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Shenmue The Animation: Episode 9 Review

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  • Posted on 08th Apr, 2022 20:15 PM

Shenmue's ninth episode sets the anime back on course as content someone not deep into the games can enjoy.

p>The following article contains spoilers for Shenmue: The Animation.

After a few weeks of learning his way through new martial arts teaching from the masters in Hong Kong, Shenmue’s ninth episode sees both the series and the young Ryo Hazuki close out their Wude chapter in great fashion by avoiding most of the common traps that saw the anime fall in a bit of a slump.

This is pulled off by properly introducing a couple of characters into Ryo’s adventure, with most of the thrills being provided by his encounters with Ren and Yellow Head higher-up Yuan, as both give the protagonist quite a lot to do and all the minor changes from the game’s plot add entertainment value to the show. While Shenmue’s appeal is hardly the sparse amount of action Ryo takes on in between quests, here those moments definitely do wonders for the overall tempo of the story.

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In the previous episode, Ryo’s duties at the Man Mo temple and his newfound friendship with Fangmei led him to find his first proper clue on Yuanda Zhu’s whereabouts, and this one picks up straight from there. However, rather than have Ryo wander aimlessly in order to learn the basics of Chawan bowl messaging, the series doesn’t waste too much time doing that; instead, he fails, gets a painful lesson, goes back to Guixang to learn, and ultimately finds Yuanda Zhu’s messenger.

The key thing here is that in between each of those steps, either Ryo or other characters also has something of varying importance going on, whether it’s the protagonist failing his quick time event with master Zhangyu Kong or Xiuying’s flashbacks, it never feels like time is being wasted. It’s not hard to see why this is a good thing - the Shenmue does better when it uses the medium to give further depth to the game’s NPCs and when the order of certain quests is slightly altered to suit the pacing television.

By the time Ryo finally meets Yuan, it's not the conclusion to a dull middle or opening act, quite the contrary, when the villain is thrown into the mix he comes to ramp up the pace of the episode with the promise of further action as Ryu and Xiuying easily dispose of his thugs during said encounter.

Yuan’s characterization is deserving of its own article since the character was always conceived by Yu Suzuki as an effeminate man not suitable for Chinese censorship, although his journey has been more complicated. Back in 2001 when Shenmue 2 was released, the Japanese version kept Yuan as a flamboyant gay man; whereas in the West gamers were met by a character intended to be a woman all the way through (female pronouns and voice actor included), so anyone with a good memory of playing the game could be thrown off by him being confirmed as a man here.

In a case very similar to Street Fighter’s Poison, this was done because Suzuki didn’t know how Western audiences would react to such a depiction of a gay man, nevertheless, the anime finally corrects its course. There’s no mention of Yuan being trans or non-binary, and he is referred to as a man in both the English and Japanese dialogue, meaning it’s safe to assume he and Yellow Head leader Dou Niu will be portrayed as gay men.

Gender intricacies aside, his clash with Yuan (and another episode of unconsciousness) eventually leads to Wong handing Ryo the lighter-shaped key he needs to finally meet Ren. The two’s first mission together goes pretty much just like in the game, even down to exact frames and shots being used, though the chase that follows after Ren double-crosses Ryo takes place immediately after he disposes of Yuan's henchmen, with this being yet another case where the anime benefits from not taking extra downtime unless it’s absolutely needed.

Ryo learns his final Wude lesson after coming to terms with Ren about what steps they’ll be taking next to find Zhu, the “Dan” revelation is presented to him thanks to what he learns from meeting Ren. The handling of this is quite on point, and it’s a shame Suzuki didn’t find smoother ways for Ryo to learn the other three Wude lessons too.

In Shenmue 2, this part of the game is just about when Ryo has to leave for the walled city of Kowloon which involves saying his goodbyes to the first few friends he made in Hong Kong. While this episode sees him face master Xiuying, who still disapproves of the vindictive nature of his path, the revelations about her brother should close their respective arcs for now.

Still, Joy is notably absent from this entry, so it’s unlikely episode 10 will have Ryo transported to Kowloon right away as he probably has a few things to say to her, Fangmei, and the rest of the people he’s met. The anime is close to midway through the game’s plot, however, with this phase being pretty much done, Ryo and Ren’s Kowloon adventures promise a much more exciting time for viewers, as well as a more interesting side of Hong Kong.

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