Shenmue The Animation Ep #8 -‘Aspiration’ 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.

I had some concerns last week about the pacing of the Shenmue II part of the story as it has been adapted so far – mainly that they possibly seem to be spending too long on the ‘Wude’ portion, and how this would affect events later down the road. I still have some nagging thoughts about this, but I think this week’s episode mostly quelled them – I can now see that latter parts of the story appear to be running parallel to Ryo learning the Wude, which allows some time to be saved while still focusing on what is an important part of Ryo’s teachings and development as a martial artist. I still find myself wondering if we truly will reach the end of Shenmue II’s story by Episode 13, but I guess part of the fun is in the finding out! At any rate, let’s get into this week’s episode, which has a nice balance of scenes familiar to fans as well as some added depth…

As the episode begins, we see Shenhua standing at a mountainside late at night, before turning round to see the fearsome Lan Di – who is holding the Phoenix Mirror. He stares menacingly at the young girl as thunder begins to clap around them – before Ryo wakes up, revealing this is another dream, similar to the one he had back in Episode 4, and again very reminiscent of Shenmue II’s ‘Bad Ending’ cutscene. Ryo is now staying in Xiuying’s room, and soon greeted by Fangmei, who formally introduces herself to Ryo as Xiuying’s assistant, following their brief encounter in the last episode. She passes on a message that Xiuying wants him to come to the library at Man Mo Temple straight away. As we cut to Ryo and Xiuying at the library, the master explains that she wishes for him to carry all of the books outside so they can be aired out – which indeed the player is tasked to do in the game. Ryo presses her about Zhu Yuanda, but she only replies that she only agreed to give him a place to stay – and nothing else. Left with no other choice, Ryo proceeds to try and carry out the books, attempting to retrieve some from a high shelf by using a ladder. Unlike the game, Ryo has no help from the young apprentice Chang Jiliang to carry out this task (indeed, neither him or Fu Shiquan have been anywhere to be seen in the anime so far, both seemingly being cut). Ryo quickly loses his footing on the ladder, much to the alarm of Fangmei, who suddenly appears in the doorway. Ryo falls to the floor but still manages to keep hold of the books. He is then chided by Fangmei, who tells him to be more careful as the books are very valuable and mustn’t be damaged. She offers to help with the higher shelves and says he should ‘stick to what he can reach’ (which feels like a bit of a metaphor to the limits of Ryo’s abilities and the roadblock he currently finds himself behind in his quest). Ryo mutters an apology as we launch into the opening titles.

Joy is seen asking about Ryo’s whereabouts at the Come Over Guest House, where the owner informs her that he left, paying his bill in full. Joy looks concerned, wondering just where he is staying. Back at the temple library, Ryo and Fangmei have finished taking the books outside, leaving them out to air in the garden. Ryo is perturbed to learn that he will be expected to do this every day for a week, and mutters to himself that he doesn’t understand why Xiuying is making him to do this. Fangmei quickly rushes to her master’s defence, saying Ryo shouldn’t doubt her, reminding him that he should consider it returning the favour for her giving him a place to stay. She tells him to come back at 3pm so they can take the books back inside. As he leaves the temple, he runs into Hanhui. As Ryo expresses his frustration at Xiuying making him do chores and feeling like he is wasting his time, Hanhui tells him to calm down  and reminds him that he should be learning the Wude and following their teachings, and that this is likely what Xiuying wants him to achieve. Ryo then remembers the two Wude he has learned so far – namely ‘GON’- to train yourself every day without neglect (learned from Jianmin in Episode 6)-and ‘JIE’ – to keep your heart free of conceit, and to never use force blindly or flaunt your technique (learned from Zhoushan in the previous episode). Ryo realises that he must find more martial artists to learn the remaining Wude.

As Ryo wanders the streets and remembers he needs to be back at the temple by 3pm, he starts running and doesn’t see the old woman walking in front of him, causing the box she is carrying to go flying after he bumps into her. Thankfully Ryo catches the box, but is met with an angry tirade from the old woman that he’ll be paying if anything is broken. She then realises that she recognises him as the ‘tourist’ that came to the Yan Tin Apartments the other day (as seen in Episode 6) Ryo again denies this label, but she is unwilling to listen, saying that he won’t get away with just walking away after nearly breaking her ‘wares’. The two proceed to go to a cafe called ‘Hong Kong Tea Shop’ (while there is a cafe called this in the Lucky Charm Quarter in the game, it is a lot smaller than this establishment and appears to have a different owner, so the slightly generic name is probably just a coincidence). As the old woman greets the owner, she informs him that she brought the wares he asked for. She instructs Ryo to open the box, and it turns out to be a tea set. As the owner admires it she explains it was just gathering dust and would be better for it to be put to use at the cafe (bizarrely this seemingly throwaway line struck a bit of a chord with me, having spent most of this week clearing old things out and making brutal decisions about what to keep and what to throw/give away!). Ryo asks if they are valuable, to which the woman replies that to most they wouldn’t seem so, but that value often lies in the eye of the beholder – a philosophy she likens to Hong Kong itself. The old woman then proceeds to leave, and Ryo is presented with some tea from the owner, who insists he deserves a cup after helping out the woman. This is a nice little added scene for the anime and allows us to see a softer side to the crotchety old woman Guixiang is presented as in the game, clearly caring about the city she lives in and the community around her. 

We then see Joy walking down the street, still pondering over Ryo’s whereabouts. Wong attempts to sneak up behind her and grab her wallet, but she is wise to his tricks and grabs him, telling him he’s still decades away from being able to steal from her. Wong says he’s still working on his technique, and no longer deploying the tactic he used on ‘that Japanese guy’. Joy asks Wong if he’s seen him anywhere – he hasn’t, but offers to help her find him – for a price. Joy flinches at this, and we do not find out if she gives in and gives him money or not (though I’m willing to bet he got a swift slap to the face instead!) Back at Man Mo Temple, Fangmei is hanging out some laundry when Xiuying approaches. She tells her master that she had to help Ryo with airing out the books, due to him being a ‘careless scatterbrain’. Xiuying says that she just needs Fangmei’s guidance, which she eagerly agrees to. Her master then announces she’s heading out and asks Fangmei to accompany her.

Meanwhile, Ryo mutters to himself that he still needs to find where martial artists are when Wong approaches from behind, mockingly calling out for help. Ryo ruffles his hair and tells him that trick only works once, as Joy also appears and comments that he seems to be learning the ropes around here. She asks why he’s not staying at the guest house anymore, to which Ryo explains that someone’s letting them stay at their place now. Before Joy can inquire any further, the conversation shifts to Wong trying to come up with a new pickpocketing technique. As Joy asks what Ryo has been up to, he tells them that he’s still looking for martial artists – Wong then mentions he’s seen a woman practicing in Pigeon Park. As the three go to the park to investigate, they indeed see a young woman practicing her technique. Quickly noticing Ryo watching, she asks if he’s also a practitioner of the martial arts and if he would like to spar with her. Wong comments that the ladies seem to have a liking to Ryo, and teases Joy that if she doesn’t take him ‘off the market’, that someone else will. This is met with Joy angrily tugging his cheek, seemingly denying that she has any interest in Ryo. As he and the young woman continue talking, she asks Ryo if he is hesitant to spar just because she’s a woman. As he did with Xiuying, Ryo categorically denies this, but says he must decline all the same. The woman takes no heed however and charges forward to attack him anyway, with Ryo dodging all of her blows and grabbing hold of her leg in the midst of an attempted kick. The woman compliments Ryo on his technique, who then asks if she has any knowledge of the Wude. She says that she doesn’t, but may know someone who does. Fans of the game will no doubt recognise this woman as Eileen M. Edelweiss – not actually named in the episode! It’s surprising to see her make an appearance, given she is entirely ‘missable’ – that is to say, tied to some side objectives and not actually a necessary character to encounter in order to complete the game (and I believe this is the first instance of this occurring in the anime, for both games) Nonetheless, it’s nice to see the anime take the time to include her – and indeed, the person she advises Ryo to see falls into this category of character as well, as we’ll see in the next scene!

Ryo, Wong and Joy then visit the store apparently recommended to them by Eileen – disappointingly, it is just called a generic ‘SUPERMARKET’ rather than a Tomato Convenience Store – but as we’ll see the cashier is a familiar face – Izumi Takano, the cashier at the Golden Quarter’s Tomato store in the game! (Like Eileen, she is not actually formally introduced by name here). She quickly realises Ryo is Japanese like her, and asks if he is on vacation or studying abroad like herself. After Wong explains he’s on a quest to find martial artists, she tries to strike Ryo – to which he effortlessly counters by grabbing her fist, suitably impressing her. Noting her aptitude, Ryo asks if she knows anything about the Wude – but only seems to get a blank face in response from Izumi. While it is clear that we won’t get to see Izumi fight Ryo, or for her to take him to the Duck Races afterwards, it’s still nice to see Eileen and Izumi make little extended cameos in the anime, a nice tip of the hat to the diehard fans. 

As Xiuying and Fangmei walk the streets with some shopping in hand, they hear some commotion in a nearby alley – with two thugs threatening a young boy and girl, the boy trying to stand up to them. These two thugs are members of the Yellow Head – players may recognise them as two of the ‘landsharks’ who try to evict Guixiang from the Yan Tin Apartments – namely Wu Yigao (the one wearing the purple hat) and Zhang Menxia (the big bald guy wearing red). Despite their threats, the young boy works up the courage to kick Yigao in a…sensitive area, shall we say – when Yigao responds by trying to strike the boy with his pipe, he’s quickly held back by Xiuying, who condemns him for fighting a child. As Fangmei leads the children to a safe place, the two thugs confront Xiuying, claiming they aren’t above beating up a lady. Xiuying merely gives them a cold stare in response, this and a slight shift of her foot seemingly being enough to intimidate the two into making a quick retreat. As Xiuying and Fangmei check on the two children, the boy chides himself, claiming he needs to get stronger for when they come back and threaten them again, clearly fiercely protective of his little sister. This causes Xiuying to remember her own brother, prompting her to tell the boy that such thoughts will lead him down the wrong path. Fangmei looks on in concern as Xiuying proceeds to leave after these words. I really like these added scenes the anime is granting Xiuying – as well as being nice to see her actually interact with Fangmei, it is providing plenty of setup and hints about the plight of her brother, arguably building this part of her character better than the game does.

Ryo, Joy and Wong are having tea together in a cafe, and it transpires that Izumi did not seem to have any knowledge of the Wude either, meaning Ryo must still search for a martial artist that does. They then witness a confrontation outside, where a man makes clear his refusal to leave to the other – the one threatening this man, wearing the green shirt, appears to be another ‘landshark’ Yellow Head member trying to force people out of their homes – namely Lu Zebo, (who plays much the same role threatening Guixiang in the game). As Ryo stands up intending to intervene, Joy tells him not to bother, flatly saying that things like this happen all the time in Hong Kong. Wong agrees, pointing out to Ryo that everyone is just walking past while this occurs and not getting involved – he elaborates that old buildings are getting torn down and replaced with new ones as part of a redevelopment program. Joy further explains that the old tenants have to be forced out first, and disparagingly remarks that there is likely some corruption and bribery involved. She again mentions the imminent handover of Hong Kong from Great Britain’s control, and that life will soon change. As the clock strikes 4pm, Ryo realises he lost track of time and is late returning back to the temple. I like how this scene adds a bit of context to the ‘landshark’ situation, which isn’t really given much background in the game, and we only see Guixiang as a victim of their persistent harassment – so it’s good to see it explained a bit further here, and again it seems tied to the uncertainty of what will happen after Britain relinquishes control of Hong Kong. It also adds a lot of depth and sympathy to both Joy and Wong’s characters (especially Joy – even with a rich family herself, she still seems to care about the plight of those less fortunate).

As Ryo returns to the temple, he is met with an angry Fangmei who tells him she has already finished putting all of the books away by herself. Ryo explains the reason for his lateness, that he was looking for a martial artist so he could learn more about the Wude – while Xiuying stands nearby and overhears. While Fangmei continues to chide him, she asks just why he came to Hong Kong in the first place. Ryo explains that he is trying to find Zhu Yuanda – while the name does seem to spark some familiarity in her, she denies knowing anything about him to Ryo and walks off in a huff. As Xiuying approaches, Ryo explains that it was his fault for showing up late. Xiuying merely replies that Fangmei is a straight arrow- much like himself- and not to think badly of her. Meanwhile, Joy and Wong are still at the cafe, with Joy noticing a daughter rush excitedly to her father in the street outside, which seems to stir some emotions in her (presumably we will get some insight into her background in future episodes). Wong then asks her just why she is helping Ryo so much – to which she replies that she doesn’t know why, it just happens (suggesting its just in her nature to help outsiders). The two then overhear a conversation between another customer and the owner about all the eviction troubles, where the owner mentions there’s a martial artist standing up for the tenants and keeping things under control in the South Carmain Quarter, and that she lives at the Yan Tin Apartments, one of the older buildings under threat. Joy and Wong smile at each other, knowing that this knowledge can help Ryo.

Back at the temple, Fangmei is still grumbling about Ryo’s behaviour as she hangs out laundry. Xiuying asks her about what happened earlier, to which she expresses that Ryo is selfish and that she was wrong about him. Xiuying suggests the problem maybe that he’s too much of a ‘straight-shooter’, suggesting that reminds her of someone else she knows. As she leaves, Fangmei ponders these words. Meanwhile, Ryo encounters Hanhui on his way out of the temple, who comments that his search for the Wude doesn’t seem to be going well. Ryo expresses his frustration that he doesn’t think Xiuying would help him even if he did learn them all. Fangmei is then seen nearby overhearing the conversation, as Ryo further vents that he’s no closer to finding Zhu Yuanda, and that was his whole reason for coming to Hong Kong. Hanhui simply asks him why he practices martial arts – as Ryo questions what that has to do with it, Hanhui comments that he only seems to see what’s right in front of him – likening it to constantly travelling onwards and not taking in any of the scenery around you – and also commenting that Ryo is ‘lacking’. This stirs a memory of Iwao in Ryo, who said the same words to him (back in Episode 1, the last time he spoke to Ryo before his death) When Ryo questions just what it is he is lacking, Hanhui merely replies that perhaps Xiuying has known the answer to that all along. Before they can talk about this any further, Joy and Wong run towards Ryo, telling him about the martial arts master named Guixiang they heard about, who lives at the Yan Tin Apartments. As Ryo runs off to investigate, we see Fangmei secretly follow him from behind…

As Ryo arrives at the apartments, we see the old woman he met before threatened by a gang of landsharks – two of them are the thugs seen threatening the children earlier, Yigao and Menxia, who are joined by a few others. (Cao Qiang and Zhai Wen seeming to be among them). Ryo quickly steps in, to which the thugs angrily claim they are just doing their job and making the town new again. Ryo simply tells them not to make the same mistake he did – elaborating that he didn’t focus on the present time all around him, just like they are doing. Unwilling to listen, they charge to attack, but are all of course effortlessly dispatched by Ryo, much to the impress of the old woman. As the thugs ponder in frustration in everyone if the neighbourhood is a kung fu master, they make their retreat, swearing they’ll get Ryo back for this – and it is revealed Fangmei has been hiding nearby, watching the whole thing. As the old woman asks what Ryo came for, he explains he wishes to learn about the Wude from a martial arts master named Guixiang. When she asks why he helped her, Ryo reminds her of her words from earlier regarding the value of what is old in the city, saying that protecting the people in it just seemed like the right thing to do. Guixiang approvingly comments that this is the teaching of one of the Wude – ‘to act without hesitation for what is right’ – and that this is called ‘YI’ (this is unlike the game where she claims not to remember what it was called, and Ryo has to find it by wiping off soot in the temple walls! Also, in the game this is the last Wude he learns – he actually learns ‘DAN’ before this, which he has yet to do so in the anime). She also reveals that she herself is Guixiang – and noticing Ryo’s surprise, says that he needs to stop judging people by their appearance so much – which Ryo comments he’s already been told, presumably in reference to Xiuying – and indeed Fangmei chuckles at this as she overhears from nearby. 

That night, as Ryo walks the streets (and the Shenmue theme swells in the background), he suddenly remembers Hanhui’s words about why he practices the martial arts, which appears to stir a realisation in him. Approaching Xiuying at the temple, he repeats the teaching of Yi, asking Xiuying if she thought that’s what he was missing. Xiuying dejectedly comments that what he saw inside him was the fire of revenge – which I believe is the first explicit mention of this in the anime, with Ryo’s quest seemingly focused on finding out the truth rather than vengeance. She adds that surely he can sense this himself, to which he has no reply, only touching the plaster covering the scar inflicted by his father’s murderer, seemingly not denying that revenge is on his mind. Xiuying tells him that killing in the name of vengeance is still murder, and that she will have no part of it. It’s actually quite an effective choice for the suggestion of Ryo wanting revenge to not be brought up until now, and I must admit I was taken off guard by it. It raises the question of whether Ryo was claiming to want to know the truth while secretly desiring revenge all along, or whether this wish had built up in him over time. Either way, this is a very chilling scene and you can feel the sadness in Xiuying as she is realising more and more that Ryo is following the same path as her brother. It’s very well done and stirred a lot of emotion in me despite knowing the game’s story inside out.

Following this, Ryo finds Fangmei in the temple, who he apologises to about earlier – only for her to apologise to him, claiming she got the wrong idea about him (and presumably having a better opinion of him after witnessing him help Guixiang). She then mentions that she’d seen the name Zhu Yuanda before, on a book in the temple’s library called ‘Wulinshu’. Ryo soon finds it (unlike in the game it is not locked away and he doesn’t have to catch falling leaves from a tree in order for Xiuying to give him the key – an unfortunate omission as it’s quite important to Ryo’s development and him learning patience – but perhaps something similar will still occur). The episode ends as Ryo notices Zhu’s name on the cover, with a renewed determination clear in his eyes.

FINAL THOUGHTS: I was very impressed with this episode, particularly by the ‘revenge’ discussion scene as I mentioned. It also alleviated some of my fears about the pacing of the Shenmue II part of the story – while I’m surprised that each of the Four Wude is getting its own dedicated episode, it is clear now that there are latter parts of the game’s story running parallel to this, and is all still tied together quite nicely. Presumably next week we will see Ryo using the Chawan Sign and possibly rescuing Zhang/meeting Ren. And the lesson of DAN from a certain barber will need to be tied into all this somehow – I look forward to seeing how the events of the episode unfold. The burning question is, when will the story move on to Kowloon, and will we actually see the events of Shenmue II conclude by Episode 13? With 5 episodes left I’m still wondering how the time will be used – and while the nagging concern I had last week about whether the pacing of later events will suffer or not still remains somewhat, I was reassured this week as I think I better understand how they have chosen to cover the game’s events. All of the little extra anime-exclusive scenes were nice touches too, and once again I love how we aren’t confined to Ryo’s perspective. The added depth continues to impress and ensures the show is still a good watch for longtime Shenmue fans. I enjoyed this a lot more than last week.

Rating: 4/5

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

Until next week, for Episode 9 – ‘Distinct’!

Stuart/Miles

One thought on “Shenmue The Animation Ep #8 -‘Aspiration’ recap and review

  1. Great write-up. This is one of my favorite episodes so far. Maybe the Tomato Convenience Store was left out because the creators didn’t obtain the rights for the jingle (which is 90% of what what makes it special!).

    Liked by 1 person

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