Season finales are like high school graduations. They both have a sense of finality and hope for the future, and Shenmue The Animation’s conclusion felt similar. The closing moments of the series were impactful and set the groundwork for an essential step in the story, much like how a high school diploma can be for college. And while it is saddening that we are finished with Shenmue, the memories it made while airing on Toonami was such a treat. While there isn’t anything suggesting that there won’t be more seasons of Shenmue the Animation fans are left waiting for a future announcement about a return. I can’t help but smile seeing how everything played out, and I can safely say Shenmue the Animation is one of my favorite series to air on Toonami. We’ve seen Ryo go to unfamiliar locations, create some wonderful memories, and grow as a person, giving fans a sense of graduation as it ended. Watching this series grow with Ryo ultimately made Shenmue the Animation a massive hit. Despite some meandering storytelling, I think Toonami fans will look back and say this was a wonderful endeavor for Adult Swim.
We kick things off with Ryo, blinded by rage, fighting Lan-Di after his spectacular entrance. While Ryo’s skill has improved tremendously, Lan-Di could still handle Ryo, parrying his attacks, showing that there is still a wide gap between them. So much so that this bout reminded me a lot of Ryo’s last run-in with Yuan. Both were consumed by emotions and did not get the desired result (although I don’t think Yuan was as sharp as Ryo). While this is happening, Dou Niu arrives with Wong and Yuanda Zhu as hostages, making the situation dire. Seeing the dismal state of affairs, Yuanda Zhu rushes to take center stage and offers to tell Lan-Di what he wants to know in return for a promise to spare everyone. Dou Niu objects, but Lan-Di agrees without complaint, which catches everyone by surprise. With this agreement in place, Yuanda Zhu tells Lan-Di that what he searches for is in Bailu Village. Without uttering another word (in what felt so silly to watch), Lan-Di departs on the rope ladder of his helicopter. Dou Niu, unsurprisingly, does not stick to the deal and begins attacking everyone, severely putting the hurt on Ryo and Ren. And instead of fighting back, he is frozen in place with his rage directed at the escaping Lan-Di (proving that Xiuying might be right about Ryo’s motives). Thankfully, Ren verbally smacks our hero back to his senses, who then goes on to fight Dou Niu. Ryo struggles at first, likely still recovering from his target escaping him, but eventually, he performs a fantastic display of force showcasing all the techniques he learned in Hong Kong, besting Dou Niu for good.
With the battle over, everyone regroups at Ren’s hideout to discuss Ryo’s next course of action. Yuanda Zhu offers all the information he has rather quickly, telling Ryo the connection between Lan-Di, Iwao, and a character named Sunming Zhao, who is Lan-Di’s father, adding more spice to this story. Lan-Di believes that his father was murdered by Iwao and has sought revenge similar to Ryo. Yuanda Zhu does offer a caveat that this story isn’t confirmed, leaving it up for others to choose what story they want to trust. This cycle of vengeance proves the lessons Ryo learned from Xiuying all the more important to follow, which highlights how well Shenmue the Animation did in building off themes. Sadly, I think this scene was rushed (I had to rewatch it to get every detail), making it feel hard to digest. It was vital context, so losing out on some of the nuances from this scene is a downer. However, the continued push to show us how human it is to seek retribution while being self-destructive is a splendid topic. Ziming, Xiuying’s brother, clearly had a reason to avenge his parents, but it left his sister alone and seemingly destroyed himself. Lan-Di’s animus appears to have come from a loss all his own. If Lan-Di had calmed his soul from his loss, perhaps he could have found a way to resolve his issues without perpetuating a vicious cycle. It’s now Ryo’s turn to decide if he wants to make the world better or worse, and this is what makes Shenmue The Animation spectacular. There’s an understandable component to our villains, horrid as they are, and flaws in our heroes that parallel this. Ultimately, evil is a choice, and it’s one anyone can make.
So what’s next for Ryo? Instead of returning home, our hero decided to make the trip to Bailu Village after talking with Yuanda Zhu. Before he leaves, we see a rather touching montage seeing where everyone remains now with him departing. Wong made good on his wish to turn over a new leaf and is selling bananas (I have no idea why fruit stands are all the rage), proving to himself and others that they can find the strength to live in a way he envisioned after meeting Ryo. Joy visits her mother’s grave and finds her father has left flowers and decides to go make up with him, creating an excellent final beat for her storyline. Most poignantly, Ryo meets with Xiuying in the Man-Mo Temple, where she gives him a charm in hopes of keeping any thoughts about murder at bay. She reiterates her wish that Ryo won’t walk the path her brother did, with Ryo assuring her it won’t happen. Ryo has seen first-hand what happens when he allows his fury to take control, and while he words it oddly, he seems to recognize the need to improve.
It has been such a pleasure to watch Ryo grow in what felt authentic compared to most anime these days. It wasn’t as simple as Ryo “leveling up” and “maxing his skills,” as we watch him fail at understanding lessons or fighting. But having him press onward to become better made the experience more rewarding than I expected. And it wasn’t just Ryo who improved himself. Look at Ren, a man who, when first encountered, sets up Ryo to take the fall for his theft from the Yellow Heads. He didn’t cooperate much with our hero, putting the two into a bind (early on). By the end of this season, he’s now musing how Bailu Village might be fun to visit, possibly keeping the “band” together. It doesn’t stop there as Wong, Joy, and Xiuying became better people after meeting Ryo. It creates a level of investment that captures the hearts of many and generates long-lasting fans in the future. I’m a sucker for character-driven series, and Shenmue the Animation knocks this aspect out of the park in ways other Toonami originals should note.
With everything settled, there is an abrupt shift to Ryo in the middle of a storm on his way to Bailu Village. I might be in the minority, but the build-up and travel to Hong Kong felt much more natural than what is happening now. For a series that has done well filling in the gaps of the games, this was an odd place to leave out a more fleshed-out transition to help those who haven’t played the games understand how things are progressing. Nevertheless, the story continues with Ryo stuck in a monsoon, trying to stay dry. And while he minds his own business, he notices a young girl jumping into an overflowing river to help save a baby goat. Ryo rushes to the rescue successfully but passes out afterward, which has happened a few times. While unconscious, he has a vision of his father in front of a large tree, to whom he confesses explicitly his desire to improve himself.
Upon awakening, Ryo is introduced to Shenhua at last and is amazed to find out he has made it to Bailu Village already! Ryo runs outside and sees the same tree he saw in his vision and learns that it is called the Shenmue Tree (which is what the series is named after). The two return inside when Ryo spots diagrams of the mirrors, showing them to Shenhua, who is shocked that Ryo would have an item like it. She explains the mirrors were made here long ago on the emperor’s orders and were created as a key to a treasure meant to fund the return of the Qing Dynasty. However, violent disputes arose, causing the mirrors to be kept out of the public eye, that is, until now. These conflicts are still occurring since Lan-Di came to Yokosuka for them before murdering Iwao. It ultimately brought Ryo back to the birthplace of the mystical objects (and to Shenhua specifically). She agrees to take Ryo to her father, who has more information on the subject, recreating that rushed feeling we had when Yuanda Zhu was informing Ryo of what to do next. Surprisingly, the doors to the cave where he works are wide open, confusing Shenhua because she has never been able to waltz right in before. As they rush into the cave, the two find a letter from Shenhua’s father, telling her that he will be gone for a long time and to assist the one bearing the Phoenix Mirror with a trial he must face. The two venture further inside only to show us the scene the series began with (presumably the aforementioned trial), as Ryo and Shenhua see a shrine to the mirrors. We are given Shenhua’s narration of the Bailu Village legend before the episode closes.
While captivating, sadly, this conclusion wasn’t as impactful as I would have liked. The wrap-up fans were given was fine and a decent ending to a series that felt fun to watch overall. Still, I would have loved to see more involvement from Lan-Di, considering he appeared sparingly. I needed to see more battles between him and Ryo due to how fun it was when they two did cross paths. While he has an imposing reputation everywhere Ryo goes, I needed more immediate influences from Lan-Di to make him as a villain more impactful (especially after learning about his motivations). I’m hopeful this will be the case if another season is made. And I hope that there are more fans as adamant about having that happen as I am because Shenmue the Animation has demonstrated sheer brilliance in adapting a videogame into an anime, which isn’t often accomplished. Even with its slow middle, the viewing experience for this series has rejuvenated my feelings toward the property. Toonami possibly helped create new fans for Shenmue due to how fun the series was. Diehards were able to have some gaps filled that weren’t touched in the games and gave side characters more screen time to know them a bit better. However, getting to see some incredible action created the perfect blend that fans of Toonami always want to see.
And while initially I was disappointed about the original cast not returning for this series, I was super impressed with the new voice cast. While I loved everyone involved, Austin Tindle’s Ryo Hazuki was a blast to hear, especially his final performance. His ability to palpably channel Ryo’s anger is something I’ll never forget and has been an enormous strength of his from other characters he’s been cast as (Ken Kaneki comes to mind). I was also impressed by Luci Christian, who brought her “A-game” for Joy, providing an incredible range of highs and lows when dealing with getting teased about possibly having a crush on Ryo to reliving the trauma of losing her mother. And finally, Cody House’s Ren stole the show with his playful tone for Ren that is difficult to portray, and it felt believable with what I expect a true friend to sound. And while I could go on about the cast, I can surmise it to say there wasn’t a weak performance in the series, which is a huge thing to accomplish! I hope to hear more if we are lucky enough in the future.
Shenmue the Animation has been a pleasure to watch week after week giving new and old fans something to look forward to watching on Toonami. As a longtime fan, it has been delightful to see people fall in love with Shenmue through this series and discover or even rediscover the source material that many adore. Seeing the audience for this franchise grow is something I didn’t think would be possible, and I’m so thankful that Adult Swim and Crunchyroll made it happen. So now that the series has ended, the big question has followed about will there be more. After all, there was a third game that was made. It’s up to the Toonami Faithful to let those at Crunchyroll know we want more. And if we get more of what the first season was like, sign me up. Many detractors mention how Toonami continues to make series no one asks for, and while I didn’t ask for a Shenmue series (though I was overjoyed at its announcement), I’m glad they did it.
Laserkid is an editorial writer for Toonamifaithful.com. Feel free to follow Laserkid on Twitter @laserkidprime, and listen to him on the Demon Slayer Podcast and The Dumb Weebs Podcast.
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