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.
And so we find ourselves this week thrown headfirst into Hong Kong, otherwise known as the beginning of Shenmue II. The events of the first game, the Yokosuka chapter, were breezed through in merely 5 episodes, now leaving 8 episodes left to presumably cover the entirety of the sequel – where arguably the saga and plot truly begin. Events predictably move at a fast pace in this episode, but are also cleverly reworked or reshuffled to add a bit more depth to Ryo’s journey and the characters he meets. Speaking of characters, this episode wastes no time introducing a lot of Shenmue II’s new faces, with one even teased early at the very end. The episode even arguably better conveys the concept of one of the Four Wude than the game actually does, but I’ll elaborate on that when we get there! So without further ado, let’s step off the Genpu Maru and set foot on the grimy metropolis that is Hong Kong…
As the boat pulls into Aberdeen harbour, Ryo looks at the photo of Iwao and a mysterious man that he found in the Hazuki Dojo basement (back in Episode 3). There is then a quick montage flashback of events from Episodes 1-5, focusing on Lan Di at the end, as Ryo then touches his plaster covering the scar inflicted by his father’s murderer. We then see Ryo step off the boat, looking around at the strange new city he now finds himself in (this harbour is notably a lot closer in proximity to the actual city than it is in the game). We then get a brief flashback of Master Chen handing the letter of introduction of someone he knows in Hong Kong to Ryo, but this is sharply interrupted by the speeding arrival of none other than Joy, who proceeds to nearly run over the daydreaming Ryo with her motorcycle. Much like in the game, the two have a short, curt conversation where Joy quickly figures out Ryo is Japanese, but appears to know some Cantonese (also demonstrated in previous episodes, however Ryo appears to not be entirely fluent as he often finds himself consulting his translation book). Before she speeds off again, she advises him not to dawdle when in this city, and to also watch out for pickpockets. It’s worth noting that neither Ryo or Joy formally introduce themselves by name yet in this scene, unlike the game.
As Ryo continues to wander (apparently not taking Joy’s advice as he talks to himself looking at Chen’s letter), he notes that the person named ‘Tao Lishao’ that Chen gave him the details of lives in the Yan Tin Apartments in the South Carmain Quarter in Wan Chai (true to the game). We then see a familiar scene unfold as a young boy runs towards Ryo, asking for help and claiming that some men are going to kill him. We then see a trio of hoodlums threaten Ryo to hand over the kid to them, but predictably Ryo is having none of it as he sets his trusty green backpack down on the floor, ready to fight. He derisively states that even though he’s in a new country in a new city, there’s still the same old pieces of trash. His cockiness proves to be his undoing however, as the boy takes the opportunity to grab and toss the bag to the thugs, becoming clear that it’s all been a set up. Confirming their names as Sam, Larry and Cool Z (the latter was known as ‘Cool J’ in Japan previously in Shenmue II, his name changed overseas to avoid any legal complications with the popular rapper, but here they seem to have stuck with ‘Cool Z’ for all regions) the boy dashes off with them as Ryo gives chase, but it’s all in vain as they quickly separate and knock some crates in his way, losing them in the crowd. Ryo dejectedly mutters to himself. ‘So this is Hong Kong’ before we launch into the opening credits.
In a move he did not think to take in the game, Ryo goes to the police about his stolen bag, only for one of the officers to bluntly tell him that pickpockets and theft are very common in Hong Kong. In another surprising change, Ryo was apparently sensible enough to keep his money and valuables in his pocket here – unlike the game where it was all in his bag, much to the consternation of the player! However,it is apparent when asked by the officer that he still hasn’t had the sense to plan where he would be staying for the night. Ryo then proceeds to try a few hotels around the city (one of which appears to be the Grand Hotel mentioned by Joy in Shenmue II), only to find them all fully booked. As he steps out of the last hotel he tries, he comments to himself that he’s lucky that the thieves didn’t get the Phoenix Mirror (again, he kept this in his bag in the game), but that it will still be a challenge to find the Yan Tin Apartments. Continuing to wander the city, he notices an old man practicing Tai Chi in the park, under the shade of a large tree with red leaves. As he notices Ryo watching him, he asks if he is knowledgeable of the martial arts, apparently being able to tell this from his poise. Ryo brushes off this line of conversation, stating he is just looking for someone. The old man is determined however and insists that Ryo spar with him – he agrees, but is confused as to how someone can fight with Tai Chi. As the two practice, none of Ryo’s hits connect, with him taken by surprise by a strike from the old man, causing him to drop his introduction letter. Ryo then takes the opportunity to ask the elderly gentleman where the Yan Tin Apartments are – as he directs Ryo we see from a sign that this is indeed Lotus Park from the game. The old man advises him to leave the park and then follow the street (again, accurate to the game). As Ryo hurriedly thanks him and departs, the old man mumbles to himself that he didn’t get a chance to find out what Ryo’s style was…
At the Yan Tin Apartments (its dark and dingy atmosphere extremely accurate to the game), Ryo is quickly accosted by an old woman, who accuses him of being a landshark trying to drive her out of her home. He tries to clear up the situation by explaining that he is looking for Tao Lishao, but she derisively states that Tao is not someone that a ‘tourist’ like Ryo can just meet. As Ryo persists, she tells him that Tao does not live there anymore (in the game, their conversation was a lot shorter, with her being unwavering in her belief of him being a landshark, meaning Ryo had to find out where Tao had gone from another tenant), and after some initial reluctance, tells him to go to Man Mo Temple. While not yet formally introduced by name, Guixiang is slightly less hostile and more willing to hear Ryo out in this version of events…
Ryo’s first visit to Man Mo Temple plays out much like how it does in the game – as he walks into the dark, incense-clouded interior he sees a woman praying at one of the altars. As Ryo asks her about Tao Lishao (assuming Tao is male), the woman merely says she is here to pray, and walks off briskly. One of the temple monks, Hanhui (like Guixiang, not actually introduced by name in this episode), steps in to try and assist Ryo, who hands him the letter of introduction from Master Chen. Hanhui however coldly informs him that the letter is not enough to earn him a meeting with the master. When Ryo asks what he should do, Hanhui only tells him that he shouldn’t rush and what will be, will be. This part differs from the game, where he tells Ryo that he must learn about the Wude – he has to find out information about that in a different way later in the episode. Outside in the temple courtyard, Ryo encounters the mysterious woman again. He asks her what brought her to the temple, and she tells him that there is a wish that she has been praying for – and notes that Ryo seems to have one as well. She claims to be able to see it in his eyes, and warns him that he has become consumed by it, blind to everything around him. She also adds that his search will cause him to lose sight of what really matters. As she leaves, Ryo can only once again put his hand up to the plaster on his face, apparently undeterred by her words…
Ryo decides to head back to Lotus Park to seek advice from the old man he met earlier. He offers to give Ryo a hint in his search for Tao Lishao, but first demonstrates the ‘Iron Palm’ move on the tree surrounding them, causing its leaves to fall and cover the floor. He tells Ryo that once he himself is able to also perform the move to this level, he will give him said hint. Ryo gives it his all in his first attempt, but is only able to make a single leaf fall. The old man simply laughs in response. We then cut to Joy, still speeding her motorcycle through the city, until she catches sight of the young boy that stole Ryo’s bag earlier. Addressing him as Wong, she quickly realises he’s in a bad mood – he explains that he’s annoyed at wasting his time at stealing a bag as it was full of ‘worthless junk’ (if he had any capsule toys in there I must sharply disagree with you, young man!). As Joy expresses that she didn’t think there was anyone stupid enough left in Aberdeen to fall for Wong’s tricks, he explains that it was a Japanese tourist, immediately sparking Joy’s interest. This is a nice scene between the two to establish their relationship, and once again shows us the advantages of the anime not being confined to Ryo’s perspective.
Back at Lotus Park, Ryo is still struggling to master the Iron Palm move. The old man chides Ryo for wanting to rush to master it, and as Ryo insists that he needs to meet Tao Lishao as soon as possible, the old man leaves and tells him that any martial arts he learns in Hong Kong will not come to him quickly and that he must take his time. Taking these words to heart, Ryo reminisces about training with his father when he was a child, and continues to practice the Iron Palm, apparently late into the evening. As night falls, he realises that he still needs to find a place to stay. As he searches, he draws the attention of two brutish gentleman drinking outside a bar – who will be familiar to players of Shenmue II as the Poison Brothers, Du Haohui and Du Bangzhuo. Unlike the game, this is an unwanted encounter (Game-Ryo seeks them out deliberately while searching for the bag thieves), and they note that he is a tourist and offer to help him out with anything he may want to know about Hong Kong. However, when Ryo asks about a place to stay, they claim not to know. As he attempts to walk away from the two thugs, they brazenly insist that Ryo give them money for the enquiry. When Ryo refuses, they try to attack him but are quickly interrupted by Joy’s motorcycle cutting between them. Recognising her, the Poison Brothers quickly back off and leave. Noting that Ryo’s bag has gone, Joy asks who took it, and quickly surmises from his description that it was Wong. When Ryo asks where he is, Joy flatly refuses to tell him (this is unlike the game where she is all too willing to share Wong’s whereabouts) When Ryo questions her motive to protect him, she shares that Wong is an orphan who never met his parents (again, another change as Ryo learns this directly from Wong in the game, and even then only in an optional conversation), and is just doing what he needs to do to survive. She then goes into further detail about the state of Hong Kong, mentioning that the UK will soon be transferring sovereignty of the city back to China (this actually occurred in 1997, ten years after the game and anime’s events in 1987, but negotiations were indeed going on through the 1980’s), and that the future of Hong Kong is uncertain after that – and this is why everyone is just doing what they can to scrape by, Wong not being the only one. This is an interesting commentary on the state of the city at the time that I’m now keen to do further research into! It also provides some added background and context to the environment that is not explicitly referenced in the game.
As Joy adds that everyone here just looks out for themselves, even if you catch a bad break, she reminisces to a time when she was still a child, standing with a man who is presumably her father. As a close up reveals that the younger Joy is in tears, we can assume that this has something to do with the passing of her mother, and may be elaborated on in future episodes (this is mentioned in her bio from the official website for the anime – seemingly an added detail as I don’t believe this is mentioned in any material pertaining to the game, only about her father being a well known businessman). As Joy derisively states that none of this probably makes much sense to a tourist like Ryo, in response he insists that he isn’t just a tourist. As he walks away Joy asks if he has a place to stay – and not wishing him to sleep outside, agrees to do him a favour and find him one. Later, outside the guest house, she tells him to mention her name in order to get a discount – this being the first mention of her name to Ryo. He thanks her and heads inside, and fans will instantly recognise the dingy interior of the Come Over Guest House and its surly proprietor, Ren Dan. This plays out much like the game, where he initially claims there is no vacancy but relents once Ryo mentions Joy, tossing him a room key. As Ryo heads upstairs and opens the window of his room, he notices that Joy is still there on the street. He tells her his name, to which Joy simply smiles and rides off into the night.
We then check in with Shenhua at Bailu Village – who we have not seen in a scene proper since Episode 3 (she only appeared in a brief nightmare of Ryo’s in Episode 4, and did not appear at all in Episode 5). It’s a very short, simple scene where she simply notes that the Shenmue tree has already started budding -hopefully we will get scenes of more substance in the next few episodes, it would be particularly interesting to see some of her interacting with her father – but I digress. Meanwhile, it is the next day in Hong Kong and Ryo is still trying to master the Iron Palm technique. He manages to make a few more leaves scatter from the tree this time, and the old man notes that he seems to be getting the hang of it. When Ryo questions what style of martial arts this is, the old man clarifies that it is Chen-style Tai Chi – further elaborating that while most styles begin with force and develop into gentleness, Tai Chi is the opposite, and in fact a union of the two. He also adds that martial arts aren’t strictly intended for inflicting harm on others, which Ryo seems to understand. Later, Ryo asks Joy once again where Wong is, but she still isn’t budging. He gives his word that he won’t harm Wong or his friends, and Joy seems to relent. We then see Wong sitting forlornly on the fountain at Pigeon Park, watching a father and his young son together, somewhat reminiscent of the scene in Episode 1 where Ryo watched a father and son playing together. This is quickly interrupted by Ryo however, and Wong proceeds to run away, trying to throw obstacles in Ryo’s way but ultimately has to get help from Sam, Larry and Cool Z. Ryo confronts them, thwarting their attacks with the Tai Chi techniques he has learned, demanding to know where his bag is. Wong ultimately relents, taking him to his boat (where in a neat little easter egg, he has capsule toys of Mobo and Robo from Bonanza Brothers as part of the furniture), where the bag has been stashed. Ryo leaves with a stern warning to be careful who he steals from next time.
Ryo once again returns to Lotus Park, still trying to perfect the Iron Palm. He finally manages to strike hard enough to make several leaves fall from the tree, covering the ground (this part really does look beautiful, as you can see from the image above) The old man cheerily states he was right about Ryo, and that his diligence has allowed him to master one of the Wude. He clarifies that this is ‘GON’ – to train yourself every day without neglect – and that Tao Lishao will surely grant him an audience now. Ryo then takes the opportunity to tell him what his style is – Hazuki-style Jujutsu, passed down to him from his father, which the old man notes is a special gift indeed. Ryo later runs into Joy again, who tells him she heard about what happened, impressed that he kept his promise not to harm Wong and his gang. She asks just what it is that he came to Hong Kong for, to which he simply replies ‘to learn the truth’. When she questions this, he makes clear that if it is the law of Hong Kong to accept whenever you’re given a raw deal, that he will not accept this until he has accomplished his goal (a brief flash of Lan Di then appearing, seemingly sitting in the Chi You Men’s Niaowu hideout from Shenmue III). Joy does not question further, but seems impressed.
As the end credits begin to roll, we see an additional scene of Ryo at Man Mo Temple (the imagery of Nozomi presumably not used as it is no longer relevant, making me wonder if this is how the ending of each episode will play out from now on). He approaches Hanhui and tells him of the Wude he has learned, ‘GON’. He then makes clear his intention to visit the temple every day until Tao Lishao agrees to meet with him. When Hanhui questions what Ryo intends to do then, he explains that Tao is the only one that can help him find Zhu Yuanda. Hanhui asks why Ryo wants to find him, and he elaborates that he may know the truth behind his father’s murder. The mysterious woman from before then steps in, asking Ryo if that is truly what his father would have wished for him,. She further warns that he will be led astray if he continues down this path. When he tries to shut her down, Hanhui chides him for being so rude to Master Xiuying – who then confirms that she is Tao Lishao, Ryo visibly shocked by this. Meanwhile, in a little teaser at the end, we see Wong and the other Heavens members speaking to a shadowed figure, who seems interested in the Japanese tourist he has just told them about – soon revealed to be none other than Ren of Heavens himself, as the episode ends.
FINAL THOUGHTS: As expected, events move at a brisk pace in this episode, but there are still enough surprises for fans who are at this point very familiar with the unfolding of events from Shenmue II. For one, I like how Ryo’s Iron Palm practice with Jianmin (not actually introduced formally by name in this episode) is stretched out over a few days, actually making it more relevant to the principle of GON – to train every day, without neglect. I just felt like this was a great little touch, and more engaging than watching Ryo simply attempt the move over and over again with nothing happening in between. Joy appears also to have a little more substance given to her, with a few hints about her backstory and her feelings about the wider context of what is going on around them in Hong Kong. I was also very surprised to see the changes regarding Ryo’s bag being stolen, most notably that he wasn’t stupid enough to keep his money and the Phoenix Mirror in it in this version of events! It’s also changed to tie in neatly with his learning of Tai Chi techniques from Jianmin, establishing early on Ryo’s realisation that reckless brute force is not always the answer. It’s also interesting to see Ren appear so much earlier (much like how Chai did in the Yokosuka portion), even if it is only in a brief teaser at the end. While it is arguably hard to keep up with just how much this episode throws at the audience, I think overall it was handled well and I look forward to seeing how the rest of the plot will unfold in the anime. Will Ryo still learn the other three Wude? Will his motivations shift from finding out the truth to wanting to get revenge? (if they haven’t already). As Shenmue II is among my favourite games of all time, I look forward to seeing how this adaptation handles its story and I feel this episode is already a good sign of things to come.
What did you think of the episode? Let me know in the comments!
Until next week, for Episode 7 – ‘Future’!