If you think you are a patient person, you may be able to learn a thing or two from fans of the classic Sega Dreamcast game Shenmue. Conceived and directed by legendary video game developer Yu Suzuki, Shenmue was released to the public in 2000 to critical praise and good (but not great sales). A year later Shenmue II was released in Japan and Europe on the Sega Dreamcast while Americans would receive the game on the Microsoft Xbox.
It would be more than ten years before Shenmue III would be announced as a Kickstarter project and then the game itself wouldn’t be released until 2019. For those keeping count, that means Shenmue fans waited roughly 18 years for a sequel to their favorite game. If that isn’t true patience, it’s hard to say what is. While those same fans are eagerly awaiting the announcement of a fourth game in the series, they were treated to something unexpected via Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim and Crunchyroll: an anime adaptation appropriately called Shenmue: The Animation. Fans of the franchise took to the anime adaptation quite well while non-gamers who had never played the games got to see what all the fuss was about. It ultimately brought up a major question: could the anime finish the Shenmue story should Yu Suzuki not get a chance to finish the video games?
Development Hell for Shenmue III
Shenmue III is notorious for the length of time it spent in Development Hell. The first two games in the series were costly endeavors for Sega, who spent a reported $70 million for the games. While there is some debate on whether or not the sales of the games (and later merchandise) recouped those costs, the reality is that they were too expensive for Sega to justify spending money on a third installment (especially since Shenmue was greenlit in the first place to sell Sega Dreamcast consoles, a market they decided to exit altogether).
Yu Suzuki eventually made a deal with Sega and Sony that the game would be made independently if he could raise some of the money himself. This was done in the form of a Kickstarter project, where the $2 million dollar goal was hit in under seven hours (a new record for the site). He would ultimately raise over $6 million dollars and the game would be completed four years later and released on November 19, 2019.
While the game itself received mixed reviews and sales upon release, an HD rerelease of the first two games from Sega was considered a financial hit, and Shenmue was considered a ‘franchise’ once again under these developments. During this time period, an anime adaptation was planned as a co-production between Crunchyroll and Adult Swim (both of whom were owned by Warner Media, LLC at the time).
The Anime is a Hit
Production of the anime wrapped, and on February 6, 2022, it aired on Cartoon Network and Tokyo MX. Crunchyroll would stream the series on their site in America. According to Adult Swim executive Jason DeMarco, the series was a hit for the network, and a second season was planned. Yu Suzuki was heavily involved in all aspects of the production and would frequently tweet about how happy he was with the process of the show.
Critically the show was also a hit, as fans of the games loved reliving the story of Shenmue (without having to play the game itself), and people who never played the games were engaged with the story of a boy seeking revenge for his father’s death. Some even preferred the anime to the game because the story moved at a smoother pace, and new fans of the franchise were won over as a result of the anime. Not only was a second season a logical thing to do, but it was seen as a potential way to finish the Shenmue story should a Shenmue IV (and beyond) not materialize.
The Uncertain Future
Sadly, Ryo’s journey for revenge is just as difficult in the real world as it is in the games themselves. Even though a second season was all set to go, due to company restructuring at the newly formed Warner Bros. Discovery, CEO David Zaslav has been cutting costs wherever he could as he prepares to guide the company towards a (hopefully) bright future. As a result, Shenmue: The Animation was confirmed to be canceled on September 29, 2022, by Jason DeMarco, and removed from the Adult Swim website.
As of the time of this writing, this means that Shenmue: The Animation will not be finishing the Shenmue story. Fans shouldn’t let this news get them down too much. If nothing else, this series proves that – like the immortal phoenix that features so prominently in the franchise – rising from the ashes is a franchise trademark by this point. While it took 18 years for Shenmue III to be released, so too could the anime eventually come back. There is at least one more game to adapt, and Yu Suzuki has the rest of the story mapped out. Right now, both the game and the anime are in a state of limbo, but Shenmue fans are loyal and (more importantly) very patient.
While the official answer is that Shenmue: The Animation will not be finishing Ryo’s story if Shenmue IV doesn’t happen, there is a lot of reason to hope that at some point the anime will resume production. It was successful enough to justify a second season and only didn’t go through because of a company restructuring. Down the line, once the dust settles, it wouldn’t be too surprising if some other company wanted to pick up the anime and continue with it. You know: just like what happened with the games.
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