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.
One of the anime’s greatest strengths so far has been keeping events exciting and engaging, even for hardcore fans who have played both games countless times and know the story inside out. Nowhere is this more evident than this episode – I was genuinely gripped this week, despite having played through the Yellow Head Building scenario in Shenmue II countless times! A lot of this is due to Ryo’s allies being given a far more active role in proceedings; it was genuinely interesting to not know what was going to happen next in some scenes. Their motives for wanting to help Ryo are also a lot better defined than in the game – particularly in the case of Wong, who has a surprisingly moving scene early on in the episode. While of course certain parts are shortened or excluded altogether, I feel this can be forgiven due to the extra ‘meat’ that other aspects are granted instead. I must admit I really did think that the Yellow Head Building infiltration would be covered in a single episode, so it was a somewhat pleasant surprise to see this week’s end where it did, allowing things a bit more time to breathe. However, the title of next week’s episode (we’ll come to that!) does suggest that next week’s finale will have quite a lot to pack in – it remains to be seen how well that works out, but first off, let’s recap this penultimate episode…
We begin with a recap of the closing moments of last week’s episode – where Wong is being pursued by the Yellow Head member Yuan Guanguan, but manages to catch a ride with Joy. Wong explains that the Yellow Heads have been spying on Ryo and Ren – who meanwhile are in the Yellow Head Building, and find that Zhu Yuanda is not being kept in the room that the scout indicated. Before they can do much else however, they are confronted by Dou Niu in the hallway. As he promises to bash both of their heads in, we launch into the opening credits…
After managing to lose Guanguan for now, Joy screeches to a halt and asks Wong if he’s sure about the Yellow Heads spying on Ryo and Ren – and what exactly he plans to do about it. Wong determinedly says he will help them, only for Joy to reiterate to him that they don’t stand a chance against people like the Yellow Heads – and that he should just let it go. As Wong steps off her motorcycle, he announces that he wants to change – and that he hates living the way that he is. Despite his everyday thefts, it doesn’t guarantee he will survive from day-to-day. With school or work not being an option, he claims to have constantly told himself the same excuse – that this is just the way life is when you don’t have parents. However, he explains that his perspective changed upon meeting Ryo – causing him to realise that nothing is ever set in stone like that. He reasons that if he helps Ryo, that he may be able to change his ways – and defiantly tells Joy that he’s going with or without her as he runs off. Joy appears to be visibly moved by this, as I must admit I was – I was certainly not expecting such a poignant moment from a character such as Wong, and this resolve of his has been set up nicely from the explanation of the current situation in Hong Kong seen in previous episodes. The arrival of Ryo prompting some positive change in characters such as Wong, Joy and Ren is perhaps hinted at in Shenmue II, but certainly made a lot more explicit here.
Back at the Yellow Head Building, Ren indicates to Ryo that they don’t have time to deal with Dou Niu and need to find Zhu Yuanda. Ryo agrees and the two narrowly dodge an attack from the gargantuan Yellow Head leader before running away down the corridor. Dou Niu stops at nothing to try and catch them, even rolling down the stairs after them and crashing his head into the wall without breaking a sweat! On the floor below Ryo and Ren find a familiar sight – a massive hole in the floor with only a wooden plank allowing them to cross over (I’m glad we at least got to see this in the Yellow Head Building, after the infamous planks being cut from the Ghost Hall Building in Episode 10!). As the two manage to get across, Dou Niu quickly catches up, but can only stumble as Ren kicks away the plank into the void below, stranding Dou Niu on the other side. After of course stopping to taunt him, Ren runs off with Ryo further into the building.
Joy, meanwhile, stops her motorcycle outside the Come Over Guest House – as she looks up at the window of the room where Ryo was staying, she remembers meeting him as he got off the boat to Hong Kong, then intervening when he ran into trouble with the Poison Brothers and dropping him off at the Guest House, and then his words that he will stop at nothing until he meets his goal (all from Episode 6). While lost in thought however, she hears Guanguan behind her, who has managed to catch up and find her. Joy quickly zooms off, and Guanguan takes the opportunity to steal a bicycle from a passing young man in order to pursue her. Joy finds Wong up ahead and tells him to get on – he eagerly agrees, but asks her what she’s doing here and if she changed her mind about helping Ryo. Apparently not wanting to admit this, Joy chides Wong for getting the Yellow Heads riled up and causing them to pursue her as well. As Guanguan pursues them on the stolen bicycle, she claims to not have a choice and that she has to go with Wong now – who smiles and laughs at this, seemingly not being fooled. As they speed ahead, Joy asks Wong how he’s planning on getting inside the Yellow Head Building – as he replies that he’ll find a way to sneak in, Joy is not confident a spontaneous plan like that will work. She suggests that she’ll keep the Yellow Heads occupied, and that Wong can then take the chance to search for Ryo and Ren – and that he should pretend that he’s Joy’s younger brother, a suggestion that Wong doesn’t appear to be exactly thrilled about…
Meanwhile, Ryo and Ren unfortunately run into Yuan during their search for Zhu in the Yellow Head Building, who is armed with a chainsaw. After asking someone on his walkie talkie to inform Dou Niu that he found the ‘pair of annoying rats’, Yuan revs up the chainsaw and thrusts it at Ryo, who only just narrowly dodges it as it cuts into the wall instead. Ryo and Ren then make a run for it, and so begins a recreation of one of the tensest QTE chases from Shenmue II – arguably the true point where it becomes clear just how much danger Ryo is putting himself in by pursuing his goal. As two other Yellow Heads try to cut them off further down the corridor, Ryo and Ren manage to knock them both out with a flying kick (the bearded Yellow Head appears to be Zhuang Zhou). Ryo then manages to push back Yuan by kicking down a rickety wooden installation, blocking him from catching up to them. As Ryo and Ren give each other a triumphant high-five, they press further on into the building. Outside meanwhile, Wong and Joy have just arrived at the building’s entrance, where they are immediately blocked by two guards (one of whom is Liu Yan – identified by name in the episode’s voice credits and is indeed a guard at the building’s southern entrance in the game – while the other is Song Xian, who is also found at this entrance in the game). Joy asks them to let their boss know that they have a visitor – Chun’s daughter, from the White Thai – confirming that Joy is indeed his daughter, as hinted at in the last episode (with Yuan mistakenly thinking Xiuying was Chun’s daughter) – much to their alarm.
Back inside, Dou Niu finds Yuan, who asks for his forgiveness for losing Ryo and Ren. Yuan then receives a message from another Yellow Head member on his walkie talkie. Joy and Wong meanwhile have been brought to a room elsewhere in the building – with Wong doubtful that the plan will work, as everyone has heard of Chun and the White Thai. He recounts what Ren shared with Ryo previously, that the White Thai were previously in control of the gambling scene in Hong Kong, with Dou Niu and the other Yellow Heads acting as their bodyguards- before betraying the White Thai by selling them out to a rival gang. With Wong apparently not realising that Joy is Chun’s daughter, she asks him to spare her the history lesson and that he should go look for Ryo and Ren – with her suggesting that he should crawl into a nearby vent to avoid detection. As Yuan meanwhile continues the conversation on his walkie, he is surprised to learn of Chun’s daughter showing up after all these years, jumping to the conclusion that she’s trying to sabotage the Yellow Heads’ deal with the Chi You Men – and asks Dou Niu what they should do. Dou Niu reasons there’s no reason to deal with her now and that they should just lock her up somewhere for the meantime.
As Ryo and Ren continue their search, Ren turns on the walkie talkie to get any clues on Zhu’s location, when they hear Yuan’s voice. Yuan tells his fellow Yellow Heads that Chun of the White Thai’s daughter has just turned up – instructing Zhang Lu (the member that was tailing Ryo and Ren in the previous episode) to lock her in the basement cell – and everyone else to track down Ryo and Ren before the Chi You Men arrive. Ren is concerned upon hearing about Chun’s daughter – and reveals to Ryo that he knows that this is Joy. Joy, meanwhile, is accosted by Zhang Lu, Liu Yan and Song Xian and instructed to go with them – Lu then notices that Wong is missing however. Joy denies any knowledge of where he’s gone, and effortlessly twists Lu’s arm when he attempts to grab her, telling him not to push her around just because she’s a lady. As tempers begin to fray, the mysterious, elaborately dressed figure who we saw briefly in a street fight last episode enters the room – Baihu – telling Joy that he doesn’t wish to harm her, but that she needs to do as she’s told. When Joy attempts to defy this order, a swift strike to the neck from him immediately incapacitates her – and Lu and the others head off to find where Wong has gone. As Ryo wonders why Joy is here, Ren points out Yuan told the others to lock her up in the basement – with Ryo reasoning they should go there straight away.
A group of Yellow Heads, meanwhile, are trying to track the two of them down (one of whom appears to be Tai Shizi) – with two of them checking upstairs and the other two checking the lower floors. Wong watches this from inside the vent, pleased to hear that Ryo and Ren haven’t been caught yet. After briefly flinching at a passing rat, Wong presses on – with a few other rats watching from behind. He then comes to a branch in his path – initially unsure of what way to go, he sees a grating ahead with light shining through – then proceeding to make a less than gracious entrance into the room below. He is then surprised to see an old man in a wheelchair sitting there staring at him – Zhu Yuanda! Zhu glibly comments that he didn’t realise that the Yellow Heads were recruiting such young children – Wong makes it clear he isn’t one of them and then asks the old man who he is. When Zhu introduces himself, Wong is extremely surprised, having heard the name and his reputation before – and assures him that his friend Ryo is here and they can get him out. They then overhear Yuan outside the door asking the guard about Zhu – to which the old man tells Wong he needs to leave right now. Yuan hears a commotion inside the room as he’s about to unlock the door – but is relieved to find Zhu still sitting there perfectly unharmed. We see that Wong has gotten back up into the vent, who overhears Yuan’s plans to escort Zhu ready for the handover. As Wong curses and wonders what he should do, the rats all appear next to him (long-time fans will probably have already figured out where this is going!) – giving him an idea. He retrieves a ‘Heavens’ lighter from his pocket (apparently he still had one spare after giving one to Ryo in Episode 9), and flicks it alight in order to scare the rats. As Yuan prepares to leave with Zhu, a rat suddenly falls on his head, followed by several more on his shoulder! Initially frozen in shock, after another scurries up his face he can’t take anymore and screeches out in disgust, much to Wong’s delight. Yuan runs screaming out of the room, the rats still very much clinging to him – much to the surprise of the fellow Yellow Head waiting outside (this appears to be Wu Anguo), who Yuan clings onto in terror. Wong takes the opportunity to wheel Zhu out and escape, Yuan completely oblivious. This is a pleasingly amusing addition for the anime, using an already established character trait of Yuan to provide Wong an opportunity to be useful, and it is also nice to see Zhu Yuanda appear in more scenes as well.
Meanwhile, Ryo and Ren have made it to the basement where they find Lu, Yan and Xian standing guard over Joy, who is locked up in a cage. Ryo and Ren challenge the three to a fight, however the ornately-dressed fighter, Baihu, then makes an entrance, asking them both if they are friends with Joy. Ryo defiantly says that she’s coming with them, which the man finds amusing(the game translates this line of Baihu’s as ‘Interesting’, I’m not entirely sure which is more accurate?)- he makes a deal with Ryo that if he can defeat him, Joy can then go free. The set up of this sequence is markedly different than what occurs in Shenmue II – for one thing Ryo is alone in the game at this point, he and Ren having split up. Also, in the game Ryo witnesses Baihu easily defeat another opponent in a caged arena before finding a captive Joy, which does not occur here. In fact, in-game Ryo is not even aware Joy is in the building until that point! In the game Baihu is also guarded by some Chi You Men black suits, who are not present here – indeed they don’t seem to be present in the Yellow Head Building at all here, whereas in the game several members are stationed there along with the Yellow Heads. Another difference we see here is that Ryo remembers some of the advice given to him during his time in Hong Kong as he prepares to fight Baihu. He recalls Kai’s advice from the previous episode, to open his ‘mind’s eye’ – giving him the focus to dodge a few of Baihu’s attacks. He then remembers the lessons of the Four Wude in turn – Jianmin’s teaching of GON (to train every day without neglect), Zhoushan’s teaching of JIE (to never use force blindly or flaunt technique), Guixiang’s teaching of YI (to act without hesitation for what is right), and finally Zhangyu’s teaching of DAN (to stay calm to make the right decision). With this determination and focus, Ryo is able to strike Baihu with a kick, sending him falling to the ground – causing the Yellow Heads to run away in fear. As Ryo declares himself the winner and announces he’ll be taking Joy, Baihu asks for his name – which he promises to remember. Ironically, we don’t actually learn Baihu’s name within the episode! In-game, we learned this from a Chi You Men member addressing him as ‘Master Baihu’, but no one refers to him by name here. Its perhaps a slight disappointment that this fight sequence is so truncated compared to the game, and that Ryo defeats Baihu so easily, but the added link to what he has learned of the martial arts during his time in Hong Kong is a nice touch.
Outside the building, an exhausted Guanguan finally reaches the entrance on his stolen bicycle, where Joy’s motorcycle is still parked outside. He is then none-too-impressed when a car pulls up alongside him, with two Yellow Heads emerging and asking where Joy and Wong are (these appear to be Hu Ban and Guan Xing). As he makes his way inside, he finds Yuan, who is still clutching tightly to Anguo and in distress about what happened earlier. Guanguan asks what’s going on, and Yuan can still only rant and rave about rats. When he asks Yuan if he means Ryo and Ren, Yuan angrily counters that he’s talking about real live rats. Not breaking focus, Guanguan then asks where Zhu Yuanda is – sending Yuan into a panic as he dashes back to the room he was being kept in, only to find it empty. As Yuan curses ‘that goddamn brat’, Guanguan seems to realise that Wong was the one responsible.
Joy regains consciousness in Ryo’s arms, who is surprised to see him and Ren. When Ryo asks why she came here, she angrily tells him it was ‘to save two dumbasses from throwing their lives away’. Impressed at how she put herself in danger like that, Ren cheerily resolves that all that’s left is getting Zhu as he checks for any updates from the walkie-talkie. Joy asks about Wong, surprised to learn they haven’t run into him yet. They then hear Yuan’s voice screaming over the walkie commanding his fellow Yellow Heads to find the ‘brat’ who broke Zhu out. Said ‘brat’ is still running through the corridors and pushing Zhu along – only to see Guanguan ahead of them blocking their path. Zhu tells Wong to keep charging ahead regardless, and to trust him. Zhu then effortlessly knocks Guanguan out of the way with his cane, much to Wong’s impress – the anime version of Zhu really is kicking a lot more ass than his in-game counterpart ever gets to! They finally make it to an elevator at the end of the hall, only for Dou Niu to emerge from inside – with what happens next uncertain. Meanwhile, Ryo, Ren and Joy are running elsewhere in search of Wong, only to encounter Yuan instead – who at this point has become well and truly unhinged, licking his knife in delight at finding them. As he goes into a frenzy and tries to cut them to ribbons, Ren is able to kick the knife out of his hands, with Ryo in turn booting him into an elevator as Ren opens it. With Yuan slumped in a heap on the floor, Ren retrieves the handcuffs from his pocket (which Dou Niu used to cuff him and Ryo together back in Episode 10), and cuffs him to the guardrail. Joy demands to know where Wong and Zhu are, but Yuan is reluctant to talk. Ryo again presses him about where the handover of Zhu is happening, but Yuan still isn’t budging. Ren then takes matters into his own hands and retrieves a nearby garbage can, reminding Ryo that Yuan is a ‘neat freak’ – who is indeed extremely distressed at the sight of it – and gives in as Ren threatens to kick it at him, telling them the handover will be happening on the roof. As Ryo and Joy proceed to use the other elevator to get there, Ren decides he can’t resist and kicks the garbage can towards Yuan anyway before heading off with them. Left chained in the elevator and with garbage all over him, Yuan screams as the elevator heads downwards. I’m glad they kept this scene from the game as it’s extremely satisfying to see Yuan get his comeuppance, with his neat-freak tendencies being set up nicely in the previous episode to make this defeat all the more humiliating and degrading. The anime-exclusive touch of being set upon by rats earlier is simply the icing on the cake!
As Ryo, Ren and Joy take the elevator to the roof, they emerge in an unassuming, dingy corridor that looks much like the rest in the building – a far cry from the grandeur of the building’s 40th floor as seen in the game, but I guess it makes sense to do it this way in the anime to save time and background design resources! At any rate, Ryo dashes up the stairway leading to the roof – to find a helicopter up above adorned with a familiar symbol on it, with none other than Lan Di himself dangling from its ladder, their first meeting since Iwao’s murder back in Episode 1. Ryo stares up in anger, his eyes quite literally red, as the episode ends here on this dramatic point.
FINAL THOUGHTS: This was a very impressive and engaging episode, and I was particularly pleased to see just how much more of an active role the supporting characters were given in the infiltration of the Yellow Head Building. Wong makes a very touching speech at the beginning of the episode about how meeting Ryo has changed his attitude of things, and it adds a surprising level of depth to the character. And despite her initial reluctance to help and unwillingness to drop her toughened facade, Joy has certainly been made a lot more likable and given a lot more depth than her game counterpart throughout her appearances in the anime. It’s also pleasing to see more of Zhu Yuanda as well – and a good reminder of his knowledge of the martial arts! The only real disappointment I had was how Baihu was handled, who really suffered due to the limited runtime and fast pacing. Having said that, I honestly expected the entirety of the Yellow Head Building plus Zhu’s rescue to be covered across one episode, so it was a pleasant surprise to see this episode end where it did. With one episode left, the question is – will they be able to convincingly wrap up the Kowloon portion of the storyline and also commence the Guilin portion, leaving us in the cave with Ryo and Shenhua as Shenmue II did way back in 2001? Why am I assuming that the season will end there? This is for a number of reasons that seem to indicate this will be the case:
- Next week’s episode, the season finale, is entitled ‘Shenmue’ – this seems to suggest that we will see the titular tree before the end of the episode
- Both Ryo and Shenhua announce the title of the following episode in unison after this week’s end credits – suggesting that the two will finally meet.
- Episode 1 began with the scene of Ryo and Shenhua in the stone pit before we went backwards to the story beginning in Yokosuka – having the season end here would be an effective bookend.
Having said this however, it is already clear there will be some changes made – from the preview for next week’s episode, we can see that Lan Di actually sets foot on the roof and engages in battle with Ryo – this does not happen in Shenmue II, where he simply watches the fight between Ryo and Dou Niu from above before making his getaway. This also raises another question – will the fight between Ryo and Dou Niu even happen in the anime? In the game continuity, Ryo and Lan Di do not have a battle like this until the end of Shenmue III in Niaowu, so it is an interesting choice to make this happen earlier in the anime.
Also, if this season does indeed end where Shenmue II does, that still leaves a lot of ground to cover for next week. Regardless of whether Ryo fights Dou Niu or just Lan Di, there is the rescue of Zhu, the discussion back at Ren’s Hideout that results in Zhu recommending Ryo go to Guilin, Ryo’s farewell to Xiuying, the arrival to Guilin, the meeting with Shenhua and her and Ryo’s journey to her house in Bailu Village, the reveal of the Shenmue tree, and finally of course, that fateful scene in the stone pit. If all this is covered next week, we can of course expect Ryo and Shenhua’s long trek to the village to be truncated by a fair bit. This of course I would understand, but I hope the episode as a whole does not end up feeling rushed due to the sheer amount of ground needing to be covered.
At any rate, we shall see! As far as this episode goes, my only real gripe was Baihu not being done complete justice, but I can forgive this I suppose. Therefore, I will give this one a 4/5. I genuinely cannot wait for next week’s finale, though I will be sad for it all to end – here’s hoping for a Season 2, and of course, a Shenmue IV!
What did you think of the episode? Let me know in the comments!
Until next week, for Episode 13 – ‘Shenmue’ – the season finale!