Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Opening Theme "UNDEAD-NOID" Lyrics & Analysis | Shenmue The Animation

The opening theme for Shenmue The Animation goes by the intriguing name of "UNDEAD-NOID" and was written and performed by Kashitaro Ito.

We have taken a stab at transcribing and translating the lyrics to help those who wish to sing along and get into the Shenmue spirit! As a general disclaimer, though: some differences may have crept in compared to the actual lyrics as these have been transcribed by ear.

Commentary on each of the lines, and possible references, follows the video.

Video: Opening Theme with Lyrics

Artist Profile: Kashitaro Ito

Here is brief profile of the artist:

"He started his career performing music covers on the Internet and made his major label debut in 2014. Since then, he has released three albums, all in the top 10 of the Oricon rankings. In parallel with his own activities, he also provides music and production work for other artists. He has also published a novel selling over 60,000 copies, and his talents include singing anime songs and voice acting.

He does not show his face in the media, with a fox mask being his trademark."

One other note of interest is that the artist also has a great admiration for the Beatles, and has previously written a promotional song inspired by John Lennon's Imagine.

Analysis of the Lyrics

While at first glance the lyrics may not seem to bear much relation to Shenmue, I believe this song was written specifically for the anime as there a few definite, though subtle, connections that exist within. 

Let's take a closer look.

"Hesitating before the criminals"
The lyrics open with a mention of "criminals" in the first line, which is rather general but but in the world of Shenmue the most likely suspects are the members of Lan Di's dark organization. When we have moved to the next line, we will see a hint to the location of Ryo's home town of Yokosuka, and so this line would fit a description of the confusion and uncertainty felt by the 18-year old Ryo when he enters the Hazuki Dojo and encounters Lan Di and his men.

Ryo enters the Hazuki Dojo (Episode One)

"Rock 'n' Roll, thrown down the drain"
While the word usage is not obvious in the English translation, the word dobu in the Japanese lyrics is a subtle reference to Ryo's neighborhood of Dobuita, with dobu meaning a ditch or drain. "Rock 'n' roll" suggests the jazz bars scattered around the entertainment district, and the metaphor of "thrown down the drain" paints a picture of the carefree life Ryo once knew now being gone for good.

"Down your drink, and the world spins forever in your mind."
Continuing the metaphor, the mention of drinking ties in to the entertainment district suggested by the previous line - although admittedly the link is weak. Also, a note on the reason for the English word "ever" in the Japanese line: this may have been included more for rhyming effect with the sound immediately before.

"Searching for Lucy in the sky"
Knowing the artist to be a fan of the Beatles, as mentioned above in his profile, this line is likely to be a nod to the Beatles' fantastical 1967 song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds". The line here captures Ryo's feeling of searching for something that seems out of reach.

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, by the Beatles

"It's a mix of dream and reality."
This line is another that can be interpreted in several ways; it may sum up Ryo's feeling of bewilderment at his situation he has been thrown into, as he struggles with the accusation of his father being a murderer, and his grief at his father's death

"In a crumbling room, a sound rings out."
This line seems to be foreshadowing a later part in the story (as seen in the game), where Ryo explores the derelict buildings of Kowloon. There he spars with a master in a darkened room and must use his non-visual senses to react.
Shenmue II: Ryo must spar in the darkness

"If you're lacking something, follow the sound of clapping."
Connecting with the previous line, the first part is an echo of the words we hear from Ryo's strict father Iwao: in the first episode we see him telling Ryo "You are lacking" and thus this line is written as if Iwao is advising Ryo in his mind, for the journey ahead.
Iwao Hazuki to Ryo in the anime: "You are lacking. Keep that in mind."

The phrase in the second part, "follow the sound of clapping" is from a Japanese children's game similar to tag where the player playing the role of an ogre wears a blindfold and the ones running away clap their hands call to the ogre, who chases after them based on the sound clues they give. This nicely fits with the scenario of sparring in the darkness.
"Follow the sound of clapping" is a reference to a Japanese children's game

The next section begins with a jump of energy in the song. Let's take the next two lines together:

"I've got to know, I've got to catch hold of the past and the future whirling away"
The speaker here is likely to be Ryo himself.

He mentions the past, which I think pairs with "I've got to know": he needs to find out whether the accusation of what his father did in the past is true or not.

He also speaks of the future and that he has "got to catch hold": Ryo is determined to hunt down Lan Di and catch hold of the man who murdered Iwao.

Both the past and future are said to be "whirling away" - in Japanese, the word used is "fleeing" - which paints a picture of the pressure and enormity of the task he has set for himself.

"Have your forgotten? You promised yourself."
The viewpoint now changes again to the words of someone addressing Ryo - or perhaps this is still Ryo, talking to himself - with a reminder to keep the promise he has made to himself and not get distracted (in the games at least, capsule toys and arcade games are among the many potential distractions!). The promise here is presumably the vow Ryo has made to himself to find out the truth about his father's past.

"You were betrayed."

The "ne" at the end of the Japanese line adds a faint meaning of "weren't you?" as if in sympathy. But what betrayal might this be talking about - the betrayal Ryo feels that that the life he thought to be certain and stable has been turned upside down, or a literal betrayal that occurs in the story?

"No looking back. Don't give up."

Ryo is a determined character who continues forward in the face of adversity. Let's continue to read on for a clue as to who might be offering these words of encouragement.

The next two lines are linked together:

"Seeing you clinging on in desperation, they laugh at you and called you a fool."
This sentence may be another reference to Ryo's encounter with Lan Di at the Hazuki Dojo where Ryo cradles his dying father in his arms ("clinging on in desperation") , under the contemptuous gaze of the killer and his black-suited accomplices ("they laugh at you and called you a fool").
Ryo  face-to-face with his father's death (Episode 1)

"But you're my greatest hero!"
This line is a puzzle but also a clue as to which character might be showing their support for Ryo.

One point to note is that the Japanese line uses the word niisama, which is a somewhat formal way of saying "elder brother", and could be either used literally or towards someone who is like an elder brother to the speaker. Hence, this suggests the speaker is someone who is younger than Ryo and has a close relationship with him.

The person with a close brother-like relationship that first comes to mind is Fukuhara-san, who lives at the Hazuki residence along with Ryo. He also witnessed Lan Di's visit to the Dojo - and ended up being tossed out through its doors. However his character's age is 26 years old: quite a bit older than the 18-year old Ryo, rather than the other way around.

Other characters from the story that look up to Ryo and might see him as an elder brother role include Megumi Mishima (who cares for the kitten at the neighborhood Yamanose Shrine - but is a minor character in the game and who has not been seen in the anime so far) and Fang-mei at Man Mo Temple, who Ryo meets later in the story.

Fukuhara-san, Megumi and Fang-mei

What is your take on who might be speaking this line?

"Hey, you!"

Next is a phrase that doesn't give too much away in English, but reveals more in the Japanese which uses the word anta (meaning "you"), an abbreviation of the usual form of the word anata, giving it a rather abrupt or impolite tone that indicates a change of speaker from the lines immediately before.

In fact, the use of anta is characteristic of the speech style of someone that Ryo will be meeting later in the story once in Hong Kong: the straight-speaking Joy. She uses this form of the word when they run into each other (literally, as she swerves to avoid him on her motorcycle) for the first time. 

This line may even turn out to be a direct quote from Joy, in the anime version of this encounter.

Shenmue II: when Ryo meets Joy in the game, she also addresses him with anta: "Watch where you're going!"

"Are you really alive..? Not dead?"
This final line sounds quite ominous. However it may in fact be an amusing line if we take it as a literal meaning: staying with the hypothesis that the speaker is Joy, she may have knocked Ryo down with her motorbike and is asking if he is okay.

About the Song's Name

This song has the unusual title of "UNDEAD-NOID". The word "undead" may tie in to the final line of the song which asks "Are you really alive..?". "Noid" does not have any established meaning in Japanese that I know of, although there are examples where it is used a shortened form of the word "humanoid". In any case, it serves to give the song a surreal feeling. I hope we will hear a comment from the artist on the true meaning of the song's name, as well as the lyrics, in future.

Final Comment

I hope you enjoyed this best-guess transcription and interpretation of the lyrics of the Shenmue The Animation opening theme song. While at first they appear to be a rather unrelated collection of words and phrases - and, indeed, it is likely that not all the lines have a deeper meaning - certain clues and references suggest that it has been crafted to reflect the world of Shenmue.

If I discover any updates in regards to the lyrics or their meanings, I will add updates into this post.

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