Friday, October 9, 2020

The Legend of Akira Scripts: Two Pages Translated

Last year in 2019, shortly before the release of Shenmue III, Game Informer made a trip to Japan where they visited YS Net and spent time with Yu Suzuki. One of the highlights was a viewing of the early set of 1996 scripts named "The Legend of Akira", which make up the initial chapters of the "Virtual RPG" that was to go on to become Shenmue.

During the relevant section of the video, the camera pans briefly across a couple of pages of text, and so for the first time ever we have the opportunity to translate these pages for fans to enjoy!

The pages displayed are actually from a document printed on white paper that Yu-san hands to the interviewers to flip through. I believe that these white pages hold an exact copy of the text contained in the blue books - but with the name of Akira updated to Ryo throughout (with one exception found, which we will get to later).

The two pages are from near the start of the story:

The first page is an introductory flashback showing Ryo as a boy (age uncertain) being lectured by his father in the dojo. It starts with cinematic views of Yokosuka and the Hazuki residence, ending in the dojo interior. Elements of this scene can be felt strongly in the dojo flashback from the release version.

The second page can be recognized as being part of the cut scene that starts the release version of the game, where Iwao is killed by Lan Di (who is called Cang Long in the script). There are some interesting points of difference compared to the release version, not least of which is that the dojo becomes engulfed in flames (perhaps set deliberately by Lan Di's men), with Ryo barely managing to escape. This may have posed a problem had it been kept in the final game, as it would have rendered the dojo unusable!

There is also a dream sequence in which Ryo relives the fight with Lan Di.

Right, let's get into the translations! I have added some small additional notes in places.

The translations start below.

First Page Translation

Chapter 01: "Yokosuka"

● Flashback:

Looking down from a hill with a view of a bay whose surface glistens in the distance, and the town of Yokosuka below. Standing here is a dojo, once an old temple that has been turned into a place of training for martial arts.

The majestic gate is a remnant from the time it was a temple. Above it is a sign bearing the words "Hazuki Dojo" in ink, written with powerful brush strokes. Through the gate is what was originally the main temple building, now the Hazuki residence. Moving to the right around the house, a cherry tree stands imposingly, like a god protecting the grounds. The raucous singing of cicadas pours down from its lush green foliage, along with piercing midsummer rays of sunlight. Going further along the side, there is a dojo. The camera moves inside its wide-open entrance-way. 

Footage from the Saturn (unreleased) version of Shenmue reflects the description in the script, with the cherry tree being shown in full foliage on a sunny summer day. The tree is located nearer the house rather than being at the far end of the garden as in the release version.

Inside the dojo. In complete contrast to the heat outside, cool air drifts over the floorboards, which are polished to the point of reflecting one's face.

A boy dressed in a T-shirt and jeans sits with his legs folded beneath, his bulging bag beside him, a solemn expression on his face. A man with an imposing presence, in dark blue hakama* and a white jacket, sits opposite, fastening his gaze down on the boy.

* hakama = a type of traditional Japanese garment covering the body from the waist and extending down to the ankles.

It is quiet, but the man speaks in a deep voice that echoes throughout the dojo.

Iwao: "Ryo, this is something I've asked you before, but I will ask you again. What is the most important thing to a practitioner of the martial arts?"

Dojo flashback scene (released version): the influence of this part of the script can be clearly seen, although various changes have been made: the scene takes place at night, both Iwao and Ryo face towards the front, and the topic has been changed to talking about the meaning of friends.

The boy tilts his head to one side at this sudden, abstract question. However, he answers immediately, the expression on his face questioning why he is being asked something so obvious.

Ryo: "It's obvious, isn't it? Winning."

Iwao: "Against whom?"

Ryo: "Against one's opponent, of course."

A smile forms on Iwao's lips, as if he had been expecting the boy's reply.

On seeing his father's expression, the quick-tempered Ryo gets flustered, thinking his father is making fun of him.

Ryo: "Am I not right, Father?"

Iwao: "Have you forgotten what I said before?"

Ryo: "..."

Ryo thinks back but can't recall.

Iwao: "As I told you: 'Know oneself and surpass oneself.'"

Ryo: "Know oneself and surpass oneself...?"

Ryo repeats the phrase, looking at Iwao in puzzlement.

Iwao meets his gaze, and looks back with a stern expression.

Iwao: "You have at last started to open the gate of martial arts, but no more than that. Beyond this gate, an extraordinary world lies before you. In order to walk through this world, you must know yourself..." 

Second Page* Translation

* Note: this page occurs a little further on, not directly following the page above.

[truncated] is all he can do to make it out of the dojo and into the garden. Reaching the middle of the garden, Ryo runs out of strength, and with Iwao's head resting on his shoulder, falls to the ground. Behind the two, the dojo begins to burn in earnest. To make matters worse, heavy rain begins to fall, soaking them

Lifting himself up, Ryo brings his face close to Iwao's. Then he clasps Iwao's face and gives it a shake.

Ryo: "Father!! Father, stay strong!"

Iwao: "A... ki... ra..."*

* Note: it is interesting to see an instance of the name of Akira remaining in this text, a remnant from before the protagonist was renamed to Ryo. Perhaps it was missed by a "search and replace" in the document, due to being split up into separate sounds.

Iwao opens his eyes at the sound of Ryo's voice, and speaks in a voice that is almost too faint to hear.

Ryo: "Please, don't die!"

Iwao: "Mi... mirror..."

Ryo: "Father, what?"

Ryo moves his ear near Iwao's mouth.

Iwao: "Another... mirror... underground... urgh..."*

And with that, Iwao takes his final breath.

Sega Saturn version footage: access to the underground room was through a trapdoor in the garden of the Hazuki residence, near the entrance.

In the pelting rain, Ryo gazes down at the face of his dead father, bathed in the glow of the roaring flames.

Ryo: "Father!! FATHER----!!"

Ryo embraces his father's body, oblivious to all around him. Raindrops and showers of sparks from the blazing dojo fall incessantly upon his back.

Project Berkley video (included with Virtua Fighter 3tb for the Dreamcast): a short clip shows Ryo with Iwao's body as rain pours down on them. However in this case it is coming down through a hole in the dojo's roof.

In the released game, a storm breaks out but Ryo remains inside the dojo.

● Dream

Fragments of various scenes.

A man confronts Iwao. The back of his long, dark-blue garment is illuminated by silver-like flashes of lightning that spill across the dark blue, revealing the embroidery of a rising dragon.

Cang Long: "Shen Yi Wen Quan!!"

Iwao reacts with a jolt at the man's words, and begins combat.

1. Cang Long (or Sōryū in Japanese), written 蒼龍 and meaning Blue Dragon, was an early name used for the character of Lan Di. 
2. Shen Yu Wen Quan, written 神意聞拳, is my best guess at the Chinese pronunciation of what appears to be a fictional style of Chinese martial arts -  a real-life style with this name does not appear to exist (although some are named similarly). It translates roughly to Divine-Will-Listen Fist.

3. Iwao appears to recognize and is startled at the name of the style. Perhaps a style that Iwao learned with Cang Long's father at Bailu village?

The man's breathing, as if expelling in an instant the ki stored in his belly, combines with the sounds of his punches and kicks that tear through the air.

The man performs move after move, as if toying with Iwao.

With lightning-fast movement the man grasps Iwao by the lapel and hurls him against the wall of the dojo.

Upon seeing this, without thinking Ryo rushes at the man. Calmly evading him the man applies a push on Ryo's back, and drives him against the wall beside Iwao, where he collapses.

Final Comment

This brings us to the end of the translations. I think this is the first time we as fans have seen what lies inside these legendary "Shenmue notebooks" so I hope you enjoyed comparing the differences between the historical script and the final game / Sega Saturn version. Leave a comment if you have any observations to share!

Update 20th Jan 2022:

A former Shenmue developer who tweets under the handle Mazin posted a tweet that reveals that, with the version of Shenmue for the Saturn, the dojo catches on fire as described in the script translation, and that the cause was a lightning strike:

"While development was being carried out on the Saturn version, after Lan Di left, lightning struck the cherry tree and the fire that spread burned down the dojo."

Link to tweet


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  1. Really beautiful and nice reading this, nice to see the differences with the final version of the game.

    I hope one day we can see all the The Legend of Akira Scripts, and all chapter concept arts in good quality, maybe when Yu Suzuki finish Shenmue he will release the scripts for the Fans, do you think this can happen? Thanks Switch.

    1. Thanks Hiki! I'd like to also think that once Shenmue is finished, we may be allowed to view the full scripts & other original materials in some way. it would certainly make for a fun but challenging translation project.

    2. Oh, for sure! We have many years ahead until every bit of information gets covered and properly translated. In the end, an entire encyclopedia will be needed to summarize it all, not just in terms of the game's internal lore, but the dense volume of references to ancient Chinese mythology, the external inspiration.

      We need a damn historian, since Google's not enough -- we gotta go back, to old books, starting with 'Romance of the Three Kingdoms', and compile all the cross-references it might/does contain.

      Outside of magazine articles, one of the elements needing translation are the multiple store signs and miscellaneous Hanzi throughout Wan Chai and Kowloon (e.g the graffiti on Yan Tin Apartments).

      Of course, before all that, there's Dobuita and the harbor.
      Is there any way we can help? Is it faster to go through the games' files (if those type of textures are in an accessible and/or convertible file format) or go directly in-game and take screenshots?

    3. It would make for an immense but fascinating project. Regarding investigating in-game writing and signs, screenshots would probably be preferable as that would give the context.