Setbacks and overcoming self doubt were the themes of this episode, Entangled. Here’s the recap.
A Master at Evening the Odds
Picking up from last week’s cliffhanger ending, Xiuying stands before a despondent Don Niu, blocking his path to the barely conscious Ryo laying on the ground behind her. As he calls on his goons to attack the woman before him, she calmly raises a single arm to invite their foolish onslaught. His men charge her, finding themselves taken down with ease by Master Lishao Tao and their leader must now step up to take on this new opponent.
Watching from above is Yellow Head second-in-command, Yuan, who moves to capture Yuanda Zhu so the gang can make their escape before Xiuying inflicts major damage to her beloved boss. His men surround Zhu, who puts up a noble fight with his cane, but has to surrender in the face of Yuan’s oversized knife. Don Niu is pummeled to the ground and jumps up in frustration as Xiuying extends her arm once more to invite his attack. He ultimately decides to retreat upon hearing Zhu is securely in their custody, allowing Xiuying to complete her rescue and tend to the fallen Ryo.
She treats his wounds on the pews of a Kowloon convent as Ryo reflects on all the fortunate breaks that occurred when things looked bleak for him in Hong Kong. He finally realizes how she’s bailed him out several times, likely saving his life in the process. Finally ready to unveil her past, Xiuying informs Ryo that herself and her brother were raised at the orphanage run from this very Kowloon convent after their parents were murdered. Like Ryo, Ziming sought revenge for their deaths and took a dark path that brought him straight into the embrace of the Chi You Men. Xiuying remains adamant that Ryo must not repeat the ruinous mistakes her brother did. An uncomfortable Ryo jumps up to leave.
She stops Ryo on the way out, encouraging him to fight her right there. If he cannot defeat the likes of her, he stands no chance against the greater foes that await him. Unlike their previous match, Ryo puts up no protest about fighting a woman and attacks her with the full effort an opponent of her skill level deserves. He puts up a valiant fight, peppering her with a range of offensive attacks, but is ultimately unable to land a blow. Xiuying ends the bout on a counter move that would have badly hurt Ryo’s midsection if she hadn’t pulled back, instilling in him once more how far he is from challenging Lan Di. This move is the Counter Elbow Assault, a technique that uses a larger opponent’s attack momentum against them. She wants him to learn it before leaving.
Ryo asks why Xiuying is teaching her this move. She sees it as a step on the path to clearing his mind. Her wish for him is to achieve a mental serenity akin to a polished mirror. If he learns and continues his growth he will achieve it. This is the final key wisdom she imparts to Ryo as a means of shielding himself from taking the dark path.
Seeing Through the Darkness
Elsewhere, Don Niu broods over his gang’s embarrassment at the hands of Xiuying, worrying they haven’t seen the last of her, along with Ren and Ryo. Seeking to ensure Yuanda Zhu remains in their custody without putting any of his own thought into it, the moronic Don Niu leans on Yuan to hatch their plans. This is a task for which Yuan is well suited and he enthusiastically takes it on.
Ryo and Ren return to their Kowloon hideout and apologize to Shuqin for losing Zhu. Needing to figure out where he’s been taken, Joy and Wong arrive with the intel they need, that Zhu is being held in the Yellow Head building. This skyscraper in the middle of the walled city is nearly impenetrable, but Shuqin knows a man that lives close to it. The intrepid duo head out to meet this man and find his apartment to be a darkened room. The man inside challenges Ryo to a sparring match, which Ren scoffs at given the darkness of the room. The match begins and Ryo is frustrated being unable to see the man’s attacks to block them. He asks for another chance, remembering Xiuying’s advice to keep his mind like a polished mirror, and focuses his other senses to successfully intercept the incoming attacks.
Lights come on and the impressed man reveals when he heard the name Hazuki from Shuqin, he knew it must be the son of Iwao. This elderly man met Ryo’s father a decade prior and exchanged their knowledge and enthusiasm for the Chinese martial arts. He is shocked to hear of Iwao’s murder and hears from Ren of their need to find Yuanda Zhu in the Yellow Head building. He knows a treacherous way to get inside and lets Ryo in on the secret.
Having left his father’s old friend, Ryo tells Ren they should go their separate ways. He seems to believe the danger will ramp up to fatal levels soon and doesn’t want to risk Ren’s life for his quest. Adding to that, the Yellow Heads are intimately familiar with Ren, but Ryo is less well known. Ren appears sad to be left behind but seemingly accepts it.
A Challenger Approaches
Ryo heads off to Kowloon’s street fighting tournaments, run by the Yellow Heads as a gambling racket. The key to getting into the Yellow Head building is to win enough of these fights to get noticed by the gang’s recruiter, Huo. First up is an acrobatic fighter garbed in green. Ryo steps up to challenge the man and quickly ends the fight with a deft doge and elbow to the man’s sternum.
Elsewhere, Joy finds Ren sulking and guesses that he bailed on Ryo. She’s intrigued to find out the roles are actually reversed, and Ren now finds himself left on his own. They converse about why he’s going to such lengths for Ryo, and she surmises Ren is envious of Ryo’s ability to blaze his own trail despite the odds against him, wishing he could do the same. Joy plans to head back to her familiar territory in Hong Kong, not wanting to get further entangled with risky business involving the Chi You Men. Before revealing Zhu’s location earlier she demanded to be told the full scope of Ryo’s quest and was dismayed to learn he’s pressing forward to take on these incredibly dangerous gangs. With Joy leaving, Ren must decide where to go from here. He frustratedly heads back in the direction of Kowloon to find Ryo. In the shadows, a Yellow Head gang member has been tailing Ren and watching the entire conversation.
Ryo’s street fighting is going well as he takes down another opponent with little trouble. He’s approached by the scout Huo, inviting him to a meeting on Dragon Street that evening. Once there, they travel to a back alley where Ryo is given marching orders to defeat a burly biker named Greg More at a nearby arena. Approaching the ring as another match wraps up, the victor wearing an ornate orange uniform with white face makeup takes note of Ryo as he leaves. We haven’t seen the last of this mysterious fighter.
The match with Greg plays out in similar successful fashion, with the larger man falling to Ryo’s faster and well placed counter elbows. Huo has found his next recruit in Ryo and gives him instructions for their next meeting the following day. The quest to gain access to the Yellow Head building is coming to a close. Ren reappears, throwing his gambling chip at Ryo with anger as he saw fit to bet on the fight, against the Hazuki style. Ryo lightly chastises the Heaven’s gang leader for betting against him, while also showing a smile that his new pal came back for him.
Dragon Takes Flight
Shifting to the bad guys, Yuan informs Don Niu that Lan Di is coming to take Yuanda Zhu the following day. The pair share excitement that forces still resisting their grip on Hong Kong will have no choice but to fall in line once the Chi You Men are backing them. We also briefly travel across China to Bailu Village, where Shenhua returns home and notices her father has still not returned from his work in the quarry. She sees a design document on the desk depicting the same designs etched into Iwao’s two mirrors, another indication that her destiny to meet the young man in possession of the Phoenix is close at hand.
Joy’s turmoil continues as back in Hong Kong she’s approached by Wong wanting to know what they can do to help Ryo. Resigned to her powerlessness, Joy tells him the likes of them can do nothing in the face of the groups Ryo chooses to pursue. A despondent Wong lets known his displeasure at her lack of spirit, telling her she’s just another adult failing to do the right thing before storming away. Joy later visits the grave of her mother, expressing sadness that nothing has really changed for her in the last decade since the explosion separated them. Joy hasn’t moved on and never forgave her father or the syndicate for failing to protect her mother from the Yellow Heads.
Wong is later intercepted by Sam, Larry, and Cool Z. The Heaven’s members put him up to finding another easy score to rob. As Wong searches, he overhears a Yellow Head member talking with a Chi You Men enforcer about the upcoming handoff of Zhu. A warning is given to the Chi You Men to be aware of a Japanese man interfering with the event, noting Ryo has a powerful ally in Xiuying they fear will return. As the Yellow Head member reassures that they’re taking precautions and even have Ren under surveillance, Wong accidentally reacts and exposes himself as an eavesdropper to them. He runs away with the Yellow Head thug chasing him down the streets. Eventually he finds Joy and she zips them away on her motorcycle, angry to hear Ryo and Ren are in big trouble.
Meanwhile, the scheduled meetup with Huo is taking place underneath the Yellow Head building. Ren runs in behind Ryo and assaults the scout, demanding to know where Zhu is. Ren’s Yellow Head tail watches all this unfold from the shadows to foreshadow the infiltration soon taking an unfortunate turn. They are given a room on the 17th floor as the location prisoners are kept from the scout and use his radio to signal an intruder alert on the 5th floor, to clear an easy path to their destination.
Reaching the room on the 17th floor, they find it empty but they are not alone. The big ogre himself, Don Niu approaches and he’s ready to bash some skulls. Ryo and Ren are cornered and will need to think quickly to get out of this jam as the episode closes on a cliffhanger once more.
Comparison to the Games
Spoilers for Shenmue 2 in this section.
Bringing Us More Joy: She received additional backstory again this episode, giving her character growth and something to do while Ryo made his way through the street fights. It’s never indicated that she returns to Hong Kong or wants to get away from the escalating danger in the game. The recurring theme for her in the show is to focus on her personal tragedy and how it colors her view of Ryo’s reckless jump into confrontation with a gang she knows intimately to be deadly. Conversely, Joy’s role in the game story is essentially passive until Ryo reaches the lower basement of the Yellow Head building, late in disc three of Shenmue 2.
You’ve Got a Friend in Ren: Our favorite scoundrel in blue is getting some additional layers to his character as well. Ryo never sends him away in the games, but it provides a nice moment with Joy for him to reflect on why he’s helping Ryo and commit fully to the cause.
A More Easily Impressed Scout: Huo gives Ryo three opponents he must defeat before allowed into the Yellow Head building in Shenmue 2. For the sake of fitting into 13 episodes, the fights with Rod Stunt and Chunyan Xu were cut from the narrative. In particular, I would have loved to see the Chunyan fight. It provides Ryo such a cool moment where he spares her from falling to her death despite the fact she wouldn’t have done the same for him. That fight really brought home the idea that Ryo is indeed a capable fighter and is rapidly improving as a martial artist.
On the flip side, we did get to see Master Baihu in this episode. There’s now confirmation he participates in the Kowloon street fighting scene outside Yellow Head HQ, and his encounter will seem less random compared to the way he comes out of nowhere in Shenmue 2.
This episode felt like a cool down episode to ramp up for the big climactic encounters of the season, as well as develop the Hong Kong supporting cast further. Xiuying finally let Ryo fully in on her past and showed a bit of faith in him to pull away from the dark path, if he can learn some mental fortitude. I appreciated the show building her lessons into his sparring match with Iwao’s old friend in the dark room, then taking what he learned there and applying it to the street fights by closing his eyes at the start of the match. It was a good way to use the visual medium of television to showcase Ryo’s subtle growth.
Joy’s backstory is a highlight for recent episodes and she’s getting good character enrichment. I’m always for building in additional lore that doesn’t fit a game told from a single character’s perspective. Once the show has wrapped, we fans of the games can feel comfortable recommending the anime to newcomers as a companion piece that enhances their understanding of the plot.
The action is now ready to heat up and it seems safe to say big events should be expected in the next episode. It will be interesting to see how the meandering slog through the Yellow Head building is trimmed down. I’m hoping for the animators to have gone all out for the numerous epic fight scenes in store next week.
The next episode is titled Guidepost. See you very soon for the penultimate recap.