Shenmue The Animation Ep #5 -‘Equal’ 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.

WOW. This may have been my favourite episode yet. I don’t wish to give too much away before the ‘Read More’ break, but I was really impressed with how they handled this episode. It managed to get to where it needed to be without feeling rushed, and was also able to provide plenty of action and tension while also allowing time for quieter, more emotional moments. I commend the writers of this show for respecting the source material while also letting it do its own thing in places – after all, who really wants to watch a 1:1 recreation of the game itself? I feel the best part of this episode is how it constantly surprised me despite playing Shenmue I to completion countless times. So without further ado, let’s get into the recap and allow me to emphasise just why I liked this one so much…

We launch straight into the opening sequence this week – not even a glimpse of what Shenhua’s up to at all, dreams or otherwise. Hopefully we’ll still see this in the coming episodes before Ryo finally meets her, but I feel this was the right choice to exclude her for this episode, given how much ground there is to cover. As the episode begins proper, we see a recap of Ryo and Gui Zhang’s battle before the two found themselves on the floor, this time seeing the Mad Angels thugs commenting and making their bets on who will win while their leader Terry watches on silently. We hear Ryo think to himself that he hopes Goro got his message, confirming that this is why he changed the chalk outline to read ‘17’ last week. We then see everyone’s favourite delinquent take a leak in the sea (his ‘best spot’ presumably), and he does indeed see Ryo’s message. He quickly realises with panic that Warehouse No. 17 is the Mad Angel’s hideout, and goes to check it out. As he peeks in, he recognises the tied up girl as Nozomi and overhears the two thugs discussing the plan to let Ryo and Gui Zhang and tire themselves out, and to then get rid of them both at the same time. Goro dashes over to the mess hall to alert Mai, who after getting him to calm down understands the situation and asks Goro to follow her. She leads him to some forklifts, where she proceeds to get into one and declares she’ll smash the Mad Angels up with it! Taken aback, Goro stumbles into Mark, who (understandably) asks just what the hell they’re doing – before recognising Goro as Ryo’s friend he saw before. 

In an absolutely kick-ass sequence, Mark proceeds to bust the warehouse door down with the forklift, pinning the two Mad Angel thugs against the wall! Already I love how this episode is utillising supporting characters in a unique way quite unlike the game, rather than Ryo facing this all alone. Mai and Goro proceed to untie Nozomi before they all board the forklift with Mark and leave – however they then spot Ryo and Gui Zhang on the floor across the water. To their relief however, Ryo quickly leaps up before one of the thugs can finish him off with a metal bat, as does Gui Zhang. We flashback to earlier, when the two were still in the middle of their fight, revealing that Ryo quietly informed Gui Zhang it was a trap – the double Swallow Dive maneuver was simply part of the show to trick Terry, and didn’t actually connect at all. (Ryo is perhaps proving to be a bit more cunning and forward-thinking than his game counterpart!). Undeterred, Terry quickly calls more Mad Angels in, quickly surrounding the two. Ryo shouts to Mark and Goro to get Nozomi and Mai out of there, who all make a quick getaway in the forklift after Mark and Nozomi reluctantly agree. And so begins the anime’s equivalent of the game’s epic 70-man battle! Ryo and Gui Zhang defeat each of the mooks effortlessly in some stunningly animated brutality, finishing with them both performing a Swallow Dive kick on the last crowd of thugs unfortunate enough to challenge them. While it’s disappointing we don’t get to see the likes of Pedro Warren and the other Mad Angel lieutenants from the game, this is still an extremely satisfying sequence and certainly does one of Shenmue I’s most pivotal and memorable moments justice. 

As Goro and co. reach the harbour’s exit, Nozomi expresses her concern at leaving Ryo behind. (Goro’s objections predictably met with a hard slap from Mai) – with Mark ultimately agreeing they should go back. Meanwhile, as Ryo and Gui Zhang stand over the fallen thugs, Terry confronts them – knowing that Nozomi is now safe, Ryo lets Gui Zhang and Terry settle their score on their own. While Terry doesn’t stoop quite as low as throwing dirt in Gui Zhang’s face in this version of events, he literally declares that he isn’t above playing dirty and rushes toward his rival with a metal bat. This, of course, misses, giving Gui Zhang the opportunity to strike with yet another Swallow Dive kick (the anime is certainly getting its mileage out of this one move!). With Terry finally defeated, Ryo and Gui Zhang turn to leave, however then Terry asks Ryo about him going after Lan Di. He then taunts Ryo, saying that if he considers beating the Mad Angels to be a major victory, then he obviously doesn’t know who he’s now up against. As Terry says these words, we see Lan Di looking out at the Hong Kong skyline from his boat (along with some shadowy figures added for effect, presumably representing the Chi You Men as a whole), and he states that Ryo will never return alive. 

We then cut to the anime’s depiction of the infamous ‘Dawn’ scene (unfortunately without that beautiful music track accompanying it, but you can’t have everything), with Ryo and Gui Zhang standing together, the former looking out to the sea in determination. Ryo insists that he’ll find a way to get to Hong Kong one way or the other. Gui Zhang then says that he’ll speak to Master Chen – before quickly correcting himself to say ‘my father’- and that he’ll convince him to help with that. I like that this whole experience has fuelled a renewed determination in Gui Zhang as well, no longer yielding to the expectation that he should only have a formal relationship with his own father. It’s a nice bit of added character depth, that we will see pay off later in the episode. Ryo thanks him as he leaves – Gui Zhang simply smiles and walks off here, seemingly not insisting that he should be the one saying that – but we’ll come back to that…

As morning breaks, Goro and co. catch up with Ryo, all glad to see he is ok. Ryo thanks Goro for noticing his message, and also thanks Mark and Mai for their help. While Nozomi attempts to  apologise to Ryo for the trouble, he insists that he should be sorry for dragging them all into his own problems. This is a surprising bit of character growth for Ryo, and shows that he seems to be slightly more aware of the consequences for others that his quest brings about than his game counterpart is. Ryo and Nozomi are then seen riding home on the motorcycle together – a nice inclusion from the game, although not taking place at night this time. A flashback reveals that Nozomi was about to run towards Ryo as he and Gui Zhang were talking at the waterfront – before she overhears their conversation about Hong Kong. Back on the bike, a seemingly wistful and accepting Nozomi thanks Ryo for everything. Ryo suddenly remembers the ‘advice’ that she wanted to talk to him about before, but she simply says that it’s ok now, and she has already made up her mind. I found this moment quite powerful, as although Nozomi is clearly sad that Ryo is going to Hong Kong, it has also made her decision to go to Canada a lot easier, knowing that she can’t stop Ryo. She seems to feel a mix of sadness and happiness about this, but it is ultimately a huge weight off her shoulders. This is all implied in a few short words and by her expression, and masterfully done in my opinion.

We cut to some days later, where Ryo is seen speaking with Yada-san at the Alpha Trading office, seemingly quitting the forklift job (unlike the game where he is fired). Mark walks in and overhears this, and Ryo confirms to him that he is leaving. As the two say goodbye, Mark tells Ryo to keep walking down his own path. I was wondering how the anime would handle this, seeing as Mark was only introduced in the previous episode (and therefore their relationship not being quite as built up as the game), but given how he has more actively helped Ryo just in a single night in this version of events, the goodbye still has the proper emotional weight. While it’s slightly disappointing there isn’t any pay-off to Mark’s search for his brother (especially as it’s confirmed he’s still alive in the anime), the implication that he will still continue on his search, further motivated by his experience with Ryo, is probably enough. While I was at first confused by Mark’s initially distant and cold nature as opposed to the game, it ultimately made sense in terms of what the anime was doing, that Ryo had to earn Mark’s respect.

We then see Goro and Mai announcing to Ryo that they are getting married – with Goro saying that he popped the question after seeing Mai in action and in all the excitement of the previous night. Unlike the game, Ryo doesn’t really seem to object as much to the marriage here – not pointing out that Mai is still young. (Mai is 16 in the game – her age is not actually mentioned here so it’s entirely possible she has been aged up in the anime, which may explain why she has a close friendship with Nozomi). The goodbyes continue as we see Ryo being seen off by Ine-san and Fuku-san at the gate of the Hazuki Dojo, with the famous green backpack in tow. Ryo swears that he’ll come back, after he’s found out the truth – again, this is being emphasised far more in the anime than Ryo’s desire to get revenge. This is affirmed as Fuku-san states that he will surely find proof that his father is innocent. This is a short goodbye but an emotional one, and while I wish we got to see more of these two in the anime, this still mostly worked for me and conveys a lot in a short space of time.

As Ryo continues on his way, he bumps into Nozomi near the park. She gives him an amulet inscribed with a good luck charm, saying that she made a wish on it that he’ll be kept safe from harm. As Ryo leaves, she sees him off with a ‘See you again…some day’, then shedding tears after he’s gone. Again, this is a short but beautifully emotional scene, and I find the anime’s choice for Nozomi not to tell Ryo about her plans to go to Canada interesting. This version of Nozomi seems a lot more mature and accepting of things than her game counterpart, willing to hide her true feelings for Ryo and desire for him to stay, because she knows that she can’t stop him from going. The tragic air of this character is arguably conveyed better here than it is in the game, simply by choosing her to withhold so much emotion. The fact that this is all conveyed in very few words is a credit to the writers and indeed the animators.

At the harbour, Ryo looks out to the boat, then hearing Gui Zhang’s voice behind him, goodnaturedly jibing him about how his foolishness knows no bounds. Master Chen is there with his son, who Ryo thanks for arranging his passage to Hong Kong. Chen points out that it was Gui Zhang who persuaded him, and that he wishes for his son to go with Ryo, in order to keep tabs on the Chi You Men. Chen then asks Ryo what he’ll do upon arriving in Hong Kong, who confirms he’ll start by searching for Zhu Yuanda. While Chen doesn’t know of his whereabouts, he gives Ryo a letter with details of someone who may be able to help. They are soon interrupted by Chai, who kicks down some metal pipes – Gui Zhang is able to push his father out of harm’s way, but ends up getting his leg injured in the process. The Great Chai then leaps in and challenges Ryo to another fight, insisting the Phoenix Mirror is his and he’ll take it by force. After a swift kick to the face, Chai notes that Ryo seems to be stronger now – Ryo simply insists that he won’t lose to anyone until he finds out the truth about his father’s death. Ryo then finishes the fight with (yet another) Swallow Dive kick, which sends Chai into the sea. While this is a short but sweet battle, it’s still another satisfying moment in the episode, bringing a nice final conflict to the Yokosuka chapter. The question is, will Chai make any further appearances from here this season, given he doesn’t appear at all in Shenmue II, not making a return until Shenmue III? It will be interesting to see how the anime handles this…

As Ryo rushes to Gui Zhang’s aid, we see a far more graphic depiction of the injury than the game ever shows us – showing that he is indeed bleeding. While Gui Zhang insists he should still go, convinced Ryo can’t face the Chi You Men alone, Ryo insists that it is better that he stays with his father. He then proceeds to thank Master Chen in Mandarin – confirming that he is indeed familiar enough with the language to be able to speak it, seemingly circumventing any potential language barrier issues that may occur on his arrival in Hong Kong. Chen replies, also in Mandarin, that he hopes Ryo has a good trip. Accepting Ryo’s wishes, Gui Zhang then shakes his hand. As the Shenmue theme plays, we see the Chens watching Ryo’s boat depart. Master Chen comments that it’s a shame his son couldn’t go, as he thought time alone would allow him a chance to grow. Gui Zhang, however, replies that staying is the right choice, as there is room for him to grow here too. While Chen expresses that he thought his son hated being stuck by his side, Gui Zhang insists that he will always be his father’s son. It’s really nice to see a payoff and resolution to the tension previously seen in these two’s relationship, this whole experience seemingly reminding them of what’s really important. As Gui Zhang recalls Ryo thanking him the night before, he thinks to himself that he should be the one thanking him – I think I actually prefer the idea of Gui Zhang not stating this to Ryo himself, still retaining a degree of his proud and closed-off nature. 

As the boat goes off into the distance, Ryo is seen holding Nozomi’s amulet and the letter from Zhu Yuanda, looking out at the sunset as he says to himself, ‘Just you wait…Lan Di’.

FINAL THOUGHTS: I cannot express enough how much I loved this episode. While I was sceptical of the idea of the Yokosuka arc being wrapped up this soon, feeling it needed at least another episode, I find myself pleasantly surprised with just how well everything was concluded here. Supporting characters such as Mark and Goro were given a lot more to do and were a lot more involved in Ryo’s quest, perhaps a necessary change for the medium of a television show in order to remain engaging. The episode had a masterful balance of action and emotion, with some stunning fight scenes but also some very impactful goodbyes as Ryo leaves Yokosuka. The understated depiction of Nozomi’s emotions especially is done extremely well, and arguably makes her a more likable and relatable character than her game counterpart. Everything built up in the previous episode had a solid pay off here and I really do commend the writers for being able to make an engaging and cohesive story out of the Yokosuka portion with ultimately very little time to work with. This is without a doubt my favourite episode yet, and was such a treat for a longtime fan – I can only hope those who haven’t played the game enjoy it as well! I am very excited to get into the Hong Kong chapter next week, as we will be going in completely blind – none of the trailers have shown anything beyond Yokosuka at all, and I feel we are really in for a treat as we get to the true beginning of Shenmue’s story. Cannot wait!!!

Rating: 5/5 

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

Until next week, for Episode 6 – ‘Dignified’!


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