Shenmue The Animation Ep #10 -‘Comeback’ 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.

Like last week, this episode zips through Shenmue II’s events at lightning pace, but still allows time for some extra context to be given, that was not made apparent in the game. This ends up resulting in some slightly mixed results this time however, as (towards the end of the episode especially), credibility is slightly stretched as to how certain characters could get from one place to another so quickly – as in the game, there was naturally some gameplay time in between. Because of this this episode arguably suffers a bit, very nearly skirting the line of not being entirely coherent. I did find myself wondering if viewers who had not played the game would be able to keep up with what was going on. Nonetheless, this is hardly a bad episode by any means – with plenty of nice action and gorgeously realised locations as per usual – but for me it was the first episode where the time crunch is apparent to the point of distraction. Perhaps I’m just hard to please – just a few episodes ago I was worried they were going too slow, after all! Let’s get into my issues a bit more once we have recapped this episode’s events…

One thing I was pleased to see at the beginning of the episode was a proper check-in with Shenhua, which it feels like we haven’t gotten in a while. What’s more, we are introduced to her stepfather, Yuan Yunshen – again, a Shenmue III character introduced early, as a few others were way back in Episode 2. He is seen packing up some supplies in a bag very early in the morning when his stepdaughter Shenhua greets him, asking if he is going to the stone quarry (This is actually the first time we’ve seen these two properly interact, as we never actually see them converse with one another on-screen in Shenmue III). Yunshen replies that he is, and tells her that his next job is very important, and that he won’t be back for some time. He walks off to the quarry with a very grave and serious look on his face, as Shenhua smiles at the first signs of cherry blossoms blooming on the tree outside the house, before we launch into the opening credits. She of course is unaware of what will soon await her father (but players of Shenmue II and III will be of course). I was very pleased to see this scene, hoping Yunshen would be introduced before the end of this season, as it sets up a little of his and Shenhua’s relationship nicely before what later befalls him. There have not been quite as many of these extra scenes with Shenhua as I was initially hoping for throughout these 10 episodes but I’m glad they’ve been included all the same.

Ryo is seen standing at the gates of Man Mo Temple, bag in hand, solemnly looking through and seemingly regretting that he and Xiuying couldn’t see eye-to-eye. He proceeds on his way, soon running into Wong as he walks down the street. Wong tells Ryo that Ren is waiting for him and to follow him. He takes Ryo to the hideout we saw in the previous episode, and as Wong leaves them to it, Ren asks why exactly he thinks Zhu Yuanda would give him the time of day (interestingly, he refers to Zhu as a ‘legend’ in the underworld – perhaps suggesting his business dealings were just as shady and underhanded as a certain Master Chen’s in Yokosuka?). Ryo says this won’t be a problem as he has the letter that Zhu sent to his father. As he retrieves this from his jacket however, he accidentally drops the photo of Iwao he was carrying (found in the Hazuki basement in Episode 3), which Ren proceeds to pick up and examine (an interesting touch, as Ren never saw this photo at all in the game) Realising one of the men in the photo must be Ryo’s father, he asks what Ryo plans to do if they find Zhu – only for him to coldly reply with his trademark ‘None of your business’. Ren is quick to remind him however that he wants a cut of the money he suspects to be involved in all this (mostly based on the ‘weird mirror’ Ryo has)- and then tells Ryo that they are going to visit Yang, a man who used to work with Zhu. 

In the game, Ryo travelled to Ren’s hideout in Kowloon to begin the search – however in this episode the previous scene appears to have been moved to his Aberdeen hideout, as I suspect they might do. However, as the on-screen text informs us, the two still do go to Kowloon to visit Yang – presumably this didn’t involve a bus journey as it did in the game. It’s not made entirely clear if this is taking place in the walled city itself as in the game (still standing in 1987 but demolished in the real world by 1994), or if it is just in the main city itself – which is within an area in Hong Kong. Either way, the story beats of the rest of the episode play out much like they do in Shenmue II’s walled city, so the specifics of the location are arguably not really of consequence. They visit Yang’s herb shop, Great View Herbs (the building containing this shop looking even more grubby and run down than its game counterpart!), where Ryo again shows Zhu’s letter to Iwao to prove that he is trustworthy. Yang agrees to arrange a meeting for them, asking them to find a man in a black suit at the location, and to tell him the password, ‘Dragons don’t sleep’. (Unlike the game, we do not witness the important clue of Yang hastily picking up the phone as soon as they leave the shop, but Ren will shortly notice that’s something is up – this in itself is another change, as Ren did not originally agree to accompany Ryo in the game). 

Once at the location (presumably the Dancing Dragon Building as in Shenmue II), the two indeed find a black suited man (specifically Liu Luzhan, who is indeed found in this spot in the game). Once Ryo shares the password, they are instructed to enter a room further ahead with a dragon design on the door. As they proceed ahead however, Ren is quick to notice Luzhan make eye contact with another black suit, who gives him a nod. Ren voices this concern to Ryo as they reach the door. Undeterred, Ryo says they need to press on regardless. As Ren stays outside to keep watch, Ryo ventures in. He notices an extremely large figure sitting with his back turned in the dark room, and asks if he is Zhu Yuanda. The imposing man turns and blithely comments that Zhu isn’t as handsome as he is – as he stomps towards Ryo, two other figures appear behind him – one of them being Guanguan, the Yellow Head member who Ryo previously crossed paths with in both Episodes 7 and 9. The other is the silver haired Zhang Lu, who indeed appears in this scene in the game (credited by name in the episode’s voice credits). Guanguan quickly tells his boss that Ryo is the guy who ‘gave them trouble’ in the Golden Quarter, and is told by the large man that he’ll regret sticking his nose in the Yellow Heads’ business. Ren quickly bursts into the room to intervene, punching out Guanguan and Lu, brashly addressing the large man by name – Dou Niu. The two appear to know each other, Dou Niu expressing surprise at Ren’s involvement in this. Despite Ryo and Ren’s desperate attempts to overcome the behemoth (he is possibly even bigger here than his game counterpart – i.e. freakin’ HUGE!), they are both quickly knocked out by him. Amusingly, Dou Niu kicks his henchmen Guanguan and Lu in their faces to wake them both up, ordering them to lock up Ryo and Ren. This imposing yet foolish character is given an appropriate introduction here, and the atmosphere as well equally conveys the dangerous world that Ryo has stumbled into. 

As Ryo comes to, he finds himself handcuffed to Ren, the two of them locked up in another room. As he asks where they are, Ren says they must be in a Yellow Head hideout, further elaborating that they are a criminal organisation led by Dou Niu. In a bit of added history and context especially for the anime, he goes onto explain that there was once a group called the ‘White Thai’ that controlled all of the casinos in Hong Kong – and that previously, the Yellow Heads worked under them as bodyguards (during the flashback scene depicting this we see the back of a young girl in one of the casinos, and then later standing with an adult man – heavily suggested to be a young Joy and her father). However, 10 years ago the Yellow Heads were able to arrange it so the head family lost power, and were then able to rise to the top of the ‘food chain’ in Hong Kong – an explosion seen in the flashback as both Dou Niu and Yuan look on pleasingly. (is it possible this is how Joy’s mother was killed?). Ren expresses his anger to Ryo for not telling him the Yellow Heads would be involved, to which Ryo refutes that he didn’t ask for his help in the first place – and they should instead concentrate on thinking of a way to get out of here. Sometime later, the two bang on the door as Zhang Lu sits on guard duty outside, who is tricked into thinking Ryo is about to die – and gets a double knuckle sandwich for his trouble upon opening the door to investigate (disappointingly we don’t get to hear him tell them to shut up or he’ll bust someone’s face). Upon finding he doesn’t have the keys for the cuffs on him, Ryo and Ren make a break for it, with two other Yellow Heads in quick pursuit (Niu Jin and Yan Liang, who we saw with Yuan last episode) – who are quickly subdued. Ryo and Ren eventually manage to retreat to the roof of the building – where Ren snaps at Ryo for suggesting they should rest for the night, telling to him to stop telling him what to do. The two continue to bicker as the sky darkens (with the Big Dipper visible), with Ren wanting to know just who it is that Ryo is after. Upon learning it is Lan Di, Ren instantly recognises the name, much to Ryo’s surprise. 

We then cut to a scene added especially for the anime, where Lan Di is seen speaking with Dou Niu and Yuan – asking them about Zhu Yuanda. Yuan says they have not found anything out yet, but have captured ‘two guys’ who might know something. Dou Niu quickly interjects, saying that no one cares about Ren and ‘that Japanese kid’ – the latter part does appear to get Lan Di’s interest, however. They promise to find Zhu for Lan Di – with Yuan daringly asking if Dou Niu can be permitted to have control of Hong Kong if the Yellow Head are able to assist the Chi You Men with this endeavour – with Lan Di agreeing to allow it. One of Lan Di’s black suited henchman then walks in, saying that a Yellow Head member has an urgent message  – once again it is Guanguan, who tells them that Ren has escaped. This scene is a nice touch, as while in the game we are told of the Chi You Men using the Yellow Heads to find Zhu (who agree to do so to further expand their own operations), we don’t see any of these discussions actually taking place, so again it is good to see added context and more use of Lan Di. 

In the morning, Ryo and Ren attempt to escape the building by taking the elevator – only to find Yuan in front of them as its doors open. He quickly comes at them both with his knife, however the two are easily able to knock the knife out of his hands through clever use of their handcuffs, proceeding to kick him to the floor. Dou Niu then emerges from the other elevator, raging at them for hurting his ‘cute little Yuan’ (the nature of their relationship was largely censored in the European and American versions of Shenmue II, so it is good and progressive to see it’s made explicit here), and swearing to tear them limb from limb. Ryo and Ren quickly run, with Dou Niu stomping after them. They find a door supposedly leading to some emergency stairs – only to find they are no longer a feature of this run-down building, with nothing but air below them. As their titanic pursuer gets closer, Ryo resolves they will have to jump across to the next building – much to Dou Niu’s disbelief. One of Shenmue II’s most exhilarating and memorable action sequences is certainly recreated well here.

Later, Ryo and Ren visit Wong on his boat – making use of his lock-picking skills to get themselves free of the handcuffs. Joy is also present, commenting that the two of them seem to be getting on like ‘brothers’. Ren scoffs at this, deriding Ryo for being crazy enough to take on the Yellow Heads. Again, the mention of this gang seems to stir quite the reaction in Joy – suggesting there may have been a personal cost for her in the events Ren described earlier. Ren then wastes no time in confronting Yang at the herbal medicine shop, brutally attacking him for setting them up. Ryo intervenes, asking him to tell the truth about where Zhu is. When Yang claims ignorance, Ryo once again unleashes his death stare (also used to great effect in the last episode) – this is apparently enough to make Yang more cooperative, with Ryo’s game counterpart having to literally twist his arm! Yang relents and says they may be able to get a lead from Huang, the wiretapper. Ren leads Ryo to where Huang’s apartment (again, unlike the game where Ryo goes alone), only to find he’s not home. Ryo notices a tape recorder amongst the heap of equipment – and Ren then finds a trash can full of cassette tapes. They proceed to bring these back to Ren’s hideout, where Ryo announces his intention to go through all of them to try and find clues. Ren then retrieves a cassette player for Ryo to borrow – making clear however that he’s only helping for the money.

Meanwhile, while standing and praying at Man Mo Temple, Xiuying remembers the parting words of her brother Ziming – before he left forever and never saw her again. Ziming swears that he will track down whoever killed their parents – stating that the Chi You Men can help, and that he’ll take revenge no matter what. Back at Ren’s hideout, Ryo has gone through most of the tapes and found no clues, much to Ren’s frustration. Their ears both prick up however when they suddenly hear Yuan’s voice on the tape – with it becoming apparent it’s a tapped phone conversation between him and Dou Niu. Yuan boasts that he’s managed to snag one of Zhu’s ‘flunkeys’ – who he actually refers to by name as Zhang Shuqin (unlike the game, where Ryo doesn’t find this out until he rescues him from Yuan’s room). They also hear a strange high-pitched voice repeating certain words Yuan is saying. As they listen to Yuan promise his boss that he’ll make Zhang tell them Zhu’s location, Ryo realises they must have captured him again after he got away in the previous episode. After hearing the part about them needing to find Zhu for the Chi You Men, Ryo’s mind is seemingly made up as he stands up to leave the hideout. Ren however points out how reckless he is being to go up against the Yellow Heads and the Chi You Men. Ryo is unwavering however, telling Ren he will not let anything or anyone get in his way when it comes to finding out the truth about his father’s murder. Ren seems impressed, but does question Ryo as to whether he even knows where to look for the Yellow Heads. He also deduces that the strange voice on the tape was a talking bird (in the game, Ryo has to find this out by carrying out an investigation around town, or alternatively follow the other lead of a ringing bell sound, which is not heard in the anime’s version of events) – and that is the clue they should lead. 

The two visit a shop that sells talking birds and bird feed, where the shopkeeper confirms that Yuan is a regular customer. This is indeed the same shop they find out this information in the game – the Nine Birds Shop (and the shopkeeper is Tian Yingzhi, his appearance accurate to that in Shenmue II). Yingzhi confirms that Yuan frequents the shop every day to buy bird feed, so Ryo and Ren hide out nearby and wait for their target to show up. Ryo takes the opportunity to ask Ren why he is helping him so much – who again confirms his motives are driven by money – as he believes that some ‘serious treasure’ will come once Ryo uncovers the truth he is seeking. He further reasons that there must be some serious money on the line for two big gangs like the Yellow Heads and the Chi You Men to be involved – and that he wants a fair share. Ryo can only shrug and say he can’t guarantee anything, and that it’s not important to him at any rate. Before they can discuss this any further, they notice Yuan has turned up at the shop. He purchases bird feed from Yingzhi and proceeds on his way, with Ren suggesting that they tail him out of sight to find out where he’s holding Zhang. They follow Yuan to his apartment building (cutting straight to this point, without the slightly long-winded sequence of following him all around Kowloon as seen in the game), where they notice him skirt around some fly-infested garbage left out in the hallway, expressing his disgust as he passes it – nicely setting up Yuan’s character trait of hating dirty things, which should pay off nicely if they follow the game’s events at a later point. 

As Yuan enters his ostentatious apartment (the appearance identical to the in-game location) and greets his myna bird, he is quickly interrupted by a knock at the door – before he can even react, he is swiftly punched in the stomach by Ryo and knocked out cold(disappointingly, there’s no time for Ren’s deceptive coin toss shenanigans to decide who should bust into the room as in the game). After some sharp words with Yuan’s alarmed myna bird, Ren tells Ryo to hurry up and find Zhang. Ryo finds him unconscious on the floor – and upon stirring him awake, Ren rushes over to tell them Dou Niu is coming, as we hear the unmistakable stomp down the corridor. As Ryo tells Zhang to pretend to still be unconscious, Ren hatches a plan as he repeats the words ‘Hide in the closet’ to the myna bird. As Dou Niu bursts in and yells in anger at finding his ‘cute little Yuan’ out cold on the floor, the myna bird squawks these words at Dou Niu, leading him to the false impression that Ryo and Ren are hiding in the closet (in some surprising level of profanity he calls them ‘dipshits’ as he walks over to the closet!). Confused to not find them in there, he is then kicked in there from behind by Ryo and Ren, who quickly rush to push down a shelf in front of it to trap him in there. Ryo quickly scoops up Zhang and makes his way out of the room, while Ren opts to taunt Dou Niu before leaving – the classic moment of the myna bird repeating the words ‘Stupid Dou Niu!’ thankfully retained for the anime. 

As Ryo speaks with Zhang outside, he confirms that he was able to make contact with Zhu, who is currently in the Ghost Hall Building. Ren agrees to enlist Sam and the others to keep Zhang safe at the hideout while they go there. Zhang proceeds to give Ryo a set of four keys, each depicting a ‘Divine Beast’ of Chinese culture – namely the Phoenix, White Tiger, Blue Dragon and Snake Tortoise. This is unlike in the game, where Zhang only gives Ryo the Snake Tortoise key, the others being gathered when Ryo finds Zhu’s room in the Ghost Hall Building – but I guess there’s no time for rooting around to find these in the anime! Ryo and Ren make their way to the building together, where their journey to Zhu’s secret room is markedly different and perhaps slightly more convoluted than what occurs in the game. For one, Ryo does not have to cross any planks dangerously suspended over holes in the floor! Instead (the Shenmue theme playing over this little montage) the two first find a secret keyhole behind a specific brick in the wall (I guess Zhang told them about all this off-screen?), which the Blue Dragon key is inserted into. This opens a hatch in the wall, where they then slide down into another room- finding a table with a vase on it, which Ryo picks up to find a button underneath. Pressing it, this then causes a ladder to collapse from a panel in the ceiling (somewhat reminiscent of the Bell Tower’s secret room in Shenmue III) As they climb up here there is a panel that Ryo opens with the Phoenix key, taking them up higher to another room. The White Tiger key is then inserted into a sliding hatch in the wall, which once stepped through we finally find ourselves in the room that will be familiar to players, the Five Stars Corp. office. In the game, all four keys had to be inserted into a Buddha statue in  specific positions, but I quite like the intriguing ‘secret passage’ method they’ve instead opted for here. Ryo then uses the final key, the Snake Tortoise, on a statue depicting the same creature. 

This then causes one of the walls to slide open to yet another room (in the game this was caused by the mechanism in the Buddha statue) – where he and Ren find an elderly man sitting at a desk – who Ryo realises,must be none other than Zhu Yuanda. Zhu asks who Ryo is, but before he can answer, we hear a familiar laugh from behind Ryo and Ren (in the game Zhu at least gets to hear Ryo’s name before being interrupted, causing him to start to ask if he  is Iwao’s son). They are shocked to see Yuan and two Yellow Head henchmen, with Yuan thanking them of doing the hard work of finding Zhu for them (these two henchmen are Li Shaoqi and Wang Minglu), with Dou Niu soon stomping towards them as well. This is where I have an issue with characters coming from one location to another so quickly that I mentioned earlier – it perhaps admittedly make a whole lot of sense in the game either, but it’s particularly glaring here as we literally only just saw Dou Niu trapped in a closet while Yuan was out cold on the floor. How exactly did they get out of that predicament in time to find out where Ryo and Ren had gone, and to know exactly what route they had taken to get to Zhu’s room? In the game there is at least some time passing between these events (Zhang is brought back to the hideout to recover after being rescued in Yuan’s room and doesn’t share the information about the Ghost Hall Building until he’s there – and Ryo doesn’t go to the building until the following day). It’s perhaps a minor niggle, but if significant time was meant to have passed between the Yuan’s Room scene and here then this could have been made clearer. 

Nonetheless, this scene plays out much like it does in the game, with Ren making a break for it out the window, and Ryo forced out by Dou Niu – who then proceeds to come crashing down after him. Ryo finds himself confronted by the fearsome Yellow Head leader and a few cronies – however before they can do anything, Xiuying appears out of nowhere to defend Ryo. (I was hoping the anime would provide an explanation to just how Xiuying knew to go there, let alone how she got there! But maybe this will be shared in a flashback next episode?). As Dou Niu questions who this interloper is, she gives her trademark death stare, and the episode ends.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Well, I found myself having very, very mixed feelings about this one. While I enjoyed some of the added scenes that gave extra context, i.e. the scene with Lan Di and also Ren’s explanation of the history of the Yellow Heads (and with that a little tease of Joy’s backstory), the events from the game itself were zipped through so quickly that the episode almost risked becoming an incoherent mess. While this was perhaps a little evident in the previous episode as well, this was the first time I felt there being a noticeable struggle to squeeze everything in. As I mentioned this especially causes problems late into the episode, as Dou Niu and Yuan are apparently just able to quickly recover and know exactly where Ryo and Ren have gone! It just felt like this episode was on a mission to cover as much of the Kowloon chapter as it possibly could, perhaps not considering if it would be engaging or easy to follow for anyone who has not played the game. The choice of cliffhanger to end on also felt a little bizarre to me, as surely even newcomers at this point would be able to guess that Xiuying would easily be able to defeat Dou Niu. Don’t get me wrong – I still enjoyed the episode and how it recreated the game’s events for the most part, but I just think the writers should have taken a little extra time to consider how best to present this part of the story in this medium. It’s a slightly disappointing start to Kowloon (also it’s not even entirely clear if we’re in the actual walled city or not!) after the Hong Kong episodes were all mostly stellar. I hope the final few episodes don’t feel quite as rushed or crammed in comparison. As a result I would have to give this one a 3/5.

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

Until next week, for Episode 11 – ‘Entangled’!

Stuart/Miles

One thought on “Shenmue The Animation Ep #10 -‘Comeback’ recap and review

  1. I agree that it would have been nice to have kept the majestic appearance of Kowloon walled city, even just with an establishing shot, as that’s something that is really memorable in the game.

    Liked by 1 person

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