You don’t understand Ryo and Lan Di’s rivalry

I’ve been in a Shenmue mood lately and sadly it hasn’t been for any good reason. At the time of writing this it was just informally announced that the Shenmue anime wouldn’t be getting a second season on Adult Swim. This has understandably been disappointing for many Shenmue fans as they hoped the story would be finished in anime form as its unlikely we will be getting a 4th Shenmue game. While I am also upset over this, there’s another reason I mourn the Shenmue anime not getting a second season. Because we will not be getting an adaptation of Shenmue 3 many people will be unable to fully appreciate the series main villain: Lan Di.

Lan Di is a very interesting antagonist, he has only appeared in four scenes throughout the entire series and you can count the amount of spoken lines he has on one hand, however despite this Shenmue fans have put him on a pedestal and want nothing more than a full out confrontation between him and Ryo. A big part of this is how Ryo himself treats Lan Di, throughout the entire series we see an almost inhuman determination from Ryo to track down the man who killed his father and get revenge.

And in this regard it’s hard not to side with him. Who doesn’t love a character so determined to track down their father’s killer that they’ll cross entire continents and train in any martial arts style they can just to become powerful enough to face him. 

Here’s the catch though, while I did describe Ryo with that paragraph, every word of it applies to another character: Lan Di himself.

As I brought up in the intro to this article, Shenmue 3 gives us a vital detail about Lan Di. Lan Di’s real name is Zhao Lonsun and he was the son of a man known as Zhao Sunming. Why is this important? Because of the opening cutscene of Shenmue 1

Just like Ryo, Lan Di crossed the earth just to confront the man who killed his father. While Ryo and everyone else doubts what Lan Di says is true, that frankly doesn’t matter, because Lan Di clearly believes it. The zoom in on his eyes as he looks at Ryo’s father is no lie, Lan Di despises this man.

This one detail turns the death of Ryo’s father at Lan Di’s hands from the catalyst of the series into a cycle of revenge. Even the death glare that Lan Di gives Ryo’s father is similar to glares Ryo himself gives throughout the series. Now that Lan Di’s own journey parallels Ryo’s it puts him into a new light as a worse case scenario for how Ryo’s journey can end.

With this parallel in mind, let us now reexamine Shenmue 2 and Ryo’s journey there. Like in Shenmue 1, Ryo has absolutely nothing on his mind other than hunting down Lan Di and killing him. To this end he seeks the teachings of master Xiuying Hong.

Xiuying however disapproves of Ryo’s aspirations for revenge and throughout the game attempts to guide him toward a better path, unfortunately though Ryo’s friend/rival/annoyance Ren pushes him toward chasing Lan Di all the way to Kowloon and away from Xiuying’s guidance.

Despite the fact that this is a bad move, Ryo continues to chase after Lan Di all over China and Hong Kong. Shenmue fans continue to cheer Ryo on as he marches on this path of revenge, but should we? When Xiuying and Ren played the roles of the angel and devil on his shoulders, Ryo sided with his devil. Is him continuing to hunt down Lan Di really a good thing? Will this thirst for revenge make Ryo seek after more power just to kill a man? Will Ryo become more like Lan Di?

Questions like this would likely be in the players’ minds more often if not for the fact that we had to wait twenty whole years between Shenmue 2 and 3. A lot of the story’s themes can exit your head if you wait that long between entries.

This leads us to the confrontation between Ryo and Lan Di in Shenmue 3, Ryo is practically boiling with rage as he sees Lan Di and his goons, the two goons don’t even get a boss fight. Ryo is so determined to kill Lan Di that he takes care of both of them effortlessly in a cutscene. Nothing is standing between him and Lan Di.

Lan Di then proceeds to beat Ryo with a single hand. Ryo’s one year of revenge seeking is nothing compared to a man who spent most of his life in this hatred. Many Shenmue fans were mad that Ryo was unable to land a single hit against Lan Di. They waited nearly 2 decades for this confrontation only for their protagonist to fail. From the perspective of a gamer waiting for a new game this disappointment is understandable. However, in-story Ryo’s failure makes perfect sense.

Ryo listened to the devil on his shoulder and pursued a path of revenge and hatred. There were only two ways this path would end; with failure or going down the same path that Lan Di did. Ryo’s failure here is a blessing, a second chance to rethink his path alongside Shenhua and Ren. 

I do not believe this franchise will end with Ryo killing Lan Di and returning home. There will eventually be a final confrontation between the two where Ryo will win, but I doubt he will kill him. Personally I don’t even think Lan Di will be the final boss of the franchise as his companions are starting to betray and try to usurp him. 

At this point though, only Yu Suzuki knows and unfortunately with both Shenmue 3 bombing and the anime being canceled he may forever be the only person who knows. The future of the Shenmue franchise looks grim, but I truly hope that it’s able to continue in some way or form.

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