Back in 1999, Sega released the first Shenmue, an action-adventure game for the Dreamcast console created by famed director Yu Suzuki (Virtua Fighter, OutRun). The game, which told the story of martial arts student Ryo Hazuki as he investigated his father’s murder, was praised for its large, open-world gameplay and real-time day/night cycle. Shenmue built up a cult following, especially among Sega fans, and two more sequels were made. Now Sega is aiming to leverage the IP in the world of anime, with Suzuki executive producing Shenmue the Animation.
The series, which premiered on February 5th on Crunchyroll and Adult Swim, contains 13 episodes and features most of the same voice actors reprising their roles from the games. Chikara Sakurai, who was behind the second season of popular anime One Punch Man, is directing Shenmue, which also features updated original character designs from Udaka. As Collider points out, the series also marks another collaboration between Crunchyroll and Adult Swim, who have partnered previously on Blade Runner: Black Lotus and Fena: Pirate Princess.
Anime adaptations of popular IP, especially video games, are proving to be fertile ground for streaming platforms. Netflix has been especially assertive in that area, providing its subscribers with anime like Castlevania, The Witcher, Arcane, Dragon’s Dogma, Devil May Cry, Dota, and more. Shenmue may not have quite the same appeal as some of those IP, especially given that it’s over two decades old, but a well crafted anime can bring fans into the universe even if they never played the games. Riot’s Arcane, for example, was watched (and praised) by many viewers who had never experienced League of Legends.
Shenmue stands a good chance of success because of Sakurai’s pedigree and for the simple fact that anime viewers dip into gaming culture more than almost any other group. Interpret’s Animeasure reveals that anime viewers across the globe are far more likely to play video games and watch game-related content than non-viewers. In the US alone, 68% of anime viewers state playing video games on a console/PC weekly compared to 34% of non-viewers. 61% of anime viewers in the US also report watching game-related streams and videos.