Kiryu as seen in Yakuza 6
|First game||Yakuza (2005)|
|Portrayed by||Masakatsu Funaki (Like a Dragon: Prologue)|
Kazuki Kitamura (Like a Dragon)
Darryl Kurylo (Yakuza)
Kazuma Kiryu (桐生 一馬 Kiryū Kazuma) is a fictional character and the main protagonist in Sega's action-adventure Japanese role-playing game series Yakuza. Kiryu is a yakuza who takes the blame for his boss' death to protect his best friend, resulting in his expulsion from the clan and a ten-year stay in prison. After leaving prison, Kiryu realizes the crime world has changed and fights against the new threats in his life. He is voiced by Takaya Kuroda in Japanese and by Darryl Kurylo in the English version of the first game.
Kiryu was created to appeal to a broad audience, and was the series' playable character during its first three games. Critical reception to Kiryu has been generally positive, and he is often considered a PlayStation mascot. Several have praised how despite him identifying as a yakuza, Kiryu stood out because of his kindness and character development across the series' story. On the other hand, he has also been viewed as a somewhat typical gaming protagonist.
Creation and development
In creating Kazuma Kiryu, there were some issues regarding how realistic was his position and age. Writer Hasei Seishu told the staff the positions were too high for his age and thus Kiryu's age was revised. When describing Kiryu, the staff found his position would be of the noble samurai type who would often protect others. According to Sega producer Toshihiro Nagoshi, dragons have a strong image about them, and that when players sample it, they would, as the title suggests, get a feel for the strength and manliness of the main character. When the spin-off Yakuza Kenzan was released, he commented that the tale of Kazuma Kiryu had yet to be completed. As a result, he had Kiryu and Haruka trying to live a "more 'human' life" throughout Yakuza 3. For this game Toshihiro Nagoshi stated Kiryu was highly different from an iconic hero as a result of the way he enjoys his life. Furthermore, Nagoshi said this difference is shown across the series. Nagoshi thanked staff member Yokoyama that the team could further develop Kiryu's appeal across the franchise. The inclusion of Kiryu running an orphanage for Yakuza 3 was enjoyed by Yokoyama despite rewriting this subplot multiple times. Originally, Kiryu was meant to go to prison once again but because it was going to be obvious they changed his story in this game. Due to Kiryu taking care of the orphans, Yokoyama feared the character became too kind. Nogashi was impressed by Kiryu's Japanese voice actor, Takaya Kuroda, due to how he sang in the music minigame. Another staff member, Sato, was impressed by the karaoke game as it helped to show a fun side of Kiryu.
English voice actor Darryl Kurylo said that he wanted to sound as good as possible after being impressed by the characterization of Kiryu and the lines he had to give. However, he regrets some lines were lost in translation of the original game. Nevertheless, Kurylo enjoyed the experience to the point of playing the game multiple times alongside his son. In order to fit the lipsyncing from the original Japanese game, Kurylo often had to say a line in different styles. Kurylo still found more fun when doing the yells for the fight scenes.
Across all these games, the development team developed a sturdy understanding of his personality, and there was a lot of effort put into making the character attractive to the audiences as a result of being the only playable character. By Yakuza 4, Kiryu was seen as "indestructible" by the staff, and as a result, he was made the last character playable in the game, following three new characters that stood out thanks to their different traits. In localizing the games, the character was often referred to by his first name, but by Yakuza 4, producer Yasuhiro Noguchi made him most commonly called Kiryu in an attempt to make him fit with the other main characters also called by their last names. For Yakuza 5, while once again there were other protagonists alongside Kiryu, a new one, Haruka, was added as playable for the first time in order to make her character arc connect with the role of Kiryu and the other characters. Kiryu was made into a taxi driver but in a new city where he is not known by other people by the staff as they thought it would be the best choice for him.
For the prequel Yakuza 0 Sega wanted to make Majima stand out from the Kiryu as in this title the two share the role of protagonists. Sega described Kiryu as a "straight man trait – tough but honorable and keeps to himself a bit" implying there are not too many difficulties in writing him. Through this game and the remake of the first game, Kiwami, the relationship between Kiryu and Majima becomes more explored in contrast to the initial game of the franchise, most notably because of the changes made to Majima's characterization and the way he sees Kiryu's actions while being both friends and enemies at the same time. Yakuza 0 also served as a story of Kiryu that Sega wanted players to know before reaching Yakuza 6. Kiryu's traits in Yakuza 0 were specifically changed to a "loose-cannon hot-head" to the point long time fans would be surprised by his actions. However, chief Masayoshi Yokoyama stated the character would mature across the storyline. Despite Kiryu's fame, Sato noted that players ended up enjoying Majima far more in the franchise.
During development of Yakuza 4, the staff started wondering how would they end Kiryu's story as, unlike other video game characters, he did not possess supernatural powers. They compared the character with James Bond whose actor changed multiple times across his movies. Describing him as "a super-cool and masculine guy, but since he's a well-established character with a specific personality, there are things that he would and wouldn't do" the team decided he would need a successor who would bring the staff more creativity to work with. In late 2016, Nagoshi claimed he had been doing Kazuma's story for nearly a decade, stating "it had its pros and cons". He concluded saying "I also think that's a way to give back to Kazuma Kiryu. Sooner or later, I want to announce something different." In April 2017 Sega confirmed that while Yakuza 6 will end Kiryu's story, the series will still go on. Deciding to bring the last tale Kiryu with Yakuza 6, the staff wanted to do the game as appealing as possible. The game focuses on the family relationship between Kiryu and Haruka after years of being separated.
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Kiryu is a famous member of the Tojo clan, who earned the nickname of "the Dragon of Dojima" (堂島の龍 Dōjima no Ryū). Early in the first game he was planning on starting his own subsidiary group until he takes the blame for the murder of his boss, Sohei Dojima, to protect his best friend, Akira Nishikiyama, and is imprisoned for ten years. After his release, Kiryu returns to his home town, Kamurocho, but due to his patricide he is marked for death by the entire yakuza community. Kiryu then learns that 10 billion yen has been stolen from the Tojo Clan. Soon after he meets a young girl called Haruka, whom seemingly every criminal group in the country is after. With help of detective Date, Kiryu manages to learn the truth of the money. Upon reuniting with Yumi, his childhood love and Haruka's mother he is confronted by Kyohei Jingu, Haruka's father, and the true owner of the money. After defeating Jingu, Kiryu is reunited with his old friend Nishiki. The two fight, with Kiryu coming out victorious. Jingu tries to shoot Kiryu but Yumi takes the bullet for him. Nishikiyama then kills himself with Jingu. After Yumi dies in Kiryu's arms, Kiryu subsequently decides to start a new, honest life with Haruka.
In Yakuza 2, the fifth Chairman of the Tojo Clan, Yukio Terada, is assassinated and Kazuma Kiryu wants Sohei Dojima's son Daigo to take the clan's leadership and prevent an upcoming yakuza families war. While attempting to broker a peace deal between the Tojo and the Omi, Daigo and Jin Goda, Omi chairman, are kidnapped by Ryuji Goda, Jin's adopted son. Ryuji, through working with the Jingweon mafia, attempts to destroy Kamurocho and Kiryu to be the only dragon in Japan. Kiryu is put under the protective custody of a female detective called Kaoru Sayama, who uses him to get close to the Tojo to discover her past. Eventually, Kiryu and Ryuji fight atop Kamurocho Hills. Kiryu is victorious, but Yukio Terada appears, revealing that he faked his own death to start a war and is really a Jingweon survivor. Terada is also defeated, but begs Kiryu to trust him. After Jin Goda, Takashima and Terada are dead, Kiryu and Ryuji have a final showdown, which Kiryu wins. A bomb Terada had triggered, but secretly removed the fuse from, fails to detonate, saving Kiryu and Kaoru's lives.
For Yakuza 3 Kiryu leaves Kamurocho for Okinawa, where he now runs the Sunshine Orphanage. There he raises nine children, including Haruka Sawamura. He is caught up in a government plot when Sunshine's land is in the way of a proposed resort.
During Yakuza 4, Kiryu continues to run the orphanage. However, he is once again involved in the matters back in Kamurocho, having found Saejima washed ashore one day. Saejima tells him a man called Hamazaki told him to find Kiryu. Some time after Saejima leaves, Hamazaki washes ashore. After meeting up with Yasuko, Hamazaki sends the two on ahead to Kamurocho. There Kiryu leaves Yasuko at New Serena, but returns to find her missing after witness Goro Majima being arrested and dragged away from Millennium Tower to police patrol cars. He chases her into the sewers, where Tanimura and Akiyama mistake him for an Ueno Seiwa Clan member, and attack. After defeating them Kiryu chases Yasuko to the roof, where he finds her and Saejima bound and gagged by Katsuragi. During the events that follow Yasuko is shot and kills Katsuragi before dying herself. Kiryu later fights Daigo on top of the Millennium Tower.
In Yakuza 5, Kiryu has left the orphanage in Okinawa and becomes a taxi driver in Fukuoka under a false identity.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life
In Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, ex-idol and daughter figure to series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu, Haruka Sawamura, is involved in a mysterious hit-and-run. Finding out who is responsible takes Kiryu reluctantly back into the extra-judicial underbelly of Japan — Kamurocho, as well as a small fishing town near Hiroshima called Onomichi. Yakuza 6 is the final chapter in Kiryu's saga and closes out his story.
Seven years prior to the events of the first game, Kiryu is framed for killing a civilian during a routine debt collection and must find the true killer before his family is forced to take responsibility on his behalf. While he attempts to uncover the mysteries behind the murder, he becomes entangled in a ruthless real estate war.
Spinoffs and other appearances
During the events of the zombie spinoff Yakuza: Dead Souls, he returns to Kamurocho after Haruka is kidnapped by a mysterious man. In the film adaptation Like a Dragon: Prologue, he is portrayed by Masakatsu Funaki. This film serves as a prequel of the first Yakuza game describing Kiryu's youth where he meets recurring characters from the series. As he grows up, Kiryu starts desiring to form his own group, but gives up on this when his girlfriend is sexually assaulted and he decides to take the blame for killing the person to protect Nishikiyama. In the film, Like a Dragon, an adaptation of the first Yakuza game, he is portrayed by Kazuki Kitamura. In the Yakuza stage show, he is portrayed by Eiji Takigawa.
Outside the Yakuza series, Kiryu appears as a guest character in Binary Domain through an unlockable code and Everybody's Golf 6 through downloadable content. His character is also used as an avatar in the PlayStation Vita version of Power Smash 4. He is also a playable in Project X Zone 2 alongside Majima. In Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise, a Yakuza spinoff based on Fist of the North Star, Kiryu appears as a skin for Kenshiro via downloadable content.
Critical reception to Kiryu's character has been generally positive. Juan Castro from IGN praised him as an appealing character noting, both his violent traits as well as his kindness. They further noted that while being a "badass", he stands out thanks to his kindness. The same website listed him as a notorious anti-hero as he "walks a fine line between good and bad." Cheat Code Central expressed similar comments noting that despite the character's occupation, he is so kind he takes the blame of Dojima's death in the start of the first game resulting in the expulsion from his family. Eurogamer similarly commented that "Despite all the violence, Kazuma is quite a personable bloke, whose love for his friends sees him banged up for ten years over a murder his "brother" Nishiki committed." VideoGamer.com's Wesley Yin-Poole also shared similar commenting adding that " Kazuma isn't averse to the odd spot of humanitarian work either - he's just a big softy really." Greg Orlando from the magazine Newtype found him entertaining due to multiple actions he does across the series. When reviewing Yakuza 3, Sam Marchello from RPGamer noted the character's notable development comparing his life with the Yakuza to the orphans. Greg Miller from IGN noted how developers wanted players to connect to Kiryu's side in Yakuza 3 as a result of being his motivation, resulting in several cutscenes and minigames which left him mixed feelings. Anthony John Agnello from GamesRadar praised Kiryu's initial appearance alongside his personality. Anime News Network writer Dustin Bailey praised Kiryu's role in Yakuza 0 saying that while in most of the games he was portrayed as a "saintly Superman", in the prequel he enjoyed seeing the character involved in darker scenarios. As a result, he found the PlayStation 3 Yakuza games less interesting due to a focus on Kiryu's struggle for a peaceful life, but, conversely, found Yakuza 5 to be more unique due to its inclusion of bizarre enemies for Kiryu to fight, most notably a bear. Matt Kim from US Gamer said Kiryu was his favorite paternal figure in gaming due to how caring he is to Haruka and to people in general despite his connections with the yakuza. Push Square listed him as one of the best characters seen in PlayStation games based on his skills in combat and sense of justice.
On a more critical view, Greg Kasavin from GameSpot stated that while Kiryu often resorts to profanity "he's your prototypical hero taking on your prototypical villains." 1UP.com called him "a hard-boiled thug" comparing him with characters like Niko and Alex Mercer due to his inhuman powers. They further noted that his powers can be "ridiculous." Real life yakuza Midoriyama commented on the character during a review of the third game that "Kiryu is the way yakuza used to be. We kept the streets clean. People liked us. We didn't bother ordinary citizens. We respected our bosses. Now, guys like that only exist in video games." In a Famitsu poll from 2010, Kiryu was voted as the eleventh best video game character. In a popularity poll from 2018 by Sega, Kiryu took the 2nd position behind Goro Majima. Because Yakuza has a long running history of being PlayStation exclusive, Kazuma Kiryu is often recognized as a PlayStation mascot. In a retrospective of the series, GameSpot compared Kiryu with Michael Corleone, the protagonist of the novel The Godfather by Mario Puzo. GameSpot noted that while Kiryu was featured with pacifistic traits as he wishes to have a peaceful life with Haruka, he still has violent traits as he has no problems with beating up enemies across the series. In addition to Kiryu's story, the site also commented on how well developed were from clunky to more unique as latter games in the franchise included new characters with different fighting styles. For the review of Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, UK Anime Network believed Sega managed to close Kiryu's story in an appealing despite his interactions with Haruto, an infant Kiryu looks after across the game.
In promoting Kai Razor and Yakuza: Dead Souls, Kiryu's image was used in the razor. Kiryu also uses such razor during a scene from Of the End. Sega also sponsored a contest where the winner would get Kiryu's $9000 tattoo. The winner was Fari Salievski. The process took sixth months to complete. Salivevski commented "Well, my nickname is now "The Dragon"... Whilst in Thailand, I had people coming up to me and taking photos, other cam round wondering what all the fuss was about thinking I am some kind of celebrity. I could not stop laughing! my Facebook page gets a lot of comments too."
Kazuma Kiryu was the most requested guest character in Bandai Namco's fighting game Tekken 7. Katsuhiro Harada, the producer of Tekken 7 and director of the series, stated that he was taken aback by the amount of demand there was for the character in the West. Even after the revealed guest characters were Geese Howard and Noctis Lucis Caelum, fans took to Twitter to express their enthusiasm in having Kiryu included in the game. Yakuza producer Daisuke Sato stated that "As far as it comes down to the whole Tekken thing, if Harada-san actually says he wants to use Kiryu, then hey."
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Date: Snap out of it! You've still got something to fight for! There's someone who needs you! Don't run from your responsibilities!
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