Shenmue The Animation Ep #3 ‘Yin-Yang’ 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.

As with last week’s episode, while events understandably unfold at a much quicker pace than they do in the game, I again found myself surprised by the fleshing out of certain details, and efforts to make a certain character in particular more sympathetic. Paradoxically, the anime is able to let some story details breathe and focus on emotion a lot more, despite the overall plot being condensed from what we know from Shenmue I. There seems to be a concerted effort to tie everything together between the first two games more comprehensively, with certain motivations and circumstances made more explicit, where perhaps the games were more vague. Everything feels like it will be given the proper build up in the anime, and in particular an event likely to occur in its second half is nicely foreshadowed in this episode.

We open the episode with Shenhua wandering Bailu Village, where she is heard reciting the village’s ancient poem to herself once again. Mingyang tries to get her attention to greet her, but she is lost in her own little world and initially ignores him. While I appreciate these extra scenes to show us what Shenhua is up to before Ryo eventually meets her, I feel there is a danger of her coming across as a somewhat one-dimensional character who has a slight obsession with this poem! Hopefully future episodes develop her character a bit more by showing her engaging in other activities, while still keeping her mysterious nature. At any rate, Shenhua eventually acknowledges Mingyang as she collects some water from the village’s well, as the two discuss their knowledge of the poem. Shenhua questions who the ‘he’ mentioned in the poem is (that ‘will come from a far eastern land’, mentioning the children of the village have asked her this (as we saw last week). Mingyang blithely comments that he doesn’t have a clue, but whoever it is must be pretty weird to cross the sea just to visit their little village. He then mentions something about a nearby village holding a night festival soon, but Shenhua is barely listening, looking pensively up at the sky…

After the opening sequence, we see a figure sitting in the darkness of the MJQ Jazz Bar, where his underlings are telling him about Charlie’s defeat at the hands of Ryo. As the figure comments that he thought only the Chens (who Charlie mentioned last episode) could challenge the Mad Angels, he is revealed to be none other than who fans will recognise as Terry Ryan. Once again we see a character introduced much earlier than he is in the game – a welcome move here I think, as in Shenmue I he does not appear until close to the end (and only first mentioned just before that). This allows the threat of the Mad Angels to be built up more in preparation for the end of the Yokosuka chapter, and also shows the advantage of not being limited to Ryo’s perspective in this medium.

Ryo meanwhile wanders the streets of Dobuita, on his way to the Russiya China Shop, which Yamagishi recommended he visit in the previous episode, as she should be able to translate the letter his father received from Zhu Yuanda. However, he finds the shop closed when he gets there. He then sees Gao Wen, soccer ball tightly in hand, who thanks him for saving him from Charlie and his thugs, and asks Ryo what he is doing at ‘our house’. Gao Wen then lets him in and it is revealed that the owner is his grandmother, as fans of the game will know. Xia-san thanks Ryo as well, who then shows her the letter from Zhu. As in the game, Xia-san confirms that it is written in a special mirror style, holding it up to the mirror in the shop to demonstrate. In an interesting and slightly different translation from the game, the letter states to ‘contact Master Chen for help if the situation gets dire’ (as opposed to the less specific ‘If you ever need help, seek the aid of Master Chen’). In another translation quirk, ‘Father’s Heaven’ is rendered as ‘Father Sky’ here, while ‘Comrades’ is now ‘Common Allies’ – of course, still retaining virtually the same meaning. It is interesting to see the various different interpretations of the translation of this part of the letter – when Ryo calls Gui Zhang using an international phone card in Shenmue III, ‘Father Sky’ is also used instead of ‘Father’s Heaven’, while ‘Comrades’ is somewhat clumsily rendered as ‘My Friend’. As with Shenhua’s poem, this appears to be just one of those things in Shenmue that is forever ‘doomed’ to receiving varying translations! At any rate, Xia-san notes that while she’s not sure what it means, there is a phone number on the letter as well.

Ryo is then seen dialing the number, using the famous pink payphone at Hirata Tobacco Shop (indeed, most playing the game for the first time will have probably used this phone, given its proximity to the china shop). Upon hearing a voice simply state ‘Father Sky’, Ryo recalls the letter and replies ‘Nine Dragons’, and ‘Common Allies’ to ‘Mother Earth’. Ryo is then thrown by the voice on the other end stating ‘Warehouse No. 8’, and is hung up on when he asks about the Chens. Hirata-san interjects and advises Ryo to call the 104 information line to find out what area the phone number is from – which is indeed one of the ways the player can figure this out in the game, along with looking it up in the phonebook. As we cut to Ryo disembarking the bus at the harbour (sadly there is no time for fanfare and swooping camera angles of the port as there is in the game!), we hear that he was told that the number is registered to the warehouse district in Amihama. Proceedings then play out familiarly to Ryo’s arrival to the harbour in the game, where he finds a young man being threatened for money by thugs. The situation is actually slightly more dire here, as three thugs are accosting him here, as opposed to just two in the game. Ryo intervenes, chiding them that mugging is uncool and ‘out of style’ (you can read an interesting article here by Switch over at Phantom River Stone about how this line was infamously translated in the game’s English dub!) In a change from the game, the main thug accompanying the ringleader does not appear to be Nagashima (who of course appeared in Episode 1, with Enoki). The ringleader is of course, none other than fan-favourite character Goro Mihashi. (Goro’s t-shirt has a less complex design here, presumably to give the animators an easier time!) As their would-be victim makes his escape, Ryo bests Goro’s clumsy attempts to attack him easily, leaving the other two thugs to flee. Goro gladly obliges to direct Ryo to where Warehouse No .8 is, adding that the security guards there usually finish shift at 7pm. This is a little detail that the player has to go through various hoops to find out in the game, and is divulged by the character Shozo Mizuki, rather than Goro. As Shozo is not introduced in this episode, it seems likely he may have been cut from the anime entirely. This would be a shame, given the useful advice and moves he shares with Ryo, but we will wait and see if he still appears further down the line…

Speaking of events being condensed, as we shift to night-time we see Ryo go straight to the Old Warehouse District, with none of the back-and-forth confusion between the Old and New Warehouse 8’s from the game being included here. This is probably a wise choice, given the limited time we are working with and the need to introduce the Chens. As in the game, we see Ryo sneak in through the gates, catching a flashlight after being surprised by the guard’s phone ringing. Rather than see Ryo creep his way to the right warehouse however, in a change of events we see him immediately accosted and taken to Warehouse No. 8 (where he notes the name of ‘Jiu Feng Co.’ on one of the warehouse’s many crates). We find Ryo tied up and greeted by Master Chen himself, who apologises for the ‘uncivilised reception’ and asks Gui Zhang to ask his henchmen to untie him. This already hints at a slightly darker nature to Chen from his in-game counterpart, which will further be elaborated upon later in the episode. As Ryo shows him the letter and explains the situation, the conversation that follows unfolds much like it does in the game. Chen mentions that Zhu Yuanda acted as a ‘facilitator’ for a precious mirror to be transported from China to Japan, an often vague detail from the games made a little more explicit here. As the conversation shifts to the matter of Lan Di and the Chi You Men, the camera pans to an antique plate depicting the namesake legendary monster, a nice added touch to the anime. As Chen elaborates on Lan Di’s role in the organisation, we cut to an interesting scene taking place at somewhere called ‘Xuhe Hall’, where Lan Di and his two black-suited henchmen are seen interrogating a man about a mirror (the conversation being entirely in Chinese). The man confirms the mirror was taken by a Japanese man, and an accomplice named Zhu Yuanda. This event presumably took place before Lan Di came to Japan to take the Dragon Mirror and kill Iwao, with this conversation being what led him there. It is good to see the Chi You Men’s motivation for hunting down Zhu being referenced earlier on here, as it remains a vague, not always clear detail in the games. This is surely being put in place now to foreshadow certain events that will take place in a walled city later on…

Master Chen’s distant nature and coldness is exemplified after Gui Zhang refers to him as ‘Father’ when asking if he believes Lan Di is seeking the Phoenix Mirror as well, reminding his son to maintain proper forms of address while in the presence of a guest. Chen confirms to Ryo the existence of this second mirror and Lan Di’s intentions to acquire it, with Ryo agreeing to try and find it. After Ryo leaves, Gui Zhang asks his father why they should be helping this teenager, Chen merely replying that he has to because it is what Zhu has asked of him. Gui Zhang stresses that helping Ryo will likely antagonise both the Chi You Men and Mad Angels, and is then chided again for daring to call Chen ‘Father’, reminding Gui Zhang that in this organisation that he is a subordinate to him. In a poignant and almost tragic line, Chen states, ‘The day that we return to being father and son, is the day that we leave the underworld. The day we die’. As Gui Zhang apologises, Chen tells his son he has an assignment for him…

The next day, Ryo desperately rummages through Iwao’s room to try and find the mirror – but ends up finding a box with a sword in it instead (in the game, this is actually found in the Dojo rather than Iwao’s room, and required a key to open). Ryo is then seen in the Dojo, trying to look behind a frame high up on the wall (the one fans will know as the text referring to the ‘Principles of Yin and Yang’). In the game, the player can find the infamous ‘Mysterious Scroll’ here – however we don’t get to find out if it’s there in the anime universe, as Ryo stumbles and falls to the Dojo floor. Fuku-san and Ine-san come to his aid, and while the latter bandages Ryo up he asks them if they know anything about Iwao having the Phoenix Mirror. While they haven’t heard of it, Ine-san does mention that Iwao left something at an antique shop just before his death. In another familiar scene, at the shop Oishi-san is seen giving the Sword Handguard to Ryo, mentioning it is given to Hazuki heirs when they turn eighteen. The discussion then takes a drastic turn from the in-game version however, when Ryo mutters that it isn’t the Phoenix Mirror that Master Chen mentioned. Oishi asks Ryo if he means Yaowen Chen of the Jiu Feng Company (we are not made aware of the company’s name in the games) Ryo remembers seeing the name at Chen’s warehouse, and Oishi explains that the company is a major antique art dealer – at least, on the surface. Apparently they are actually an illicit operation run by overseas Chinese, amassing a fortune by smuggling in antique art from China to Yokosuka. Oishi sternly warns Ryo that he should not associate with them…
Now, I found this revelation interesting as from the information presented to us in Shenmue I, I (perhaps naively!) assumed that Chen’s company was a mostly legitimate operation, and that they simply ran into problems with the Mad Angels disturbing their trade routes with their more illicit dealings. So I decided to check both Chen and Gui Zhang’s official profiles from the game (originally distributed via the Shenmue Passport and various strategy guide books, now available from the excellent fan-created Suka Pass app), to see just how it describes their company and its operations…

Master Chen: He is one of the few wealthy Chinese magnates living abroad in Japan, and is a big name in the trading business. He owns numerous trading operations worldwide, including the one in Yokosuka. While he deals in a variety of high-end merchandise, Master Chen is particularly well-versed in antiques and has multiple patrons. He is said to own numerous works of valuable art, some of which are rumoured to be national treasures, but nobody knows for sure. He looks gentle and kind at first glance, but is a very calculating buyer with a stoic composure, no matter what. In grooming his son, Gui Zhang, to be his successor, he has made sure to instruct him fully in the Yan Qing style, a martial art handed down over multiple generations in their family.

Chen Gui Zhang: He is one of the few wealthy Chinese magnates living abroad in Japan, and is a big name in the trading business. He owns numerous trading operations worldwide, including the one in Yokosuka. While he deals in a variety of high-end merchandise, Master Chen is particularly well-versed in antiques and has multiple patrons. He is said to own numerous works of valuable art, some of which are rumoured to be national treasures, but nobody knows for sure. He looks gentle and kind at first glance, but is a very calculating buyer with a stoic composure, no matter what. In grooming his son, Gui Zhang, to be his successor, he has made sure to instruct him fully in the Yan Qing style, a martial art handed down over multiple generations in their family.

While Gui Zhang’s profile doesn’t reveal much about the company’s operations, Chen’s profile confirms that he does indeed trade in arts and antiques, also apparent from what can be found on the shelves of Warehouse No. 8 in-game. While it mentions he is a very calculating buyer, there isn’t really anything to suggest the operations are illegitimate, despite a certain vagueness. It was then I thought I should check what the Passport’s description of Old Warehouse No. 8 says, to see if it sheds any light on his company’s operations:

Old Warehouse No. 8: Master Chen and Gui Zhang can be found in this warehouse. It is used as a warehouse for works of art, but it is said that contraband cultural assets, for which export overseas is strictly prohibited, are secretly stored here. Dummy works of art are also casually stored, perhaps in order to deceive the authorities, so that they can’t be differentiated by the untrained eye. Master Chen also owns warehouses at a number of other harbours, but this warehouse is managed by Gui Zhang.

So there you have it! While never made explicitly clear in Shenmue I itself, official material does indeed confirm that there are illegal goings-on within Chen’s operations. While this arguably could be deduced by the nature of the shadowy, secret environment they do business in, and the need for passwords for telephone communication, the anime chooses to make this more explicit, and therefore makes Master Chen a far more cold and calculating character. This certainly adds an extra layer of depth to him, as it seems that deep down he does not wish to be involved in this underworld, but feels he does not have a choice. The insistence to his own son not to call him ‘Father’ is also an unexpected change to his in-game counterpart, who never chides Gui Zhang for this. I quite like this addition though, and in general I think the anime is doing a great job at painting just how dangerous this underworld that Ryo has unwittingly got himself tied up in is, thanks in part to not being confined to just showing events from his perspective.

We then see Ryo walking home from the antique shop, and realising someone has been following him, demands them to reveal themselves. Of course, it is Gui Zhang. As Ryo asks what he wants, Gui Zhang only answers in a flurry of attacks, before relenting and telling Ryo it is just a test, and that Master Chen requested he be his bodyguard. As in the game, Gui Zhang stresses to Ryo the gravity of the situation and that Lan Di will never give up his hunt for the other mirror. However, in another change Ryo comments that Gui Zhang is being very formal, constantly referring to his own father as ‘Master Chen’ (in-game he simply says ‘Father told me to guard you’, with none of this formality), with Gui Zhang coldly snapping that it is none of Ryo’s business before leaving. One part that is in-keeping with the game, however, is Chai spying on them both from a nearby rooftop…

Ryo then walks past Aida Florist, where Nozomi is seen chatting with Mai Sawano. In the game, we only see this character in the harbour, associating either with delinquent girls or with her boyfriend Goro, who we met earlier in the episode. (Indeed, there is an optional scene the player can trigger while looking for Warehouse no. 8, where Ryo has to track down Mai and the delinquent girls at the request of her worried sister). So it is interesting to see how the anime has chosen to introduce her, as simply an old friend of Ryo’s and no hint towards her troublesome nature just yet. Ryo brushes off Nozomi’s concern that he looks ‘dark and gloomy’ and asks them where they would hide a mirror (his blunt and impatient nature perhaps not realising how odd a question this is to ask!). They both agree it is something they wouldn’t hide, but that girls wouldn’t want to be seen when looking in the mirror either. Nozomi jokingly comments that she wishes she had her own secret room for that, which sparks an idea for Ryo. As her grandmother calls her back in the shop, Nozomi apologises and says her goodbyes to Mai. She then asks Ryo if she could get his advice about ‘the future’ sometime, blushing as she says this, before rushing back into the shop. While Ryo thinks about this momentarily, the future is clearly far from his mind at the present moment…

At home, Ryo and Fuku-san spar together in the Dojo. While cleaning afterwards, Fuku-san comments to Ryo that he has become a lot better, and that his movements appear to be sharper. Thinking back to his effortless defeat by Lan Di, his difficult battle with Chai and surprise attack from Gui Zhang, Ryo doesn’t seem to agree, realising he has a long way to go. Fuku-san then comments that he’s always found it strange that there is an imprint of the Hazuki family crest and a hole behind some wall scrolls in the Dojo – something the player has to discover themselves in the game. As Fuku-san goes to tidy up in the garden, Ryo realises the slots must be for the sword he found in Iwao’s room, and the Sword Handguard. Retrieving both, he inserts them in their respective slots which opens the mechanism for the wall to open and reveal the ladder down to the secret basement. There, the box containing the Phoenix Mirror is out in the open, unlike in the game which required Ryo to break part of the wall with an axe to find the secret compartment it was hiding in. As Ryo opens the box to find the mirror, the light from it blinds him for a moment, but then points to a photo sticking out from some books on one of the shelves (in-game, the player receives no such hint, having to scour the room to find it). On the back, there is a note saying ‘At Bailu Village’, and as Ryo turns to see the photo’s front, finds a picture of his father and a mystery man (fans will know who it is already of course, having long theorised his identity, to then have it confirmed in Shenmue III).

We cut to the Old Warehouse No. 8, where Ryo has brought the Phoenix Mirror to Master Chen. This scene plays out much like it does in the game, with Chen explaining what is supposed to happen should the two mirrors be used together. Chai interrupts and manages to snatch the mirror. While there is the addition of a brief scuffle between he and Gui Zhang, Chai is still stopped in his tracks when Ryo pushes the button on the moving platform, causing him to drop the precious mirror. As their discussion continues, Chen reveals that the Mad Angels likely assisted the Chi You Men by providing Lan Di’s way into Yokosuka (we are also shown a grinning Terry as he looks on during one of their seedly dealings), but does not know if Lan Di is still in Japan now. There is then a brief cut to Lan Di demanding his henchmen to begin making arrangements for them to leave Japan, suggesting he won’t be much longer. Chen suggests that he may now be going to Hong Kong. When Ryo passionately asks for help to get to Hong Kong, Gui Zhang appears visibly moved by Ryo’s words about needing to do this for his father. However, Chen quickly shoots this down and insists they cannot help, and refuses to drag Ryo into this criminal underworld. He adds that if Ryo pursues this and goes after the Mad Angels, he will have to then face the Chi You Men as well. Despite the danger and Gui Zhang’s objections, Ryo insists he will still go after Lan Di, and needs to do so to see his father for who he really was (again, Gui Zhang is visibly shaken by this, relating to Ryo’s plight even if he is unwilling to admit it). It’s interesting that once again the anime does not seem to focus on Ryo’s desire to get revenge for his father’s death – it seems to be more about him wanting to find out the truth and prove his father’s innocence. While his desire for revenge will likely become more apparent as the series goes on, it is interesting to see this shift in focus.

As the episode ends, we see Lan Di prepare to leave Japan by boat, with him commenting that ‘Everything lies with Zhu Yuanda’. Of course, we will see the full extent of the Chi You Men’s manhunt for Zhu once events move to Hong Kong…

FINAL THOUGHTS: Events continue to move at a brisk pace in this episode, with a lot of ground being covered. Most notable of course is the introduction of Master Chen and Gui Zhang. It was interesting to see another layer added to Chen’s character here, and therefore also more depth to his relationship with Gui Zhang. The suggestion that their business is not entirely legitimate is made far more explicit here, and further empasises just how dangerous a road Ryo is travelling down in pursuing this. In turn, we perhaps find ourselves questioning just how trustworthy Zhu Yuanda can be, if he is associated with such a shady figure…

Overall I was very satisfied with this episode and enjoyed the added context to the Chi You Men’s hunt for Zhu, as well as the early build-up for the Mad Angels. The writers continue to show how effectively they can condense the plot whilst still fleshing out certain points and character roles. (the only slightly clumsy aspect being how the idea of a ‘secret room’ is planted into Ryo’s head, although it was nice to see Mai appear) As we presumably ramp up to a conclusion to the Yokosuka chapter in the next few episodes, I look forward to seeing how it all comes together and what further changes and embellishments are to come.

Rating: 4/5

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

Until next week, for Episode 4 – ‘Shackles’!


2 thoughts on “Shenmue The Animation Ep #3 ‘Yin-Yang’ recap and review

  1. Really enjoyed this episode too, and each episode feels shorter than the last, which must be a good thing as it means the time flies by! Thanks for the call out to my post about that blackmail line, I wonder if the translators are aware of that original line, haha. Great research into the nature of Master Chen’s shady business too, he’s certainly painted as a much more sinister figure in the game.


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