Canon refers to story material officially accepted as part of a fictional universe. In the Touhou Project, only works produced with ZUN's involvement are considered canon, as ZUN is the sole determinant of canon in the Touhou Project. These works are listed under "Games, Print Works and Music" on the main page.
- Main article: Category:Interviews and Statements
While ZUN occasionally reveals additional lore via blogs, interviews & e-mails with fans, not all such statements are considered canon, as they may not be finalised and can be contradicted in later games or statements. A similar status applies to comments made by people who've collaborated on official works with ZUN. Additionally, ZUN has confirmed a secret background for the Touhou Project, as well as lore saved for future games. This implies questions unanswered by official works or statement exist and are yet to be revealed.
Canonicity of Windows and PC-98
The connection between the PC-98 era and the Windows era is a hot topic in the Touhou fanbase. In the English fanbase, the term "PC-98" refers to the first 5 games of the Touhou Project, whilst "Windows" refers to any official material (i.e. games, CDs & print works) created after the sixth Touhou game (Embodiment of Scarlet Devil). Though the PC-98 games were created by ZUN, he has stated that Highly Responsive to Prayers was simply a "study project", and that one can just think of EoSD as a clean state and a new series, and that he generally has nothing to say about the PC-98 era, which can be ignored as one would do with derivative works.
Is there an actual connection, then?
Short answer: Yes, very much so. While you can skip those games, as the events portrayed in them don't come up particularly often, they are not to be considered strictly non-canon.
The world the Touhou Project takes place in was far from finalized in the PC-98 era. Initially, it was simply referred to as "a certain eastern land", with few defined landmarks. However, the setting is the same as the Windows era—Gensokyo was initially used as part of the title of Lotus Land Story, and mentioned again in Mystic Square's Music Room, although most likely as a reference to the music in Lotus Land Story. ZUN has confirmed it to be the very same Gensokyo portrayed in later entries, and that the characters from the first five games still very much exist. Past elements of the Touhou universe are indeed still canon and have only gone unused because of ZUN's preference for creating new characters and the awkwardness of fitting the old ones into the story.
Narrative references to PC-98 events in later works
- Reimu Hakurei, Marisa Kirisame, Alice Margatroid and Yuuka Kazami appear in the modern canon, though the latter two were given family names they did not have in the PC-98 era.
- In Perfect Cherry Blossom, Alice refers to previously meeting Reimu, which can safely be taken as a Mystic Square reference. Moreover, Alice's sealed grimoire is likely to be the same as the Grimoire of Alice from Mystic Square.
- In Phantasmagoria of Flower View, Reimu alludes to a previous encounter with Yuuka ("Everything went back to normal when I defeated you back then!"). In Yuuka's article in Perfect Memento in Strict Sense, Hieda no Akyuu stated that Reimu has exterminated Yuuka several times (although saying it's "probably bogus"), Lotus Land Story most likely being the first.
- In the very same game, Yuuka tells Marisa that she's "grown up quite a bit", referring to her being considered a child in the PC-98 era. She could also potentially be referring to one of Marisa's lines during their encounter in Lotus Land Story ("If it's going to bring me a boring life, I'd rather die!") when saying "Ah, you're still alive?".
- ZUN mentioned in at least two interviews that Genjii is "probably living in the lake at the back of the shrine.". Moreover, in Strange and Bright Nature Deity Chapter 12, when Reimu and Marisa were talking about "glowing moss," Reimu said it would be nice to transfer it to the pond in the back of the Hakurei Shrine, and Marisa responds that she could make it grow there on the turtles' backs. It's likely that this is a reference to Genjii.
- In the 25th chapter of Curiosities of Lotus Asia Reimu offhandedly comments that the Hakurei Shrine was once taken over by an evil spirit, possibly referring to Mima, who frequently haunted its vicinity and was stated to be somewhat of a cursed deity of the shrine.
- Makai appears in Undefined Fantastic Object, albeit with a different way of entry. Both Reimu and Marisa seem to already know of Makai (although they both act like it's their first time seeing it in person), whereas Sanae is completely baffled by it.
Within the fanbase, PC-98 and Windows have been linked together in various ways, ranging from simply putting them in chronological order, to fabricating fanon that either Shinki or Alice destroyed and recreated Gensokyo due to the sheer scale of their attacks.
It's also common in derivative works to depict PC-98 and Windows versions of the same characters to be separate people, despite ZUN's affirmation that they are the same. The two canons are sometimes seen as completely different worlds, with different landmarks or dimensions - one example mocking this is Touhou Mother.
Multiple playable routes
When games have multiple playable characters advancing through the same levels, canonicity of each route becomes ambiguous. In in an answer to a question in 2003/12 on the former Gensou Bulletin Board, ZUN has said that when Reimu and others are defeated, they challenge again, indicating that the playable characters probably challenged again several times before finally defeating the last boss.
Many fans assume that Ending #1 in all games is what actually happened, although there's no proof to this other than the numbering. Some fanworks assume that all of the playable characters participated in the incident simultaneously, but fought different enemies at various times.
References in the dialogue and afterwords suggest that indeed all selectable characters set out to solve each game's incident, although in some games this is explicitly contradicted in the manual where it sometimes says, depending on which character you choose, only one goes out to investigate.
In the case of Scarlet Weather Rhapsody, Hopeless Masquerade, Urban Legend in Limbo, and Antimony of Common Flowers, most of the playable characters' storylines refer to events that happened in other playable characters' storylines, making it possible to deduce the order in which they occurred - SWR's storyline order is detailed on this page (Horizontal Version).
Known Canonicity of Playable Routes
Embodiment of Scarlet Devil
According to Akyuu, Reimu resolved the Scarlet Mist Incident on her own.
Perfect Cherry Blossom
Akyuu records that Reimu resolved the Spring Snow Incident, but this does not exclude the possibility that Marisa and/or Sakuya may have also been involved.
In this game, only one youkai team and one human team are said to investigate. In Perfect Memento in Strict Sense, Reimu claims that she's the one who solved the incident, but she also dodges all questions regarding the culprits. The Visionary Scarlet Devil Team's ending is referenced in Sakuya's Bunbunmaru article (although mid-interview, Sakuya denies having the power to stop the night), and potentially ties in to the Silent Sinner in Blue storyline.
Phantasmagoria of Flower view
Mountain of Faith
Marisa is known to have gone underground to investigate the incident, and to have met some of the youkai living underground, but there is no indication of her solving the incident, or that she knows why exactly the vengeful spirits were appearing on the surface, as she simply blames Kanako Yasaka for it. On the other hand, Oriental Sacred Place shows Reimu reminiscing using Yukari Yakumo's comunication devices and having to fight the entire game's cast, implying she was the one who resolved this incident.
Undefined Fantastic Object
In an interview with Nae Radio on 21.09.2009, ZUN confirmed Marisa B to be the canon ending because it directly connects to the extra stage.
In Wild and Horned Hermit Chapter 9, Kyouko recalls "that shrine maiden" (shown to be Reimu) attacking her and then entering the mausoleum. Marisa and Sanae are also pictured off to the side in her memory of the incident, though she doesn't mention them.
Double Dealing Character
In Wild and Horned Hermit Chapter 19, Reimu complains that nobody noticed that she resolved the incident- or that there even was an incident- and so decided to hold a victory party to make it known. She also mentions that it was harder than expected because she was unable to use her purification rod, indicating that Reimu-B is the canon storyline. Marisa and Sakuya are also pictured posing beside Reimu when she complains to Kasen about lack of recognition for resolving the incident.
Forbidden Scrollery Chapter 13 reveals that at the time of the incident, Marisa kept the transformation of her mini-hakkero a secret, and tried to resolve the incident by herself, though her success (or lack thereof) isn't stated.
Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom
In an interview, ZUN revealed that the canon ending is a no-miss clear in Legacy mode (the heroine elects to not use the Ultramarine Orb Elixir, but still manages to not get hit). In Chapter 5 of Visionary Fairies in Shrine, Reimu talks to Eirin about meeting Clownpiece on the moon and Hecatia's involvement with Junko, but Eirin was unaware of the latter, which would contradict at least Reisen's extra story, and confirms at least Reimu's story.
Hidden Star in Four Seasons
In Chapter 42 of Wild and Horned Hermit, it's revealed that Reimu, Marisa, and Aya's stories are at minimum partially canon. Aya and Marisa both mention visiting the Land of the Back Door, Marisa in particular mentioning getting there through the back of a jizo who lives in the forest and hearing from Reimu that she did the same. Later on, in Curiosities of Lotus Asia Chapter 31, Narumi personally corroborates Marisa's tale. Aya also reminisces about battling Okina Matara's attendants Satono Nishida and Mai Teireida. However, the Hakurei Shrine managed to get most of the credit for actually solving the incident. Chapter 8 of Visionary Fairies in Shrine has Eternity Larva tell the Three Fairies of Light a truncated version of Cirno's scenario. This makes Hidden Star in Four Seasons the first game to have all playable routes confirmed to be canon.
Wily Beast and Weakest Creature
In Chapter 35 of Curiosities of Lotus Asia Sumireko hears from Reimu about how she fought Keiki Haniyasushin while possessed by an animal spirit, making at minimum Reimu's routes canon, though the particular spirit who possessed her is left ambiguous.
In Touhou Gouyoku Ibun, Yuuma Toutetsu identifies Reimu as the person who helped out some eagle spirits of hers, potentially identifying the Eagle Spirit as Reimu's canon route. With Marisa, she mentions Saki Kurokoma having taken a liking to her, implying that Marisa may have been canonically involved in the Extra stage.
In the same game, Kutaka Niwatari mentions Marisa going to the animal realm.
Touhou Gouyoku Ibun
All routes are seemingly canon, as none of them contradict each other, with the exception of whether Marisa or Reimu goes to the blood lake and fights Yuuma, as well as how trained Flandre was when fighting Yuuma.
In 100th Black Market it is revealed in the opening narration that Marisa Kirisame defeated Chimata Tenkyuu, confirming the canonicity of at least her route, though it's left ambiguous whether Marisa defeated her by obtaining her Blank Card or not. As she recognizes Momoyo Himemushi in the intro dialogue for the 6th Market, it can be assumed that she completed the Extra Stage as well.
Groups or individuals who produce both official and unofficial works
ZUN collaborates with established doujinshi circles and artists to illustrate his official print works and games. However, even if an artist or circle has worked to create official material for the Touhou Project, other works by the same circle in which ZUN had no involvement in should not be taken into consideration. For example, Aki★Eda is the artist for the official Touhou manga Silent Sinner in Blue, but the storylines introduced in her self-produced doujinshi, such as Plastic Heart series, shouldn't be considered canon. Twilight Frontier's had collaboration with creating six fighting games in the Touhou Project, but other Touhou games by that circle such as New Super Marisa Land and MegaMari are also non-canon.
Also note that, despite being considered an official Touhou work, the canonicity of Inaba of the Moon and Inaba of the Earth is rather loose, both due to its gag nature, and due to ZUN being credited for the "setting and character designs" rather than the scenario unlike in other Touhou print works. According to ZUN in an interview on Nae Radio, he merely gave the artist rough instructions on "the usuals and conclusions".
The fourth wall is an imaginary boundary between any fictional work and its audience. When a character within the work is speaking directly to the audience or is aware that they're just a character in a fictional work means that they're "breaking the fourth wall".
In the Touhou Project, there have been instances of the fourth wall been broken. They should be considered non-canon to the work itself.
- The dialogue on stage 3 of Story of Eastern Wonderland, Lotus Land Story, Mystic Square and Embodiment of Scarlet Devil trial versions where the characters state that the story can only continue in the full version.
- Reimu and Rika talk about Rika being a Stage 1 boss in the Extra stage of Story of Eastern Wonderland, while stating that if Reimu followed Rika after Stage 1, then Reimu's battle with the Evil Eye Σ would've been Stage 2.
- Orange in Lotus Land Story says "You shouldn't underestimate me just because I'm the first stage boss!" in Reimu's scenario.
- Yuuka's bad ending in Mystic Square, stating that the player needs to train harder and choose Yuuka again to play the game.
- Flandre Scarlet utters "I meant you can't use a continue!" to Marisa in her scenario in Embodiment of Scarlet Devil, since you can't use one during an extra stage.
- Kogasa Tatara was seen saying "Surprise~" on the CD of Undefined Fantastic Object, speaking to the owner of the CD. Similarly, she appears on the game's Steam page in one of the images doing the same.
Canonicity of other, non-Touhou works
The appearances of some Touhou Project characters in the Seihou Project are most likely not canon, as they're simply guest appearances that haven't been referred to at any point in the series. Seihou Project is owned by the Doujin circle "Shunsatsu sare do?", who too branched away from Amusement Makers just like Team Shanghai Alice.
Project Blank is owned by the Doujin circle RebRank, who too branched away from Amusement Makers just like Team Shanghai Alice and "Shunsatsu sare do?". The whole series had no involvement from ZUN whatsoever.
Two members from "Shunsatsu sare do?" (Ponchi and Yoko(blankvision)) have participated in the making of Samidare and RefRain. There appear to be some connections between Project Blank and the Seihou Project - in the Extra Stage of Samidare, VIVIT was looking for the holy grail for her master, Erich. She was also looking for it in Shuusou Gyoku's Extra stage.
Uwabami Breakers is owned by The Drinking Party. ZUN's involvement consisted of creating the game's engine (based on Mountain of Faith), composing Amakasu Barley Tenji's theme and leaving official profiles for each character. The game has no story relation to the Touhou Project, but the characters use the spell card system.
Interviews, ZUN's various internet posts, etc.
While those are (obviously) sources from outside of the Touhou Project itself, various interviews with ZUN often reveal things about his game-making process or inspirations, and sometimes can provide insight into story elements - one example would be the lecture held by ZUN at the Toukai High School in 2005, where he heavily implies a link between Yukari Yakumo and Maribel Hearn.
ZUN's Contributions to doujin works
While ZUN has occasionally contributed to Touhou fanworks, their story elements aren't to be considered canon unless written by ZUN himself.
An example would be Touhou Unreal Mahjong, for which he composed Rinnosuke Morichika's theme - while Curious Old Shanghai Tile can be classified as his official theme, Rinnosuke's appearance as a character in the game is unrelated to the official Touhou installments from a plot standpoint. The fan comics included in the official book Bohemian Archive in Japanese Red and the fanbook Seasonal Dream Vision should also be considered non-canon (with the exception of Extra of the Wind, which was written by ZUN) for a similar reason. On the other hand, A Beautiful Flower Blooming Violet Every Sixty Years - ZUN's story written from Yukari's viewpoint, describing her trying to remember the cause behind the flower incident cycle - can very well be considered an official part of the universe.
- ZUN's E-mails
- Meiji University talkshow "Dawn of Touhou"
- ZUN's reply to messages on the former Gensou Bulletin Board 2
- Story of Eastern Wonderland/Story/Prologue
- ZUN's AWA Q&A Panel
- Strange Creators of Outer World/Who's Who of Humans & Youkai in Gensokyo/Yuuka Kazami
- ZUN's Gensou Denshou Lecture
- Mystic Square - Manual
- Perfect Memento in Strict Sense: Reimu Hakurei
- Symposium of Post-mysticism: Part IV
- Oriental Sacred Place - Chapter 10
- Interview on Nae Radio (September 2009)
- Strange Creators Interview 01
- 100th Black Market Tutorial - "The market god was defeated by the magician, and the card market was officially opened. Some time has passed since then..."
- 100th Black Market 6th Market