I'm not usually one to get excited over "fandoms" and "niches" and series' "canon" or really "things" in general. I do my homework when something catches my interest or seems relevant enough, so I could certainly hold my own in an intelligent conversation, but there isn't really much intelligent conversation to be had on the subject of cute Japanese cartoon girls shooting at each other with magical spells. It's like trying to write a thesis on Evangelion and Princess Mononoke -- you'll sound really smart, but only in the realm of worthless nerd crap; and more importantly, no one will ever take you seriously.
I am, however, finding myself more and more fond of Touhou by the day. Surprisingly enough, I haven't really played any of the Touhou games -- any of them. I know a fairly good bit about them, but I've never touched them. Yes, yours truly -- bastion of all things MAN; vessel of hotblooded burning courage and fiery manly passion; the pinnacle of manly exuberance and youthful explosion -- has been tempted by the dozens of cutesy fairies and shrine maidens of the Touhou-verse.
For those of you that have been completely and totally lost up until this point, "Touhou" is the name of a series of games made by a particularly prolific one-man video game creator named "ZUN." In ZUN's games, a menagerie of characters interact in a place called "Gensokyo," a fantasy land heavily influenced by ancient Japanese folklore and myth. The games themselves are in their 12th reiteration I believe, not to mention all of the other fan-made projects.
I know more about the characters than I do anything else. Shoutout to Touhou fans: I'm particularly fond of Shameimaru, Momiji, Cirno, Nitori, Flandre, Yukari, Reimu, Suwako, Yakumo Chen, Tewi and Hong Meiling...and have been told numerous times that I have weird tastes, because these characters are taken from multiple versions and many of them have little or no relation to each other. If anything my taste in characters is weird because I really have no practical knowledge of the characters and really only have neat pictures and funny youtubes to go by. You could say that this is the scattered selection of someone who truly knows nothing about anything Touhou-related. If anything, I have weird tastes because I very quickly became a fan of the Touhou M-1 Gran Prix comedy shows after finding a scattered group of them on the 'tubes:
I can only imagine that engrossing myself in cutesy little anime girls shooting magic bullets at each other can only lead to a rapid and viciously thorough decline in social functionality, but I'm going to try and approach this as scientifically as possible. There really is something at the heart of all things Touhou that intrigues me -- something completely unrelated to the games and something very much worth exploring. How was it that I, a particularly skeptical, picky consumer of media, have been drawn in to this particular franchise -- because Touhou is, after all, its own franchise, officially held by ZUN's company Shanghai Alice Ensemble -- without any exposure to the primary medium? I know enough about Touhou to answer my own question here -- the fans.
Why? Because much of the content outside of the games created for Touhou is created by fans. The brand itself is a two-part grassroots organization -- on one hand there is ZUN, the owner and "creator" of the brand; then there is the fanbase that has formed around it. These fans produce tons -- literally, tons -- of content, from art assets, to music videos and song remixes, stories, comedy specials (M-1 Gran Prix!) and even entire games. The plotlines and character interactions are directed by ZUN through the games, but the fanbase itself takes over for the details and fluff.
I'm sure there's plenty to be said about the effect of consumer interaction in grassroots brands such as this, but that's neither here nor there. I think I'm drawn to that sense of grassroots development; the idea that everyone is writing to this story as it grows older. Sure, ZUN is in control, but the large majority of the content one might find online, outside of ZUN's official work, is fan-created. It's a wonder that people can get drawn into the brand solely based on the secondary, unofficial work done by fans, without any prior experience with the primary medium. It's kind of weird, when you think about it -- it's essentially like deciding you like Coka-Cola because of the ad campaigns, without ever having bought any of the drinks. Don't get me wrong -- I've heard the games are amazing. I haven't gotten into those yet, though. I have only just begun to scratch the surface of this multi-tiered phenomenon, but that's okay -- I'm happy with my M-1 Gran Prix for now.