Sunday, August 1, 2021

Weekly AM2 Vol. 1: The Launch of Weekly AM2 | 14th Dec 1999

In this new series, we will be translating content from the official online magazine published by Sega's AM2 team back in the day. Content about the Shenmue series was published regularly within over the next couple of years until the release of Shenmue II in 2001.

This is the very first edition of the Weekly AM2 web magazine, launched on 14th December 1999, with the release of Shenmue in Japan imminent. A link to the Weekly AM2 thereafter became a regular feature of the website.

Although this first entry is really just an announcement of the planned series, it has short messages from Yu Suzuki as well as Makoto Osaki (the deputy director of AM2 under Suzuki, whose other projects include the Virtua Fighter series and Daytona USA).

The three concept keywords around which Shenmue was built - "Leisurely, Fully, Gently" - are mentioned again here. Yu Suzuki referred to them in his GDC 2014 retrospective, and Takumi Hagiwara also brought them up in his 1999 pre-release interview we translated last week.



Nice to meet you all.

I'm Takuan, and I'll be running Weekly AM2.

I'm looking forward to bringing you lots of great information on a weekly basis going forward.

Become a Patron!

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Takumi Hagiwara (Ren): 1999 Interview & Current Whereabouts | Article Translation

In today's post we present a translation of an interview with the Japanese voice and motion actor for Wuying Ren in Shenmue II: Takumi Hagiwara, which was published in the Japanese Dreamcast Magazine in early 1999. We also try to piece together Hagiwara's movements after the release of Shenmue II.

This topic was selected by the Phantom River Stone blog patrons via our monthly poll on the Phantom River Stone Patreon and was available for early access.

Dreamcast Magazine Interview with Takumi Hagiwara (March 1999)

The most memorable performer appearing in this game is probably Takumi Hagiwara, an actor that doesn't merely play the part of Ren Wuying, but rather embodies him completely. What's lies in his appeal? Let's close out our 3-week interview series by talking with someone who, in a sense, exemplifies the art of "getting into" a Shenmue character.

A Hong Kong street gang. His sharpened, abrasive personality has earned him the nickname "Ren" (which means "blade").

Editor's Diary: Charm Recognized by Yu Suzuki

Ever since the Shenmue premiere in Yokohama (December 1998), Hagiwara has been giving off a slightly different vibe. At the premiere, Yu Suzuki said, "I thought: this is the person I want to play Ren." But when I actually spoke with Hagiwara, there was a bit more to the story of how he was hired that was interesting to hear.

In the video that was shown at the Shenmue premiere in other cities, Yu said of Ren: "After all, he is the head of a gang. So I don't think he cares about what happens to the other members of his gang in Aberdeen. He's not the kind of guy who cares about others like that." But I think seeing how his feelings begin to change after meeting Ryo and Shenhua will also be something noteworthy to watch for. Looking back on it now, I have a feeling that Ren will live on in everyone's heart as a really distinctive character.

Hagiwara, who plays Ren, seems to be the type of person who would rather have people see for themselves how the game turned out than talk about it. I hope everyone will take a good look at Ren's performance in the completed game.


Become a Patron!

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Toripicals: Chobu-chan Style Tropical Fruit Capsule Toys

"I found it!" - Ryo Hazuki, hunting for Chobu-chan in Niaowu
If Yu Suzuki were to officially release a fruit-themed series of Chobu-chan capsule toys... it might not be far from these.

Meet the Toripicals, Set #3: Watermelon, Blueberries, Lemon, Mango and Fig.

The name of these figures is Toripicals - a word-play on the Japanese word for bird, "tori", and the word Tropical. They are part of a series of fruit-themed capsule-toy sets that were initially released in 2018. Each toy varies in size depending on the fruit variety, with large fruit like the watermelon filling a great part of the capsule toy interior!

As can be seen, these fruity figures give off strong Chobu-chan vibes and with their mix of colors would not be out of place in a Chobu-chan hunt. Some, like the Lemon, come with separate feet to be fitted on to complete the figure.

Peach and Lemon

They appear to also be popular with collectors on social media in Japan:
Tweet source

In addition to the capsule toys, large plushies add to the Toripical line-up.

Ebay Listings

Retro Import Gamer has a small selection of Toripical capsule toy figures available on their Ebay store: Lemon, Blueberries and Mango (all as-new, sealed).

It is still nice to dream of a day YS Net releases an official line of Chobu-chan merchandise!

Become a Patron!

Friday, July 9, 2021

Ryo Visits the Sun | Shenmue II Out of Bounds Hack (With Video)

In a blog post last year we took Ryo Hazuki on an adventure in the sky to visit the moon above Hong Kong (with the help of an out-of-bounds hack), and found that it was modeled as a three-dimensional object moving above the city. In today's post we'll be investigating another noticeable feature of Shenmue II's sky: the sun.

Does the sun move through the sky in the game, in the same way as the moon? How far away is it positioned, and how large does it appear close up? Let's find out.

  • Scroll to the end of this post to watch the video footage.

The Sun in Shenmue II

The first game in the series introduced its revolutionary Magic Weather system, and while a range of weather and light conditions were simulated, it didn't actually feature a moon or sun in the sky during normal gameplay (the moon did appear during a cut scene in the game).

In Shenmue II, on the other hand, the player's attention is drawn to the presence of the sun right from the start of gameplay, complete with an impressive lens flare effect that can be seen during the opening title sequence as Ryo's ship, the Genpū Maru, docks at Workers Pier.

Lens flare effect in the opening sequence.

The ship slowly docks at the pier, bow first (left). Living up to its name, which means "Mysterious Wind", the ship mysteriously ends up facing in the opposite direction in the next cut of the sequence (right).

Become a Patron!

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Poll Result: Patrons' Choice Topic for July 2021

Every month Phantom River Stone holds a poll among our patrons to choose a topic for the blog in the coming month. After tallying the votes (including accumulated votes from previous months), the winning topic for July 2021 is...

"1999 Interview with Takumi Hagiwara" (Translation)

In March 1999, the Japanese Dreamcast Magazine published an interview with Takumi Hagiwara, the voice and motion capture actor for Ren Wuying in the Japanese version of Shenmue II.

At the time this interview was held, Hagiwara had already been recording voice and motion capture at the SEGA offices for more than a year, although Shenmue II itself would undergo a further two years of development before its release.

Takumi Hagiwara is said to have been praised by Yu Suzuki as a perfect fit for the character of Ren, but the interview reveals that he at first been considered for the role of Chai.

Read Hagiwara's comments on this and more in the upcoming blog post, coming in the near future!

Become a Patron!

Sunday, June 27, 2021

The End of Yu's China Journey & Creation of Virtua Fighter 2 | Yu Suzuki's 1994 China Research Trip, Final Part

A continuation of our series on Yu Suzuki's 1994 Research Trip to China. This topic was selected by the Phantom River Stone blog patrons via our monthly poll on the Phantom River Stone Patreon and was available for early access.

In the early 1990s, Yu Suzuki made a seminal trip to China. His objective was to research and gather material for his upcoming Virtua Fighter 2, and this research also influenced his concept for a "Virtua Fighter RPG" which eventually came to be known as Shenmue.

Previous posts in this series of blog posts:
  • In Part One, we translated blog entries about the trip by Kazunari Uchida, the person who accompanied Yu Suzuki.
  • Part Two is a magazine article in which Yu Suzuki gives own comments about his trip, and how his findings would be useful for the development of the Virtua Fighter series.
  • In Part Three, Yu's traveling companion, Kazunari Uchida, talks about how he first met Yu Suzuki and his curiosity to learn about the genius behind the man during the upcoming trip.
  • Part Four is Kazunari Uchida's journal entry for the start of the trip itself: Day One - Beijing.
  • Part Five is Days Two and Three of the trip in which Yu travels to Luoyang, Xi'an and Dengfeng, and arrives at Shaolin Temple.
  • In Part Six (Days Four through Six) Yu observes fighting demonstrations at Shaolin Temple in Dengfeng county.
  • In Part Seven (Day Seven), nursing a fractured rib, Yu spends some time sight-seeing in Luoyang then travels on to Cangzhou.
  • In Part Eight, Yu spars with Bajiquan grandmaster Wu Lianzhi in Mengcun, and is accidentally knocked to the floor.
Today's post, Part Nine, is the final part of the series! In it, Yu enjoys a final meal in China before returning to Japan to fold his new-found experiences into the development of Virtua Fighter 2.

About the Diary Author

Born on January 15, 1961 (age 33), Kazunari Uchida is a writer and photographer who writes about a wide range of topics including outdoor activities, motor sports, and travelogues. He is currently active in such publications as Monthly Motorcycle (Motor Magazine), Yu-Ben (Kodansha), and Outdoor Guide (JTB). He accompanied Yu Suzuki, the developer of "Virtua Fighter," on a research trip to China.


"It's all about the people. The people are so interesting..."

Yu murmured this to himself as he gazed down at the yellow earth just after our airplane had taken off.

I too have traveled a lot in my life, and no matter what kind of trip I've taken, it's the people that leave a lasting impression. I think the degree of fulfillment you get from a trip is determined by how many rich encounters you have had.

On this trip, we had encounters with Master De Li of Shaolin Temple, Mr. Wu Liangzhi of Cangzhou, and many other people - too numerous to list here.

China is a country with a very complicated history, and it has been subjected to many upheavals, including the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen Square incident, just to name a few. However, despite that fact that everyone here has been through such rough times, everyone was frank, friendly, and very big-hearted.

Yu lost in thought at the Great Wall of China, reflecting on his two-week trip...

As we would be leaving Beijing early the next morning, we had our last meal with Ms. Zhang, our guide who had been most helpful to us during this trip. As we ate, the topic of conversation turned to what our favorite word was.

Yu wrote the word "ENERGY" on a paper napkin close at hand and held it up.
Become a Patron!

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Shenmue Music Box in Collaboration with Ryuji Iuchi

A new officially-licensed limited-edition Shenmue collectors' item has been announced for pre-order by Wayō Records: a beautifully-crafted wind-up music box, designed and created in collaboration with composer Ryuji Iuchi. The color outer box is a green hue reminiscent of Phantom River Stone, with a Phoenix motif on the top.

The melody played by the music box is an arrangement of Shenhua's Theme created especially by the composer, and each music box comes with a score sheet hand-signed by Ryuji Iuchi himself.

Pre-Order Link

Although not cheap at 274.80 Euros (approximately US $325), only 250 music boxes are being made available, so fans wanting to secure one may need to act fast. Note, this price may be adjusted after entering your payment details when ordering on the website, depending on factors such as shipping and whether taxes have been applied etc.

Delivery is scheduled for "Fall 2021".

Music Box Features

  • Performs the melody from Shenhua’s Theme (30 seconds, looping 10 rounds), entirely automatic (without handle)
  • 220mm (width), 120mm (depth), 55mm (height)
  • Wooden box crafted in noble materials
  • Precision mechanism made of a rotary cylinder and 30 pins
  • Shipped in a quality padded package with Shenmue's designed logo

Comment from Ryuji Iuchi

Ryuji Iuchi commented regarding the music box announcement on his Twitter feed:
"It was my first time arranging music for a music box, and it was fun!" [Twitter]
He also noted that the sound playing in the official video above is synthesized and not actually from the music box itself:
"The sound in the video demo is created by a synth sound source, so I hope you'll enjoy the feeling of pensiveness and character produced by the actual music box. ^_^" [Twitter]
Hopefully we will be able to hear a live rendition from the music box in the future!

About Wayō Records

Wayō Records is a French company that specializes in officially-licensed Japanese videogame and anime soundtracks, working directly with major videogame publishers and even the original composers. This bridging of cultures is reflected in their name, as "wayō" means "Japanese and Western".

Will you be able to resist ordering a Shenmue music box? Leave a comment below.

Become a Patron!

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Yu Suzuki on Stage at Network Jungle II: Digitaliland

This post is a translation of a report in the May 1999 edition of the Japanese Dreamcast Magazine about the Network Jungle II: Digitaliland event that was held in the months leading up to the release of Shenmue. During the event, a stage event was held in which Yu Suzuki, Hiroaki Takeuchi and Hidekazu Yukawa talked about the upcoming game.

Related posts:

Recap and Comments from Yu Suzuki's Special Talk

Some incredible images were on show at this event, prompting us to ask ourselves "How on earth did they create that footage?" and wonder how far along Shenmue was in its development. The answers to these questions were to be found in the talk show with Yu Suzuki at 3:00 p.m. Many exciting things were said, including comments by Former Managing Director Yukawa!
Become a Patron!