Sunday, 8 October 2017

The Black Car

Even though it's only briefly on screen, the black car is one of the very first things you see in the game and it plays an important role in the early phase of Ryo's investigation.

But what make and model could it be? What would a ruthless criminal from a very powerful orginization from China be driven around in while in Japan?

Shenmue was groundbreaking by using officially licensed real life brands for everyday objects like Ryo's watch, bag and of course the Japanese only Coca-Cola vending machines.
But even they couldn't license a specific car for just such a short scene like that. However, we can still search for something that resembles the car in the game, something that clearly influenced it's design.

If you look at the car and beyound it's shiny pitch black coat of paint you'll notice that it's a four-door sedan/saloon luxury car. The front hat a pretty distinct look to it with it's massive chrome grille, round headlights encased in a square frame and seperate turn indicators underneath them.

The first car that might come to mind of many people would be a certain British super luxury brand, simply because their cars are famous for featuring such a massive grille in their design.

Take a look at this Rolls-Royce Camargue from 1982

The aforementioned features of the black car in Shenmue can all be found in a pretty similar fashion on the front of this vehicle. But front is the key word, because only that matches.
The two-door body style definately isn't a match at all and the four-door Rolls-Royce's never have this turn indicator arrangement we're after.

There is another brand that was famous for big chrome grilles and also known for it's luxury cars.

A Mercedes-Benz W123 from the late 1970's in the perfect color

This Mercedes, wich can now be considered an E-Class, only had round headlights for it's earliest years and for smaller engines later until all of them eventually got the more well known rectangular ones (expect for the differently styled US spec cars).

Because the rectangular ones are so much more common this one almost went over my head.
It is undeniably pretty similar in appearance to the car in the game. Not as much as the Rolls-Royce but on the other hand it was available as a four-door and mainly produced in that style.
They were made for right hand drive markets with this look and some may have found their way to Japan somehow, but to my admittedly vague knowledge of their market situation and preferences the brand only became really popular with "them" in later years. 

I think that these are not the kinds of models the Chiyoumen would pick, even with all the wealth and influence they undoubtedly have. Those cars are just that bit too outlandish to drive around in Japan. I think they'd want something a little bit more low-key. And since I very much assume they didn't take anything with them they would just pick up something on-site.
So let me bring the attention to Japanese cars now.

This is a Nissan Bluebird 810, wich was made between 1976-1979

It still has the round headlamps and also the indicator layout and a prominent vertical grille.
The body style is matching the car in Shenmue more closely aswell. It is however a good bit too swoopy and sporty looking and the typical Japanese mirrors also don't match the game's model. It was also released to western markets as the Datsun 810 where it had an even more similar looking grille and normal mirrors but we wanted to focus strictly on JDM vehicles, right? Also, I think that a car that's about 10 years old isn't quite up to the standards of Lan Di or his black suits.

So I have one more car left to show and I personally think that it's the most likely thing they would use in a real life scenario, taking the rough design traits that the game sets as a basis.

Introducing the Mitsubishi Debonair V, freshly released from the factory just "this year"

That of course refers to a 1986 introduction of this model, making it a brand new vehicle around the events of Shenmue. While it doesn't have the headlight/indicator traits anymore it definately gains extra points for its pretty fitting chrome grill, that easily gives it a greater resemblence than the Nissan. It also has a much more angular and boxy shape with regular mirrors, getting closer and closer to Shenmue's car. If you look very hard at the screenshot you'll see that the wheels and even the door handles look more similar in design than anything before. Also, unlike the other examples this isn't a medium size mid-range car but the top of the line flagship model, making it the ideal choice between looking important and not looking too suspicious.

This was definaltey a fun little research project for me. I'm pretty good when it comes to recognition of car brands and models but of course that didn't expand to Japanese luxury cars from the mid eighties, so I had to dig quite a bit to come up with something.
There might very well be more models wich are an even better match that I just didn't find.

I always wondered if the developers and designers took something from the real world and put it in the game. But at the end of the day it's just a combination of various elements from different cars to have something that represents a very upmarker luxury vehicle from that era.
Something that all game designers resort to, it they can't or won't afford a real license.


  1. Very well written and researched Bluemue, I may not comment every time but always check out your blog as it's a great read. Please keep up the fantastic work mate

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