Witchfu Wednesday: Patchouli Knowledge

Happy Halloween! What better way to celebrate than with some witchy waifu funtimes?

I had to think a bit for this one. I’ve encountered a few delightful witches over my gaming career, but I’ve also already written about a couple of them in detail — most notably Alice Kamishiro from Supipara and Metallia from The Witch and the Hundred Knight.

“Why not take a bit of a sidestep, then?” I thought. Why not take a look at a character I have little more than a passing familiarity with, but would like to know more about? That way I can call it research for a Cover Game feature I’ve been mulling over for a while. And I can also make at least one person on Twitter very happy in the process. (Hi, Kenji.) So, then; let’s learn about Patchouli Knowledge together.

Fanart by Furahata Gen (Pixiv)

Patchouli Knowledge first appeared in 2002’s Embodiment of Scarlet Devil, the sixth game in the Touhou Project and the first to be released for Windows computers rather than the PC-98 platform. She was the fourth boss in that game as well as the midboss of the Extra stage, and was a playable character in both 2004’s “7.5th” game installment Immaterial and Missing Power and 2007’s Scarlet Weather Rhapsody. In total, she’s one of the most frequently seen characters in the series, appearing in a significant majority of the games from the beginning of the Windows era onwards.

She’s a witch who is over a century old, and her magical power is natural and innate rather than the result of training, in contrast to some other members of the Touhou Project’s extended cast. Her main magical ability allows her to manipulate the “five elements” of Chinese Wu Xing philosophy — wood, fire, earth, metal and water — as well as the sun and moon elements. And here’s where it gets a little complicated. But hey, none of us here are ever ones to shy away from a challenge, right?

Fanart by Shino-Puchihebi (Pixiv)

The five Wu Xing elements plus the sun and the moon are used to name the days of the week in a number of East Asian languages, including Japanese. However, the order in which they are presented in the calendar is different to the “order of mutual generation” of Wu Xing presented above; Japanese days of the week, starting on Sunday, run  日曜日 (nichiyoubi, “sun day”, Sunday), 月曜日 (getsuyoubi, “moon day”, Monday), 火曜日 (kayoubi, “fire day”, Tuesday), 水曜日 (suiyoubi, “water day”, Wednesday), 木曜日 (mokuyoubi, “wood day”, Thursday), 金曜日 (kinyoubi, “metal day/gold day”, Friday) and 土曜日 (doyoubi, “earth day”, Saturday). This is the order in which Patchouli manipulates the elements… however, just to further complicate matters, she starts with “Fire”, which corresponds to Tuesday, and is typically regarded as the second “step” in Wu Xing’s mutual generation sequence.

Patchouli’s mastery of these elements allows her to borrow the power of spirits that exist in nature, and as such is able to produce a great deal of power using relatively little of her own energy. She is also able to combine the elements together, but in doing so runs the risk of inhibiting the total effect of her spell unless she carefully controls how they interact with one another.

Fanart by Satou Kibi (Pixiv)

In the Touhou Project, many of the characters’ signature attacks are performed using “spell cards”, in which the user increases their offensive and defensive capabilities considerably at the expense of being able to cast any other magic. Patchouli’s spell cards in Embodiment of Scarlet Devil represent her manipulating the elements in various ways, ranging from single-element cards such as “Fire Sign ‘Agni Shine” to multi-element cards that complement each other in the Wu Xing cycle, such as “Metal & Water Sign ‘Mercury Poison'”. Through these abilities, we get a practical demonstration of Patchouli’s power through game mechanics.

However, Patchouli is not invincible by any means, and in fact it’s her somewhat relatable fragility in other regards that is a big contributing factor in why she’s such a popular character. She suffers from asthma and anaemia and is deficient in vitamin A, with the net result of all this being that despite her enormous magical ability, she is physically inferior to the most average of average human.

Fanart by Namiki (Pixiv)

As you might expect from her name, she is interested in the pursuit of knowledge, and proactively seeks it out. The fact that she is typically presented wearing what appears to be pyjamas and a nightcap at all times of day suggests that her desire for learning is at the expense of certain social niceties, and indeed is often presented as being introverted, quiet or even silent in both the way she interacts with others and in the way she behaves in general.

She’s also a massive nerd, finding satisfaction in strange places at times. For example, in Immaterial and Missing Power, she explains that she rates the effectiveness of a guard on a scale of 1 to 96, because 96 is the highest number under 100 that is divisible by both 2 and 3. If there’s a reason for that being important beyond it just being oddly satisfying in a nerdy sort of way… I have absolutely no idea.

Fanart by Ramudia (Pixiv)

As one of the Touhou Project’s most frequently seen characters, Patchouli has an enormous amount of fanart and merchandise devoted to her, and despite her having a “canonical” appearance, many artists experiment a little with the way she looks, presenting her as everything from a a cute, skinny loli to an adorably squishy, overweight girl — with the latter being a means of obviously, visually reflecting her established physical flaws. Also people who like feet really like Patchouli’s feet, and a significant proportion of fanart reflects that.

As you can probably tell from the information we’ve explored here — much of it courtesy of the exhaustive archives of the Touhou Wiki, so thank you to all the dedicated contributors there — there’s a lot that can be said about not just Patchouli Knowledge, but the Touhou Project cast in general. But we shall save a more detailed exploration of the series as a whole — and its extended cast — for another time and a Cover Game feature. For now, if you take nothing else away from today, at least appreciate Patchouli Knowledge for this Halloween as a super-cute, endearingly flawed witch… and I take no responsibility if you find yourself falling down a Touhou rabbit hole at any point in the near future. Because I suspect I’ll be tumbling down right after you.

More about the Touhou Project

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2 thoughts on “Witchfu Wednesday: Patchouli Knowledge”

  1. I’m a big Touhou fan and a big Patchouli fan. As far as traditional witches go, I guess Marisa is the obvious choice, but for me Patchouli is better. And more relatable – I’d live in a library if I could.

    Liked by 1 person

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