Rather unfortunate when the worsts parts of something are the first impression and the final impressions. When I saw Ryo defeat Chai in the dojo within the first episode, I was pretty quick to call it the worst episode and as I went through the rest, it seemed very likely it would stay that way. Especially once we got to Shenmue 2, the pacing seemed to slow down, characters got interesting expansions and the world actually got to breath.
But then Guilin just happened.
If I were to summarise this anime in a simple sentence, it's this. The anime is always 2 steps away from being amazing. If they refocused their efforts a little elsewhere and knew which corners to cut, you'd have a work of brilliance. But instead, what kept happening was the anime would be pulling the right moves for a solid 5 minutes and then make an unfortunate misstep, whether it be speedrunning a battle or skipping a character moment altogether. Everyone bitched about the underwhelming Baihu encounter last episode, but I think that was the perfect summary of this show. It gets really good and then it cocks it a little, rinse and repeat.
The most obvious rebuttal for Guilin's ruining here will be that there wasn't enough time to do it justice, to which I'd give the even more obvious reply of THEN DON'T SHOW IT! Everyone who played Shenmue 2 for the first time thought Dou Niu was the final part of the game anyway. By every metric, it can pass for a closer and even if this show won't get a second season that does Guilin properly, it's better than taking out all the value altogether.
It seems a lot of the positivity for this anime comes mostly from the fact that more people might become Shenmue fans. Because this IP's status is always concerning, considering how long it took for Shenmue 3 to release and how likely Shenmue 4's existence is looking, if more people can become Shenmue fans and keep the brand alive, the anime's quality doesn't have to be amazing. I have a simple question. Could you imagine any first time viewer watching this anime and loving the Guilin section? If it were me, I wouldn't even remember it. Stark contrast to everyone who played it. Very similar in fact to the rescuing Nozomi segment of Shenmue 1, where you're desperately searching for a method of reaching her that isn't the bus. Highlight of the first game, ain't nobody gonna remember that from the anime.
The exact moment I knew I was gonna get annoyed was when Ryo saw the goat in danger and then it cut to a full body shot of Shenhua. Let us remind ourselves this is the mysterious girl that is intriguingly build up over the course of the story up until that point, even appearing on goddamn Yokosuka chocolate. When you get to the scene that reveals her, build it up! Cut to her hat first, show a shot of her running legs, absolutely anything other than just a long shot of her motionless body. Ya seen the recent Batman movie? Imagine if instead of the first 10 minutes of buildup, the opening 30 seconds was a thug going, "Yo, what's that over there?" And then the camera just casually showed Batman standing still like, "Howdy, I'm Batman, I suppose."
It feels only more annoying when I realise they could have given Guilin at least another 2 minutes if they stuck to the much more powerful death stare Ryo and Lan Di share at the end of Kowloon. While the fight made Lan Di appearance powerful, it came at the cost of making him less of a phantom that always slips through your fingers, which to me was not a worthy sacrifice. Didn't help that the fight automatically made the Dou Niu battle less impactful and ultimately... fine, acceptable even. But similar to the highlight in gaming that was the original?
Boyo, I'm heated. This mini-essay of mine is only gonna paint the picture that I hated this adaptation, when in reality, I'd give it probably a strong 6 (which for me, equates to good). My irritations weren't that high or consistent, I was even more forgiving in certain aspects than other folks were. Certain characters, I might say I like more than in the games. I didn't even hate this episode altogether, but the last 7 minutes are so souring that it's like I'm being demanded to air out my frustrations all at once.