It’s time for more of that vocal trance goodness. It’s also almost a repeat of TTMR 006, because it involves a major Touhou arrange circle, and a coordinated and color-coded triple album release. But instead of Alstroemeria, we’re talking about Sound Online, and instead of Memory of Forgathering Dream, we’ve got Yukari’s iconic theme, Necrofantasia.
In TTMR 006, I talked about the collaboration between ALiCE’S EMOTiON, Alstroemeria Records, and Sound Online with the Trois Rouge / Trois Noir / Trois Bleu albums, which came out in 2008.
Well, they did it again in 2010. The SOAR (Sound Online, Alstro, and R for Redalice of Alice’s Emotion), as I’ve realized they were referred to, once again produced and released three albums together as a continuation of the Trois Project: Third Ensemble: Rouge, Third Ensemble: Noir, and Third Ensemble: Bleu, using the French words for red, black, and blue once again.
As before, red went to Alice’s Emotion (because Redalice, naturally), Alstro got black, and Sound Online got blue. The latter album is today’s subject.
All three Third Ensemble albums came out during Comiket 79, on December 30, 2010. This was another busy year for the ever-growing Touhou fandom; nearly 300 albums from dozens and dozens of circles came out just for that event, and the Trois Project albums were arguably one of the highlights.
Since I’m a rather old fan, it should be no surprise that I have or listened to many other C79 albums; besides the other two Third Ensembles, I’d recommend Dead man’s hand by CYTOKINE, Cafe de Touhou by DDBY, Split Theory by EastNewSound, ココロバイブレーション by ShibayanRecords, and Love Hearts? by Syrufit.
Oh, and HEAVEN’s SOUND 02 by Rolling Contact. Because of course!
Yukari Yakumo and her theme, Necrofantasia, are inseparable. The ZUN original defines her as much as the character defines the gravitas of the song. In ZUN’s own words, she is “the definition of ominous” and “devious”, words that also describe her theme song.
She is fascinating for many reasons. She is the only character to be a Phantasm stage boss, one rank higher than Extra stage boss. The Phantasm stage was, and to my knowledge, still is unique to Perfect Cherry Blossom as a sort of extra stage to an extra stage.
From so many standpoints - gameplay, lore, music - it’s easy to imagine Yukari Yakumo as a villainous, if not the ultimate villainous figure of Gensokyo. If it were written by more classically trained individuals, she would probably be the recurring villain, the ultimate youkai to counter-balance the ultimate human that Reimu is.
But it’s not so simple, as things rarely are in Gensokyo. In the very next shmup game (Imperishable Night), Reimu and Yukari teamed up to investigate the eternal moon incident. They’d team up again for Subterranean Animism. And it’s not a simple case of villain-teams-up-with-hero-to-beat-up-bigger-villain.
Yukari, most of the time, is a fickle being who’s busy being asleep, leaving all the important day-to-day stuff to Ran. Musically, Necrofantasia may as well represent what she is when she’s fully awake and in the mood to do things herself. The very idea that Yukari is up and actively part of an incident is what makes her ominous.
Which is why, musically, reinterpreting that theme into different genres and moods lends Yukari entirely different attitudes. For some that I’ve spoken to, it feels as though Necrofantasia works best in specific genres and not at all in others, and I think the original song and its unique feel have something to do with that.
When I dived into my collection to pick a Necrofantasia arrange, I had the litter’s pick of utterly different moods and vibes. From the high-energy vocal house/trance of EastNewSound (Vanishing Point from the album Lyrical Crimson) to Nocti’s extremely unique 90s inspired DnB, (Pocket Dimension from Gensokyo 199X), to things like Amane’s take on even higher-energy UK hardcore (Break the PHANTASM!! from 玉響宴奴 -タマユラエンド-)… I could have even gone with Sasi’s German vocals in Locked Away (Album: Let the DANCErs rock the FLOOR) or Paradot’s modern drum’n’bass take in violet (album: twinkle world)
But ultimately, I had to settle for what felt like the most logical choice. Illusion by Sound Online, composed by… Masayoshi Minoshima and vocals by the infinitely talented nomico? Yeah, it’s Sound Online, but really, it’s Alstroemeria. It’s funny how that works out, huh?
All lyrics translations quoted in this segment are the work of Amen.
The song opens immediately with a cymbal crash and atmospheric, trancey vibes, leading us into the song’s introduction. In what I’m gonna call Minoshima’s usual style, we have no immediate tell this is Necrofantasia from the get-go, even as the intro starts phasing out at 0:57, announced by a piano fade.
The transition finally completes at 1:25 when the beatline comes in. Still, no signs yet of nomico’s voice for another 30 seconds, not that I have anything to complain about. When Minoshima wants to take you for a ride with good, hard beats, he will.
The first verse is announced by a cymbal crash at 1:51, and nomico’s soft voice is finally heard, almost not loud enough to speak over the beat.
With another cymbal crash at 2:19, the beatline regains its main melody and atmospheric backing, occasionally peppered with piano. Nomico continues with the second verse…
… and the third, following on the theme of dreams.
We get an instrumental break at 3:13, again announced by a cymbal crash. Masayoshi Minoshima really made it easy to divvy up this song-- oh and he did another at 3:28. Okay then.
We are halfway into the song, and if the song is from the point of view of Yukari, it’s already clear this is not just about her dreaming. Someone is missing from her life.
There’s an emotional gap; the expression “the flower to fill the hole in my heart” uses the word 隙 and the reading sukima may as well practically confirm it’s Yukari singing. Now, now, I know it’s a common word, but this is the Touhou fandom. We overthink things in this house.
Nomico doesn’t leave us too much time to think about it; the instrumental break is 30 seconds, and we’re back at it at 3:43 with verse four. The melody has been reduced back to the main beatline once again.
The song’s second theme comes into view plain as day: illusions, as shown by the multiple uses of the kanji 幻. This is the very same as in gensoukyou (幻想郷).
The fifth verse comes in at 4:10, and once more the song picks up, returning to full melody and backing.
We see the connection between illusions and dreams - how they are one and the same. It plays into Yukari’s manipulation of boundaries, and implies that she very much can see and manipulate the boundary between dreams and reality.
Since I’ve already established I’m gonna overthink this, let’s take a look at “have my eyes on you.” All I can picture is Yukari having eyes everywhere - by way of her gaps, which are often depicted with an eye-filled background. It couldn’t be more clear that Yukari is observing whoever the person she feels is missing or can’t see.
But who could that be? Yukari is the one person in Gensokyo who could watch anyone she likes, at any time. My first thought was, maybe she’s thinking about Reimu… But thinking on it more, it’s possibly Yuyuko. This may even be in reference to the sealing of the Saigyou Ayakashi, which was done by someone who held Yuyuko in very high and dear regard.
It is known Yukari and Yuyuko knew each other when the latter was alive. So wouldn’t it make sense for Yukari to be the one to have manipulated the boundary between life and death and get her back - even as a “dream” or an “illusion”, or in this case… a ghost?
Besides, the “flower to fill the hole in my heart” could well be a symbol for Yuyuko. This theory might be made stronger with the sixth verse, which starts at 4:36.
Musically, Minoshima’s melody is slightly delayed compared to nomico starting the verse, sending the cymbal crash at 4:37 midway into the first sentence, after which the beatline disappears briefly. However, a crescendo pad at 4:46 and multiple drums at 4:47 quickly help the song regain its intensity and return to full at 5:05, at which point the sixth verse ends and nomico immediately jumps to the seventh.
Thematically… Oh yeah. This is definitely about Yuyuko.
Moving on to the seventh and final verse, starting at 5:02, again slightly early compared to the melodic track.
Though the lyrics end on a melancholic tone, with nomico’s voice leaving the song at 5:30, Minoshima clearly isn’t done yet, with over 90 seconds of runtime left. The song holds the same intensity until 5:58, at which point it transitions properly into the outro, taking away the beatline. Eventually, it echoes out at 6:26, ending progressively.
As is true of many Alstro productions, it might not be easy to discern Necrofantasia just by listening to the music, but listening to (or in my case, reading) the lyrics makes it incredibly and painfully clear who this is about. Not all remixes have to sound close to the originals; I’d argue that’s what makes the strength of the remixing scene in general.
Every different interpretation of an original song is a valid take, just as there are many interpretations of Gensokyo and its many colorful denizens. In the case of the Touhou Project, it is even more important.
There is an undeniable link between the music and their corresponding characters, to the point that I don’t think you have a complete picture of a character until you listen to the theme or themes they’re associated to, whichever they may be.
So, inevitably, when it comes to musical arrangements like Illusion, the ways you perceive its associated characters - like Yukari in this case - are a little like viewing fanart. This song may or may not align with what you imagined Yukari is like, but what it objectively is, is one, valid interpretation of who the Youkai of Boundaries is. The diversity of these interpretations is as important as the diversity of music, genres, and styles, just like the diversity of drawn art styles.
Ultimately, that’s how I came to view my collection of Touhou music. They’re a collection of character interpretations, ranging from the silliest to the absolute most intense. To put it simply; I like having a big box of vibes to choose from. This is what it all boils down to… and I hope my selection does vibe with you too.
Song title: Illusion
Composer: Masayoshi Minoshima
Album: Third Ensemble: Bleu (Track 5)
Circle: Sound Online
Release date: 2010/12/30 (Comiket 79)
Touhou originals remixed:
- ネクロファンタジア ; Necrofantasia (Perfect Cherry Blossom, Yukari Yakumo’s theme)