Thursday, May 27, 2021

Shenmue Characters Based on Actual People: Susumu Aketagawa, Takeshi Hirai, Akira Nagai, Yoshihito Nishii, Hiroaki Takeuchi, Manabu Takimoto, Hiroshi Tamura, Yoshihiko Tashiro, Hidekaze Yukawa, Kenta Shimizu, Jin Xin Nan

Several characters that appear in the Shenmue games have in-game models based on real-life people.  This is not surprising in the case of Shenmue III, where several higher-tier backers were included in the game as a reward for their pledges. What may not be so readily realized is that several of the people Ryo meets in the first game of the series, as workers or residents of Yokosuka, were also modeled on actual people, including but not limited to members of the project development staff and people associated with Sega.

Today's post presents the findings of research to identify and gather together as many of these characters from the early games in the series as possible.

Let's get started!

Characters Based on Actual People: Shenmue I

Susumu Aketagawa

In the game: He is the hard-working owner of Yamaji Soba Noodles in Dobuita who is now considering retirement.

In real life: The name and model of this character are those of the voice & recording director for Shenmue I and II, Susumu Aketagawa. He was invited to provide his own voice for the game, but  declined, commenting with a laugh in a 2019 interview that "I wasn't willing to go that far".

When he worked on the Shenmue project, he was approximately the same age as his character in the game, although they do not share the same birthday date. It is unknown whether he is a big fan of soba noodles, although he did mention in the interview that he used to enjoy going for a lunch of boiled whitebait on rice at a restaurant near the Sega offices.

Left: Susumu Aketagawa in the game is the owner of Yamaji Soba Noodles in Dobuita. Right: directing a recording session for Shenmue around 1998 (top-right) and in a 2019 interview (bottom-right).

Aketagawa-san's profile: retirement from the noodle business beckons.
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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The Real Yokosuka That Shenmue Chose Not To Simulate | IGN Japan Article Translation

This is a translation of an article published by IGN Japan on 24 December 2018.

A City with an Inseparable Relationship with the U.S. Naval Base

"In Dragon Quest III, for example, you leave Aliahan on the day of your 16th birthday, right? Shenmue I is a game that depicts only the hero's daily life in his hometown before he sets off on his journey."

This remark about Shenmue was made to me by Esra Krabbe when we spoke at the IGN Japan year-end party.

Before the upcoming Shenmue fan meeting on 24 December (2018), my editorial department received word from Yokosuka City about a Shenmue excursion to be held on 14 December. Being the multi-genre writer that I am, I decided to head there.

When I arrived at the meeting place, the other participants reacted with surprise: "Isn't Mr. Krabbe from IGN Japan coming?" I replied, "Actually, he already wrote a report about the Shenmue Sacred Spot pilgrimage last year," and continued: "For this one, I'd like to look at the world of Shenmue from a completely different perspective than Esra. I want to write a report that combines a documentary with the Sacred Spot pilgrimage".

What was the real Yokosuka like? I asked the locals about how Yokosuka used to be in 1986, when the first Shenmue game was set, and how things have changed since then.

A Place Called Yokosuka

Why was Shenmue set in Yokosuka in the first place? Even if an analogy can be drawn with the town of Aliahan before the hero sets off on his journey, it is none-the-less a very distinctive place in itself.

The Chaos of 1986 Yokosuka

Back in 1999, not only was it a surprise that a major title would be set in Japan, it was also a shock that a major game that cost 7 billion yen to make would be set in a regional city. Not only that, but there was also a series of games released around the same time, such as Front Mission 3, that featured the same setting. So for me, Yokosuka had a special place in my heart.

Japanese Self Defense Force base in Yokosuka, as featured in Front Mission 3

At the time, [the game's depiction of] Yokosuka, which had been chosen as the place from which the main character Ryo Hazuki sets off on his journey, was praised as "a simulator that recreates daily life in a regional town". But these days, when many video games are released that recreate the real world, the atmosphere of the area itself also has a strong correlation with the video game experience.

That mood, which is unique to Shenmue I, and is not in Shenmue II, has to do with the chaos that existed in Yokosuka in 1986. This chaos is reiterated by the people of Yokosuka who live there.

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Saturday, May 8, 2021

Poll Result: Patrons' Choice Topic for May 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 April 2021 is...

"Shenmue at Network Jungle II: Digitaliland" 

At the technology showcase event "Digitaliland" in early 1999, Sega had an entire area devoted to promoting Shenmue ahead of its eventual release at the end of the year, called "Shenmue no Mori" (Shenmue Forest). Attendees were treated to video trailers, playable demos, figurines, art and merchandise for the game as well as stage events throughout the day.

One of  the stage events held was a talk show featuring the game's creator Yu Suzuki, game advisor Hiroaki Takeuchi and Hidekazu Yukawa (the Sega former managing director who featured in the "What's Shenmue" demo). 

We'll be translating highlights from their discussion as they talk enthusiastically about the game before the event attendees.

Watch for it on the blog in the near future!

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Sunday, May 2, 2021

Master Wu Lianzhi: Chinese TV Documentary | Guest Post by Chao Yu

With today's post we welcome back Chao Yu, who presents a Chinese television documentary about the life of Wu Lianzhi, with translated English captions. 

Chao can be found at the Shenmue Dojo as yuc02, and is a long-standing supporter of Phantom River Stone on Patreon.

Hey guys, I recently found an old (circa 2008-10) Chinese TV documentary about Bajiquan grandmaster Wu Lianzhi (吴连枝), which gave a fascinating view of the life of a person who inspired Yu Suzuki in his creations of the Virtua Fighter and Shenmue series.  

Through the documentary, one learns of how Wu grew up in Meng Cun as a youngster gifted in martial arts, but often got involved with fights at school and broke the family code.  Later on the show explained how he (and indeed his ancestors) did not initially earn a living through Bajiquan, but a tragic event thrust him into the martial arts world spotlight, ending with him carrying the burden of passing down the Baji style onto the next generations.  Finally as his tireless efforts began to pay off, a chance meeting with Yu Suzuki gave him the chance to travel abroad, and his name soon spread throughout the world.

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