The Touhou music scene has everything. Every flavor of nearly every genre. Vocals and non-vocals and sampled vocals. Famous and obscure. Obvious parodies and clean masterpieces.
Obviously, I have my preferences, but I’d be doing myself a disservice for only ever listening to my favorite genres.
It was on such a day that I discovered Golden City Factory. Today, two of their albums rank among my favorites despite not being what I’d consider my genre staples.
The first Golden City Factory album I came across was 東方遊撃隊, pronounced Touhou Yugekitai, which released in 2006. Yugekitai more or less translates to “guerilla unit,” as in, a group of guerilla fighters. With a name like that and a playful Aya Shameimaru on the cover, it’s hard to know what to expect, but what I ended up listening to was not what I expected at all.
The album opens on an arrange of 天狗の手帖 ～ Mysterious Note, the title theme of Shoot the Bullet, an Aya-focused spin-off game and the “9.5th” official Touhou game, released between Phantasmagoria of Flower View and Mountain of Faith.
In fact, the whole album is arranges of the themes in Shoot the Bullet. Just six tracks, but the album didn’t need to be any longer. Every track was composed by Kiyoma, one of GCF’s members, and although I struggle to find a word to describe the genre, it isn’t shy to use Japanese instruments, and it will take you on a trip - presumably to the Youkai Mountain.
I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to GCF. The stand-out track of the album is 東の国の眠らない夜 (Sleepless Night of the Eastern Country), an arrange of the theme of the same name from Shoot the Bullet. The intro immediately drags you in, and doesn’t let go for the following four minutes.
Wow, a June 2010 upload! That’s just a little older than Touhou Yugekitai 2!
I’d love to review this song in full, as this is arguably the one responsible for my becoming a fan of GCF, it, and its atmosphere, its fast pace, and its dance beatline over more traditional instruments. It’s charming, very of its time, and yet still rather listenable. Do give it a listen if you can, then come back.
But this review isn’t about it, not today. Today, I’d like to talk about what came after.
Four years later, Golden City Factory revisited what they’d done with Touhou Yugekitai in 2010, releasing a sequel album at Comiket 79 simply titled 東方遊撃隊 弐 (Touhou Yugekitai 2), with 弐 the traditional kanji for 2 - in place of a, well, “2”, or a “II”. It’s formal to the point you don’t really see 弐 except in older documents or legal papers. But most importantly, it’s fitting; the tengu are old, and I’d expect nothing less of an album that focuses on them.
Touhou Yugekitai 2 is actually two CDs; the main one, with Hatate on the cover, contains 6 tracks. The other one is a bonus CD, sometimes referred to separately as 東方遊撃隊 弐 会場限定Limited Version (Touhou Yugekitai 2 Venue Limited Version). That one contains 4 extra tracks; two are non-vocal versions of Colorless Wind and wings abreast, the other two are “remix editions” of the same, also with no vocals.
As far as I understand, this bonus CD was only available if you purchased Yugekitai 2 at Comiket 79 instead of a store, probably as a sort of bonus for the kindest and most devoted of fans. The bonus CD is recognizable by the artwork printed on it; Aya and Hatate posing together, about to take a picture of the viewer.
If the first Yugekitai was all about Aya and Shoot the Bullet, its sequel is all about the spirital successor; Double Spoiler, the “12.5th” Touhou game starring Hatate Himekaidou. It’s her you see on the cover art, and every theme remixed is effectively from that game.
The premise of the album is similar; catchy tunes, a danceable beat, and soft-to-medium arrangements. But a few things changed; for one, the album features vocal tracks. 真優 (pronounced Mayu) sings on tracks 3 and 6; respectively, 色無き風 - Colorless Wind, an arrange of Youkai Mountain ~ Mysterious Mountain (also featured on Mountain of Faith). The other is 風乙女に憧れて - wings abreast, an arrange of Bell of Avici ~ Infinite Nightmare.
The other thing that changed is the sound. While Kiyoma and Guri have been doing this for years at this point, the production quality between the first and the second Yugekitai albums went noticeably up. That’s not to say Touhou Yugekitai sounded bad, merely less clean and more amateur (and I mean it with nothing but praise).
It does represent two different points in the circle’s sound progression, but it helps to understand that between Yugekitai and Yugekitai 2 are a massive wealth of albums. GCF produced no less than 51 CDs between these two, including a huge chunk of the 東方ミッドナイト MAXIMUM TUNE (Touhou Midnight Maximum Tune, which riffs on Wangan Midnight without actually sounding nearly anything like the anime or Yuzo Koshiro’s music in the games), many compilation albums, and a few omakes.
Although you could argue the standout tracks in Yugekitai 2 are the vocal ones, they’re not the one that left the biggest impression on me. By far, that would be あなたの町の怪事件 (The Mystery in Your Town), which remixes the song of the same name from Double Spoiler.
I could argue it’s because The Mystery in Your Town is the most well-known Double Spoiler track, and a generally very catchy song that deserves more love.
But really, if I had to pin it down, it’s down to the introduction and the progression from soft and atmospheric to fast and catchy. This is the same approach that made me love Sleepless Night from the first Yugekitai, but done with 4 extra years and dozens of albums worth of experience. The song opens with a quiet, airy atmosphere; for 22 seconds, all you hear are a gentle, phasing click, background pads, and a soft, repetitive drum line. Then, the synth piano and guitars show up, and the song progressively builds itself up to 0:36, at which point it’s pretty clear it’s Mystery in Your Town, eventually joined with an electric guitar and the full drumline.
And just like that, I’m hooked! Hell yeah, let’s go, I’m ready to take pictures of danmaku. The song sustains the main theme for about two minutes and ten-ish seconds, until 2:50. On the ZUN original, this would correspond to about 1:25, when ZUN clears the first third and starts playing the transition connecting the main themes. Guri and Kiyoma decide to do something different.
2:50 is when a distinctive, wailing synth melody comes on and plays a different, possibly original melody right as the drums and main synths briefly stop. It sounds as though this will just be a brief intermission before we go back to the main melody, but it isn’t. 3:05 makes it clear the song will build itself back up soon, and while some of Mystery in Your Town’s melodies are coming back, they are in the background.
Cue a short drum break, and the song restarts at 3:21 but as though it’s a completely different-sounding verse. The same distinctive synth continues as main melody, accompanied by electric guitars. It trades places with guitar versions of Mystery in Your Town’s leitmotif at 3:46, making it clear that yes, this is still a Touhou album. Then, it progresses happily to its conclusion, with fading out and conclusion starting at 4:14 and ending the song at 4 minutes and 25 seconds.
And just like that, I’m hooked! Again!! It’s… just so catchy!
Just like Double Spoiler and Shoot the Bullet, Touhou Yugekitai 2 revisits and refines what its predecessor did, but better, with more experience, and a slightly more modern approach. Maybe I can push the parallels to the character symbolism and how one album represents Aya and the other Hatate more literally than just the cover art.
Hatate and her flip phone are younger, more modern than Aya and her camera. They represent the same thing (they are both tengu from the Youkai Mountain in Gensokyo) yet are very different and approach things very differently.
At the same time, the symbolism gets flipped when you compare the songs musically. GCF’s rendition of Sleepless Night in the Eastern Country in Yugekitai 1 was the product of passion making up for lack of technique. The Mystery in Your Town is the product of experience, standing on a literal pile of albums to say, “Hey, it’s like the old one, but better.”
Yes, better, perhaps technically. But I never forgot how I ended up completely hooked to Sleepless Night, leading me to grab the album and eventually discover more of Golden City Factory’s discography. But when I learned of Touhou Yugekitai 2’s existence, I didn’t need to listen to one or two songs in particular before I decided to grab it. I just went directly to adding the album to my collection, came in with an expectation, and came out pleased - it was, and still is, a great album - yet surprised - because it wasn’t what I expected but was just as good.
Symbolism is funny like that. Because that’s how I felt with Aya and Hatate. Aya was for a time the tengu character in Touhou. Yes, Momiji exists, but Aya always felt like the main girl, the one you think of when you hear “tengu”.
Then Hatate showed up. She was positioned to be as much of a main tengu girl as Aya, but turned out to be her opposite in many ways. Aya is unrelenting, ready to get the news at a moment’s notice, and has the speed to always be the first on the scene of anything interesting. Anything for an article! “Unrelenting” is how I might describe GCF’s Sleepless Night, especially its introduction.
Hatate is the casual one, lazy to a fault; the one who would prefer stay inside and
go on the Internet use spirit photography to write all her articles. She’s not lacking in energy or outward attitude, but she definitely gives off a more laid-back feel. “Laid-back,” that’s also GCF’s Mystery in Your Town’s intro, isn’t it?
What? Who said I’m overthinking it? I’m a Touhou fan, overthinking it is what we do!!!
Song title: あなたの町の怪事件
Artist: Kiyoma, Guri
Album: 東方遊撃隊 弐 (Track 2)
Circle: Golden City Factory
Release date: 2010/12/30 (Comiket 79)
Touhou originals remixed:
- あなたの町の怪事件 ; The Mystery in Your Town (Double Spoiler, theme 1)