Shenmue is a show based on a game series that I have not played, however you don’t really need to know them to enjoy the show since it re-adapts the sagas. I was impressed with the show right off the bat because it’s got a very retro vibe to it. I’d compare it to Batman Beyond and the classic superhero shows of the DCAU. Even the main character himself has that punk vibe like Terry. It’s a very short show so it hasn’t made it all the way to greatness yet but the way it adapted the events was definitely a lot of fun so hopefully we get a season 2 soon.
The show starts with Ryo being rather confident in his strength to the point where he doesn’t really take his father’s teachings very seriously. He ends up regretting that immediately as he heads home one day to witness a villain known as Lan Di murdering his father. Ryo tries to help but is instantly defeated and his confidence is shattered. He now wants to find out why his father was murdered and his only clue is a mysterious mirror. Ryo will have to ask around and get involved with a bunch of gangs as he tries to get closer to solving this mystery. With his heart clouded by vengeance can Ryo really get strong enough to stop Lan Di?
Shenmue is really a investigation show but what sets it apart from the rest is that Ryo’s not a pro. He’s not a hot shot detective who knows exactly what to do and how to do it. He’s just going around and almost literally knocking on doors and asking questions. Each episode will have him walk over and ask an old lady for help, she’ll tell him to go to the coffee shop, the coffee guy will say to flip some cups, he’ll then get mugged, then rinse and repeat. Ryo is really going around doing the same things a whole lot but it just works.
There is a level of convenience to this of course as he always ends up meeting the right people, but the fact that it’s so tedious on his end helps to at least make it not feel too easy. The guy definitely does still have to walk everywhere and he gets mugged a whole lot so it’s not like he’s taking 0 risks either. Ryo is a really good fighter but he’s in a world where expert fighters seem to be around every corner and so he gets crushed many times. Even by the end of the series you can tell that he’s nowhere close to the top yet.
I’d say my best complement for the series is just that it’s a lot of fun. It really captures that retro action show vibe. There’s no end of the world stakes, no fancy combos, or really anything out of the ordinary. This is purely a street level show with Ryo beating up on goons and getting closer to his father’s murderer. The show never tries to be anything more than that and it’s probably one of the most relaxing shows that I’ve watched in a while. The pacing was always on point with each episode.
I also enjoyed the animation quite a bit. It’s not going to touch the big titles like Bleach but the fight scenes were always solid. They used the sonic boom effect for each hit which I always liked. It’s something you don’t always see nowadays but it’s a good way to make each strike feel like it has a lot of impact. The fight scenes are always solid here and the show also goes all in on the eye effects to show when someone is focused. Apparently a lot of the attacks are even taken straight from the games which is a cool attention to detail. Smooth might be the best word for the animation. It’s not as bright and colorful as some of the others out there but the fights exceled as you could really follow each exchange and feel the power behind the hits. Sadly while the animation in the episodes is real good, the opening is one of the lazier ones. I’ll never get why you would decide to cheap out on the intro since that will appear for every episode.
There’s very little actual animation in the intro at all and it’s just rather boring which is never a good thing for an opening. A proper opening should fill you with energy and have you jumping up and down. This won’t do that for you at all. As for the soundtrack, I wasn’t particularly impressed there either. I didn’t really care for the intro song. There were some decent instrumental themes in the show itself but none that I can remember off the top of my head. I feel like they worked well enough in the scenes as you’re watching but it’s quite telling that I can’t remember them at all.
As for Ryo himself, I definitely liked him as the main character. He’s focused on avenging his father’s death but never lets it consume him. He takes a ton of losses throughout the series but is always striving to do better. One of the standout scenes to me was when he and and Lishao disagree on how he should go further. He doesn’t storm out of there or cause a scene. He just respectfully says that it appears they will not be able to see eye to eye on this and leaves.
He just walks out of there peacefully and still in good standing with the master. It’s so rare to see that and Ryo just comes across as a very mature main character. Perhaps not the smartest one with how often he lets his guard down but a very solid one all the same. He slowly gets stronger throughout the series and his final fight with Lan Di was satisfying even if I thought he would have done way better. He’s clearly still got a ways to go and hopefully we get a season 2 soon so we can see how things play out. I haven’t played the games yet but who knows, I may end up experiencing the saga that way first.
As for Lan Di as the main villain, he doesn’t appear a whole lot. Really it’s just the beginning and the ending where we see him but you can still get a solid glimpse into his character that way. The guy seems very honorable but someone who will also see his revenge through to the end. He was clearly not going to spare Ryo’s father no matter what and the guy has an entire criminal empire. The fact that he can fight so well was always going to be a good sign for his character because I love it when characters can fight like that and don’t have to hide behind their minions. Lan Di is the strongest we’ve seen in the series so far so it’s fitting that he be the final boss.
Nozomi was the main heroine for a while but she pretty much gets written out once Ryo leaves home. She was as helpful as she could be in the meantime though. Nozomi may not be a fighter but she looks out for Ryo as best she can and is a nice person in general. Then you have Joy who is the main heroine in Hong Kong. Joy has a lot more energy to her and also isn’t afraid to take some risks. I thought she was a fun character to have around and Ryo would have had a really tough time settling in without her helping to show him the ropes.
There’s a third heroine Shenhua for the latest land but she hasn’t really gotten to do anything yet so there’s not much to say about her. Right now she would be the weakest of the 3 heroines and we’ll need to see some more personality out of her to get higher. Something beyond just the vague prophecies but I expect her role in season 2 would be rather large so she’ll have plenty of time for that.
Guizhang was a really solid character and definitely one of Ryo’s best allies. It was a shame that he couldn’t follow Ryo into Hong Kong because I think he would have really done well there. The guy was pretty much on par with Ryo in terms of overall fighting ability and had a good head on his shoulders. The way he was written out wasn’t terribly satisfying but maybe he’ll be back someday.
Ren was his replacement of sorts in Hong Kong. This guy is more of an opportunist who loves money and wants to get rich but as the show goes on he starts to become more of a legitimate ally. He does come in handy a lot so while he starts off as the kind of guy who will backstab you at every turn, you grow to like him. He never passed Guizhang for me but it’s always good that Ryo doesn’t have to go through the adventure alone.
Then there’s Lishao who is the master of her Dojo and has the skills to back this up. She’s a very fun character and someone that all of the villains and heroes have to respect. When she’s around you have to take that into account because of her incredible power. She’s certainly one of the standout characters here and pretty much forces Ryo to improve his own skills. Without her there’s no way he would be prepared to stand a chance here.
Wong is a kid in Hong Kong who helps out a bit here and there but I wouldn’t say he was particularly all that great. He has a good character arc where he learns to stop being a thief but that’s about all that I would say for him. You’ve got two more villains in Yuan and Dou but I wasn’t a fan of either of them. Yuan can barely even fight which really huts his case. Dou was surprisingly powerful with how he was beating Ryo on multiple occasions though. He seemed like the slow type who could never hold his own in a fight so I suppose he got the last laugh on me there. It was still pretty embarrassing for Ryo to lose there though.
Technically there are a bunch of other supporting characters running around but this pretty much sums up the main cast. As Ryo has to try and learn all of the Wude (It’s pronounced Wuda but seems to be spelled Wude online for some reason) he meets a lot of characters who help him out. I think these practices can be a little overhyped and some cross the line into just being common sense. It’s a surprisingly long plot point that takes up a good chunk of the show but fortunately the show usually throws you some fight scenes so you have something to do in the meantime.
There was one villain that felt wasted though. He shows up at the very end of the show with a cool looking mask but is taken down in seconds. Why give the guy such a good design if you’re going to throw him out right? I suppose it was subversive but I would have much preferred to see this guy get a real fight. There was a whole lot of potential there without a doubt. Lan Di’s a great villain but he’s really the only good villain at the moment so I’d like to see a few other good ones get introduced soon to keep things fresh. That slippery minion from arc 1 would definitely beat the minions in Hong Kong.
The power levels in the show are also handled pretty well which is a nice benefit of everything being fairly low tier. Ryo starts out as someone who’s low even within the verse despite having a whole lot of confidence. It’s to the point where he has to be protected by Guixhang the whole time. By Hong Kong Ryo is strong enough to hold his own but definitely can’t beat the general and still gets mugged a lot. Once Ryo has learned all of the Wude he is now able to fight and defeat any non-master but would likely still lose to Lishao and definitely Lan Di. By season 2 I expect he should make even greater strides.
As I mentioned earlier, there was a lot of travelling in season 1. We mostly stuck to two different locations but as the show ends Ryo makes it to a third one as well. Then he’s always going to a bunch of different shops for clues and everything. It’ll be interesting to see if this continues into the next season. I assume it will since Ryo still doesn’t have an easy way of finding things out aside from asking everybody and following each lead. So how strong the region will be will depend on how good the supporting cast is.
Without the Wude to worry about we can also go back to more basic Shenmue investigation like Ryo heading back to the coffee houses and things like that. It’s just nice to see how nonchalant the whole thing is and I can’t stress that enough because it feels so unique in a show. I can’t think of any other time I’ve seen a main character have to check out so many places to follow through on his leads. Of course it could go in a different direction so we’ll see but as long as the show keeps its calm vibe I expect it’ll continue to be a blast. Naturally you also have to keep up the fun martial arts for the battles and I feel like Ryo needs a new super move. He has two now between the elbow hit and the axe kick but I think some kind of punch would suit him the best.
Overall, Shenmue is a very fun action show. It’s extremely low key and is more of a calm title despite the action genre but it works well. If you want to watch something that just feels nostalgic even though it’s a story you haven’t seen before then this is definitely the one to check out. For season 2 I suppose what I would like to see are some longer boss fights and for Ryo to keep his training. I can understand him forgetting the Wude when fighting Lan Di because of his grudge but you can’t use the same excuse next time. So I want a proper fight where Ryo has to give it his all. That would make for a very climactic battle and the pieces should all be in place to make that possible.