Note Block Beat Box: Listening to U.N. Owen Was Her? from Touhou Project

Note Block Beat Box: Listening to U.N. Owen Was Her? from Touhou Project

What do shrine maidens, classic English literature, and Ronald McDonald all have in common? Well...

I dabble in bullet hell games. That's a silly statement, I know. You don't "dabble" in bullet hell games. You commit to them. You can't exactly take a casual approach to the genre's pixel-perfect maneuvers or complex scoring system.

Regardless, "dabble" is my verb of choice. Though I used to review some of Cave's mobile ports back in the day, my uncoordinated self is more than happy to sit back and browse YouTube for footage of people who know what the hell they're doing. Little girls wielding big lasers is very serious business.

The extensive Touhou Project series is synonymous with bullet hell games, certainly in Japan where it currently reigns as the number-one indie game series.

Primarily put together by one person, Jun'ya "ZUN" Ōta, Touhou is revered for its iconic cast of characters and insane challenge level. But it would be remiss of me not to talk about another reason for Touhou's ongoing popularity: Its soundtrack. ZUN's compositions strike a masterful balance between "meditative" and "blood-boiling" – exactly what you need to pick your way between the petals of literal death-blossoms made of bullets.

One of Touhou's most recognizable songs is U.N. Owen Was Her?, aka Flandre Scarlet's Theme. The tune caps the sixth game, The Embodiment of Scarlet Devil, which was the first Touhou game to receive significant Western recognition.

But our piqued interest in Scarlet Devil can't be attributed solely to the game's top-tier shooting fun. In fact, U.N. Owen Was Her? is widely known on this side of the pond for reasons that have nothing to do with Touhou.

Give the song a listen. It's great, isn't it? But doesn't it remind you of something?

Are you … lovin' it?

In 2008, YouTube was still quite new, and the Rickroll was the greatest comedy prop since the banana peel. Even then, memes birthed more memes, and that's how we got the "McRoll." The McRoll was the go-to troll video for people who considered the Rickroll overused and uncool (potentially after getting Rickrolled by their moms).

The McRoll video consists of spliced footage from Japanese McDonald's commercials. Ronald McDonald (who is Donald McDonald in the Land of the Rising Sun) moves in perfect sync with the stop-and-go rhythm of U.N. Owen Was Her?, and it's quite a sight.

The McRoll made its way through the Western half of the Internet in due time. It currently stands at over 8 million views, which is no small number – and there are mirrors that have likewise garnered millions of eyeballs. As a consequence, when the West hears U.N. Owen Was Her?, we don't immediately think of the young sadistic witch Flandre Scarlet going on the offensive. We think of Ronald McDonald flipping the eff out. Touhou fans who upload the song to YouTube often include an annotation telling listeners that they didn't rip it off the McRoll, but the McRoll was actually birthed by U.N. Owen Was Her?.

The song's cultural cross-pollination doesn't end with memes, either. The title "U.N. Owen Was Her?" isn't a random string of words mangled in a Japanese-to-English translation. It's actually a reference to the classic English novel And Then There Were None (which was originally published under a far less culturally sensitive title).

In the novel, ten people who've committed terrible crimes and escaped justice are lured to an island and killed off one by one. The protagonists all received invites to the island by one "U.N. Owen," and once the guests start popping off in earnest, the survivors begin to wonder who U.N. Owen ("Unknown") actually is.

Spoilers: It's not Flandre Scarlet. But attentive Touhou fans will notice that the witch's health bar has ten stages.

Okay, so U.N. Owen still isn't Flandre Scarlet. Nevertheless, I'm sure she appreciated all the devastation and confusion that occurred on that tiny island of death.

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Nadia Oxford

Staff Writer

Nadia has been writing about games for so long, only the wind and the rain (or the digital facsimiles thereof) remember her true name. She's written for Nerve, About.com, Gamepro, IGN, 1UP, PlayStation Official Magazine, and other sites and magazines that sling words about video games. She co-hosts the Axe of the Blood God podcast, where she mostly screams about Dragon Quest.

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