Forbidden Scrollery, Vol. 1

By ZUN and Moe Harukawa. Released in Japan as “Touhou Suzunaan ~ Forbidden Scrollery” by Kadokawa Shoten, serialized in the magazine Comp Ace. Released in North America by Yen Press. Translated by ZephyrRZ.

Seemingly this manga is simply another in a long, long line of titles that can be summed up as “supernatural experts deal with the yokai problem of the week”. The star of the show, or at least the character who the events revolve around, is Kosuzu, a perky and slightly ditzy seller of rare books. The land she (and the rest of the cast) live in, Gensokyo, seems to exist somewhere in yokai land, and finding books that actually exist “in the human world” is a big deal. Of course, just because the books may have existed in the human world doesn’t mean they can’t be big trouble. There’s letter-eating bugs, and sentient smoke, and all sorts of yokai that are not precisely evil but are definitely troublesome. Fortunately, Kosuzu has a group of friends to help her out whenever things get too out of control. In fact, at times it feels as if the friends are the real stars that the reader paid to see…

Yes, as most readers are no doubt aware, this is not merely another generic youkai manga, but in fact that first manga licensed here in the West based on the hideously popular bullet hell game Touhou Project. And the reason that so much attention is devoted to Reimu and Marisa is that they are the overall stars of the franchise – Kosuzu was created specially for this title. There are, thankfully, some explanatory endnotes detailing who’s who of the major characters. Sometimes this isn’t needed – the vaguely antagonistic friendship/rivalry between Reimu and Marisa is pretty self-evident from the text, but sometimes things can be a bit confusing. When Reimu meets Mamizou, the unsettling supernatural tanuki girl, it’s clear they have a past history, but that is presumably part of another piece of Touhou lore.

So the question remains, is this readable and enjoyable to someone unfamiliar with the Touhou franchise? I think so. Pretty much all I know about Touhou can be summed up as “Cirno’s Perfect Math Class”, but I was able to move along here, mostly as I have considerable experience reading youkai manga. The cast are new to me, but their character tics are pretty well established – Reimu seems very lazy, for example. That said, I think I found Kosuzu the most interesting character – which makes sense, since this series is supposedly about her. It’s unclear how aware she is of the dangerous qualities of her books – certainly she seems to be hypersensitive to anyone damaging then, but that reads as “obsessive book lover” more than anything else. I want to see more of her.

I think Yen Press seems to agree with me that the series can be appreciated without any previous knowledge, as the Touhou references are limited to the endnotes – not even a “based on the hit game Touhou Project!” on the back cover. It’s supposed to succeed or fail on its own. There seem to be about 7 volumes, and I’ll certainly see how the next one is. For Touhou fans, obviously, but also yokai fans and fans of cute girls.

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