In today’s post, I’ll be giving my personal ranking of the Touhou CD’s, as well as highlight a few of my favorites from each one.
Even if you’re familiar with the Touhou Project, you might not know that besides the mainline video games, ZUN also directs the creation of various manga series and spinoff games. Additionally, every few years he releases music CD’s. These CD’s are composed of remixes of game tracks as well as original tracks that I suspect are tracks that were experimental or rejected, never making it into one of his mainline games.
CD tracks are different, often sizeably longer in duration and noticeably more experimental in style. For remixed tracks, they are often refined in a sort of “definitive edition”, while original tracks contain techniques and ideas not found in usual game tracks.
At the time of writing ZUN has released ten “mainline” CD’s, each accompanied with a side story1.
My rankings are based nearly completely on the music itself, though I won’t deny the story has influenced my opinion in a few of the CD’s.
Not my favorite album, some of the tracks are kind of grating on the ears.
- Old Adam Bar: Perfectly gives off that vibe of going down to a bar and gossipping with some regulars.
- Pandemonic Planet: Touhou 15 extra boss rearrange. Like most album arranges of game themes, it’s basically a magnification of all the good parts.
The original tracks are pretty strange and experimental in this album.
- Satellite TORIFUNE: Unconventionally intense but also has that floaty space vibe that the story describes.
- Trojan Asteroid Jungle: Groovy.
- Hartmann’s Youkai Girl: Rearrange of a very famous Touhou 11 track. It’s a very wacky vibe, but perfectly fits Koishi’s equally wacky character.
A pretty good album, but I don’t think the tracks meshed with each other very well.
- Green Sanatorium: Mischievous and mysterious. I could imagine this being the title theme for a spinoff or fangame.
- Let’s Live in a Lovely Cemetery: Touhou 13 remix, but with a more traditional twist.
ZUN’s first album of the modern era of Touhou. It’s pretty good.
- The Childlike Duo’s Naturalis Historia: A bubbly and happy theme for the music CD duo.
- The Sea Where One’s Home Planet Is Reflected: Touhou 15 remix, and it’s just as good as it was then. Bass is slightly boosted and tempo is very slightly lowered.
- Dr. Latency’s Sleepless Eyes: Very avant-garde and experimental style for ZUN but it works.
Shorter album composed in memory of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan that year.
- Unknown Flower, Mesmerizing Journey: Titular track and only original track in the album. Meditative, melancholic, yet hopeful.
Released during that transitional period when ZUN decided to pursue Touhou as his life’s work.
- The Purest Sky and Sea: Slow, meditative, and contemplative. A style not often seen for ZUN, but it works well here.
- Hiroshige No.36 ~ Neo Super-Express: Gives off a leisurely vibe of riding off on a train into the countryside. ZUN is such a master at creating atmosphere.
- Locked Girl ~ the Girl’s Secret Room: Just a good touch up on Patchouli’s theme. Everything sounds fuller and more atmospheric.
My top four albums stand apart from the rest in that each and every track is one I love a lot, whereas for the first six I mostly cared about just a couple tracks.
A very important track to the series is in this CD. The story is also great.
- Kid’s Festival ~ Innocent Treasures: ZUN’s theme he composed for himself for a conference. Full of nostalgia, paired with melancholic lyrics that were never sung. This is one of the most important tracks in the entire series
- Phantasm Machine ~ Phantom Factory: A Seihou Project rearrangement. Very techno and different and anything else in the CD. There’s not a strong melody like usual, but the tension is carried through very nicely. Kind of reminds me of the Kalos Power Plant from Pokemon X and Y.
This CD is the earliest one and is mostly arranges of existing themes. The Touhou Project and Gensokyo it paints in my mind is one that is ancient, primordial, and wild.
- Dichromatic Lotus Butterfly ~ Red and White: Arrangement of Reimu’s cameo theme in the Seihou Project, though I like this arrange much more than the original. It sounds like you’re taking a journey far, far away, to an exotic, primordial, and unknown land.
- Reincarnation: Arrangement Mima’s old theme from Touhou 3. The rich brass trumpet fanfare over the classical Touhou 4-5-6 chord progression is great. In the final chorus, the track lets loose and ends with a screaming trumpet and thunderclap.
- Legend of Hourai: The first track of the CD and of all the tracks here. It’s fitting, as the atmosphere it projects is one that beckons to a curious listener, drawing them in and telling them “this is the world of Touhou”.
This CD is full of fanbase classics.
- Necrofantasia: The definitive version of this famous Touhou 7 track. A new piano bridge section and coda were added which drives this already amazing track further through the roof. After discovering this version, I can’t really listen to the game version anymore.
- The Far Side of the Moon: It really feels like I’m floating in space watching the cosmos go by.
- Demystify Feast: Arrangement from Touhou 7.5. Has the intensity of a boss and all of a sudden erupts into a triumphant chorus.
The atmosphere in every track presented in this CD is masterfully crafted.
- Girls’ Sealing Club: Imperishable Night style guitar line in the bass + strong melody line = love.
- Merry, the Magician: Probably one of the creeepiest themes in the entire series, it’s totally unique amongst its peers.
- Passing on Through the Dendera Fields in the Night: Holds that sense of cautious, dangerous adventure, but still manages to have that ZUN-brand of nostalgia.
I disregard the album releases of the PC-98 game tracks (Akyu’s Untouched Score), as the tracks there do not meaningfully differ from the originals. ↩︎