I've been asked to provide my sources, which is... a little difficult, since most of them are not really journalistically valid. What I do have are as follows:
- Wiki: Touhou Wiki. Note that some places may link to a Wikia site, which, due to various bits of Internet Drama, is reportedly out-of-date, and apparently not official (or at least unofficially official). In short, to prevent being pulled into yet another Stupid Internet Argument, the Touhouwiki.net site is probably better to link to.
- Fancomics: Gensokyo.org, which scanlates a great many doujins. Technically I check Touhou Wiki's collection mostly for convenience, since it's arranged by group.
- Fanart: Danbooru, which is NSFW in its advertisements and a large number of its pictures. Also Pixiv, which is the source of most stuff on Danbooru. Comments on Danbooru are Internet-Reliable, in that anyone who mentions incorrect information has a very good chance of being jumped on almost immediately by several people attempting to correct them.
- Fanvids: Youtube, quite often originally sourced from Nico Nico Douga, which occasionally has more information.
- Fandom: Mostly the English-speaking portion. Chances are any large enough forum with a video gaming section will have a Touhou thread somewhere (even if buried deep by inactivity), and like any other fandom research, it pays to browse through these while lurking (mostly as a Guest, since I don't bother registering). The RPG.net threads linked earlier are the only ones I actively participate in at the moment. Like any other forum-browsing research, it is best to keep in mind the idea of not believing everything that is written without verification. Most of it is raw data, rather than actual information.
Anyway, for Touhou characters, the best place to start is probably with the two main characters.
Reimu is the protagonist and primary player character of the Touhou games, inasmuch as the games have a protagonist. She is the resident miko (loosely translated to "shrine maiden") of the Hakurei Shrine, which sits at the border between Gensokyo and the real world, and has some undefined (read: contradictory canon) relationship with that supernatural border. As such, Reimu has inherited the powers and responsibilities of the previous Hakurei shrine maidens, which include having the Great Hakurei Barrier (ie the border between Gensokyo and the real world) be dependent on her maintaining it, and having to exterminate every youkai she comes across to protect humans.
However, she's also lazy and easy-going, and she would much rather not give any sort of damn. She would much rather spend her days doing whatever she feels like doing, which in most cases boils down to "nothing". It's her job to resolve the incidents which threaten Gensokyo, and she'll eventually do it, but expect lots of grumbling and complaining.
She is technically a pure human (rather than, say, half-youkai or whatever), and her abilities are available to her Just Because The Plot Says So. While she's supposed to age normally as humans do, it's best to assume that she (and everyone else) lives in Comic Book Time. ZUN's art makes it difficult to guess her age, but there are hints that she's supposedly in her early teens. This does not prevent her, or anyone else, from drinking enough alcohol to cause massive liver failure in lesser beings.
Reimu's exact denomination as a miko is fuzzy; at the time Gensokyo was fully isolated from the rest of the world in 1885, Shinto was in the process of being unified into an official state religion in Japan. Previously, there would be all sorts of Shinto doctrines that might be specific to regions or even individual shrines, which might explain why the Hakurei Shrine doesn't quite resemble other Shinto shrines, even putting aside the Taoist influences with the whole Yin-Yang symbolism. Presumably this not-quite-orthodoxy carried forward into Gensokyo's present day.
As a video game miko, Reimu is capable of tossing out infinite numbers of talismans and ofuda (slips of paper with blessed/cursed writing on them, used for various purposes in Real Life not including projectile weaponry) at her enemies, as well as spirit-exorcising needles and seals and whatnot. These are often homing, although it varies between games; more on this a bit later. In the fighting games and various comics, she can also use her gohei (the long stick mikos often have with the paper tail attached) to whack people.
Reimu also supposedly has some sort of martial arts training. Somehow.
Her greatest weapon, however, is the ancestral Hakurei Yin-Yang Orb, which looks the part. Supposedly it has immense power against youkai and other supernaturals, but Reimu has not yet unlocked the true potential of the Orbs yet. It should be noted that in the PC-98 games, the Hakurei Yin-Yang Orb technically confers to Reimu certain special powers:
- The ability to eat sweets and not get fat
- The ability to smell like anything pleasant you want to
- The ability to disguise the Yin-Yang Orb as a cat
This will hopefully give an idea of what sort of atmosphere the games were intended to be played in.
In the Windows era, Reimu gained the ability to fly under her own power. (In the PC-98 era, she had to ride on a flying turtle named Genjii, who is said by ZUN to reside at the back of the Hakurei shrine in a pond now, although there is little detail on whether this is a real answer or a flippant one.) Now, normally "the ability to fly" is kind of the default state of just about everyone remotely significant in the Touhou-verse, but Reimu takes it further: she can fly above reality, and presumably into some sort of hyperspace dimension. This is, in fact, an aspect of her "Fantasy Seal -Blink-" spellcard, where she teleports around, unhittable and invincible while phased. Several implications are made that if Reimu so wished, she could just phase herself out of reality, and blast away at everyone else with impunity.
Yes, this is not very fair. Touhou-verse abilities seldom are.
As a miko, despite not acting like a miko, Reimu can also channel the various Shinto gods. These are numbered at eight million, which is kind of a poetic way of saying "innumerable", and each one can help her in whatever ways she wishes if she manages to convince them.
Despite all of this, Reimu hates training, and every one of her abilities comes from natural talent. One of the official side manga (Silent Sinner in Blue) implies that if Reimu got serious and trained herself to her full potential, she would be unbeatable. Reimu, for her part, thinks that's just way too much trouble. Even her homing attacks are handwaved-explained as Reimu just happening to decide to shoot this way instead of any other way, based on what amounts to basically a flash of impulse.
On a tangent, I suspect Reimu's homing attacks in the shooting games may be to make her the default player character for new players, so they can concentrate on the dodging rather than the aiming. I'm almost certain this is in fact the case, but I haven't been able to find any direct sources saying as much.
The one consistent aspect of Reimu's personality in fanworks is that she's lazy. That's pretty much about it, which makes Reimu's characterization one of those with the widest variance in fanon. Reimu has been depicted with varying levels of scariness in hypercompetence, as well as varying degrees of seriousness and blood-thirstiness.
According to her official profiles, Reimu is easygoing and optimistic, and entirely straightforward with her feelings: if she's happy, she acts happy, and if she's sad, she acts sad. From her dialogue in the official side works (which are more substantial than the bantering in the games), she's also prone to complaining and grumbling, especially about whatever is inconveniencing her at the moment. This is portrayed somewhat like the usual behaviour of a typical teenage girl (or a typical teenager in general); when she's complaining, she's pretty much just venting, and she expects you to be listening even when you're not.
Reimu's optimism manifests in the attitude of "well, everything will turn out fine somehow". She doesn't think through most problems, or plan for anything, but follows her intuition most of the time, which generally leads her to the right place anyway. As such, during the games, the first few stages are spent mostly meandering around the vague direction of wherever the latest incident seems to originate from, beating up bosses who are unrelated to the grand scheme of things other than simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Despite this, Reimu is said to be quite popular among both humans and youkai, at least when she doesn't have a reputation of being utterly merciless in exterminating youkai. Supposedly her carefree nature makes her an easy friend or something, although she doesn't really seem to reciprocate those feelings of friendship in all cases, feeling a mild annoyance at best at uninvited guests.
Reimu is also a friend to animals... or rather, animals are friends to Reimu, while Reimu has no idea that she has this sort of power. She has crossed rivers unwittingly because fish swam up to the surface to form a path for her, all while Reimu was lost in thought. No explanation is given for this.
There is absolutely nothing revealed on Reimu's family or relatives, if she even has any; the closest thing we know is that Reimu is the latest in a long line of Hakurei Shrine Maidens, but she is unusually lazy for one. Reimu lives alone in the Hakurei Shrine (not counting canonically-dubious ancient flying turtles or evil spirits), and goes through the motions of maintaining it at her own pace. Since she has no motivation to do anything strenuous, she doesn't get very many donations, and thus not much income. In addition, she has no idea who the god of her shrine actually is, and it is implied that this lack of divinity in the Hakurei Shrine is how all the youkai can approach it (and hang out) at will. Reimu has made a couple of attempts to increase the general shrine-ness level, but she tends to forget about it after a day or so.
Ever since the Windows era, Reimu's outfit has had a certain sleeved-sleeveless quality: the shirt portion leaves her shoulders and upper arms bare, but she also wears long flowing sleeves detached from the rest of her outfit. This has led to her primary distinguishing feature to be her bare armpits, which has taken on memetic status.
Apart from that, she has a red-and-white colour scheme, leading to her nickname of "red-white". She usually wears a large red bow ribbon on her hair and a yellow ascot ribbon at her neck, and is usually seen wielding a gohei. Yin-Yang symbols may be seen around her as a motif.
As mentioned, Reimu's personality is all over the place in fanworks. Apart from comedic works, they do tend to portray her as being able to do anything and everything without effort, possibly due to the hypercompetence required for a player to be able to complete the games in the first place. Sometimes her laziness is shown to be a false front, as is her easygoing personality.
Her lack of donations has also led to her being portrayed as pretty much destitute and desperate for cash. This ties in to her habit of beating up random bosses until she gets on the right track, causing fans to imagine her basically extorting people for money.
A popular idea in fanworks is that if Reimu wants to have a romantic partner (of either gender), it has to be a full human, due to Some Plot Point; common explanations include some sort of Hakurei Shrine tradition, be it an old musty rule that has no bearing on present day, or an actively important requirement that would dictate Gensokyo's survival. Drama Via Forbidden Love is available either way.
Being a character with many appearances (the most in fact, due to being the Main Character; I think her only absence is in Shoot The Bullet), Reimu gets quite a few themes from when you have to fight her in certain games. The most famous is probably "Maiden's Capriccio ~ Dream Battle" from Imperishable Night (TH08), which is itself a remix/remaster of "Maiden's Capriccio" from the PC-98 Lotus Land Story (TH04). (Yes, I know about the TH7.5 IaMP version remix. Too complicated to explain.) I can't comment on the others, since I haven't really gotten used to them yet.
For fan remixes, possibly the most popular is by IOSYS, "Neko Miko Reimu" ("Kitty Shrine Maiden Reimu"). Which is itself a remix of their earlier remix (yo dawg) "Special Power Of Exposing Moonlit Nights" (or "Waki Miko Reimu": "Armpit Shrine Maiden Reimu"). If you prefer something more Serious, there's an orchestrated version by Scarlatto di Levante (who do orchestrated stuff in general).
For remixes used in fanvids, the first one which springs to mind is from the first Touhou Kinema Kan, which is kind of a fan attempt to make anime-esque (as in worthy of anime) videos to music (almost all from the circle Hatsunetsumiko's, the chief credited name of which is "Tim Vegas", although I have no idea about the details). In this case, "Under The Quiet Moon ~ The Girl From Fantasy", a quiet relaxing soft-jazzy piece. Don't worry about all the other characters in there for now. (If that link goes down, there's another one here as part of the full video. You can watch the rest if you want, assuming you don't mind not knowing who anyone is.)
Marisa is Reimu's opposite in a lot of ways. Where Reimu is lazy, Marisa is driven to succeed. Where Reimu relies on natural talent, Marisa works hard to get to where she is. Where fighting Reimu would require reading the patterns, fighting Marisa would mean trying to survive the chaos.
There might be something about how Marisa is the Western Witch to Reimu's Japanese Miko, but Marisa's fairly Japanese as well, despite her appearance.
Marisa describes herself proudly as an Ordinary Magician, in that she's a human being (ie not a supernatural creature like a youkai) who managed to learn enough magic and has enough magical power to become the other main character of the series: second place to Reimu, basically. She is the other Incident Resolver of Gensokyo, not least because she loves to stick her nose into all sorts of trouble out of sheer curiosity and enthusiasm. Of course, Marisa is also an inveterate liar, so how Ordinary she really is may be uncertain. She certainly plays up the whole Witch angle, complete with big pointy hat, broomstick, and magical experiments involving mixing up stuff in cauldrons.
Weirdly, Marisa tends to try to hide her hardworking nature behind a carefree exterior, pretending that she is Just That Good. She is certainly hugely confident, and fanworks vary on how much this is due to rightful pride, and how much is masking hypothetical insecurities. Her preferred method of dealing with obstacles is basically Full Power Straight Ahead Blast, with as much danmaku as she can pump out. Most of these danmaku attacks are copies of other people's from previous confrontations, which fits into her character trait of being an unrepentant thief.
Marisa has a lot of power to spare, and is the most willing to use it as a direct application of force. Keywords here are Firepower, Flashy, Shock, and Awe. She's one of the more physically-active of the known magicians of Gensokyo (admittedly there are only like four), and the only full human one (in Gensokyo, "magician" is apparently a youkai species in its own right). She really, really likes lasers, star-shaped bullets, more lasers, and bigger lasers, culminating in her various screen-shaking spellcards.
Starting in the Windows games, Marisa has a signature attack: the Master Spark, a giant Holy Crap Did You Just See That Freaking Huge Magical Laser beam. An illustration of how this works is one of the more enduring memetic images, not least because it was originally stated by ZUN:
The Master Spark's spellcard invocation is "Love Sign [Master Spark]", which is not the only "Love"-themed spell in Marisa's repertoire; exactly how a giant superpowered laser relates to love is unexplained, but it does fit her philosophy, and plays into fanon quite a bit. Variations of the Master Spark include Double Spark, Final Spark (now no longer "Love Sign" but "Magicannon"), and Final Master Spark, all of which are as pants-wettingly impressive as they sound.
Marisa's Master Spark (and a few other spells) is actually powered by a small handheld magical artefact, with a fairly hard-to-translate name; it has been translated as the Mini-Hakkero (a near-direct transliteration), the Mini Eight Trigrams Reactor (a direct translation), and the Mini Elemental Reactor (another translation). Summarizing a tangent into Chinese mythology: the legendary Sun Wukong (or Son Goku if you prefer Japanese, or even Monkey as he has been called in Western adaptations), after causing much havoc in heaven, was stuffed into the original Eight Trigrams Reactor as basically a death sentence, since the Eight Trigrams Reactor contained the "true flame" which was supposed to kill and purify Wukong and turn him into an elixir. (Wukong survived the sentence, powered-up from the flames, and proceeded to rampage through heaven again anyway, but that's another story.) Therefore, Marisa's Mini-Hakkero (term used for typing convenience) supposedly calls upon the power of this true flame.
If you're wondering, the Eight Trigrams are the ones you see in the I Ching or Taoist stuff. Someone more well-versed than I am can speculate on how Marisa is using the trigrams to power her Master Spark.
The Mini-Hakkero is not Marisa's own creation; it was given to her as a gift by one Rinnosuke Morichika, a half-youkai shopkeeper who's basically a noncombatant observer/snarker. How he actually made it is unknown, since he acts like it wasn't that big a thing. More on him when we get to his part of the character profiles much, much later.
Fanon likes to involve the Mini-Hakkero in another one of Marisa's spells, "Blazing Star", where she attaches the Mini-Hakkero to her broomstick for extra speed, and tries to ram you in an inverse application of the Kzinti Lesson. The Mini-Hakkero is also used in the official spinoffs as a perpetual power source.
Non-Hakkero magic involves lots of lasers anyway, as well as a strong astronomy motif largely consisting of stars everywhere. Marisa also notably (as in, this is something people like to point out) has copies of abilities previously used by magicians she has faced before, mainly from Patchouli Knowledge (again, more on her when we get to her part). In fact, the Master Spark itself is supposedly copied from another character, Yuuka Kazami (more on her etc), although I have to wonder how closely one can patent the concept of, well, Freaking Huge Magical Laser.
Marisa can also fly sans her broom; presumably she just has a broomstick because That's What Witches Do. (Also for stuff like Blazing Star.) Her broomstick has absorbed enough magical power of its own to be noticeably weird, like having leaves sprout on it. Fanon speculates on whether it has achieved sentience.
Marisa's most obvious trait is confidence. When she steals things, she barges in the front door, grabs what she wants while announcing that she's "borrowing" it, and then barges back out; her reasoning is that since she mostly steals from youkai, who are much longer-lived than humans like herself, they can collect their belongings after she's dead. Fanon is understandably skeptical on whether she will actually keep this promise.
However, Marisa's stealing habit is not so much greed as kleptomania: she has been shown in canon works to be psychologically incapable of throwing things away once she collects them. She lives alone in a run-down house, filled with random junk, in the middle of the Forest of Magic, which is basically those Dark And Dangerous Woods you hear about in fairy tales. This house doubles as her shop, the Kirisame Magic Shop, which purports to do everything from youkai extermination to fireworks to plumbing, payment only upon success. However, Marisa is seldom in her house/shop (during daylight hours anyway), preferring to hang out at the Hakurei Shrine bothering Reimu instead.
Marisa's family actually has some reference in the official works, which is something of a first; she is estranged from her father, who runs a shop in the Human Village, and who used to apprentice Rinnosuke (yes, him again) when Marisa was still a small child. She is probably an only daughter; we don't see what her father's reaction is (or even see her father at all), but Marisa is clearly reluctant to be reminded of her family. Fanon speculates that this estrangement is due to Marisa's magical leanings, since Marisa's father's shop is a second-hand one that nevertheless does not deal in any magical goods.
Marisa's obsession, other than stealing and stars, is magical research, and since the Forest of Magic is home to a tremendous variety of magical mushrooms, this constitutes a great deal of what people see her researching. Especially when, after preparing the collected mushrooms into a sort of blocked mass, she experiments with it by throwing it at people to see what it does. This has yet to turn up in an official game, although I believe it is only a matter of time.
Marisa is also an outrageous liar: when accused of being one by a Judge Of The Dead (long story, told in Phantasmagoria of Flower View, TH09), she baldly states that she has never told a lie in her life. Oddly enough, this has become something of a charm point for her; imagine the daring, dashing thief who breaks into a lady's room and promises, with roguish wit, to steal her away one day. That's pretty much what Marisa would do, and to her it would all be in good fun, whether or not she actually follows through.
She has a certain rough, unladylike manner of speaking, although not to the point of actually using male pronouns in Japanese. This is most popularly known by her copula exclamation of "ze", which has been transformed by fanon into more or less her catchphrase appended at the end of every sentence, even in English translations. It's a little hard to describe the sort of person the "ze" speech pattern is supposed to signify, but it's often associated with street thugs and other such ruffians. No explanation is given on why Marisa talks like this.
Marisa's primary identifying feature, apart from her Freaking Huge Magical Laser, is her Freaking Huge Witch Hat. Even official works note (in-universe) that you'll probably recognize her by spotting the big black hat. In canon and fanon, she keeps stuff in it when she's out of pockets, although the stuff she keeps in it range from wine bottles to mushrooms to magical explosives.
Other than that, her outfit tends towards black and white, earning her the nicknames of "black-white" and "monochrome". In each game, she has been adding and subtracting various other accessories, although by the time of Undefined Fantastic Object (TH12) it begins to look downright ridiculous. She usually has a single braid (of varying thickness depending on artist) on the left side of her face.
Fanon has agreed that Marisa does not really have much of a chest, although in most ZUN art, nobody really does.
Marisa's motif, as mentioned several times before, is astronomy and lasers. Also, "ze".
Marisa is possibly the most popular Touhou character, surpassing even Reimu. Brimful of personality (and brimful of hat), she is instantly-recognizable and often a scene-stealer. (Pun intended.)
A common portrayal of her in fanworks is that of a ladies' lady, charming and seducing more or less the entire population of Gensokyo in the finest manner of the archetypical womanizer in fiction. While she has been paired with just about everyone, a few die-hard pairings remain serious and frequent fanwork topics:
- Reimu Hakurei, due to being fellow player characters.
- Alice Margatroid, fan-favourite pairing number one, due to being fellow magicians, fellow PC-98 characters, and partners in both Imperishable Night (TH08) and Subterranean Animism (TH11). Also, when Marisa isn't hanging around the Hakurei Shrine, fanon places her at Alice's house (mooching food and books) more often than not. I'll explain more when we get to her.
- Patchouli Knowledge, fan-favourite pairing number two, due to being fellow magicians, partners (or an option to be so, at least) in Subterranean Animism, and Patchouli being a frequent victim of Marisa's raids into her library. Again, I'll explain more when we get to her.
- Nitori Kawashiro, due to being yet another partner option in Subterranean Animism. That... seems to be about it, I think.
- Rinnosuke Morichika, fan-favourite pairing number three, due to Rinnosuke's earlier-mentioned apprenticeship with the Kirisame family, Rinnosuke giving Marisa the hugely powerful Mini-Hakkero as a gift, Marisa (and Reimu) hanging out at Rinnosuke's store when they're bored, and Rinnosuke being pretty much the one eligible known male character in the Touhou-verse.
- Flandre Scarlet, which I'll get to when I infodump on Embodiment of Scarlet Devil (TH06).
Due to a bug in Mountain of Faith (TH10), where using Marisa-B (ie lasers) at a certain non-maxed power level resulted in ludicrously-increased damage, there is also Cho-Marisa, a heavily-muscled ultra-manly version of Marisa, or at least a muscular guy dressed like Marisa.
Fancomics and fanvids often have Marisa be less agile than Reimu, but willing to barrel through the danmaku against her through sheer force of will. This seems to allow the fanworks to show Marisa getting hit, and immediately countering with a Master Spark to recover.
Something I'm not sure about regarding canonicity is Marisa's claim of being the third-fastest in all of Gensokyo. Not whether she is, since that's covered under "Outrageous Liar", but whether she ever did make that claim. It's popular enough in fanworks to be considered fanon at least, and I think it's canon, but I can't seem to find any references.
Marisa's past incarnation in the PC-98 games has spawned even more fanon; in those games, she is the apprentice/subordinate of an evil spirit (self-proclaimed) named Mima, who is probably the one PC-98 character not yet ported to the Windows era that fans want to see more of. Mostly because Mima is hilarious, and loves hamming it up as a villain every chance she gets, lying even more outrageously than Marisa. We'll get to her in a possible PC-98 retrospective, but the gist is that Marisa's backstory in the Windows games don't really fit neatly with her backstory in the PC-98 games without a lot of awkwardness, which results once again in fanon taking over.
Marisa, like Reimu, has several theme songs. Also like Reimu, she has one which is undeniably hers: "Love-Coloured Master Spark" from Imperishable Night (TH08), a remix/remaster of "Love-Coloured Magic" from Story of Eastern Wonderland (TH02). Unlike Reimu, Marisa's themes don't really have a stand-out one which catches the fandom imagination over any other, so I'll just list out the ones I tend to listen to. Note that I like pop/sugary stuff, and I dislike metal, so the many metal remixes of this song (and this song lends itself well to metal, apparently) will go mostly unremarked.
There's Liz Triangle's "Material Star", which sounds like something out of a Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha opening. Liz Triangle tends to make vocal remixes of just about every theme in the series anyway, with quality ranging from decent to awesome.
"Koi iro no Yume" ("Love-Coloured Dreams") by SoundHolic, for a disco-pop feel. I kind of get the feeling SoundHolic is incredibly prolific and significant, and they seem to remix into a great many genres, but I don't know much about them per se.
Cool And Create (technically COOL&CREATE, but I'm looking warily at that ampersand in case it decides to mess up the formatting somehow) gives us "LaserMari Is Not Difficult". Cool And Create is one of those groups who definitely sound like they're having a blast with these remixes, and it's infectious, particularly when the lead singer Beat Mario decides to get silly.
WAVE, and the arranger Morrigan, is famous for ridiculously epic choral/orchestral mixes, including "Powered By Maxwell's Demon". Allegedly Latin Chorus, although I've not been able to figure out the lyrics.
And for a bonus with WAVE and Cool And Create, a collaboration in "Endless Dream", combining "Love-Coloured Master Spark" with "Maiden's Capriccio ~ Dream Battle".
Anyway. Other Marisa themes include "Vessel of Stars ~ Casket of Star", here in Scarlet Weather Rhapsody (TH10.5) version; the original was from Lotus Land Story (TH04). About the only remix I know which caught my eye was a Kinema Kan production, "Touhou Kourindou", focusing more on Rinnosuke than Marisa.
The third Marisa theme I can recognize is "Magus Night" from Fairy Wars (TH12.8, and yes, the numbering system is ridiculous). For this, we have Liz Triangle once again with "Girl's War". There may be others, especially since 12.8 is pretty much the newest non-demo game, and "Magus Night" is considered to be the best song in it. (Personally I prefer "Great Fairy War", but that's just me.)
Depending on the character popularity/complexity, some write-ups will be just as long and meandering, while others will be maybe two lines or something.