Saturday, May 30, 2020

Izumi Takano Was Once Considered for Ryo's Love Interest

Izumi Takano, who can be found working at the Tomato Convenience Store in Wan Chai in Shenmue II, was once a candidate character model for the role of Nozomi Harasaki in the first game.

Izumi Takano at the Tomato Convenience Store in Shenmue II
Izumi Takano at the Tomato Convenience Store in Shenmue II
This was confirmed in a tweet last year by one of the former developers on the original Shenmue project team, who goes by the name of Morio Ashizuka. He wrote:
"I recall that the high school girl you fight in Shenmue II, Izumi Takano, was a rejected candidate character for Nozomi (if I remember correctly...). Which may be why Ryo looked at her so dreamily, lol. The reason the rejected Izumi Takano appeared in Shenmue II was due to strong campaigning by Mr. O from the Planning team. He is a big fan of ponytails!"
A guess can be made as the identity of the developer "Mr. O" referred to above. As noticed by Twitter user @senjo75, the guidebook "Shenmue Chapter One ~Yokosuka ~ World Guidance" contains a Q&A section for several members of the development team - including one with the initials Y.O. from the Planning team...

Responses to a Shenmue questionnaire from Shenmue project member "Y.O."
Responses to a Shenmue questionnaire from Shenmue project member "Y.O."
The official Shenmue credits reveal that the name of the member of the Planning team with the initials Y.O. is Yoshihiro Okabayashi.

His answer to the second question, "Who is your favorite character and why?", was:
"Izumi Takano. A candidate for the heroine, who appeared only in the demo... Personally speaking, I liked how her ponytail looked."
This response was made before the release of Shenmue II (the guidebook was published in May 2000).

The demo that Okabayashi refers to is of course "What's Shenmue" which was released a few months before the full game's release, in 1999.

What's Shenmue title page (a fan-translated version is available)
What's Shenmue title page (a fan-translated version is available)
In it, Izumi is one of the characters who prevents Ryo from wandering off the main part of Dobuita Street. She stands near the Asia Travel Co.

Izumi Takano on duty in What's Shenmue
Izumi Takano on duty in What's Shenmue
Knowing about the fact that Izumi was being considered as the model for Nozomi, the similarities in appearance from the What's Shenmue demo between Izumi and Nozomi, from the way they pose to their clothing (tartan skirt, brown shoes with high socks) are quite striking:

What's Shenmue: Izumi (left) and Nozomi (right)
What's Shenmue: Izumi (left) and Nozomi (right)
Interestingly, a headshot image of Izumi can also be found in the files of the Shenmue Passport disc (the fourth disc that was bundled with Shenmue on the Passport), although it is unused:

A headshot of Izumi Takano can be found on the Shenmue Passport disc files
A headshot of Izumi Takano can be found on the Shenmue Passport disc files
When Yu Suzuki spoke on stage at the MAGIC 2016 event, he said that his vision for Nozomi was for her to be a Yamato Nadeshiko, a term used to describe the personification of an idealized Japanese woman, someone who is poised, gentle, faithful and patient - although this impression of her may have changed for some fans after the discovery of a long-hidden easter egg last year..
Last year a fan in Japan unlocked a hidden easter egg that lets Nozomi join Ryo in battle.
Last year a fan in Japan unlocked a hidden easter egg that lets Nozomi join Ryo in battle.
It would seem the character model for the Izumi Takano did not quite fit the image Yu Suzuki had for Ryo's love interest in the first game.

Ryo's love interest candidates for Shenmue: Izumi Takano and Nozomi Harasaki.
Ryo's love interest candidates for Shenmue: Izumi Takano and Nozomi Harasaki. 
Happily, in Shenmue II Izumi was given the role of a high school girl who fights at martial arts events, and - if he is able to defeat her - she is also the person who introduces Ryo to duck racing.


I would like to share a couple of wonderful pieces of fan art by Kohji on Twitter.

The first shows a jealous Izumi, having been cast aside for inclusion in Shenmue I:

Jealous Izumi (art by @kohji_nakazawa)
Jealous Izumi (art by @kohji_nakazawa)

And the second is a portrait of Izumi in Shenmue II, with a reference to the finishing move she uses during her fights at the arcade: "Viva Sakura Festival"!

Portrait of Izumi Takano (art by @kohji_nakazawa)
Portrait of Izumi Takano (art by @kohji_nakazawa)
In Shenmue II, before Ryo is about to leave Wan Chai for Kowloon, Izumi does try to show Ryo some interest, but unfortunately for her, as usual he is too focused on his journey ahead to take any notice...

Izumi Takano is a memorable character in Shenmue II, and the next time she takes you duck racing in Shenmue II why not give a silent word of thanks to Mr Okabayashi of the Planning team for her inclusion!

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