LET’S DISCOVER THE SECRET OF A GOOD SMILE!
In May 2021, Good Smile Company will welcome its 20th Anniversary. Good Smile Company is well known for the creation and manufacturing of many popular figures, such as the Nendoroid series, as well as their game development and animation studios that have produced several popular works. Through collaboration with popular anime, games and artists, Good Smile Company has had a profound impact on the Japanese pop culture industry over the years. By taking a look at past collaborations and the people that were driving forces behind them, we hope to unravel a bit of Good Smile Company's 20 year history. This time, let's take a look at Good Smile Company's relationship with the series that started as a doujin game and blossomed into a popular multimedia titan—"Touhou Project".
The business relationship between Touhou Project and the Nendoroid series goes back over ten years.
The primary goal has always been "to make the fans happy."
Touhou Project (Touhou) started in 1996 with a Shoot 'em up game created by the doujin circle Team Shanghai Alice. The fictional world of Gensokyo that the game takes place in, its various charming residents and the wealth of background music used for the game have sparked the creation of countless doujinshi, doujin games, arrangement CDs and other derivative works. Not only are there still many Touhou doujin circles at popular hobby events like Comic Market (Comiket) and Wonder Festival (WonFes), every year the Touhou-only Hakurei Shrine Grand Festival event is held, still gathering fans over 20 years after the series began. From a pop culture perspective, Touhou is certainly a hallmark.
The first Touhou collaboration item created with Good Smile Company was Nendoroid Reimu Hakurei, released in August 2009. Takuro Akiyama (Planning Department Director), one Good Smile Company staff member who worked on the Nendoroid, had this to say about the process at the time:
“Now the Nendoroid series includes over 1400 figures, but Nendoroid Reimu Hakurei was just Nendoroid #74. The Nendoroid was created just 4 years after Good Smile Company started producing Nendoroids. Now we put out over 200 Nendoroids a year, but at the time, the manufacturing process wasn't nearly as robust, so we could only produce about 20 in a single year, and not many people even knew of the Nendoroid brand at all. Even so, we contacted the Touhou Project publisher about selling a Nendoroid in 2008.
Touhou was an extremely popular series at the time, and despite being created by a doujin circle, it had a strong enough fanbase to do Touhou-only events every year. At events like Comiket and WonFes, you'd almost assuredly see fans cosplaying the characters and all kinds of derivative works created by fans, so we wanted to make a Nendoroid for all of the fans of the series.”
Nendoroid Reimu Hakurei
At the time, the Nendoroid series featured primarily characters from anime and game series, so it was quite a departure from the norm to create a figure of a character from a doujin work. Not only that, but it was also unusual for a company to put out a figure of a series that grew so much from fan-created derivative works.
“Considering all of the unusual circumstances surrounding it, at first we thought that there was no way we'd be able to get permission to create a figure as a company, so we weren't particularly worried about potentially being rejected. At the time though, Good Smile Company was far from a major company, and we still worked hard selling our figures on our own at WonFes. Due to that, we had a very small company feel that I think worked perfect for this situation.
We had talked over all kinds of conditions for selling it, like not going through big distributors. In the end, we ended up not selling it overseas at first, then got permission to do so sometime later after working with them for a while.”
And so Nendoroid Reimu Hakurei was created and released. The reception was better than expected, which resulted in around 20 Touhou Nendoroids such as Nendoroid Marisa Kirisame being released.
Nendoroid Marisa Kirisame
It really made a buzz within the fan community, and since all of the characters have their own dedicated fanbases, we received a lot of feedback from all kinds of fans within the community. Touhou is different from most series in that there are no official character reference documents provided by the publisher, so you have to take a look at how the fan community generally represents the character when creating the figure.
In general, the publisher of the original work plays a large role in supervising the creation of every figure. First, all of the expressions that will be included with the figure and optional parts are written on a specification sheet which is sent to the publisher for approval. Next, they must also check the colorless prototype and approve that. Finally, they check the painted product and send their final approval. Only then can a Nendoroid be sent off for production. When asked about the approval process with Touhou, Mr. Akiyama said, "They've put their full faith in us for the production of figures. I've never felt they were strict about anything."
By valuing the views of the fans in the creation process, Good Smile Company has been able to create all kinds of Nendoroids from the Touhou series over the past 10 years. Mr. Akiyama said this about the influence Touhou brought to the Nendoroid series:
“It's a very rare case in the Nendoroid series for us to be able to put out so many different Nendoroids from a series over 10 years. Each Nendoroid has a number, and we always try to use the numbers that end in "00" for Nendoroids that have been important to us, so in 2017, we made Nendoroid Reimu Hakurei 2.0 number 700. I think with that we were able to communicate how important the Touhou series has been to us over the years.”
Nendoroid Reimu Hakurei 2.0
Touhou Project×Good Smile Company: New Challenges
The Creation of the Smartphone Game "Touhou Lost Word"
Nendoroids have always taken center stage at Good Smile when it comes to the Touhou series, but in 2020, Good Smile Company started a new Touhou smartphone game, creating another derivative work for the series. Kantaro Iwasa (COO/Corporate Planning Department Director), the driving force that got the project started, gave us a look into how he got the ball rolling.
“Before Touhou Lost Word, we announced a smartphone game called Grand Summoners. After gaining experience from running that for 1 or 2 years, we decided we wanted to try to make another game.
Since we work with all kinds of IPs, we wanted to create a game based on an existing IP this time, as opposed to the original IP Grand Summoners. We had been thinking about making a game based on the Touhou Project, and got the OK when we had asked the publisher about it. I think we had really exceptional timing when coming up with the project.”
And thus the new derivative smartphone game Touhou Lost Word got its start. Despite being a smartphone game, Good Smile Company's philosophy on creating the game was no different from creating figures.
“While it is a derivative work, we didn't want to break the popular image of the Touhou series within the fan community in our game. It's somewhat difficult to interpret the series in our own way for the game while preserving the popular fan image of the game at the same time, but it's definitely the thing we were most careful about.
Furthermore, it's most important for fans to be able to see their favorite characters in the game, so we also were really careful when creating illustrations for the game. If the colors are too strong, or if there are too many unique elements to the design, that won't work, but on the other hand, you can't be too bland or else the characters won't be cute. It was really important for us to find a balance in the character design.”
Touhou Lost Word's story takes place in Gensokyo, and is about an amnesiac traveler searching through the world and meeting its inhabitants along the way. By recruiting new friends with offerings, the player uses cards to strengthen their unique party and utilizes character types and shot types in order to advance through combat stages, making for a simple-but-addictive RPG system. The game was also made in order to attract a wide variety of players.
“Usually in smartphone games, there ends up being a pattern of doing the same things over and over again in order to raise your level, don't you think? We wanted to create a system that wasn't too hard for players to understand, so beginners could jump in and play easily as well. That is something we really focused on in development. Of course, it's important to have challenging elements to the game, otherwise it wouldn't be fun, but we also wanted to create an interesting experience for players who enjoy the series and characters, and just want to play through the story.
We also tried something new with giving each character 3 different voices. Normally in games, characters only have one voice, but in case a certain voice doesn't match a player's idea of what a character sounds like, we wanted to give them the option to change it.”
Touhou Lost Word in-game screen
Touhou Lost Word was made to preserve the Touhou derivative work feeling in a polished game form. It's only been 3 months since the game's launch in Japan, but Mr. Iwasa says, "We've received a lot of positive reviews from players."
“In a time when smartphone games seem to be getting more and more complex and rich, Touhou Lost Word was made with a very simple experience in mind. I think we're very fortunate that the fan community accepts our game. It really makes me happy to see it.”
The Ever-Expanding Figure and Game Markets
What is in store for the future for Touhou and Good Smile Company?
It's been over ten years since the first Nendoroid from Touhou released, and now this year, the new game Touhou Lost Word made its debut. What is coming next for Good Smile Company and their long-running partnership with Touhou?
“One great thing about smartphone games is that they're free. And, as long as you have a smartphone, people of all ages can play them. We hope people that don't know the series will be drawn in by Lost Word and come to like the Touhou series, and then contribute to the fan community in their own way.
Another great thing about smartphone games is being able to send out content across the globe. We have plans to release Touhou Lost Word internationally in the future. We hope that Touhou fans abroad and people that don't know the series with all be able to enjoy the game. In growing the fanbase, I feel like we'll be able to return a favor to the Touhou series, in a sense.”
While Mr. Iwasa has high aspirations for the game and its international release, Mr. Akiyama mentioned wanting to generate even more excitement for Touhou Lost Word in figure form. One part of that plan is Good Smile Company's first ever Touhou scale figure.
“When it comes to Touhou scale figures, we've distributed them in the past before, but have never created one as a company. There are plenty of Nendoroids from the Touhou series, but as for Good Smile Company's scale figures, there hasn't been one yet. In order to continue to grow the Touhou fanbase globally, we've always wanted to use all of the techniques at our disposal to create a truly detailed scale figure for fans to enjoy.
I've always personally felt like the Touhou series has placed incredible value in its fanbase from the very beginning. Good Smile Company too has only grown so large due to the dedicated fanbase of the company, and in that way I have a lot of respect for the Touhou series as a leader of sorts. I hope we'll be able to produce so many Touhou scale figures in the future, and be able to demonstrate the charm of the series to fans across the globe as well.”
1/8 Scale Figure Reimu Hakurei
The shrine maiden of Hakurei Shrine.
From the Touhou Project derivative RPG game "Touhou Lost Word" comes a 1/8th scale figure of the shrine maiden of Hakurei Shrine, Reimu Hakurei! The scale figure is based on an illustration by Touhou Lost Word illustrator Rote Yumeno. The original illustration features a specially drawn expression, drawn for the purpose of making the figure. The figure also features various effect parts recreated with translucent parts to match the original illustration. Her flowing hair and skirt have also been sculpted with care. Be sure to add her to your collection!
©GOOD SMILE COMPANY, INC. / NextNinja Co., Ltd.