Introduction to Forbidden Scrollery

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During the long run of Touhou and Team Shanghai Alice’s history, it has published several official printworks alongside the mainline Touhou series games. Perhaps the most prevalent among them is Forbidden Scrollery, a manga published by Kadokawa in Comp Ace. It is currently the only Touhou Manga with an official English translation, done by Yen Press.

Volumes 1-7 of Forbidden Scrollery English Version (Image Courtesy of Mrrp (Me))

The main setting of Forbidden Scrollery is Suzunaan, a quaint bookshop located within the Human Village, owned by the Motoori family. Front of house, and the main character of the series, is Kosuzu Motoori, a strong-willed and cheerful human girl with the mysterious ability to read any language, human or youkai. This has led her to take an interest in Youma, or "Demon Books". These are books written by, and also sometimes about, Youkai. These ominous books are the titular Forbidden Scrollery and typically the focus of each chapter. Suzunaan also runs a print shop, meaning Kosuzu is well acquainted with the Ninth Child of Miare, Hieda no Akyuu, who is a patron of Suzunaan where the Gensokyo Chronicles of the current generation were printed and bound. Interestingly, since Forbidden Scrollery is one of the side works focused on characters in the Human Village, it offers us a unique look into the rest of Gensokyo that is hardly explored in the games, or in other print works like Silent Sinner in Blue or Eastern and Little Nature Deity.

Forbidden Scrollery

The first volume primarily introduces us to many of the recurring characters in Forbidden Scrollery (and the Touhou series as a whole). Reimu, Marisa, Kosuzu, Akyuu, and Mamizou, as well as a central item, the Night Parade Picture Scroll, a particularly nasty Youma book containing depictions of many Youkai. Many other familiar characters across the series make appearances as well, but these are our main players from the beginning. A variety of unique youkai show up in almost every pair of chapters, and they can range from a youkai like the Enenra, released from a scroll from within Suzunaan, to a pet Chupacabra that Remilia let escape from the Scarlet Devil Mansion (though she calls it a Tupai). This holds true save for a few exceptions, such as the finale and the introduction. There is also a more cohesive story throughout, with a theme of Kosuzu’s relations to Youkai, and information control in the Human Village. Mamizou plays a major role here, and is presented as an antagonist at first, but later on is revealed to be playing more of a balancing role. She’s primarily interested in acting for the benefit of Tanuki as a whole. As there’s about fifty-three chapters, not each one will be covered, and you should absolutely go read the manga yourself. However we will highlight some groups of the more interesting ones, and ones which introduce new, minor characters. 

The Evil Dragon is introduced in Volume 2, Chapter 8-9. In it, Marisa comes across a white snake, and a magic hood from an Inari shrine that allows her to understand the animal. In that same chapter, Akyuu and Kosuzu mention a fairy tale in which a man gains riches from heeding the requests of animals using a “listening hood” he acquired from an Inari shrine. He even helps cure the daughter of a village chief with the assistance of the hood, going on to marry her. Though they call it a Japanese fairy tale, I was actually unable to find a Japanese source. The inspiration for the story however is clearly from Grimm’s Fairy Tales, specifically The White Snake, which follows almost exactly the same plot as the fairy tale mentioned by Kosuzu and Akyuu. However, it differs in regards to the white snake itself. In the original Grimm’s fairy tale, it is simply a dish that grants the person who eats it the ability to understand animals. In Forbidden Scrollery, Marisa comes across it and brings it home, as it is a precious animal to magicians. It gestures for her to put on the hood she used to carry it, and she is able to understand it. It tells her of Reimu’s ailment at the time, which Marisa had no knowledge of, caused by the regrets of another snake Reimu had accidentally trapped doing roof repairs. Curing Reimu, Marisa’s trust grows for the snake, and she brings it to Suzunaan at its request. Like in the fairy tale, it apparently told her that she needed the Night Parade Picture Scroll in order to cure the Village Chief’s daughter of an illness. This was a lie, however, and what the snake truly wanted was access to the scroll in order to regain its true form as the Evil Dragon. Its name is slightly misleading as it is surprisingly cordial and quite polite. Grateful to Marisa for listening to the requests of an animal(though in reality it was manipulating her greed), it says it will reward her. Kosuzu, angered because her Night Parade Scroll had an image removed from it, is also hastily promised a reward by the flustered dragon(again, she’s quite strong willed). It says that when it has become a full grown dragon, it will meet them again, in perhaps a few hundred years. In the following few days, Marisa receives a dragon’s claw, the shavings of which are a powerful ingredient, and Kosuzu receives a Fish Print* of the dragon. Both are quite pleased, and all's well that ends well. This chapter is a good example of some of the themes of Forbidden Scrollery, which tends to blend folk tales with modern Gensokyo, and outside world Western culture. In the volume just before, Little Red Riding Hood is mentioned in a joke where, the topic being stories that inform listeners how to deal with youkai, it is cited as a tale that informs the listener on “How to exterminate Little Red Riding Hood.” In other stories as well, Kosuzu is seen with old magazines from the outside world, where she interprets an article on the Fall of the Berlin Wall as architectural failure. 

Evil Dragon

Source: Chapter 8-9 of Forbidden Scrollery

Chapters 22-23 Tobacco, the Tanuki, and the Dine-and-Dasher, is about a spreading fear of snakes and a chain of dine and dash incidents in the Human Village. Seemingly unrelated. The chapter starts off with Kosuzu reading an article in a magazine from the outside world about a man being swallowed whole by a snake in India. Obviously frightened, she spends the two chapters fretting over how to fend snakes off. After some snake attacks within the village, Reimu even contacts Sanae under the impression that Moriya Shrine might be behind it. Sanae easily dismisses it, because their shrine houses a snake god itself, fear of snakes would be the opposite of what they want. While this is going on, many are also distraught by the dine and dash incidents which have been occurring regularly. It turns out that these are not so unrelated after all, as Mamizou deduces. She tracks down the culprit and confronts him in an establishment, where he’s gorging himself on food and sake. She has seen through his disguise however—as a Youkai snake who only recently came to Gensokyo after eating a human in the outside world. Unaware of the delicate balance, he had been throwing the human village’s establishments into a havoc, something even Mamizou cannot stand for. Giving him a warning, she dispells his disguise with a puff of tobacco, and the snake slithers away in a panic. Prior to this, we’ve only seen Mamizou meddling in Reimu’s affairs, so this cements her decidedly on the side of Gensokyo, as she takes no credit for resolving the issue. The chapter also gives us some insight on the process of Youkai entering Gensokyo.

The disguises of the Snake Youkai

Source: Chapter 22-23 of Forbidden Scrollery

Another pair of notable chapters, considerably heavier than the rest. 24-25 Unattributed Words Are Easily Stolen. To be succinct, in this story, Kosuzu finds an old scholar’s textbook containing original techniques for divination. Trying them, she unwittingly invokes the process of bringing the scholar’s vengeful spirit back from the Netherworld. Having not attributed the work properly, jealousy would give the scholar’s dead spirit physical form. This was something he had intentionally planned for, having penned the techniques to be read by an amateur, and then taking his own life in order to bypass the limitations of being human. However, he is interrupted by Reimu, who confronts him at Suzunaan. He flees and she gives chase, but after making it a considerable distance from the Human Village, he stops and offers a proposal. Knowing Reimu to be friendly with quite a few Youkai, and considering himself to be a Youkai as well, he asks for her to let him go as controlling his jealousy, he had avoided becoming a vengeful spirit. He promises to stay far away from the Human Village, to avoid contact with other humans. Kosuzu had come under no harm, only fainting out of shock. However, without a word, Reimu kills him instantly. As he cries out asking why, her answer is that she “Doesn’t necessarily mind needless killing” (how scary), and she firmly believes that Jinyou, humans who have become youkai, or youkai-like, from the Human Village, would absolutely destroy the balance of Gensokyo. The chapter ends on a somewhat ominous note, citing that as the reason she keeps a watchful eye on certain humans—and Suzunaan in particular. 

The balance between Humans and Youkai is inspected heavily in Forbidden Scrollery, in the last few chapters we’ve gone over and future ones as well. Chapter 25 seems to imply that, should Kosuzu delve too deeply into Youma books and become a Youkai herself, Reimu would not hesitate to exterminate her. A little dark, but Touhou’s absolutely no stranger to some grim interpretations. 

Fortune Teller

Source: Chapter 24-25 of Forbidden Scrollery

Immediately after that reminder of mortality, we have another. Chapters 26-27 Kokkuri Scatters with the Cherry Blossoms. The central focus of the chapter is on Kokkuri, and its western counterpart, a Ouija Board. Both are used to contact spirits to answer messages. It’s a fairly simple plot with an appearance by everyone’s favorite shopkeeper, Rinnosuke, but the beginning of the chapter is what’s interesting. We open on Kosuzu visiting Akyuu’s mansion for a flower viewing, before which Akyuu performs an offering to the gods. Not only to Konohana Sakuya-hime, who is represented by the beautiful but fleeting cherry blossom,but also Iwanaga-hime, her sister and the goddess of permanence, and therefore longevity. To Akyuu, whose lifespan is much shorter as the result of her power of reincarnation, and maintaining her memory across generations, she holds Iwanagi-hime in higher regard. Very rarely are we reminded of this in Touhou, and although ZUN has stated Touhou runs off of Sazae-san* time (as in, characters do not age with the passing of time), Akyuu’s lifespan is always an interesting subject. 

In Chapters 32-33 The Rulers of the Truth, we get an appearance from everybody’s favorite journalist, Aya. In disguise for the Human Village, she comes across Marisa asking around about a story, the Tengu’s letter.  Intrigued, she introduces herself, and Marisa only just catches onto Aya’s identity after a moment. She gives Marisa an answer, as a Tengu herself. However, Marisa’s confusion doesn’t end there. She wonders why Aya’s so casually hanging around the Human Village in disguise, don’t Youkai stay out of the Human Village as an unspoken general rule? Aya reveals that it’s a bit late to be wondering that. While on the surface, the Youkai appear to be protecting the Human Village in order to continue existing—the Kappa diverting floods, the Tengu blowing away tempests—each faction is also vying for control from the shadows. The Kappa build their reputation by displaying their technology and setting up stalls at festivals, and the Tengu control the news. However, it is true that none seek to rule over the village, only gain influence. One eventuality they all seek to avoid together, however, is a ruler coming from within the Human Village itself. If that were to happen, the humans themselves would break all sorts of Gensokyo’s rules which have been so laboriously upheld by the Youkai themselves. 

The finale of Forbidden Scrollery is something I won’t be covering, as I feel it’s similar to the endings of the games, and truthfully, quite self contained within the work, without much influence on other things. Once again I’d like to remind you to go give the manga a read! Overall, I consider Forbidden Scrollery to perhaps be the most broad or perhaps honest view of Gensokyo from the printworks, as opposed to Silent Sinner in Blue’s Lunarian-focused story, Sangetsusei’s fairy adventures, and Wild and Horned Hermit’s spotlight on Kasen and her mystery. An interesting indicator of this “honest” look might be the way Reimu is depicted, as the main character of Touhou. This is a personal analysis/theory of mine, but many printworks such as Lotus Eater and Wild and Horned Hermit often present Reimu in different ways. From the perspective of the strict and judgemental Kasen Ibaraki, Reimu’s title is Freewheeling Human, and she’s almost comedically incompetent and greedy(though we love her all the same), as Kasen might view her. In Eastern and Little Nature Deity she’s quite intimidating and mysterious, as the childlike trio of Luna, Sunny, and Star might see her. However in Forbidden Scrollery, she might be grumbling about Sanae’s superior evangelizing in one chapter, and mercilessly exterminating a Youkai in another. We get to see a very candid Reimu, as well as a look into many of the ways Youkai operate around the human village to maintain the balance of Gensokyo as a whole. That’s my personal take on Forbidden Scrollery, but don’t forget to get out there and form your own conclusions! That’s what makes Touhou so fantastic after all. 

*On Fish Prints. I find this one particularly funny, as the way fish prints are typically made is by painting a fish in ink, and stamping it on paper. Does this mean the dragon somehow covered itself in ink, and lay itself on a scroll for Kosuzu? Really not such an Evil Dragon after all. 

*Further explanation, it’s like how Bart from the Simpsons after over thirty years is still a child. Sazae-san actually beats the Simpsons in runtime by a LONG shot, having started in 1969 compared to 1989.