well for the characters. There is an English dub of the first episode, and at first Marissa's voice put me off a bit, but once I understood that she has a informal (borderline rude) manner of speaking in the Japanese version, the voice seemed appropriate in the dub.
STORY: 7/10. For an anime based on a game, it’s one of the better ones out there. Edit: Having now seen 11 episodes, I have to comment that the anime is broken up into arcs of two to three episodes. Each of these arcs tells the sotry of one of the games. All are beautiful and worth watching for a diehard fan. However the Scarlet Devil arc, episodes 2-4 and the Imperishable Night arc, episodes 9-11, are so well done that a non-fan can easily enjoy them. I would recommend these two story arcs for anyone wanting to get into Touhou. Some of the other arcs rely on the viewer already knowing the story and the characters, but the two I have pointed out do a great job of giving the whole picture.
Characters: 8/10. Lets face it, characters are the #1 reason people get addicted to Touhou. Memories of Phantasm will definitely scratch that itch. If they haven't already featured your favorite character, they almost certainly will get around to it as they continue to put out new story arcs. The only reason I don't rate this higher is that they do tend to cater to fans who are well versed in the lore, with little to introduce new fans to the characters.
OVERALL: 7.5/10. I really hope they make more of this. If you are a fan of the franchise, you’re going to love this anime. If you are unfamiliar, do some research first. You don’t have to play all the games, but everything you need to know is available online. Youtube is your friend, and so is Wikipedia. Seriously, this show completely assumes you already know who the characters are, and it doesn’t make any concession for the uninitiated. Still, even if you don’t know your Touhou, its worth a look just to see what dedicated fans can do when they put their minds to it.
Edit: As of late 2018, there are now 11 episodes out. Some better than others, but all of them beautifully animated and filled with fantastic music. Yuuhei Satellite is an incredible music circle and they provide lots of memorable songs for this series. Now that there's more to judge the series by, I have raised my scores for story and characters.