Review: Touhou Project Side Story
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Spoilers/plot synopsis: on/off
Y'know what ... I'm impressed by the ending to that doujin-anime, Touhou Project Side Story (which finally got a fansub). I really am. In fact, you could go so far as to say I'm outright amazed. See, for the first two-thirds of an hour, it was really stupid. However, in the ending sequence, they managed to outdo themselves, and condensed more stupidity than the entire rest of the movie into the last ten minutes.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Touhou Project Side Story is a 50-minute doujin anime film focusing on the main characters of Imperishable Night. It was made in December 2007 by the doujin-group Sound-Holic, known for making pretty damn good music albums, but frankly, they should have stuck with that rather than trying to make movies.1 TPSS has bad character designs, worse animation, abjectly screwy color-balancing, and the flat-out worst special effects I've seen in any anime released within the past five years. For example, closeups consist of smaller images expanded, presumably using Photoshop, and you rarely see anything with more than three frames of animation: there is no difference between a character standing still and a freeze-frame. I can't imagine what Sound-Holic's standards are like that they could possibly have thought, at any point in this production, that what they released was acceptable except as "How Not To Make An Anime." As for the plot, it's basically a horrid Mary-Sue fanfic except animated.
On the bright side, the acting isn't all that bad, except for that of Reimu and Marisa, whose voices sound ... off, and slightly too high-pitched. Fortunately, they only have a dozen lines between them, so that's all right (more on this later). On the even brighter side, this story was made before Silent Sinner in Blue, which flatly contradicts just about every detail. Your mileage regarding the Watatsuki sisters may vary, of course ...
The first original character we're actually introduced to is Luna Marius. Or ... Marius Luna. It's somewhat confusing since they gave him a Western name ("Runa Mariusu!") but used the Japanese name-order. I suppose it would've been clearer if his family name was "Houraisan," since, y'know, he's supposed to be Kaguya's father and all. However, clarity is evidently not something Sound-Holic strove for, and they were more interested in pimping out their Gary Stu than trying to get him to fit the Touhou canon. I suppose giving him a more reasonable name such as "Houraisan Marius" would have interfered with Sound-Holic's dream of creating an atrocious Gundam plot with Touhou characters instead of humanoid robots, which is exactly what Touhou Project Side Story is. It also doesn't help that it was sometimes unclear whether, by "Luna," they meant Marius's family or the Moon.
The second original character we're introduced to is Kinako, a black-haired black-eared lunar-rabbit. She is actually the first character who speaks in the anime, introducing herself by telepathic communication in the opening seconds;2 this does not help her Mary Sue status. She is not who she seems, but they seriously botched that part by having no real buildup as to what the Big Reveal later on actually is.
Anyway, after Kinako's second telepathic contact with Reisen (this is about ten minutes in), Kaguya, Eirin, Reisen, and Sakuya teleport to the moon. Now, call me Mithter Thilly, but first of all, don't you think it should be a little bit harder to get there than just beaming up? I suppose it helps that they're expected, but come on.
Second of all, they leave behind Reimu and Marisa, since this is moon business (and Marisa gives the priceless line, "You wouldn't die even if they killed you!"3). On the one hand, it means we don't have to have forty minutes of listening to their abysmally-chosen voices. On the other hand, it means that the two main-est characters of the Touhou series are relegated to the role of side-characters with no overall importance. Which isn't too shabby if you happen to be making A Doujin About The Lunarians, but ... the only feature-length Touhou movie anyone's made? Well, okay, TPSS itself is shabby to begin with, but that only reinforces my point. I also estimate that at least ten minutes of the movie's time was spent with shots that lasted way too long — the scene in the opening credits with the moon sitting there, the shot of Remilia just standing there, the entire teleportation sequence, one dramatic closeup of Marius, etc ...
In any event: the main characters are now on the moon, having completely abandoned all their suspicions as to Marius's true intentions simply because a reason was offered. Me, I'd be a bit less eager to just jump right in, if only because we're only about fifteen minutes into a fifty-minute movie. So what's a good (or in this case bad) movie-maker to do? Why, throw in a plot twist, of course! When TPSS isn't being logically absurd, it is drearily predictable.
Shortly thereafter, we are introduced to the third original character, the captain of Earth's fleet, who looks identical to Roll Caskett from Megaman Legends (Rockman Dash), so I'm going to call her that instead of her actual name, which seems to be Engrish for Sphere Seven. Roll is the only new character who isn't some sort of Mary Sue, and this is because she never actually does anything except sit there in the bridge of a space ship which is roughly the size and shape of an Imperial Star Destroyer.
I'd also like to take a moment to comment negatively on the music. That's right, they're great at making Touhou music arrangement albums, and yet not even this escaped their ineptitude. There's two reasons: the first is that it mostly consisted of "[Name of character most prominent on the screen at the moment]'s Theme: Gundam Remix." The second is that they couldn't get it to transition halfway-decently to save their lives. When the mood changed, it often cut off the music that was currently playing in mid-note, for example when the opening themesong fades out to make way for "vaguely ominous Space Opera tune #8" in the Omniscient Council Of Vagueness scene.
The ending is ... a bit of a Gainax Ending (Warning, link leads to TVTropes. Muffin will not be held responsible for hours of time lost as a result of following it.But see also this disclaimer), though I doubt that it was deliberate by any means. After the lunar shennanigans are resolved, Roll orders the fleet to return to Earth, and makes deep statements about the nature of war. You know, I can't help but think that those kind of profound sentiments are simply lost in a movie as bad as this. I suppose it might have worked better if, say, they'd clarified why the war was happening, other than "our enemy exists". I'd also like to mention that there was never really any tension about the fact that the survival of the main characters, especially since three of them couldn't die.
In any event, the Gensokyo folks head home; roll credits over. There's a brief sequence during and after the credits, which seems ... just a little bit too much of a "things are back to normal" ending, in context. The final sequence, however, caused me to speak in tongues due to how stupid it was. I dare you to come up with an explanation for it that makes sense. I'm afraid that so many of the questions raised by this movie can only be answered by "It was a bad movie."
So yeah. In case you hadn't been able to figure it out, my surmise of this film is that it is so bad it's horrible (Warning, link leads to TVTropes. Previous disclaimer appliesBut see also this disclaimer), and that you should not watch it unless you're starved for Touhou material. I make no comment on the quality of the translation, which is slightly erratic at times, because this is not the fault of the movie itself; I wonder if the fansubbers got sick and tired of telling people "No, don't bother, you wouldn't like it," and made the subtitled version just to prove it. I give the movie a ⑨ out of 100. I'd shamelessly rip off the formula used by BadMovies.org and include a "Things I Learned" and "Stuff To Watch For," but there were just too many highlights before I was even halfway through.
1A trait they share with Bob Dylan.
2"Rei-sen! Rei-sen! Tasukete Re-i-sen!" ... sorry.
3Even though this only applies to Kaguya, and in the movie, Eirin.