Shenmue The Animation Ep #2 ‘Daybreak’ recap and review

NOTE: This is a recap/review of the Japanese audio & English subtitled version of the episode, viewed via Crunchyroll. It is currently not possible to view the English dub where I am, in the UK.

SPOILER WARNING: This review assumes you are a fan familiar with the source material, and that you have seen the episode in full.

If you were already impressed with the level of detail to the games, and sprinklings of fanservice that Episode 1 offered, then you will surely be pleased with Episode 2, ‘Daybreak’ as well. I found myself with a big fanboy-ish grin on my face as the references and minor character appearances just kept coming. Bailu Villagers from Shenmue III! Capsule toys! Little cameos from Dobuita shopkeepers! The infamous Wang-san! The photo of friends! The arcade! Double Blow! This episode certainly proves they wish to appeal to us hardcore fans who have played the games, though I do wonder again what the perspective of someone completely new to the franchise is, where none of what I just said means anything in the slightest. Hopefully the story and characters themselves are engaging enough on their own too…

We open the episode with what appears to be a flashback to Iwao’s last words and death, as seen in the previous episode. However, the scene then continues past what we previously saw, this not being seen in the game’s version of events either. Ryo asks Lan Di why he killed his father, stating that he hasn’t done anything to deserve it. In reply, Lan Di coldly questions what Ryo actually knows about his father, and then threatens that if he pursues the matter that Ryo will meet the same fate as Iwao. Ryo then angrily tries to attack Lan Di, but of course is knocked back easily. It is then Ryo wakes up in a cold sweat and we realise that this was a nightmare. Of course, this poses the question of whether what transpired after Iwao died in Ryo’s arms actually happened, and if Lan Di actually made this threat or not. In any case, it is nice to see that the anime does in fact recreate the ‘Nightmare’ scene from the game in some fashion, as I was disappointed that this had seemingly been left out last week. As Ryo again touches the plaster covering the wound caused by his nemesis with a determined look on his face, we shift into the opening sequence.

This song and sequence was actually used as the ending sequence last week (which I understand is quite common in anime, for the opening episode to make this switch). The track used, ‘UNDEAD-NOID’ does not have its lyrics subtitled on Crunchyroll, but thankfully good old Switch of Phantom River Stone comes to the rescue again with his translation efforts – and thus you can view a version with lyrics here. Whether the lyrics make sense or relate to the story in anyway I may leave for another post or someone else to tackle!

Back into the episode proper, and we now see a glimpse of what Shenhua is getting up to in Bailiu Village. We see her entering the main Village Square this time, looking accurate to its appearance in Shenmue III. As she greets good morning to the villagers we get a quick cameo from Su Zixiong, the rotund self-professed Tai Chi master, and then see the perennially scowling Lei Mingyang, his face of course lighting up when he sees Shenhua (players will remember he was very cold and suspicious of Ryo, but has a secret crush on Shenhua). He asks her if she’s headed to the market, but she replies that she’s off to see Grandma Yeh (referred to as ‘Elder Yeh’ in the games, but I guess the meaning of this translation is close enough). As Shenhua approaches her house (again, identical in appearance to the game), she sees that the neighbourhood children are gathered there as well. Again, players will recognise the little girl Zhou Lin as she cheerfully calls out to Shenhua. (Bai Qinghao, who offers the ‘Capsule of Love’ sidequest in S3, appears to be among the children as well). Shenhua has brought some medicine for the old woman, who in return offers some rice wine for Shenhua to take back to her father. Yeh then continues reciting a very familiar poem to the children (specifically the parts about the Dragon and the Phoenix) which Qinghao asks Shenhua if she has heard before. She confirms that she first heard it when she was a child and that it is one of the village’s oldest poems. She then recites its opening line, about a man appearing from a distant land in the East from across the sea. Lin asks just who this man is supposed to be. Shenhua questions this herself, both unaware that they will meet him in the not too distant future…I am again appreciating the effort the series is taking in signifying Shenhua’s importance early on, as well as giving us a ‘sneak peek’ of a location and characters that Ryo has yet to encounter.

We then cut back to the Hazuki residence in Japan, the family crest visible in the establishing shot, which is a nice bit of foreshadowing. In his bedroom, Ryo is seen looking at the letter sent to his father by Zhu Yuanda. In an absolutely lovely level of detail, we can see various capsule toys from the game adorn Ryo’s desk! These specifically include the Tails (from the Sonic the Hedgehog series), Heavy Bomb 1 (from Fantasy Zone) and Binsbein 2 (from Space Harrier) toys. As another member on the Shenmue Dojo forums predicted, I was very pleased to see the Tails capsule toy in particular, given that I go by the user name Miles Prower there (Tails’s real name), and have done since 2002. This is due to him being my favourite character in the Sonic franchise (and yes, I am excited about him appearing in the upcoming movie!), and me apparently being unable to come up with a decent Shenmue related username at the time (you can read about my history with the forums in this post). Apologies for the tangent – but I found this an absolutely lovely touch which obviously appealed to me in particular! A silver cassette player is also seen on Ryo’s desk along with various cassettes.

As Ryo is looking at the letter, we flashback to a conversation he had with Ine-san and Fuku-san, apparently just after the point where the previous episode ended. Ryo asks Ine-san if she is familiar with the name Zhu Yuanda, but unfortunately she is not. Ryo correctly notes that it doesn’t sound like a Japanese name, and that the letter appears to be written in Chinese. As Fuku-san wonders if it has anything to do with what happened, Ryo resolves that he is determined to find out. Flashing back to the present (and with a lovely close up of the Tails capsule toy that I am of course going to use as my new avatar at the Dojo forums), Ryo thinks to himself that he needs to find out what the letter says and then try and track down this mysterious Zhu Yuanda. Again, this is an event that is occurring much earlier than it does in the game, where Ryo has already gone down various other routes of investigation before Ine-san decides to share the letter with him, but as we will see later in the episode, the events of Shenmue I’s first few hours still occur in some form, just reworked and rearranged…

And so Ryo heads out to Dobuita armed with the letter, a montage showing Ryo asking the husband and wife owners of Ajiichi Chinese Restaurant (visited by he and Nozomi in the previous episode), and also Liu-san (again, who we met in the last episode) the letter, who despite all being Chinese, are unable to read it. Ryo then tries in vain to compare the characters with those he sees at a Chinese bookshop, to no avail. Expressing his frustration that even native Chinese people can’t read it, he then once again bumps into Nozomi, as he did last week. While Ryo is reluctant to share with her why he needs a translator, hiding the letter away in his jacket pocket, Nozomi is still eager to assist him, claiming there are many people she can ask and that Ryo is terrible at asking people for help. This fans of the games will well know, with Ryo often being stubborn and refusing to get other people involved if he can at all help it. Despite being hurt by this comment he gives in and accepts his friend’s assistance. I did find myself wondering last week, having known from previews that this episode would also contain Ryo clashing with sailors at a certain bar, as well as him encountering Charlie, just how the efforts to translate the letter would fit in as well. We discover this week that the writers have achieved this by temporarily entrusting that task to Nozomi! This is quite a clever move to accommodate other gears of the plot to get moving, even if the episode does feel a little overstuffed as a consequence. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

We then briefly cut to Chai, skulking in a warehouse somewhere licking his wounds after Ryo’s spectacular defeat of him last week. He remains determined to find the other mirror, however. Ryo is then seen encountering Yamagishi-san in the park. The old man offers his condolences and asks if he can pay a visit to burn some incense in memory of his old friend. Ryo agrees, and then takes the opportunity to press Yamagishi for information about Iwao, believing the two to have known each other for a long time. Yamagishi clarifies however that he only knew Iwao since he came to live in Yokosuka, and doesn’t know anything of his life before that. Ryo nonetheless shows him the letter from Zhu, and shares that he is looking for him. Yamagishi questions why Ryo is digging up his father’s past like this and just what he will do with whatever he may learn. He seems to be about to ask if he is seeking revenge, but the fierce look in Ryo’s eyes gives him his answer. Consequently he refuses to discuss it with Ryo any further, insisting the police should be handling it and that he should focus on getting his life back to normal. After a brief glimpse of him before Iwao’s death last week, I am pleased to see Yamagishi-san being further fleshed out here, seemingly playing a more central role than he does in the game. It also helps to build up Iwao’s character and deepen the gravity of his death, seeing how an old friend of his is reacting to his son being so reckless (I don’t believe Yamagishi actually explicitly learns of Ryo’s quest for revenge through any of their in-game conversations, but will eat crow if someone proves me wrong of course!).

Ryo wanders through town, it now being late evening, wondering what he should do while Nozomi is trying to track down a translator. It is then he recalls his conversation with Liu-san from the previous episode, who believed Lan Di to be connected to the Chinese underworld and their illegal dealings in and out of the harbour. He resolves to look into this, and so visits Bar Yokosuka and questions Saijo-san about if he knows where ‘the guys from the harbour’ hang out (are they deliberately avoiding Ryo asking about sailors explicitly, to avoid the running joke and constant meme fuel that this part of the game has generated, I wonder?), then clarifying that he means those who enter Yokosuka illegally. As in the game, Saijo recommends that Ryo try at Heartbeats Bar (sadly the anime doesn’t seem to have time for us to go to the relaxed and cozier atmosphere of the MJQ Jazz Bar!). And so our hero descends into that dark, familiar alley, about to meet two foes who become a constant annoyance and thorn in his side throughout the first game. Tony and Smith are certainly a lot bigger and more intimidating in this incarnation! Of course, Ryo still effortlessly dispatches of them when they refuse to let him pass. Once in the bar, everything plays out more or less as it does in the game, the satisfying and spectacular bar brawl QTE event recreated hit for hit. The three sailors, Jones, Harry and Takeshi are very close in appearance to their game counterparts as well. The moody bartender is also instantly recognisable with his scowl and loud shirt. In answer to Ryo’s queries about Chinese cartels, he recommends he seek out a man called Charlie…

The following day, we see Ryo question some familiar faces about Charlie in some nice little cameos – Ono-san of Knocking Motorcycle Shop, Kurita-san of the Military Surplus, and then Takashi Takashiro of the Okayama Heights tattoo parlour. Even if the anime has to speed Ryo’s investigations along in montage like this, its nice to see such attention to detail and faithfulness to the game. Takashi seems to deny knowing anything about Charlie – of course, from the route Ryo’s investigation in the game takes, we know this is a lie – and sure enough, after Ryo leaves he is then seen picking up the telephone…

We then find ourselves in a dark, foreboding warehouse, presumably somewhere in the harbour, where Charlie and his Mad Angel cronies (again, all based on actual characters from Shenmue I – namely Shingo Murasaki, Minoru Okayasu, Tadashi Hama and Yoshihide Hatanaka). Word has already gotten around that Ryo is on the hunt for Charlie, and Okayasu wonders if ‘the Chens’ sent him – characters we have yet to meet in the anime, but fans will know exactly who he’s talking about! As we cut back to Ryo, we see yet another familiar character, the child Xia Gao Wen, come sobbing to Ryo that someone took his soccer ball and won’t give it back unless he brings Ryo to them. Gao Wen confirms this person’s name is Charlie when asked, and sure enough we find him and his foot soldiers waiting. From the glimpses of this scene seen in trailers, it appeared it may have been taking place in the harbour, but we can now it takes place in the suburbs of town as it does in the game after all (whether in Sakuragaoka or somewhere in Dobuita), just an area that seems to have a few warehouses/construction sites dotted about. After Charlie demands to know why Ryo has been trying to track him down, our hero clarifies he wishes to know about the local Chinese operations. Again, this causes Charlie to suspect Ryo is working with the Chens. While in the game we aren’t aware of the existence of Master Chen until the letter from Zhu is translated, it is nice to see the anime take the time to plant the seeds of his and the Mad Angel’s rivalry already, helping plot points like these feel a bit more organic and developed. Therefore, Charlie commands his friends to attack, only for once again for Ryo to easily triumph in a nicely choreographed and animated fight scene. The only real disappointment is that because of Charlie throwing back the soccer ball as he escapes from Ryo’s sight, we don’t get the satisfaction of him kicking the ball right in the Mad Angel’s face as we do in the game! Instead, the ball is simply handed back to Gao Wen who gratefully thanks Ryo in Chinese (unlike the game however, Ryo is too preoccupied to notice this). Chai is again seen hidden in shadow, clearly still tracking Ryo’s movements.

Next on the menu is some pleasing spoonfuls of fan service – we see the exterior of none other than the You Arcade (seemingly a bit bigger and more spacious than its game counterpart), where Ryo and Nozomi are asking Wang-san – yes, the slacker delivery boy who constantly asks for a drink from the vending machine in the game (seen here crouched down with a can of soda in hand seemingly in reference to this) if he can read the letter, but he is unfamiliar with the characters. (Unlike the game, he unfortunately is either unaware that Xia-san of Russiya China Shop may be able to read it, or just unwilling to share!) Nozomi expresses her apologies that she couldn’t find anyone who could read it. As Ryo tells her not to worry and is about to walk away, Nozomi seems to search for something else to talk about as an excuse to keep him around a bit longer, coming to the subject of university entrance exams. She asks Ryo about the university in Yokohama he has been recruited by, blushing as she not so subtly hints that she could try applying for the same one. Ryo can only seem to glumly mull over the possibility of even going to university in his mind, causing the poor girl visible concern. They seem to be playing up this aspect a lot more in the anime, emphasising that yes, Ryo really is willing to throw away his entire academic future to pursue all this. It’s good to see this constantly reinforced as it really does hammer home what is being sacrificed in his life.

As Ryo continues to wander the streets after taking leave of Nozomi, he looks at the letter and reminisces about his father, a flashback sequence depicting a young Ryo relaxing and reading a manga while Iwao tries to encourage him to read a hefty tome about martial arts instead. (once again we can spot a nice little capsule toy Easter egg in this scene, this time none other than Akira Yuki of Virtua Fighter fame, a character inextricably linked to Ryo). Ryo is having none of it however, running off and claiming he’ll read it later (I couldn’t help but think of this scene from a classic Simpsons episode and Bart’s hilarious line delivery!)- back in the present Ryo stares pensively at the letter, sighing and seeming to regret the brattiness of his past self. Back to Nozomi, we see her studying at home (and also get confirmation that she does indeed live above her grandmother’s florist shop, which wasn’t explicitly clear in the game), and while we have yet to see a physical appearance from Ryo’s fellow school chums Naoyuki and Ichiro, we do get to see them in a framed photo on her desk posing with both Nozomi and Ryo, the very same one that can be found in Ryo’s drawer in the game itself. Remembering simpler times, Nozomi looks at the photo and ponders what will happen if Ryo decides not to go to university. Before she can think about this for too long however, her grandmother calls up to let her know that her father is on the phone, calling from Canada. Again, Nozomi’s family situation is a detail shared earlier on and arguably more organically than it is in the game, and I am finding myself liking the focus the anime is putting on her and how Ryo’s behaviour is affecting her life…

In a scene unique to the anime, Charlie and his fellow Mad Angels are seen drinking together at Heartbeats, again concerned what they should do about this supposed turf war with the Chens. Charlie however realises they could use Ryo as a card to play against them. They then overhear Tony and Smith talking about the very same schoolboy, eager to get revenge for their earlier humiliation. Charlie takes the chance to ask if they’d like to do a job for him. I actually quite like this added plot element, as it helps make Tony and Smith’s constant harassment of Ryo make a little more sense. Yes, Ryo did start it, and we know they are a rough and rowdy pair of sailors, but as they are both in their late twenties and grown-ass adults it always felt a bit odd to me that they’d keep up such a vendetta toward a kid who has literally only just turned 18. Here, they are given a bit more of a reason and motivation to hunt him down again, as presumably Charlie is paying them in some form or another. It also works in the service of the plot now in the form of a television show, as it means Ryo isn’t having another encounter with them just for the sake of the game having another Free Battle or QTE sequence…(and of course it also means Tony and Smith aren’t actually lying when they claim to be leading Ryo to Charlie later on!)

As promised, Yamagishi-san pays a visit to the Hazuki household to burn incense at the family altar to honour his friend’s memory, much to the appreciation of Ine-san and Fuku-san. Yamagishi does however share his concerns about Ryo with them, again insisting that he is too young to be digging into things and that he should leave it to the police to deal with. He off-handedly mentions the determined look in his eyes, but gets back on track and suggests that the adults closest to Ryo should talk some sense him. In a touching response however, Fuku-san defends his friend and states that all he wants to prove is that his father did nothing wrong, his hand shaking as he stresses how important it is to Ryo, and that he can’t (and presumably won’t) stop him. Yamagishi is silent, but does seem moved by Fuku-san’s words.
We now see the interior of the You Arcade, again faithful to the games where we can spot Excite QTE 2 and QTE Title among the cabinets (and also the addition of Virtua Fighter – admittedly anachronistic here as we are in 1986 and the game wasn’t released until 1993, but as the game has capsule toys of its characters as well as ones from various other Sega franchises that didn’t yet exist, we’ll let it slide for the sake of a nice reference!). Ryo is still doggedly pursuing Charlie, asking a pair of familiar bikers, Shingo and Koji, but only getting irritated shakes of the head. Tony and Smith then approach him, claiming to apologise for what happened outside Heartbeats, and that they can lead him to Charlie. (as I previously mentioned, this is clearly still a trap as it is in the game, but at least in this version of events Charlie is actually there and it isn’t just an excuse to ambush Ryo in a parking lot!) The two sailors lead Ryo to some sort of construction site, of course only to be ambushed by the Mad Angels (again from trailers it looked like this scene was happening at the harbour, but we can now see it is somewhere not far from Dobuita). In the flurry Ryo is grabbed from all sides and accidentally drops the letter from Zhu, which Charlie picks up and mocks Ryo for letting his guard down. This unleashes a fury from young Hazuki, where he finds the strength to break free of the thugs and best them in more beautifully-animated brutality, sending Tony and Smith running away scared. They just happen to dash past a passing Yamagishi-san, who overhears them talking about a schoolboy with unbelievable karate moves. Finding where Ryo is, the old man peeks in from a distance and sees him effortlessly defeat Charlie and retrieve the letter, despite the Mad Angel attempting to threaten him with a knife. Charlie finally realises that Ryo is not connected with the Chens, who confirms he has never heard of them. When Charlie mockingly asks about his attachment to that letter, Ryo affirms that it is his only clue to finding out the truth about his father, and that he is determined to prove Lan Di’s accusation about Iwao killing someone wrong.(Yamagishi hears all of this and walks away with a defeated expression) Charlie seems visibly shaken by the mention of the name of Lan Di, and tells Ryo that he is an extremely dangerous man (a fact that the nearby hiding Chai smiles at) and that he may get more than he bargained for by pursuing him.

As Ryo walks home at sunset, he again finds Yamagishi-san sitting in the park, this time with a cup of sake in hand. Yamagishi shares that he was once a martial arts student and that he and Iwao often used to spar, and then share a drink together. He mentions that Iwao often used to ask him about the older martial arts, something he knew little about. As Ryo expresses he had no idea about any of this, Yamagishi simply states that ‘A father does not show all of his faces to his son’, and perhaps a son shouldn’t know these things. Admitting defeat however, he states to Ryo that if finding out more about his father’s hidden life will eventually help him move on, perhaps it is for the best. In that spirit, Yamagishi recommends that Ryo visit the pottery shop in Dobuita if he wishes to get the letter translated, as the owner can read both new and old forms of Chinese. This is a marked difference from the game again, where Ryo finds this out from the owner’s grandson, Gao Wen (or Wang-san if you follow a slightly different path) – making his appearance earlier in the episode seemingly pointless, but perhaps we will see him again when Ryo does visit the shop, presumably in next week’s episode…

Before Ryo leaves, Yamagishi expresses his desire to share his knowledge of the martial arts, which Ryo enthusiastically accepts. We then Ryo see perform the ‘Double Blow’ move, as we once again hear the Shenmue theme and Shenhua’s voiceover reciting the famous poem in the background, a beautifully done and powerful scene. I am also extremely pleased to see that they were able to work this scene and move instruction from Yamagishi-san into the anime, as in the game it is entirely optional and easily missed, and I naturally assumed the series would not be able to fit in scenes like this. However they have managed to include it by setting up Yamagishi’s character in the previous episode and throughout this one, as well as reworking it as a vehicle to further Ryo’s investigation. The fact that the writers have taken the effort to do something like this is very reassuring to me and a sign that all aspects of the game have been considered, rather than just running beat-for-beat through the mandatory story events. As the episode ends we see Shenhua standing at a cliff edge in Guilin as she continues the poem, and then to two dark and shadowy figures standing in a warehouse somewhere…who fans of course will still very much be able to identify…

FINAL THOUGHTS: Well. There was certainly a lot packed into this episode, wasn’t there? I will admit at points it felt like we were dashing from one plot point to the next perhaps slightly too fast, and that there was two episodes worth of material in here that has been kind of uncomfortably forced together into one. However, as I said last week this is something that will have to be conceded to, given that we only have 13 episodes to cover two games. As said, I was pleasantly surprised by how Yamagishi, a relatively minor character, was fleshed out and utilised here, the writers recognising they have a much needed living connection to Iwao in this character. Shenhua’s little scene at the beginning was also a nice touch, and it is good to see the setting of Bailu Village and its inhabitants begin to be built up at this early stage. As with the first episode, the action and animation of the fight sequences is top-notch, with every hit being felt in brutal fashion. My only real criticism was the feeling of so many characters and details being thrown at us at once, but the episode still managed to feature some nice development for Nozomi, and how Ryo’s convictions and stubbornness are affecting those around him. Ideally, all of these elements would be given more time to breathe, but I am hopeful that the remainder of Shenmue I’s story, however many more episodes that may be, will continue to be retold in an intriguing and satisfying way.

Rating: 3/5

What did you think of the episode? Let me know in the comments!

Until next week, for Episode 3 – ‘Yin-Yang’!


4 thoughts on “Shenmue The Animation Ep #2 ‘Daybreak’ recap and review

  1. The extra scenes not in the game for characters like Yamagishi-san and Bailu village really adds depth to the story. I think the anime team is continuing to do an excellent job. Also – thanks for the shout-out on the opening theme lyrics (I’m also planning a follow-up post about their meaning).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Shenmue Dojo

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