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 having some mixed feelings about the pacing of last week’s episode, I was a lot more satisfied with this week’s offering. We’ve gone back to the anime putting a different spin on things and elaborating on certain character details (Joy and Ren especially get some nice added meat to them this week, which I very much approve of), as opposed to the ‘speeding through the game events’ feel we had last week. While a lot of Shenmue II’s scenarios in this point of the story are cut down or left out altogether, I feel this episode still does a good job of keeping the pace lively while still remaining coherent. It arguably does a better job of emphasising the point that Ryo has got himself tied up in an extremely dangerous criminal underworld than the game does, with both the threat of the Yellow Heads and the Chi You Men having a lot more weight to them than the slightly vaguer presence seen in Shenmue II. I am therefore extremely excited to see how the storming of the Yellow Head Building is handled next week – but let’s not get ahead of ourselves – let’s recap the events of this excellent episode first!
We pick up where we left off last week, with Xiuying squaring up to Dou Niu and his thugs, as Ryo watches helplessly on the floor, having been knocked down by the Yellow Head leader. Dou Niu loudly proclaims he doesn’t care if it’s a woman, and that he wants to get rid of anyone who stands in his way. As the thugs prepare to attack, Xiuying silently raises her hand, accepting the challenge, as we then launch into the opening credits.
Xiuying of course effortlessly dispatches the Yellow Head thugs, and then sets her sights on Dou Niu. Yuan worryingly looks out of the window, still in Zhu’s office with her two cronies (Shaoqi and Minglu), commanding them to hurry and take Zhu with them. In a very surprising turn however, Zhu fights back! He effortlessly punches Minglu whilst still sitting at his desk, and then strikes Shaoqi with his cane. Yuan thrusts his knife at Zhu, only for this to be deflected by his cane as well. Yuan is undeterred however, holding the knife to Zhu’s face and insisting that this is quite enough. Meanwhile, Xiuying has managed to kick Dou Niu to the ground – Yuan then calls out of the window that it’s time that they left. Xiuying again raises her hand to goad Dou Niu, but he decides to retreat, along with the rest of the thugs. As Xiuying then turns to check on Ryo, his exhaustion causes him to collapse to the ground and lose consciousness.
We then cut to a familiar convent – which players will recognise as the Thousand White Convent, which is indeed the same location Xiuying brings Ryo to recover in the game. Xiuying tells him she’s done what she can for his wounds, and that he’ll need to take it easy. Ryo then recalls the incident in Man Mo Park back in Hong Kong, where he was attacked with an iron pipe – and then the confrontation with Yuan and the other Yellow Heads at the market stands, where all of the thugs were knocked out by a mystery assailant. (both occurred in Episode 9) – Ryo then realises Xiuying has been the one intervening to save him the entire time. As he thinks over this, a nun then walks in with a candle and greets Xiuying (the same one who makes this single appearance in the game, Li Lifang). Ryo asks her where they are, and Lifang tells him they are in a convent inside the Kowloon Walled City (confirming that these events are indeed taking place there, as opposed to the main city outside the walls), and that both Xiuying and Ziming were raised there. Xiuying clarifies that Ziming is her brother, and that he decided to leave one day – to seek revenge. Their parents were murdered, and Ziming fell into ‘the wrong path’ as Xiuying calls it, in his search for the murderer – emphasising to Ryo that he must not make the same mistake. Heedless of these words however, Ryo says he has to go and proceeds to get up to leave.
As Ryo heads outside, it becomes apparent that the convent is in its own building in the anime, rather than being contained within the Thousand White Building as in the game. As he steps out into the courtyard, Xiuying asks him to wait, and challenges him to a fight – her reasoning being that if even defeating her is a challenge, he has no chance of surviving – and certainly not against someone like Lan Di. Ryo accepts, but of course every one of his attacks misses as usual – with Xiuying ultimately striking him with a familiar move. After she again hammers the point home that if she were Lan Di, he’d be dead right now, Ryo asks what the move was. Xiuying explains it was the Counter Elbow Assault – one of the six ‘big opening’ techniques of Bajiquan – and she wishes for Ryo to learn it before he leaves. When Ryo questions why, she elaborates that he must clear his mind – and in doing so, become free from distraction and focus only on his mind itself. Only then will he have the serenity of a polished mirror – and she adds that she believes this will shield him from going down the path Ziming did. The scene ends here, with her teaching of the move presumably taking place off-screen. In the game, her teaching of the Counter Elbow Assault occurs before Ryo leaves for Kowloon (as does her speech about keeping his mind clear), but I feel it works well being placed here instead, as he has just gotten himself in extremely dangerous situations with the Yellow Heads and suffered great injury because of this – meaning it makes just as much sense for him to learn this lesson at this point in the story. Overall I feel this change is an appropriate move and serves the story well.
Meanwhile, Dou Niu is sitting in his office, speaking to Guanguan, Zhang Lu and Yuan. Guanguan and Lu express their pleasure in capturing Zhu, however Dou Niu is frustrated in being bested by Xiuying, wondering just who the hell she was. In an interesting aside, Yuan wonders to himself if she could be ‘Chun’s daughter’ – but quickly brushes this off. This is interesting and will make more sense later – as Joy’s father’s name (according to the official site for the re-releases of Shenmue I & II) is Liang Chunyun (梁春雲), so while Yuan is mistaken in thinking Xiuying is his daughter, it does appear he is referring to Joy’s father, just shortening his given name slightly. The reason why Yuan suspects this will become clearer in a revelation later in the episode! Guanguan tries to assure Dou Niu that they have nothing to worry about with Zhu locked up, but Yuan brings up the possibility of Ren and ‘that Japanese kid’ returning before they hand Zhu over to the Chi You Men – and that they’d be in trouble if they set that ‘scary lady’ on them again. Dou Niu commands Yuan to figure out a plan, which he is only happy to agree to.
At Ren’s hideout, Ryo has just informed Zhang about Zhu’s capture – who is thankful that Ryo and Ren made it back safely at least. Wong and Joy then appear, with Wong telling them they found out that Zhu was taken to the Yellow Head Building – the gang headquarters. Ryo asks Joy to show him how to get there, but she is reluctant to help until she is fully told what is going on. Ren agrees to give her and Wong the lowdown, with time passing until after he has told the whole story. Joy is concerned that Ryo is picking a fight with a gang as dangerous as the Yellow Heads, prompting Wong to note that she always acts strangely whenever the Yellow Heads are mentioned (for reasons that will become clearer later in the episode). Joy has no answer to this, but Ren brushes this aside and reasons there is no way to just walk right into the Yellow Head Building. Zhang then mentions he knows someone who lives near the Yellow Head Building, and that he might be able to help. This is fast-tracked slightly from the game, where Ryo has to at first use the Chawan Sign to find this contact – it’s perhaps a wise choice for Zhang to give this information directly given the limited time the anime has to work with.
Ryo and Ren go together to meet the contact (again, in the game Ryo went alone – this seems to be a frequent change in the anime, for Ren to always accompany him). In what is presumably the Moon Child Building, Ryo and Ren find a door ajar leading into a darkened room, where a voice beckons them to come in. Despite Ren’s objections to the lack of lighting, Ryo steps in and accepts the stranger’s offer to spar. The stranger reasons that true skill is made most clear within the darkness. Ryo tries in vain to attack him but can’t get a hit. The stranger chides him and tells him he cannot rely on his sight while in the dark – and that he must sharpen his focus. This causes Ryo to recall the words Xiuying told him earlier – that he must clear his mind and become free from distraction. The stranger tells him to use his ‘mind’s eye’ – determined to focus on his mind and find this, Ryo asks for another chance. As he determinedly closes his eyes, he remembers Iwao’s words that ‘it is still not enough’, and then Hanhui asking him why he practices the martial arts. In a beautifully atmospheric recreation from the game, Ryo is able to focus and block one of the stranger’s attacks. Finally turning the light on, the stranger reveals himself and tells Ryo that Zhang had told him about him. Fans will of course recognise this man as Kai (he doesn’t introduce himself by name here or in the game, but his name is revealed by pausing the game during this segment – the location is named as ‘Kai’s Room’, as well as his name being divulged in other materials). One aspect missing from the adaptation is Kai misleading Ryo into believing he is blind – as their earlier meeting was cut from the anime. This isn’t a huge loss however, and I think this sequence works equally well without this revelation. He goes onto say that he realised as soon as he heard Ryo’s last name that he must be the son of Iwao. Kai shares that Iwao visited around a decade ago (this is slightly different from the game where he states it was 20 years ago – this would arguably make more sense as it would place it before Ryo was born), and that he was fascinated by the Chinese martial arts – with the two trading knowledge of various techniques with one another. As Ren shares that Iwao was murdered, Kai is shocked to learn this. Ren goes on to explain that Ryo is trying to find Zhu Yuanda to get a lead on his father’s killer, and that the Yellow Heads have now kidnapped Zhu – and asks if he can help them in any way to get inside the Yellow Head Building. Kai tells Ryo that there he is, but that he should steel himself for the consequences. Ryo simply states he already has, and the scene cuts to Ryo and Ren in another location. As this whole sequence of Ryo finding his ‘mind’s eye’, and learning the ‘Predictive Explosion’ technique is one of my favourite parts of Shenmue II, I was very pleased to see it included and recreated so well here. The eerie atmosphere and deep lesson are effortlessly retained, and is probably my favourite part of this episode.
As Ryo and Ren head to presumably where Kai has directed them to, Ryo advises Ren that he shouldn’t come along with him any further – because the Yellow Heads already know who he is. Ren quite rightly objects that they’ll recognise Ryo as well, given all the run-ins they’ve had with Dou Niu and Yuan. Pressing his hand to his plaster once again, Ryo simply answers that he can’t stop until he reaches his goal. Ren asks about the cut, and if Lan Di did it to him. Ryo doesn’t answer, and simply reminds Ren that he isn’t like him, and that Ren’s agenda is simply to survive until he profits. Ren tries to object, but Ryo simply states that he’s already done more for him than he had to, and that he appreciates it, and asks Ren to pass on his thanks to Joy and Wong too as he walks away alone. Ren looks frustrated and torn by this, and I find myself liking this added dimension to him in the anime. The suggestion that Ren may be helping Ryo out for reasons beyond the potential profit is only lightly hinted at in the game, and seems to be given more focus here.
We then find ourselves in one of Kowloon’s many street fighting arenas – where a master of the acrobat style, Zhou Enjiang, is being talked up by his bookmaker, Meng Zujian (both accurate to their in-game appearance). Zujian explains a challenger only has to hit Enjiang once for a bet of ten dollars. Ryo gladly accepts the challenge. We then flash back to Kai explaining where Ryo needs to go, sharing that the Yellow Heads run an underground street fighting competition, making money off the bets – and that they are always looking for skilled martial artists to put in the ring. Kai then informs Ryo that he needs to catch the eye of Huo Yuandao, the Yellow Head scout (it’s interesting that he is referred directly by name here, only ever being called ‘the scout’ in-game in Shenmue II, his name only divulged in official strategy guidebooks) – and that then they may be able to get into the Yellow Head Building. Back to the arena, Ryo steps forward to challenge Enjiang – closing his eyes to focus on his mind’s eye, he dodges Enjiang’s attack and strikes with an elbow assault, winning the match. This is an interesting inclusion, as there was a somewhat persistent myth amongst the fandom that Ryo’s learning of the ‘Predictive Explosion’/mind’s eye technique affected how easily he could catch Enjiang in the game’s street fight. This was debunked by long-time fan and contributor BlueMue in his blog, but it’s intriguing they chose to add this to the anime – they had clearly either heard of the myth or realised it was perhaps the most appropriate street fight to use to demonstrate Ryo’s mastery of the technique!
Meanwhile, Ren looks pensively out to the sea, clearly in two minds about whether he should still be helping Ryo. Joy approaches him, asking where Ryo went and if he managed to get into the Yellow Head Building. Ren gruffly replies that he doesn’t know, causing Joy to assume he ditched Ryo. Ren passionately objects that he’d never do that, and Ryo made the decision for him. As he recalls Ryo’s words, he slumps to the ground and rubs his head as if he has a headache, the situation clearly stirring feelings in him he wouldn’t normally have. Joy says as much, commenting that the Ren she knew wouldn’t stick his neck out like this for someone, especially with the Chi You Men involved. Joy surmises that Ren must feel like a smaller man than Ryo for being unable to break the ‘laws of the land’ (mentioned by her before – presumably referring to the attitude of looking out for yourself only), and that it makes Ren wonder why he can’t be more like him. Ren seems unamused by this psychoanalysis. As he asks what she plans to do now, she tells him she’s going back to Hong Kong, and advises Ren that if he wants to back out as well, then now would be the time. As Ren yells out in frustration about his predicament, we see that one of the Yellow Heads, Zhang Lu, has been spying on them and listening in on their conversation. I must say this is yet another example of a very well-written anime exclusive scene, again I really like this added dimension to Ren where he is struggling to decide between keeping to his natural instincts or doing the honourable thing and helping Ryo. It makes him a lot more complex than his appearance and outward bluster would suggest, and I wholly approve of this effort to give him a bit more character development.
Back to Ryo, after he is declared the winner, a man approaches him and tells him to come to Dragon Street after dark (this again is fast-tracked compared to the game, where Ryo has to win a few street fights before fully getting the scout’s attention). When Ryo asks who he is, he introduces himself as Huo Yuandao – the Yellow Head scout named by Kai. Meanwhile, Joy is preparing to get on her motorcycle to leave Kowloon, when Wong suddenly approaches her. He asks about what happened to Ryo, to which she curtly replies she doesn’t know. When Wong asks her if she’s worried, Joy says she is, to which Wong exclaims that they should go and save him, and that Joy had helped him out with finding a hotel and martial artists previously. Joy simply dejectedly replies that Ryo has chosen to go up against the Chi You Men and the Yellow Heads now, and that people like her and Wong are powerless against organisations like them – and that they have to let it go. Wong hits back and accuses her of being just like every adult, so convinced that nobody can make a difference, angrily asking how she can live with herself. With emotions stirred, Joy remembers when she was a young girl, looking over a covered body (presumably her mother). While still clearly angry about this, she reaffirms to Wong that there’s nothing she can do, and that he should go home too as she speeds off. Wong is clearly still determined to do something however.
Ryo walks through Dragon Street after dark, and finds the scout skulking in an alleyway. The scout leads him to a more covert location, showing him a photo of a man who he tells Ryo he must defeat in a street fight, and that then they can talk – pointing him in the direction of where he can find him. Already we can tell that events will be condensed compared to the game – as there the scout gives Ryo three photos of street fighters he must defeat, which has been reduced to just one here. While perhaps a bit of a shame, I feel this is the right choice to keep good pacing and keep the story moving. As Ryo enters the arena, we see an elaborately-dressed fighter effortlessly defeat his challenger – fans will instantly recognise him as Baihu. He looks at Ryo in the crowd upon his victory, seemingly intrigued. It serves as a nice bit of foreshadowing to introduce Baihu here, as presumably Ryo will fight him in the next episode during the storm of the Yellow Head Building. As Baihu steps away, the bookmaker Mosen Liu, introduces the next fighter – the man from the photo, Greg More (Interestingly, Mosen is not Greg’s bookie in the game – this role is assumed by Fei Yan instead – with Mosen acting as Ma Wenyuan’s bookie, who does not appear in this episode). Ryo steps forward to the challenge. Greg is a man of few words in the anime, and despite his gargantuan size is easily defeated by Ryo in just a couple of hits (if only it were so easy in the game – and we don’t even get to see the infamous ‘Giant Swing’ move, lifted from Virtua Fighter Wolf Hawkfield’s repertoire!). As Ryo leaves, the scout hands him a note and instructs him to come to the place written there tomorrow afternoon. After the scout disappears into the darkness, Ryo finds an angry Ren behind him, who shouts that Ryo has no idea how much he just cost him. It becomes clear that Ren was watching the match and bet against Ryo (as also occurs in the game). Ryo simply smiles as Ren rants that he hasn’t got the better of him yet. From a distance, we see once again that Zhang Lu has been spying and listening in on the conversation. At Dou Niu’s office, Yuan tells the Yellow Head leader that he’s made contact with Lan Di, and that he’ll be arriving tomorrow to take Zhu Yuanda. Dou Niu is pleased to hear this, and Yuan reasons that once the Chi You Men have their backs, and that even those who have held a grudge against the Yellow Heads for their actions ten years ago will now have to fall into line. Dou Niu gleefully exclaims it won’t be long until Hong Kong is completely his.
We then cut to Bailu Village, where Shenhua is returning home for the evening. Noticing her father is not home, she realises he must still be working at the quarry. She then notices a paper on the table, which appears to depict both the Dragon and Phoenix mirrors in some sort of diagram. This is an interesting change, as in the game she does not discover this until Ryo finds it later on in the story. The suggestion that she may have some inkling already to what her father is working on may prove for some intriguing story changes further down the line. Back in Hong Kong, we see Joy visit her mother’s grave. In some quick flashes it is confirmed that the woman we saw stroke the young girl’s hair in the flashback last episode is Joy’s mother, and of course that the young girl was Joy. As the older man standing next to Joy as her mother’s car pulls away is presumably her father, it appears he is still alive in the present day, but her mother was killed in the explosion orchestrated by the Yellow Heads. This is presumably why Yuan wondered if Xiuying was ‘Chun’s daughter’ out for revenge (as I shared earlier, Joy’s father’s full name is Liang Chunyun), given he and Dou Niu were responsible for the mother’s death. As she gazes over her mother’s grave, Joy dejectedly states that nothing has changed, and that she never really forgave her father or the ‘syndicate’ (implying that her father was involved in some shady business practices – and indeed, we know from one of the sidestory comics that he does business with Master Chen, whose connections to the underworld were very much emphasised more in the anime), and sheds a single tear (much like Nozomi back in Episode 5). I like how this reveal has been slowly built up since Joy’s introduction, as now we finally understand why she has such a reaction upon the Yellow Heads being mentioned, being that they were responsible for her mother’s death. This adds some dimension to her character that was arguably lacking in her in-game incarnation. It would be interesting to know if all this backstory is actually canon to the in-game Shenmue universe!
Wong meanwhile runs into Sam, Larry and Cool Z as he walks down the street (who we haven’t seen since Episode 6), who ask him to go and find a ‘mark’ for them. Despite Wong’s objections, Sam pushes him into a luxurious looking building, possibly a hotel (perhaps the Grand Hotel?), where he overhears Guanguan and a Chi You Men black suit talking about a Japanese guy. Guanguan informs the black suit that the Japanese guy was also looking for Zhu Yuanda, and that they should be extra careful when the time comes for Zhu to be handed over to Lan Di – mentioning a ‘formidable martial artist’ ally that could be a threat (presumably in reference to Xiuying). The black suit confirms he understands and asks Guanguan to keep Zhu secure. Guanguan assures him it won’t be a problem and that they are also keeping tabs on Ren, who they know has been associating with Ryo. Wong’s surprise at this alerts Guanguan to his presence, who then proceeds to chase after the boy. He runs past Sam, Larry and Cool Z who have been waiting in a nearby alley, who can only look in disbelief as Guanguan dashes past them in pursuit of Wong.
Ryo is seen walking down another of Kowloon’s dark and dingy corridors, presumably heading to the meeting place set by the scout. The scout asks Ryo to follow him – and we see that Ren has also decided to join, as well as Zhang Lu who is still tailing and spying on both of them. As the scout opens a gate and informs Ryo that it leads to the Yellow Head Building, Ren suddenly attacks the scout from behind and knocks him to the floor. Ren then proceeds to interrogate him as to the whereabouts of Zhu Yuanda. When the scout pleads ignorance, Ren gets out his knife and insists that he must know which room they usually keep hostages in. The scout confirms this room is on the 17th floor (this is arguably a more plausible way for Ryo and Ren to find out this information than in the game, where Wong shares this with them after learning it from Zhang – how exactly Zhang is able to find this out isn’t made clear). Now done with him, Ren proceeds to knock the scout out cold, much to Ryo’s chagrin, who denounces Ren for his recklessness. Undeterred, Ren then finds a walkie-talkie in the scout’s pocket (in the game they aren’t able to obtain this until much later in their infiltration of the building). Ren then proceeds to presumably trick the Yellow Heads by speaking into the walkie and informing them that there is an intruder, and that everyone should head to the fifth floor. As Ren encourages Ryo to press ahead, we see Zhang Lu has again witnessed all that has occurred while hiding.
Wong meanwhile is still running away from Guanguan, when Joy spots him as she rides past on her motorcycle. Wong hops on and begs Joy for her help, saying that he’ll explain everything later. As Guanguan draws in on them, Joy and Wong quickly speed away and manage to elude him. Ryo and Ren proceed to get into an elevator (presumably heading to the 17th floor), as the Shenmue theme swells triumphantly in the background. Joy demands an explanation from Wong as they speed down the road, who explains the man chasing him was a Yellow Head member, because he had overheard them talking about Ryo and Ren being under surveillance – which visibly agitates Joy, perhaps deciding she now wants revenge after all. As Ryo and Ren find the room that the scout indicated, they find it is empty – and unfortunately, then hear Dou Niu’s booming voice and trademark stomp nearby. Confronting them in the hallway, he promises to celebrate their reunion with some head bashing – the episode ending here on Ryo’s steely gaze at this threat.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Well, I certainly enjoyed this episode a lot more than last week’s. The pacing was much better, and despite some noticeable cuts/omissions from Shenmue II’s story I think it all worked genuinely well, and I was gripped throughout, mostly due to the changes and added developments granted by the anime. Ren’s internal struggle and Joy’s tragic backstory add a lot of dimension to their characters, and I think Joy benefits from this in particular, as her in-game incarnation arguably didn’t have a whole lot of depth to her – and it also helps that her backstory had been so expertly foreshadowed in small doses since her introduction back in Episode 6. The decision to move Xiuying’s ‘polished mirror’ speech and teaching of the Counter Elbow Assault to after the Ghost Hall Building scene also works very well in my opinion. The scenes that originated from the game are also recreated very well in this episode, in particular the ‘mind’s eye’/Predictive Explosion scene as I mentioned. It just felt a lot more tighter and focused than the previous episode, and I was genuinely (pleasantly) surprised just how much emotion was stirred from Ren and Joy of all characters. I am very excited to see how the storm of the Yellow Head Building will be handled next week, and of course the infamous rooftop scene. I am confident the anime will do a good job of adapting this, and hope it will give me the same goosebumps that the in-game scene still does to this day!
Some may be disappointed at some of the omissions from the game (i.e. no Chunyan), but I personally had no issue with these choices and found this to be a fantastic episode – therefore, I am more than happy to give it my second 5/5 of the season! (the first being Episode 5)
What did you think of the episode? Let me know in the comments!
Until next week, for Episode 12 – ‘Guidepost’!