Since Shenmue the Animation was announced by Crunchyroll and Adult Swim, I was curious to watch this new anime series and see what the hype around the Shenmue series was all about.
The first video game in the Shenmue series was released in 1999/2000 on SEGA Dreamcast, followed by a sequel game titled Shenmue II in 2000/2001. Eventually going on to become a trilogy, years passed before any news about a third game came to fruition.
After the first two games were rereleased on other systems following the demise of the SEGA Dreamcast, the cult following behind the games only continued to grow. In 2015, a Kickstarter for a third game was funded, becoming one of the largest funded projects on the site. After some delays, Shenmue III was released on PlayStation 4 and on PC in 2019.
Now, the next part in the Shenmue story is Shenmue the Animation. The anime is a Crunchyroll and Adult Swim original series directed by Chikara Sakurai. Animation production was done by Telecom Animation Film and production management provided by Sola Entertainment. Kensuke Ishikawa serves as Chief Animation Director, with scripts from Kento Shimoyama and original character design from Udaka. Shenmue video game creator Yu Suzuki is credited with the original concept.
Longtime fans of the Shenmue series and newcomers will both be excited to see what Shenmue the Animation has to offer. The series takes place in 1986 Yokosuka where a young man named Ryo Hazuki (Austin Tindle, Masaya Matsukaze in the Japanese version) trains to master the Hazuki Style Jujitsu under the instruction of his strict father in the Hazuki Dojo he grew up in.
After a mysterious man named Lan Di (Scott Gibbs, Takahiro Sakurai in the Japanese version) shows up at the Dojo hurling accusations at his father, Ryo sets out to find the truth of his fathers past and why the mysterious man came into their lives. Ryo soon finds himself on a journey, taking him from location to location, tracking down information from the people he encounters along the way. The more he learns, the bigger the stakes become.
At its essence, this new anime adaptation is a story of a young man finding himself and his struggles to find the answers as he investigates. Throughout the mystery and journey Ryo takes, he seeks revenge through martial arts and the skills he picks up along the way.
Going into the series, I only had a little knowledge of the Shenmue franchise. Shenmue III was recently given away for free as a giveaway on the Epic Store, which I picked up, but didn’t get around to playing yet. Otherwise my knowledge of the games was synonymous with forklifts, though I had no real idea what that entailed. Keep an eye out for a fun nod to them which gave me a good laugh plus other fun easter eggs that are peppered throughout the series. There were a lot in the second episode which made me smile.
The overarching story is mostly told in the main timeline with flashes of the future which the series will be leading to. How far in the future these moments lie are uncertain, but it gets me excited to see where the series builds to.
In addition to the revenge plot, one of the focuses is on a mysterious item which is highly sought after by various parties. Chai (Greg Ayres), a menacing and dangerous presence, is one who is seeking the item, along with Lan Di.
Acting as a support for Ryo is Shenhua (Natalie Rial). She is sweet and kind, with lots of knowledge and often comes across as shy. You can tell she wants to do more and become stronger in her confidence. I enjoyed her appearances so far. There are many more characters teased to come based on the cast and characters presented in the opening titles which will bring even more to the series as the story continues to unfold. I’m excited to see how they fit in.
Shenmue features a cast of strong voice actors in the adult swim/Toonami English dub which I viewed. The intonations and various projections of each character land well and fit their personalities. The voices pair naturally with their on screen characters.
The animation in Shenmue is smooth, yet unexpected at points. Different styles are used to invoke flashbacks, memories and dreams within various sequences. The style is sleek and engaging with a noir edge to it. The mystery unfolds slowly with lingering shots and deep inner monologues and thoughts meant to convey the state of Ryo and others. There are lots of mysteries still to be unveiled and each episode provides forward momentum to the story.
The series has a rhythm to it where it almost feels like a nod to its video game history. There are many moments where characters talk with townspeople to gather intel and learn more about where the hero of the story should be heading. Those moments ramp up to “boss” like moments where the action intensifies rapidly with some killer action and fight sequences. Those peaks in excitement are welcomed after some periods of down to earth moments where there is more of a focus on building the mythology.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss the opening theme song “UNDEAD-NOID” from Kashitarō Itō which plays over a fun animated opening sequence. It is extremely catchy and will get stuck in your head for days. I’ve yet to get it out of my head and found myself rewatching the opening over and over again. It’s exciting with its use of different instruments and upbeat notes playing over the stylistic titles with characters from the series making various appearances. Watch closely for some fun moments.
There’s something in Shenmue the Animation for everyone. Fans of the video games will enjoy seeing characters they love appear in a new way, providing for a new story. Longtime anime fans will enjoy the style and well done animation while casual viewers will enjoy the easy to follow storytelling with an interesting hook. It’ll leave viewers craving more answers in the coming episodes, wanting to follow Ryo on his journey. Will he continue to become stronger and find the answers he seeks? Will he ride that forklift? You’ll have to turn in to see how the rest of the story unfolds!
The first season will consist of thirteen episodes.
Shenmue the Animation premieres Saturday, February 5 (technically February 6) at 12:30 AM EST / 9:30 PM PST on Adult Swim’s Toonami block (English dub, North America) and Crunchyroll (Subtitled version, worldwide outside of Japan and China).