Sunday, April 16, 2017

Ryo and the Tiger-skin Pants | Shenmue II

Ryo and the Tigr-skin Pants

I've been meaning to tackle this topic for a while, and I was reminded of it again the other day when Andrew & Matt brought it up on their latest AM2 Podcast (great series, guys!). So anyway, let's get started.

In Shenmue II, when Ryo arrives at the tiny riverside village of Langhuishan in Guilin, you may remember this optional conversation that he has with one of the three village boys on the wharf.

On being asked why he is seeking Bailu village, one of the choices is for Ryo to tell him that he is going there to fight the evil ogres there:

Defeat Ogres conversation option
Ryo decides to liven the mood with a light-hearted reply.

However the little boy does not seem altogether convinced by Ryo's explanation, and even less so by his details about what the ogres look like:

Ryo describes the ogres
You know, just your typical Japanese ogre look.
This is not unsurprising, as Ryo is basing his story on Japanese folklore that, while instantly recognizable to Japanese children, would not have been familiar to a little boy in China.

This is something that I've seen come up every now and again in Shenmue fan forums, so for any players who may still be scratching their heads about this interaction, let's look at the cultural background in this post.

Acknowledgement: Thank you to Kiyuu of the Shenmue Dojo for her old forum post which served as the inspiration for this post.

The Story of "Peach Boy"

Momo Tarō and his animal friends
Peach Boy (Momo Tarō) on his way to the island of Onigashima with his crew.
His banner reads Nihon-ichi, "the best in Japan".
In Japan, there is a famous children's folk tale called Momo Tarō. Momo is the word for a peach, and Tarō is a common boy's name, so this is commonly translated as "Peach Boy" in English. Here's a brief outline of the story:
Once upon a time, an old woman was washing clothes in the river, when a large peach came floating downstream towards her. On taking it home to her husband and cutting it open, to their delight out jumped a baby boy who they named "Peach Boy".

Many years later, Peach Boy left home to fight a band of Oni (meaning demons, or ogres) who had been wreaking havoc on the surrounding villages. On the way to their island fort, he made friends with a talking dog, monkey and pheasant who agreed to join him on his quest.

Arriving at the island, Peach Boy and his animal companions joined forces to fight the ogres, who surrendered. Peach Boy returned home victorious with a great many treasures.
This is a great little animated version of the story:

This is the children's tale to which Ryo is referring when he tells the boy that he is going to fight the ogres, in the same way that the brave Peach Boy set out to do. Unfortunately the implication is lost across cultures and the explanation falls flat.

Ogres in Japan

Ogres and demons in Japan feature quite commonly in folklore and children's stories. They are traditionally depicted as having red- or blue-colored skin, sharp conical horns on their head, wearing a loin-cloth made of tiger skin and carrying an iron club.

Hold on a second... "a loin-cloth made of tiger skin"? Yes - the reason why Ryo described his imaginary ogres as having "tiger skin pants" is because this is part of a Japanese ogre's "uniform"!

A typical Japanese oni (ogre / demon)
At this point Ryo seems to realize his credibility is slipping away, has he mutters "I guess that must be only Japanese Ogres...". Fortunately he manages to win the kid round with a promise to bring him back some demon horns. (In English he probably should have said ogre horns, but in Japanese an oni can mean either).

Only Japanese Ogres...
Culture gap!

Video of the Conversation

Here's a clip of the conversation. Listen out for that final awkward "Okay..." from Ryo, as if he is feeling bad that he won't be able to fulfill his promise to bring the kid those demon horns...

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  1. Learned something new today. I absolutely love this blog! Shenmue HD cannot come soon enough.

    1. Cheers! Yes, Sega has the chance to put itself in everyone's good books with a timely Shenmue HD release announcement.

    2. This update has actually inspired me to buy a book on Japanese folklore. Who knows what other cultural references may come up in future games.

    3. Haha, that's awesome. Another famous folk hero is Kintaro, his story is probably in your new book!

  2. Can you take a look at Tekken 5's Feng Wei ending? He uses an Iron Palm on a mountain in Guilin and then 'activates'/awakes his dragon side through a scroll. He does look like Lan Di (let's not forget Tekken and Virtua Fighter had some of the same members in the design team), and Lan Di could be (in a form of direct context to Chinese history and relation to mythology) be related to an Emperor, hence, having the dragon bloodline.

    1. Fascinating, I wasn't aware of this! It really does have a strong Shenmue vibe, and what's more was released just a few years after Shenmue II. The dragon sequence reminds me of the one summoned by Lan Di in the Shenmue Online trailer.

  3. And now I know! :D Great as always Switch

  4. I love when you answer questions I bring up on my podcast. :)

    1. :) It's fun hearing what aspects of the games can seem a little strange. After you live in Japan a while some of the cultural aspects don't seem so different / puzzling anymore!