Netflix‘s Yasuke is the story of a real life black samurai in 17th century Japan. But with giant robots, demons, and magic added in. It’s as trippy as it sounds, but it’s a surprisingly good combo.
Netflix may be the streaming service that will broadcast Yasuke, but they aren’t exactly the ones producing this anime. In fact, they’re only the ones holding the license to it. The real hero here is the creator and one of the directors LeSean Thomas, who created this anime following the success of his first animated series: Cannon Busters. The animation for Yasuke was done by Studio MAPPA, who are themselves responsible for such anime hits like Zombie Land Saga, Jujutsu Kaisen, and Attack on Titan: The Final Season. Steven Ellison, also known as Flying Lotus, is responsible for the anime’s music, and boy, does he deliver.
Yasuke will launch on Netflix on April 29, 2021 for a single 6-episode season. If this interests you, I strongly urge you to check it out then here, if only to scratch the science fantasy chanbara itch you never knew you had.
Warning: spoilers for Yasuke below. If you have any urge to watch the anime on April 29, 2021; stop here, and then come back once you’ve finished watching.
Yasuke: Plot Summary
The story of Yasuke (played by LaKeith Stanfield) is the story of a mysterious black African samurai who served Oda Nobunaga in 16th century Japan. After failing to save him from assassination during the Honnoji Incident, he went on to serve Nobunaga’s son: Oda Nobutada. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out well for Yasuke either, since Nobutada’s forces were defeated too, and he was captured. The general of the enemy army, Akechi Mitsuhide, allegedly declared that Yasuke was an animal and not Japanese. He then sent Yasuke to the Christian church in Kyoto: the Nanbanji. Unfortunately, it’s here where our hero vanishes from the history books.
Fortunately, it’s also where the Yasuke anime picks up. Specifically, the anime takes place some number of years after he vanished from history, where he’s now a boatman living a quiet life in an unnamed Japanese village, content to live there in peace for the rest of his days. Unfortunately for him, fate won’t leave him alone. He soon encounters a woman who begs him to accompany her and her daughter to a distant doctor to cure her illness. Said illness consists of telekinetic power incontinence, so this must be one heck of a doctor. Although Yasuke refuses at first, he ultimately agrees, and after quite a bit of journeying, manages to get the girl to said doctor.
Turns out, said doctor is actually a magic instructor, and he’s not there to cure the girl’s “illness”. Instead, he trains her to control her power in order to better use it for a higher purpose. Specifically: to defeat the current daimyo of Japan, who is literally a demon destroying the land Ganon-style. Unfortunately, the daimyo assaults their position before the doctor could train the girl. Fortunately, with the help of Yasuke, the girl manages to defeat the evil daimyo and restore peace to the land. Our hero gets to enjoy his peace once more, hopefully a bit more permanently this time.
Yasuke: The Good
The best way I can describe Yasuke is a combination of Afro Samurai, Samurai Champloo, and Warhammer 40,000 mashed together with the real life version and his history mixed in. It sounds like a bizarre combination, and it is. And yet, it all works so gloriously well together. The fight scenes are action-packed and bloody. The anachronistic science fantasy setting with the magic and giant robots that wouldn’t be out of place being used by Chaos cultists somehow manages to fit well into the anime. The incredible music from Flying Lotus only seals the deal here.
One of the reasons why all of these disparate elements fit so well together is in the strength of its characters. Not only are Yasuke and Saki (the girl he accompanies to the “doctor”) likable, but even the side characters are compelling and interesting. It’s the characters that get your attention, with the setting only being the icing on the cake.
Lastly, another reason why I like Yasuke is the attention to historical detail. Yes, the science fantasy setting is entirely and intentionally anachronistic. But, LeSean Thomas paid particular attention to Yasuke’s recorded history and even Nobunaga’s as well. He faithfully depicts all those events in this anime. He even went so far as to depict Nobunaga’s skull sake cups (made from Azai Nagamasa, his father Hisamasa, and Asakura Yoshikage) and Nobunaga’s rumored love affair with Mori Ranmaru, which is some impressive displays of history fu on LeSean Thomas’s part. As a minor history nerd, this gives me warm fuzzy feelings.
Yasuke: The Bad
The one main thing I’d say was bad about the Yasuke anime was the short length. At only 6 episodes, the anime felt really, really short. Even in spite of the fact that each episode was, on average, a bit longer than the typical anime episode. Yes, LeSean Thomas does a very good job packing content and story into each episode. I just feel that the whole series could’ve been much better as a 12-13 episode series.
Also, a nitpick: there’s a character who, at the end of Yasuke, sees all his friends die, and yet the only thing he’s apparently concerned about is the fact that he now has a mountain of gold stuff as payment for his fighting alongside the heroes. It looks like the scene is meant to be funny, and it kinda is, but it also kinda isn’t. I was honestly hoping for a scene in which said character turns to talk to one of his friends, only to realize that there is no one there, and that no one ever will be. All the mountains of gold can’t buy your friends back from the death.
Although, there is a thing here. Earlier, Saki showed that she could bring Yasuke back from the dead. This comes with the caveat that the corpse needs to be fresh, but is otherwise a pretty OP power. I would’ve loved to see Saki bring that guy’s friends back from the dead as a show of gratitude for saving all their lives, but it didn’t happen. Now, that was really disappointing for me, and I do hope that there is a future episode (or at least an epilogue episode) that fixes that, even if no sequel seems likely.
Yasuke is the anachronistic science fantasy chanbara anime series about a real life black samurai you never thought you had an itch for. It feels like the perfect blend of Afro Samurai‘s bloody action, Samurai Champloo‘s quirkiness, and Warhammer 40,000‘s odd blend of magic and magitech. Interested? Then head on over to Netflix on April 29, 2021 to watch this anime. I guarantee that you won’t be disappointed, even if some of the plot choices are.