Yasuke is a Netflix Original anime series with one six-episode season. Netflix is making tons of anime these days, and Yasuke is likely to get a second season. The show was created by LeSean Thomas, who has worked on other successful animated shows such as The Boondocks, The Legend of Korra, Black Dynamite and Children of Ether. Yasuke follows the story of an African samurai in feudal Japan as he tries to help a sick girl with mysterious powers.
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As an anime, Yasuke feels unique yet draws inspiration from history and other anime to create a magical viewing experience. Like other Netflix Original anime series like Castlevania, Yasuke is an English-language anime. The plot of Yasuke is straightforward, yet in that simplicity there is plenty of action and exploration. Spoilers ahead for the first season of Yasuke.
10 The All-Star Cast
The cast of Yasuke is star-studded. There are a number of voices that comic book and video game fans may recognize in the anime. The hero of the story, Yasuke, is voiced by LaKeith Stanfield, who is known for his live-action work on Atlanta, Get Out and Knives Out. He also has an established interest in anime and animated projects. Stanfield was in the live-action adaptation of Death Note and lent his voice to the Netflix hit Bojack Horseman.
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But Stanfield isn’t the only household name in the show. Darren Criss (of Glee, Hollywood, Assassination of Gianni Versace) stars as Haruto, the hilarious giant robot. And gamers will recognize the voice of Morisuke, also known as The Doctor. Morisuke is voiced by Paul Nakauchi, who is the voice of Hanzo from Overwatch. With all his iconic voicelines in the game, it’s hard not to think of Morisuke yelling “Sake!” or “Ryū ga waga teki wo kurau!”
9 Yasuke Is Based On A Real Samurai
Without a doubt, samurai anime and video games are immensely popular. The show’s protagonist Yasuke is based on a real historical figure. In 1579, an African man named Yasuke arrived in Japan and became a kashin for Oda Nobunaga. There is some debate about Yasuke’s country of origin. Some believe he was from Sudan, while others believe he may have been from Ethiopia or Mozambique. The show depicts how Yasuke was treated in Japan and retells the history of Nobunaga’s seppuku.
8 The Frequent Time Jumps
The anime’s first season tells the story of Yasuke’s past and present. There are time jumps showing Yasuke in his samurai state and his present state working as a boatman. It’s important that the show presents these two versions of Yasuke together, as it paints a fuller picture of who he is as a person and how he carries his past on his shoulders.
Even though Yasuke is no longer an employed samurai, he acts nobly and with honor. The show reminds viewers to never judge a book by its cover, because you never know if a boatman is secretly an ex-samurai and seasoned warrior.
7 The Racial Issues
As expected, the topic of race does come up in Yasuke. Some of the Japanese characters in the show define Yasuke by his skin color, calling him “The Black Boatman.” According to history, when Yasuke arrived in Japan in the 16th Century, Nobunaga thought Yasuke’s skin was covered in ink and ordered him to strip and scrub his skin. The anime retells this humiliating and problematic moment, which may make some viewers uncomfortable.
But Yasuke keeps his head held high throughout the show, even when others underestimate him. Yasuke has incredible inner and outer strength that shines through as Season One progresses.
6 The Body Horror
Yasuke is full of action sequences, magic and war. There’s a lot of blood, artfully animated in splashes that are reminiscent of paint splotches or ocean waves. And magic allows some to distort and transform their bodies. Some characters in the show are able to morph their bodies into sinewy branches or the figure of a bear. So while Yasuke isn’t as violent as The Boys on Amazon, for example, it isn’t exactly the best choice for kids, either.
5 The Magic Is Unique
In Yasuke, magic is abundant and used for good and evil. Magic can make people immortal and extend lifespans, as those who wield magic powers can live for hundreds of years, if not forever.
Purple seems to be how evil magic appears in the show, while the protagonists use magic that is bright teal in color. Magic is primarily used for battle and the fight scenes in the show, and it can cause a whole army to merge and transform into a giant golem. In Yasuke, the applications of magic are truly endless.
4 The Astral Plane Exists
In this world, those with strong magic powers have the ability to visit the astral plane, which is a liminal space between life and death. As the show progresses, characters travel to this plane and fight each other. It is a candy-colored place that looks like it’s between galaxies. The Astral Plane is a bit like the infinite corridor in Castlevania. But in Yasuke, this liminal space is less about portals and more about providing a space out of time for characters to battle and search for each other.
3 The Surrealist Imagery
In both the Astral Plane and the anime’s version of Japan, surrealist imagery abounds. There are dreamlike sequences where strange things happen that can only be described as entirely surreal. For example, flowers bloom quickly from beheaded bodies and the skies are highly saturated purple and pink. There’s also a shot where Yasuke looks up and sees a seemingly endless array of staircases above him. Moments like these establish an ethereal and surreal vibe for the show and gives Yasuke a unique aesthetic feel.
2 The Synthesized Music
Yasuke’s music was created by Flying Lotus, an American producer/rapper. The soundtrack feels ambient and epic, but it’s not without its unique charms. The music often shifts between synthesized jazz-like percussions, lo-fi, rap and ambient R&B styles of music. There’s so many nods to different genres that it’s hard to define succinctly. It’s artistic and exciting. The soundtrack stands out as an essential aspect of Yasuke that makes the show what it is.
1 The Giants and Robots in Feudal Japan
While Yasuke stays true to history in many respects, it does depart from reality with its magic, surrealism and a number of its characters. In the show, Haruto is a giant robot who makes comedic quips like, “Teamwork makes the dream…a slightly greater statistical probability.” There’s also a giant Russian woman who can turn into a bear. So there are anachronisms and strange characters in the show, but they’re compelling and amplify the epic nature of Yasuke’s story.
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About The Author
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Kate Irwin is a PC gamer passionate about FPS games. She has an MFA in writing from Columbia University. You can follow her on Twitter @pixiekate13.
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