Yasuke was a samurai of African origin who served as a retainer under the Japanese warlord Oda Nobunaga in the 1580s. Now in 2021, the world’s first black samurai has his own anime series developed by black creators and a Japanese anime studio.
Showrunner LeSean Thomas (Cannon Busters) brings his creative vision to a fantasy version of Japan. The world of Yasuke is full of mystery, mechs, and magic. There’s a lot of heart to each of the characters in Yasuke. Voice actor LaKeith Stanfield’s contemplative stoicism contrasts brilliantly with the black samurai’s colorful supporting cast.
As a Japanese history buff and a fan of science-fantasy, I was pleased by how seamlessly Thomas was able to bring true historical figures into his fantastic world. Thomas’s knack for nailing Saturday cartoon fun is present in Yasuke’s larger than life villains.
The music by Flying Lotus is spectacular– a hypnotic mix between old and new. Yasuke’s soundtrack perfectly captures the blending of cultures, time-periods, and genres. You can listen to the full soundtrack on Flying Lotus’s YouTube channel.
The animation by Studio MAPPA (Attack on Titan: The Final Season) is top notch. The fights are visceral coupled with some jaw-dropping psychedelic sequences worthy of the dreams of Akira Kurosawa.
The character designer Takeshi Koike, adds a level of humanity and respect to each of the characters. Anime is an industry with a troubled past representing black faces and has a tendency to follow trends to a fault. Each of Koike’s designs feels fresh and respectful to the core of the character and there were many side characters I wound up loving as a result.
Yasuke is a an amazing testament to the power of cross-cultural collaboration. It’s no secret that there’s long been a mutual respect and admiration between Black culture and Japanese culture. I hope Yasuke proves to be a bold new step in the future of anime.
I’m eager to explore more of Yasuke’s world. Fingers-crossed for a Season 2!