Shenmue The Animation Ep #9 -‘Distinct’ 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.

After the fairly sedate pace of the last few episodes, things kick up a notch this week. Most of the events of the latter half of Disc 2 of Shenmue II are breezed through with abandon in this episode, whilst still masterfully incorporating the learning of a Wude as well. The pace rarely lets up, with not as much room for quieter, introspective moments as the first few Hong Kong episodes have had. That isn’t to say there isn’t any meaningful character work at all however – Xiuying’s emotional core continues to be slowly unravelled, and there’s a little added dimension to Ren as well. The main takeaway I have from this episode is that I’m no longer fearful of events being rushed or condensed as we head into the final weeks of this marvellous anime – it still remains to be seen of course if we will get as far as Guilin by the time the credits roll on Episode 13, but for now let’s focus on the events covered in this extremely packed and fit to bursting episode!

We pick up where we left off in the previous episode, with Ryo discovering the Wulinshu book in Man Mo Temple’s library – written by none other than Zhu Yuanda, the man he is searching for. As he flicks through the book, which details the legacy of various martial artists, he notices the name ‘Zhao Sunming’. As in the game, this sparks a memory in Ryo of Lan Di mentioning this name, claiming he is the man that Iwao (supposedly) killed. As Ryo once again presses his hand on the plaster on his face (I think there needs to be a count of how many times he does this once the season is over!), a stray piece of paper falls out of the book, with strange symbols on it. (fans will of course already know what this is about and what’s to come from its use). Ryo then heads back to the Da Yuan Apartments for the night – noticing that the door to Xiuying’s room is open. He watches from outside as she sits at her desk, looking at a photograph of her younger self with her brother Ziming – shedding a tear as she sadly says his name. Unlike the game, there is no awkwardness with Xiuying spotting Ryo and rushing out the door! Ryo simply looks in puzzlement at this moment of weakness from the stern master as we launch into the opening credits.

The next day, Ryo and Fangmei have just finished airing out the books for the day when she asks him if he found the Wulinshu yet. Ryo confirms he did and shows her the piece of paper that fell out of it, asking if she knows what it means. Fangmei is unsure but suspects it may be some kind of code, and that Ryo should ask the owner of the Hong Kong Tea Shop in the Lucky Charm Quarter (the place he, Joy and Wong visited a few times in the last episode). The owner tells Ryo that it depicts a ‘Chawan Sign’, and that Guixiang would know more. Ryo has a far easier time finding out this information here, not having to trawl the antique shops like in the game! He heads to the Yan Tin Apartments to pay the old woman a visit, and after taking one look at the paper she bluntly tells him to come inside. Guixiang explains further the purpose of the Chawan Sign – a code created for private communication between masters of the same school of martial arts. She details what each of the symbols mean – Heaven denoting time, Earth denoting place, Friend denoting person (again, here not translated as ‘Comrade’ as in the game, a similar quirk occurring in Episode 3), and Dragon denoting action. In order to demonstrate how to use it, Guixiang places four teacups on the table – and clarifies that the pattern on the back of the paper is intended as a sign to show you are an ally of Zhu Yuanda, and arranges the teacups to match. She tells Ryo to memorise the pattern, and to use it at a busy restaurant or bar – and that if an associate of Zhu sees it, they will respond. Ryo heads to a local market stand to try it out. He sits there until the sun begins to set, seemingly not having received any response. Upon asking the vendor for the bill however, Ryo is given a note that another customer left for him. Ryo opens the note to find it simply states ‘Man Mo Park at 9pm’. As fans of the game will already know, it is here that he will walk straight into a trap…

As Ryo enters the park at the appointed time (accurate to its in-game appearance in the Wise Men’s Quarter), he is suddenly attacked from behind by a shadowy figure with a pipe, striking him on the head – no opportunity to dodge with a QTE here! This is as far as the Man Mo Park rendezvous goes in the anime’s version of events, with no fight with the Yellow Heads unfolding. We then cut to what appears to be a dream, of Ryo running after Lan Di (who is calmly walking as he holds the Dragon Mirror behind him). As Ryo finally catches up to his nemesis, Lan Di sends him flying with a casual strike from the hand, his cold stare unwavering. Ryo then wakes up with a start, finding himself bandaged up and back in Xiuying’s room at the Da Yuan Apartments. Ryo then notices the photo of Xiuying and Ziming on the desk, and finds both of their names written on the back as he picks it up for a closer look. As we cut to sometime later, Fangmei expresses her gladness that Ryo’s injuries weren’t any worse as she serves him tea. She does chide him however for not being careful enough, and that Xiuying is worried about him. Ryo doesn’t appear to take much heed of this, instead asking if Fangmei knows who Ziming is. Her expression becomes sad as she explains that Xiuying was raised in an orphanage with her older brother. (we also see a brief flashback scene of the young Xiuying and Ziming exchanging comma shaped pendants, which fans will know the significance of already). She goes on to reveal that Ziming suddenly left one day and never returned, and that he is indeed Xiuying’s brother. Quickly returning to her cheerful demeanour, she proceeds to get Ryo fresh bandages, and insists that he rest while she takes care of airing out the books. This scene is essentially combining two scenes Ryo has with Fangmei from the game, and I think it works quite well – we get her concern for him made very clear whilst still revealing what she knows of Ziming. This is one of the nicer, quieter little moments in an otherwise breakneck episode!

After his enforced rest, Ryo returns to the Hong Kong Tea Shop to try out the Chawan Sign again. An older gentleman standing at the doorway notices this and comments that Ryo must be a martial artist – fans will already recognise him as Kong Zhangyu, actually appearing outside of his barber shop here! He also mentions he saw a similar Chawan Sign used at the Dou Jiang Diner, at the same time warning Ryo he has made a slight mistake in how he has placed the cups. He elaborates that some signs are dangerous and he could be putting his life at risk even with just one misplaced teacup. Ryo asks the man if he himself is a martial artist, to which he answers he was a long time ago, but had to call it quits (I can’t recall if Zhangyu ever divulges much of his past in the game or not?). Remembering Hanhui’s encouragement to learn all of the Wude, Ryo asks him if he knows of it, and would like to be taught if he does. The man bluntly asks Ryo to follow him, and sure enough they end up at Zhangyu Barber’s Shop. This scene proceeds to play out similarly to how it does in the game, with Zhangyu swiftly thrusting his razor at Ryo’s neck, to which he quickly flinches away from. Those who have played the game may recall the frustration of pressing the button that flashes up during this scene, as they would with every other QTE, only for Zhangyu to boot you out and to come back when you get some courage! The old barber is a bit more lenient here, complimenting Ryo on his reflexes. However, he refuses to teach him about the Wude as he claims Ryo is still lacking something. As he leaves the shop, Ryo recalls the very similar words from Iwao shortly before his death, as well as from Hanhui. While looking slightly dejected over yet another lecture, Ryo resolves that there is no point in brooding over it, and heads to the Dou Jiang Diner that Zhangyu mentioned to try out the sign. Again, as with the previous few episodes the learning of a Wude is slightly extended and fleshed out here, following the formula of Ryo understanding its meaning by the end. It also ties in nicely with the recurring theme of Ryo ‘lacking’ something, reminding us that the saga is just as much about his development as a martial artist as well as his quest for the truth (and/or possibly revenge depending on the medium).

As Ryo sits in the Dou Jiang Diner (another location pleasingly accurate to its in-game appearance), he recalls Zhangyu’s warning and ensures he gets the sign right this time. One of the employees then approaches Ryo and tells him there is a telephone call for him. This is actually Xu Yongjiang, one of the employees found here in the game (her husband Shibao doesn’t make an appearance however). Ryo heads into the back room but receives no answer when he speaks into the phone. Heading back into the restaurant, it becomes clear this was just a distraction while someone left a note on his table (a bit more of a clever and covert approach than in the game, where the contact just taps him on the shoulder and quickly rushes out the door as he leaves the note!). The note tells Ryo to come back there at 8pm. Meanwhile, Fangmei sweeps at Man Mo Temple as the sun sets, when she notices Xiuying walking around, seemingly looking for someone. Fangmei asks if she’s looking for Ryo, and tells her he left early in the morning to go to a tea shop. Xiuying sighs and comments that his mind is far from what it should be – namely, ‘as clear and serene as a mirror’  (a mantra that fans will of course be familiar with, from Xiuying herself of course but also from the wall scroll in Fuku-san’s room). When Fangmei questions what she means by this, Xiuying shrugs it off and walks away, with Fangmei still looking concerned. 

As night falls, Ryo once again waits at the Dou Jiang Diner to meet the contact – who is a man in a brown suit. He introduces himself and explains that he is in the service of Zhu Yuanda. He asks Ryo how he knows of Zhu, and Ryo is about to retrieve the letter sent to his father from his pocket to explain, however they are interrupted by a group of thugs storming into the restaurant, seemingly pursuing the man in the suit. Of course, it is once again a group of Yellow Head members. Among them are Le Shaoqi, Fan Yang (both referred to by name in the voice actor credits), Shen Zhenzhong and Lu Kai. The man warns Ryo to get out of there while trying to make an escape himself, however he is swiftly grabbed by the thugs before getting to the door, where he is then brutally handed over to a familiar face from Episode 7Guanguan, the ringleader of the group who was harassing Zongquan at the shopping mall. As he runs off into the market ahead, Ryo quickly dispatches of the thugs trailing behind. Guanguan then brings the suited man to a fan favourite character – Yuan! This character’s gender has previously depended on the version of Shenmue II you’re playing, being a cross-dressing male in the Japanese version but changed to be a woman in the European/US versions. Here the character appears to be most certainly male. Some other familiar thugs from previous episodes are here with him as well, including Chun Zheng and Dian Wei (who are indeed also present in this scene in the game), and also Fu Shiren. Hearing the commotion behind them, they turn to find Ryo walking towards them, past all the thugs he has just sent to the floor, giving them a hard stare that would make Paddington Bear jealous (little reference for any fellow Brits reading there). As Yuan asks who he is, Guanguan recognises Ryo as the one who interfered in their dealings with Zongquan -meanwhile we see Xiuying hiding in the shadows, clearly ready to make a move. As Yuan attempts to goad Ryo into a fight, we see his comrades fall one by one behind him- as well as the ones in front of him when he turns round to investigate! He runs away with his characteristic whine and stumble, as Xiuying also disappears into the night, her task completed. I’m a little disappointed we didn’t get a recreation of the entire market stand QTE sequence from the game, as this is one of Shenmue II’s best and most satisfying action sequences, but given the limited time and the amount this episode is attempting to cover I can let it slide. After wondering just what the hell happened, Ryo carries the suited man back to a stand to sit down. The man asks who he is, and Ryo introduces himself, showing him the letter that Zhu sent to his father. Ryo further explains his father was killed by Lan Di – the man immediately recognises the name, dejectedly noting that the Chi You Men have already appeared to extend their reach to Japan. He then introduces himself to Ryo as Zhang (the subtitles state his given name ‘Shuqin’, but I’m fairly certain he is actually saying ‘Zhang’, his family name, and this is how he introduces himself in the game), and that he is Zhu Yuanda’s aide. Ryo asks where Zhu is now, but Zhang does not know, as he went into hiding after being targeted by the Chi You Men. Zhang does however suggest there’s one way Ryo might find him – but it is dangerous – namely, by seeking out Ren of Heavens (who in the anime the audience has already met, unlike the game where this is the first mention of him).

We then see Ryo approach the Heavens gang’s hideout – it being implied that Zhang shared the location with him. This makes it far easier for Ryo than in the game, where he has to question several people to find it first. Ryo brazenly approaches a group of members (one of which appears to be Dong Yi, who indeed also leads him into a trap in the game, as we’ll also see here) and demands to see Ren, where he is predictably met with a harsh reception. Ryo dodges their attacks effortlessly and forcefully grabs one of them by the wrist, repeating his demand to see Ren. They lead him to a familiar alleyway, which players will recognise as being the entrance to Beverly Hills Wharf (complete with this name as graffiti on the walls and the Heavens logo emblazoned on the gates). Before they enter however, Ryo is once again attacked with a pipe from behind (he even complains about this before falling to the floor), it becoming clear this was a trap. Ryo is arguably let off easy here, compared to the game where he is set upon by several members of the gang all at once. As in the game, Ryo later wakes up on Wong’s boat (we get some better views of his Mobo & Robo capsule toys this time, previously seen in Episode 6!), where the young delinquent seemingly brought Ryo after finding him unconscious. After being berated by Wong for being so foolish, Ryo asks him about Ren. Wong confirms he knows him, but that Ryo will have to find him on his own- to which he stubbornly replies he was going to anyway. Wong offers his help by giving Ryo a lighter with the Heavens logo on it, which only members of the gang carry. He explains that if Ryo shows it at the entrance and also says ‘I came to pay Ren his cash’, he will be let in (this additional comment being an anime addition, presumably felt as a necessary substitute to Ryo having to gather up $500 to meet Ren like he must in the game). Wong says that Ren will not be able to resist anything that could lead to cash, but also warns Ryo that Ren won’t take him seriously unless he has nerves of steel (nicely foreshadowing how Ryo learns this episode’s Wude).

Ryo heads back to the Beverly Hills Wharf entrance, where the lighter and the required phrase quickly see him being let in this time. He is led to a room where Ren is relaxing, which appears to be a little more luxurious than the warehouse he’s holed up in in the game! (it’s not clear if Ren realises this is the Japanese man he was searching around town for) Despite Ren’s pushing of the subject of cash, Ryo bluntly states that he wants to know where he can find Zhu Yuanda. Ren agrees to help, but then proceeds to test Ryo by thrusting his knife at his neck (with his signature phrase of ‘May the Gods be with you’ of course). Ryo doesn’t flinch at all, seeming to have learned some courage since his test at Zhangyu’s barber shop earlier (a few users on the Shenmue Dojo forums did speculate if Ren’s knife and Zhangyu’s test would connect somehow in this episode, and it appears they were correct!). Ren stands down and asks Ryo why he didn’t move, but doesn’t get a straight answer. Ren agrees to lead Ryo to Zhu nonetheless, asking him to follow him. He leads Ryo to a warehouse where some shady deal appears to be going on -this being the same trap Ren leads him to in the game. The same figures from the game are indeed also present and correct – the gambling bookmaker Lin Gangfang, as well as Yellow Head members Zhu Bao, Yan Liang (referred to by name in the voice actor credits), Niu Jin and of course Yuan. Gangfang is about to hand over some money to Yuan, as Ryo and Ren watch in hiding. Ryo quickly recognises Yuan from earlier and asks Ren who he is – however Ren is gone, having seemingly attacked Gangfang and Bao and running off with the money after turning the lights off. Yuan is bewildered to find the money gone once the lights are back on, and while Ryo curses Ren he accidentally knocks over a pipe, getting the attention of the Yellow Heads. Yuan of course recognises Ryo and asks where the money is – before he can explain, Yuan sets Liang and Jin on him – Ryo cursing Ren again as he prepares to fight.

Ren, meanwhile, runs off towards Pigeon Park with the money, laughing at Ryo’s gullibility. His cheer does not last for long however – Ryo was evidently able to defeat Yuan’s cronies (guess this episode didn’t have room for another fight sequence!), and soon gives chase, with Ren quickly making a run for it. Ryo was able to find Ren on his own here – in the game he finds Joy and Wong outside the warehouse, who direct him to the park (in fact Joy doesn’t actually appear at all this week). At any rate, Ryo pursues Ren through the streets, eventually reaching a construction site (seemingly the Lucky Plaza where a similar chase takes place in the game). Ryo eventually corners Ren on the roof, with Ren proceeding to make his escape by sliding down the scaffolding – however Ryo’s jump after him causes the scaffolding to break, with the two falling onto a truck below. As the dust clears, Ren notices the Phoenix Mirror that has fallen out of Ryo’s pocket, clearly intrigued by it – only for Ryo to quickly snatch it back. Ren proceeds to ask Ryo just why he’s so determined to see Zhu Yuanda –  and then mocks him upon hearing the answer that it’s to track down his father’s killer. He does comment however that he thinks there may be some money behind all this, and agrees to share where to find Zhu – on the condition that Ren gets a ‘piece of the action’, to which Ryo reluctantly agrees. Ren further elaborates that he is not like Ryo – in that he doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder and that money is all he’s interested in – and he can only profit by staying alive. Because of this, he is always on guard to avoid any legitimate threat – unlike Ryo, he claims. It is this that causes Ryo to have his ‘epiphany of the week’, the meaning of what Zhangyu was trying to teach him becoming clear. Notably, the scene ends before Ren tells Ryo that Zhu is in Kowloon – but presumably that is still where we’ll be heading next episode?

The next day, Ryo heads back to Zhangyu’s barber shop. This time, Ryo is unmoving as Zhangyu’s razor brushes his neck. Zhangyu laughs and comments that Ryo must have found what he was lacking. Ryo explains that while the movement behind the razor was sharp, he was able to determine there was no threat behind it. Zhangyu then quotes the teaching of this week’s Wude – ‘Never be shaken, remain calm and resolute to make the proper decision’ – and that this is known as DAN. We then get a little hint at some of Zhangyu’s backstory – as he explains that courage without any foresight will cause all sorts of problems, we see a very long scar on his arm. He also likens such an approach to when Ryo nearly used the wrong Chawan Sign and put himself in danger. Ryo suddenly realises that this is what Xiuying was concerned about in him.

Later at Man Mo Temple, Ryo once again approaches Xiuying, informing her that he heard the story about her and her brother – and that he assumes she didn’t agree with Ziming’s reason for leaving. Ryo explains that at first he couldn’t work out why she wouldn’t help him, but now sees that she fears that he will be led astray just like her brother was. Xiuying asks Ryo once again why he came here – to which he still replies that it is to find out the truth about his father’s murder. Xiuying presses him about what will happen after he does – still insistent that Ryo will wish to take revenge. Interestingly, Ryo can only say that he doesn’t have an answer for that – has he thought that far ahead, does he secretly harbour a desire for revenge? (this all certainly adds an extra layer to Ryo compared to his game counterpart). Xiuying still insists she already knows the answer however, and once again stresses to him that martial arts are meant to protect life, not destroy it. Ryo is still unwilling to listen however, and announces his intention to leave – causing Xiuying to sadly recall her brother’s parting. As she curtly tells Ryo to do as he wishes, the episode ends here.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Well, this was certainly a packed episode. A very large space of events are covered here, moving from one to the next with little breathing room in between. As I mentioned however, there are sprinklings of nice little character moments amongst the fight and chase scenes. Xiuying’s sadness is a theme present throughout, and Ren’s motivations and character are linked up nicely with the Wude of the week – even Zhangyu gets some little hints of backstory in his limited screen time. I was mostly satisfied with this episode, the action sequences in particular (the Dou Jiang diner/market scenes being very engaging despite the crude animation in places), and am very glad to see the pace ramped up slightly with only a few episodes left to cover Shenmue II’s events. One aspect that did slightly disappoint me however was the nature of Ryo and Ren’s first meeting – despite the added set up in the anime of Ren wishing to meet Ryo and being very interested in him, this ultimately didn’t add up to much in the end, as none of this is really alluded to in this episode. Their first meeting and subsequent scenes together more or less occur the same as they do in the game, with Ren’s previous search of him not being acknowledged. I am also hoping that Xiuying’s teaching of Counter Elbow Assault to Ryo hasn’t been cut – but given how liberally the anime has rearranged/repurposed events already, it may be yet to come. I certainly hope so, as the teaching of this move is absolutely key to setting up a moment towards the end of the game (something I analysed in parts of this post). It’s also interesting that we don’t actually get Kowloon mentioned as Ryo’s next destination in the episode – might this be because he will only go to the main city itself, rather than the walled city? (the main city apparently only being 10 minutes away from Hong Kong). Or will Kowloon’s events simply all unfold in Hong Kong instead? It will be interesting to see.

While I mostly enjoyed the episode (and in particular Xiuying’s scenes, her character absolutely being done justice in this anime), the small niggle I have about the ‘Ren looking for Ryo’ plot thread seemingly being abandoned and therefore not really doing anything different with their first meeting compared to the game, I’ll have to give this one a 4/5.

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

Until next week, for Episode 10 – ‘Comeback’!

Stuart/Miles

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