Updated on November 17, 2019.
“Oh, I want to start with BUTAOTOME. But what you would recommend?!”
With their LAAAAAAAAARGE discography, anyone who would like to start to listen to them would probably stare at the screen and say “ok… and now? Where can I start?”. Here is Violet, who will try to help you!
For Touhou arrange listeners, the first recommended approach is often “check the arranges of your favorite themes”. You can check the list of songs and ctrl+f your desired theme. With BUTAOTOME’s large track catalog, you should find at least an arrangement of your favorites in 85% of the cases. While you won’t find rare PC-98/Seihou themes (except those arranged by everybody, like Bad Apple or Reimu/Marisa/Yuuka/Alice’s themes), there are some unusual themes, like Lunatic Blue or Uni Akiyama stuff that is not Broken Moon. Also, lots of Hifuu/ZUN’s Music Collection tracks.
Now, while part of the enjoyment of BUTAOTOME’s Touhou vocals comes from the knowledge of Touhou lore, you can still enjoy their music even if you don’t give a crap about teh Toho themez!
Their entire discography can be split into 2 big sides, which I’ll separately analyze: the vocal side and the instrumental side. For each side, I’ll recommend some albums, mostly because that’s my way to approach new music/artists: listen to “that one album” first, and I think it’s the same for a lot of people (insert the eternal fight between albums and singles here). You can use the discography page here as a reference!
Their main side, their most promoted one, and the one people just refer to most of the time when they talk about BUTAOTOME.
In the previous version of this guide, I first recommended the BUTABEST series (because “best-of albums usually give a great access point”), but in the two years after the original version of the guide, a couple of “unconventional” best-ofs were released. Touhou OtoGee BEST is a short release with their most popular songs + some deep cuts, but honestly, I don’t recommend it. At the same price, you can get the first BUTABEST instead with the same important tracks but a bigger tracklist, though it only covers the first two years of activity.
But remember, The Pig is much more than Gensou no Kyou Machibito no Tsukikage (…sorry) all over again.
My new, real recommendation goes to Yuusei Hakurankai because it covers pretty much every year of activity and has a great range of styles in each track (including some instrumentals).
I think Yuusei Hakurankai is the best Touhou entry point over any other album. (a small thought to Shoujo Rengoku 3, Kyou ga Saigo no Ichinichi, and FREAKS, who were featured in this article but were snapped by my revision. I still consider them as great albums to start with, Ichinichi is especially recommended if you are coming from the original side)
I will keep standing my point that Billiards is the perfect album to begin, either as your very first album to get or simply to start with the original works (since those don’t have a “best of” album). It simply has everything about BUTAOTOME in the purest sense. As a sort of “extension”, I also recommend the two major albums (Furubokko and Trauma Recorder) as well.
I don’t think there are big differences between BUTAOTOME’s music before and now: they are still the same four people who started the group 10 years ago because they wanted to do something fun. They have their j-pop/rock style, but in each album, you can still find tracks outside of their comfort zone, with some albums that go completely beyond (Itanshinmon and Folie à deux, for example). I would say the major differences are in the audio quality, which is vastly notable if you compare the albums from 2010/2011 with the rest.
Bonus Round: Live
BUTAOTOME cares a lot about their live performances and they put a lot of energy and fun into them. If you have the chance, try to see them live! But not everybody can go to Japan as they like. However, there is still live footage around! You can check the playlist on Tiramisu Cowboy’s Youtube channel, or, even better, the Jump Otome DVD. By the way, that DVD has been officially uploaded on Youtube!
A personal experience
In the two years since I first published this post, I managed to introduce a friend to the World of BUTAOTOME and give to him various recommendations. He got into them after discovering Ranko through Shibayan, but he wasn’t particularly impressed by their style. Or better, Comp’s rock style. However, he liked Itsuka no Mirai yo Sayounara, and he bought FREAKS specifically for that song. But still, there are too many albums, and the popular songs are always by the bear. He was a fan of Paprika’s songs, and because of this, I started to recommend him albums that had lots of tracks arranged by the cat (or simply her best material) and/or had songs by Comp that were different from his usual style. Shoujo Rengoku 3, Majotachi no Ongakushitsu, Itanshinmon, Paradise Lost, etc. Most of the recent vocal albums (from 2016 onwards) are recommended!
The Nekokenban series is a whole different side of BUTAOTOME. It can be considered as a sort of “side-project” and one can appreciate it regardless of their enjoyment of the vocal side.
This series evolved a lot with the years: if you want to quickly get the idea and take a grasp of Paprika’s style, pick the Nekokenban Best, with 1-2 tracks from each one of the first 10 albums.
The first two albums of the series are pure piano discs, then as the series went on, Paprika started to add more and more instruments and even have Comp playing guitar/bass. Current entries of the series are much more based on the album concept: Nekokenban 12 is pretty much a soundtrack for a horror movie/game, 13 is centered on worldly sounds, 14 is RPG-styled, and much more!
By the way, if you like the pure sound of the first 2 Nekos, check out the sixteenth one as well as Neko no Anmin DISC. The latter contains piano instrumental renditions of BUTAOTOME’s vocal songs.
That’s all for this post! I hope it was helpful for someone! Also, if you want specific recommendations based on singular songs (for example “can you list me all the ballads?”), feel free to ask!