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.
So here we are, at the end of the road (for now?) of the anime, after 13 weeks that feel like they’ve just flown by. I suspect fans will have mixed feelings about this finale, specifically about the pacing and just how much is packed into this episode, but I must say I am mostly satisfied with the result, as I am with the series in general. A sizeable portion of Shenmue II has been cut in order to get this episode where it needed to go, but I think it still works well, and won’t be such a heavy loss if we do get a Season 2 (I’ll go into this more in my final thoughts at the end!) At the end of the day, a Shenmue anime of all things was something I never thought would have existed, and I think they did a fantastic job on it on the whole. This episode has a lot of ground to cover and I think it mostly does it very well. So without further ado, let’s get into the recap of the final episode!
As the episode begins, we pick up where we left off with Ryo running up the stairs to the rooftop of the Yellow Head Building – where he is shocked to find none other than Lan Di, hanging from a helicopter. As the two glare at each other, Ryo flashes back to Iwao’s murder at the hands of Lan Di back in Episode 1. Joy and Ren then catch up to Ryo, and notice Lan Di’s two black-suited henchman standing with Zhu Yuanda on the roof. Unfortunately, Dou Niu is also here, holding Wong over the edge and threatening to drop him if anyone moves any further (presumably having apprehended the boy and Zhu as they attempted to escape in the previous episode). He boasts that now that he’s working with Lan Di that the whole city will be his. As Ryo stares in anger, touching the cut on his cheek, Lan Di steps off the helicopter – this is a pretty big change from the game, where Lan Di remains hanging from the helicopter the entire time before making his getaway. With anger and revenge clouding his mind, Ryo charges forward to attack Lan Di – only for his attempt to be effortlessly blocked, of course. Lan Di recognises Ryo as ‘the Hazuki boy’ and proceeds to strike, pushing Ryo back. Dou Niu meanwhile yells in frustration, asking Ryo if he cares what happens to Wong. Lan Di merely raises his hand to silence Dou Niu however, and goads Ryo to challenge him. Ryo again lunges forward, only for all of his punches to be dodged and countered. Lan Di does still note that Ryo has improved ‘somewhat’ (this is the same ‘compliment’ he gives when the two battle each other in Shenmue III – indeed, this is essentially a similar scene that has been moved to earlier in the story here) – before sending Ryo to the floor with an effortless strike of his palm. As Ryo struggles to pick himself back up, Ren rushes over and tells him to not let Lan Di get him so wound up. Zhu attempts to intervene by trying to reason with Lan Di that there is no need for any harm to come to these people – and that he’ll tell him what he wants to know – under the condition that Dou Niu puts Wong down. Despite Dou Niu’s protest, Lan Di agrees to these terms. (again, this is a marked change from the game, where no such bargaining takes place due to Lan Di never setting foot on the roof, with Wong instead getting himself free by biting Dou Niu’s arm). Dou Niu relents and angrily throws Wong to the floor, with Joy rushing to his aid. Lan Di then allows Zhu to speak, who simply tells him ‘It’s in Bailu Village’ (in the game Lan Di apparently knows to head there anyway, with it not being clear how he got the information without interrogating Zhu). This is apparently enough for Lan Di, as he signals for the ladder to be dropped and the helicopter to take him back up.
A crestfallen Dou Niu stares up and stammers about his ambition of taking over Hong Kong – to which the two black suits simply command him to ‘clean up this mess’, informing him that it is an opportunity to prove to Lan Di that he can be useful. As Dou Niu promises to squash them all into the dirt, Ren commands everyone to make their escape – but Ryo’s sight is still fixed on Lan Di. As Dou Niu charges forward, Ren quickly pushes Zhu out of the way, and then lunges forward to shove Ryo out of the Yellow Head leader’s path too, only for both of them to be knocked back into a fence. Despite this, Ryo is still focused on Lan Di – to which Ren grabs him and angrily tells him to snap out of it, and that his obsession with revenge is causing him to be blind to what’s happening in front of him (these are surprisingly poignant words from Ren, who gives Ryo no such lecture in the game, but I think it’s appropriate for the more ‘street smart’ Ren to have this attitude). This causes Ryo to remember very similar words spoken to him by Xiuying. As Ren continues, he reminds Ryo that they are all in danger, and that he told him that he wouldn’t stop until he reached his goal – so commands him to move. Ryo finally calms and tells Ren he’s right, stepping forward to challenge Dou Niu and telling the others to make their escape. The two black suits are prepared to stop them however, with Ren telling Ryo to leave them to him and for Ryo to ‘knock Dou Niu down a peg’. As he expresses how tired he is of all these annoying brats, Dou Niu grabs Ryo by the head after a failed attempt to strike, then throwing him down to the ground and stamping on him. As Ryo lies helpless on the ground, he finds himself asking his father what he should do. He then remembers:
- Iwao’s words that he is still lacking (from Episode 1)
- Yamagishi-san’s words that ‘a father does not show all of his faces to his son (from Episode 2)
- Master Chen’s words that he refuses to let a young man like himself into ‘the lion’s den’ (from Episode 3)
- Gui Zhang’s words that if he were Ryo, he’d do the same thing (from Episode 4)
- Hanhui’s questioning of why Ryo practices the martial arts (from Episode 8)
- Xiuying’s words that he must clear his mind ‘like the stillness of the surface of the water’- channeling focus entirely on his mind itself (from Episode 11)
This is embellished a little from the game, where Ryo only recalls Xiuying’s advice while trying to steel himself to defeat Lan Di. I think it is a nice touch to add other characters in this sequence however, and continues the anime’s seeming objective of better bridging the events of Shenmue I & II together – and of course works well in the medium of a television series. This all gives Ryo a renewed determination, and he is able to strike Dou Niu in the foot and pick himself back up. Dou Niu is amused that Ryo is just standing there with his eyes closed, reasoning that he must be ready to die. While Wong and Joy look on worriedly, Zhu seems to recognise the technique. Achieving the required focus, Ryo blocks Dou Niu’s fist, and then jumps up and counters with a Swallow Dive kick (taught to him by Gui Zhang in Episode 4). Ren meanwhile has managed to knock out the black suits, uttering his trademark catchphrase of ‘十年早いんだよォ！(Jū-nen hayain da yo! – roughly translating as ‘You’re ten years too early’, which is also of course a frequent quote of Virtua Fighter’s Akira Yuki (the subtitles here read ‘you’ll need a few decades of training to even come close to beating me’, which is essentially the same meaning). As Dou Niu threatens to wring the life out of him, Ryo reminds himself to channel his focus on his mind – (the Shenmue theme beginning to swell in the background) and blocks two of Dou Niu’s punches, before grabbing him by the wrist, pushing him aside and then delivering the critical strike with the Counter Elbow Assault move (taught to him by Xiuying in Episode 11) – finally sending the oversized brute crashing to the ground. As Wong cheers at Ryo’s victory, Zhu notes that he achieved the serenity of a polished mirror, apparently being aware of this lesson as well. As she looks at the Yellow Head leader helpless on the ground, Joy seems to have achieved some inner contentment, perhaps satisfied that her mother’s death has now been avenged in a way. Ren seems to notice this and grins. Ryo meanwhile takes one last look up at Lan Di before he makes his getaway in the helicopter, presumably heading to Bailu Village – Ryo clenches his fist and vows that they’re not done. While Dou Niu is arguably defeated a little quickly in this version of events (although still not as quickly as Baihu was in the last episode!), I think the seminal rooftop scene was still done justice here, with the culmination of Ryo finally being able to focus his mind being retained. In fact it is arguably done a little better here, as Ryo’s desire for revenge clouding his judgement is emphasised a lot more, to the point where Ren has to physically snap him out of it. The animation of Ryo’s counters against Dou Niu when he achieves this zen is also done beautifully, and perfectly conveys the recurring message of the series of not using the martial arts blindly.
Later, Ryo, Ren, Joy and Wong have managed to bring Zhu to Ren’s hideout, also joined by Zhang. As they gather round to talk, Ryo asks Zhu why Lan Di would want to kill his father. Zhu clarifies that Lan Di was avenging the death of his own father, Zhao Sunming – who he believes was killed by Iwao. Ryo remembers Lan Di mentioning the name, as well as seeing it in the Wulinshu (in Episode 9). Zhu further explains that Lan Di’s real name is Zhao Longsun – and that while Lan Di believes Iwao killed Sunming, Zhu is not actually aware of the truth himself. Ren then takes the opportunity to ask Zhu about the Phoenix Mirror that Ryo has, asking Ryo to show him. As Zhu examines it, he recognises it as once belonging to Zhao Sunming – and that both the Phoenix and Dragon mirrors form a key when they come together. Namely, the key to hidden treasures intended to revive the Qing dynasty. Ren pumps his fist in exhilaration at being right there’d be treasure involved, much to Joy and Wong’s exasperation. As Ren excitedly asks Zhu how they can get the treasure, the old man explains that both mirrors would have to be brought together to uncover the secret – which quickly deflates Ren’s enthusiasm (interestingly, Zhu does not perform the ‘trick’ to show the secret light pattern from the Phoenix Mirror as he does in the game, which shows part of the ‘map’ to the treasure). Joy then says that not having both mirrors isn’t the real problem here – they are still no closer to finding out the whole truth behind Iwao’s murder (it’s interesting she speaks up about this, as in the game she is mostly a silent bystander in this scene). Zhu then tells Ryo he should go to Guilin – and that Iwao and Sunming once trained there together, and also that it is where Phantom River Stone comes from – used to create both mirrors, with the descendants of the craftsmen likely living there as well. He adds that Lan Di is making his way there now, causing Ryo to remember that Zhu told Lan Di of Bailu Village while on the rooftop, which is in Guilin. As Ryo’s mind is made up to pursue him, Ren notices that he’s stopped touching the cut on his cheek, as he has consistently done before whenever Lan Di is mentioned. This appears to signal a transition in Ryo, no longer concerned with the scar that his nemesis inflicted on him. Zhu tells Ryo he should find some answers in Bailu, and urges him to have faith in Iwao and to keep pursuing the truth. With renewed determination in his eyes, Ryo promises he will, as we (finally) launch into the opening credits – effectively halfway through the episode at this point!
Back in Aberdeen, we see Ryo prepare to leave Hong Kong (rather than departing Kowloon first, where Ren’s hideout was in the game), when Wong and Joy catch up to him to say goodbye, with Joy telling him not to do anything stupid. Ryo expresses his thanks to both of them, before saying goodbye and leaving. Wong is assured Ryo will be ok, and Joy is sure they’ll see him again someday. Ryo then makes his way to Man Mo Temple, where he finds Fangmei sweeping outside. He confirms to her his plans to leave Hong Kong, which is when Hanhui appears and asks if that means he’s made sense of Xiuying’s teachings. Ryo replies that he isn’t sure yet, and that’s why he’s departing for Guilin. Hanhui wishes him good luck, and Fangmei then chimes in claiming she’s figured out why Hanhui helped Ryo so much was because he had Xiuying in mind the whole time. Hanhui neither confirms or denies this, simply chiding the girl for talking too much. Ryo thanks them both for their help, and Hanhui tells Ryo that Xiuying is inside the temple. This is slightly different from their farewell scene in the game, which took place at night and in the temple’s courtyard. As Ryo and Xiuying talk inside, she posits that the reason he’s leaving is to chase after Lan Di. Ryo still denies this, insisting that he’s just going after the truth (it’s interesting that he still seems to be denying his desire for vengeance, particularly after seeing his frenzied reaction upon seeing Lan Di on the rooftop). While it’s unclear if she’s convinced or not, Xiuying hands Ryo a white bead – which in flashback is revealed to be half of a Yin-Yang design, which was split between Xiuying and her brother Ziming – Ziming keeping the black half. Xiuying reaffirms her wish for Ryo not to end up like her brother – i.e. a martial artist fuelled by rage and barrelling towards his own destruction. Ryo replies that he understands how her brother felt, and that deep down, he thinks Xiuying does as well. Ryo insists that he’s not going to die, and is confident that Ziming is still alive somewhere too. As he makes his thanks and leaves, Xiuying can only look on wistfully. Ryo then walks past the Hong Kong Tea Shop, where the owner, Guixiang and Jianmin smile as they see him depart.
Meanwhile, Joy is visiting her mother’s grave, where she is surprised to see some flowers have been left, and wonders if her father had visited. She resolves that she should visit him herself sometime, perhaps suggesting that she may have forgiven him for his part in her mother’s death. This is a nice resolution to Joy’s character arc, and as I mentioned before it adds some depth to her that was arguably lacking in her game incarnation. It’s just a shame that the connection between her and the Chens was never acknowledged in the anime – which surely seems like a missed opportunity given the effort to better tie Shenmue I & II’s events together in other places. But that’s just a small niggle. Back in the city, Sam, Larry and Cool Z are watching something in surprise from an alleyway. As Ren approaches and asks them what’s with their ‘dumb looks’, Sam points at what they’re looking at – Wong selling bananas as if working from a market stand, a crowd of intrigued onlookers gathered. Sam and Larry both express their disbelief at this and question if Wong has lost it, but Ren tells them that no one in this town had their head straight on to begin with as he walks away. He then ponders to himself about Guilin, where Ryo has departed to, commenting that it sounds like a good time – foreshadowing his eventual arrival and reuniting with Ryo there, as we see in Shenmue III (and hopefully, Season 2!)
Later, we see a boat arrive in Guilin, with Ryo on board looking at the photo of Iwao and the mystery person, noting the ‘At Bailu Village’ text written on the back. He seems to suspect that the other man may be Zhao Sunming (which is later confirmed to be the case in Shenmue III). We then cut to a little later by the Yingshuihe river, where rain is falling heavily and thunder clapping. As Ryo sits to shelter, he recalls a local telling him he must pass through the mountains on this path to reach Bailu Village. He then sees a white goat caught in the fierce flow of the river, helpless and scared. Before he can do anything to intervene however, he sees a young girl on the other side jump in to try and rescue it – Shenhua. Ryo soon dives in himself to help her, grabbing hold of her once he’s swam to her. He shouts at her to let go of the deer, but Shenhua insists she has to save it. Ryo then notices a nearby branch and grabs onto it, allowing the two of them and the goat to climb to safety – however Ryo then falls unconscious. In his mind, he sees a large cherry blossom tree, his father standing below it – recalling how he always told Ryo how he was lacking – and that now, after meeting so many people on his journey, he understands that the thing he is searching for is whatever’s ‘lacking’ – and that’s why he’s come so far, and will keep moving forward. Ryo then wakes up and finds himself in a bed, realising he’s in Shenhua’s house as she enters the room and thanks him for saving her, adding that the goat is okay as well. Fans will notice a considerable portion of the story has been cut here – in the game, after the rescue in the river the two find themselves on the riverbank, still far from Bailu Village, where the two then make the long walk there together, talking and getting to know each other along the way. We’ve fast forwarded considerably here, with Ryo already at Shenhua’s house in the village. As it seems unlikely Shenhua could carry an unconscious Ryo across the entire two day trek as seen in the game, perhaps in the anime the village has been adjusted to be closer to Langhuishan, or perhaps that Ryo had walked a considerable distance alone already. In any case, events from this point unfold much like they do in the final moments of Shenmue II.
Shenhua formally introduces herself to Ryo, and as Ryo asks where he is, she confirms he is in Bailu Village. This causes Ryo to rush out the door, where he is surprised to see a large cherry tree in front of him, much like the one at his home back in Yokosuka, as well as in the vision he just experienced of his father. As he stops to look at it, Shenhua tells him that it’s called the Shenmue tree – and that it’s like family to her, having grown up with it. We see a brief flashback to Shenhua’s true parents watching over her as a baby in a cot suspended from the tree, and then her slightly older playing on the swing. She then adds that the flowers of the tree are called ‘Shenhua’-hence her name. As the two head back inside, Ryo asks if she lives alone – Shenhua replies that she lives with her father – and that her mother is now gone (presumably in reference to her adoptive mother, Yunshen’s wife – who I can’t recall if she’s mentioned in Shenmue II or III or not?). Ryo then happens to notice a diagram on the table – that appears to depict both the Dragon and Phoenix mirrors. As Ryo asks what it is, Shenhua says her father told her it’s passed down in their family for many generations. Ryo retrieves the Phoenix Mirror from his jacket pocket and places it on the paper, noticing the design matches exactly. Shenhua asks him where he got the mirror from, to which he tells her his father had it. She notes that it’s made of Phantom River Stone, and recalls a village legend where special mirrors were said to have been created from this stone by order of the Emperor – but that there ended up being terrible disputes over their ownership due to the hidden powers they supposedly contained – with many losing their lives. Shenhua reasons that her father may be able to tell Ryo more, who asks her to take him to meet him.
The two then head to the quarry where Shenhua’s father has been working (where we saw him leaving to in Episode 10) – the two stopping at a door inside the cave, which Shenhua tells Ryo that her father has never allowed her to go past. Noting that the door is ajar however, she realises something must be wrong. As the two agree to go in, they find themselves in the Stone Pit lying deeper inside the cave. The two find a letter waiting for them from Yunshen, as well as an ornately-designed sword. As the credits begin to roll, Shenhua reads the letter:
My purpose is now fulfilled. I have completed the Phoenix Mirror, our family’s life work. Village lore has long spoken of this fateful day. Shenhua, my girl. Take the bearer of the phoenix and undergo the trial of proof. Then entrust yourself to him. And go forth, together. I bequeath to you our family heirloom, the Sword of Seven Stars. Think of me as the sword and keep it by your side. Know that I am watching over you, forever
(The letter is phrased slightly differently from both the Shenmue II and Shenmue III renditions – which I partly discuss in this post– this also goes over some of the retcons/changes applied to the latter game’s depiction of the scene, which appear to be retained for the anime)
Ryo and Shenhua then find a pillar with a circular panel appearing to match the size of the Phoenix Mirror – and we find ourselves at the very same scene which began Episode 1, which was then a flashforward – now caught up with ourselves. Ryo proceeds to place the mirror onto the panel, causing a ray of light to appear which then lights up the torches adoring the room – revealing that there are giant replicas of both the Dragon and Phoenix Mirrors carved into the wall. As the two stare up in wonderment, Ryo again remembers his father. Shenhua then proceeds to recite the famous prophecy:
Coming across the sea, from a distant land in the east, he shall appear.
A young man, unaware of his own strength.
A strength that can both destroy him, and bring his dreams to fruition.
When he is ready, he shall seek me.
We will traverse this barren road together.
As it was written upon the stars, from long, long ago.
A dragon will rise from the earth, conjuring dark clouds to blot out the heavens.
A phoenix will descend from above, delivering purple winds with a flap of its wings.
Yet even as the sky is devoured by darkness, a single morning star radiates its bright light.
That long, winding tale…
As the prophecy is recited, we see images of Joy and Wong together in Aberdeen; Xiuying and Hanhui training as Fangmei watches; Nozomi praying for Ryo’s safety; Master Chen and an injured Gui Zhang looking out to the ocean; Ren sitting in his hideout, blade in hand (seemingly hinting at the scene seen in-game where he throws it at a map of Guilin); Lan Di, appearing to be in a room similar to the Chi You Men’s Niaowu base seen in Shenmue III; and finally the photo of Iwao and Zhao Sunming.
Ryo and Shenhua are then both seen standing together on a cliff outside of the cave, looking up at the sky to witness the ‘single morning star’ mentioned in the prophecy. We then close the series on the all-too-familiar (and perhaps slightly painful!) message – ‘The Story Goes On…’ – seen at both the end of Shenmue II and III. This of course, leaves us at the point the former game closed on – on an intriguing yet frustrating cliffhanger that fans were forced to bear for eighteen years…
FINAL THOUGHTS: Wow, what a ride this has been. I was generally satisfied with the final episode overall, with my only real issue being how rapid the first part of the Guilin chapter (essentially Shenmue II Disc 4) was dashed through – many fans will agree that it’s one of the seminal parts of the game, the long trek through the countryside as Ryo and Shenhua get to know one another -so it’s perhaps slightly disappointing to see this entirely skipped here. In an ideal world, we would have had a 24 episode season that would have been able to spare the time for this to be an entire episode – but given that we only had 13 to work with, perhaps this was an unfortunate but necessary cut. However – I would like to think that, if we do get a Season 2, then a lot of the development of Ryo and Shenhua’s relationship would simply be moved there, adding some much needed meat to the admittedly bare bones of Shenmue III’s story (their night-time chats in fact are widely considered one of the better points of the game). It may not yet be too late for us to see the two discuss Ryo’s friends, their differing ways of life and Shenhua’s affinity with nature. I also understand why they perhaps chose the two’s first meeting to unfold this way – Shenhua is kept just enough of a mystery to ensure that there is still a hook for a potential second season, which perhaps excuses the rushed feel of her proper introduction in this episode. And really, given the tease flashforward of the infamous cave scene back at the beginning of the series, we really did need to reach that point by the end of the season.
One of the biggest changes from Shenmue II’s version of events was of course the Lan Di battle – with him actually setting foot off the helicopter and engaging with Ryo’s misguided attempts to fight him. In the game, it felt effective for Ryo’s nemesis to simply be watching everything from the helicopter, being just that slight frustrating bit out of reach. Here, they effectively opted to move the confrontation between the two from the end of Shenmue III to far earlier- and I think this actually works better for the medium of an anime. I think any new viewers who had never played the games would have been disappointed for there not to be some sort of Ryo/Lan Di fight by this point, so this kind of forced their hand here. If there is a Season 2, I’m unsure of how they’ll adjust their meeting in Niaowu given this – it surely won’t feel as effective done a second time – but given the sheer amount of reworking/re-ordering of things this anime has done already I’m confident this would be handled smoothly.
Other characters got their time to shine in this episode well – and I particularly liked Ren’s added dimension of wanting to pull Ryo out of his blind rage – cementing his role as a clear-headed tactician, as opposed to Ryo’s often irrational head-first approach. Joy’s character arc was given a subtle, yet satisfying ending, and Wong seems to have been inspired to take steps to improve his lot in life. The farewell to Xiuying was also well done, her character absolutely done justice in this anime.
Overall, despite the slightly rushed feeling, I really enjoyed this final episode. It of course leaves me with an overwhelming appetite for a second season – the idea of Shenmue III’s story being able to be fleshed out and given a bit more much needed development sounds very intriguing to me. Of course, it still remains to be seen if we will get a Shenmue IV, or if this anime will end up overtaking the source material and complete the story should it be given more seasons – but honestly, I would be more than happy if the latter ended up being the case. Of course, in my absolute heart of hearts I wish for more games, but given the quality of this first season I would be willing to compromise. This episode did a great job of tying all the lessons Ryo has learned together, and I hope any newcomers are intrigued enough to want to check out the games. I will gladly give this one a 4/5.
Please note there will be more content related to the anime still to come on this blog – watch this space! And I hope you have enjoyed these recaps/reviews 🙂