The new anime Yasuke tells a fantastical imagining of historical figure Yasuke. Before we talk anime let’s get a quick history lesson out of the way! There aren’t any records of his birth name. The current theory is that Yasuke was a member of the waYao of Mozambique. And that he came to Japan in 1579. Yasuke was during the Nanban trade. He originally served under an Italian Jesuit missionary named Alessandro Valignano. During a meeting with the daimyō, Nobunaga took an interest in Yasuke. Soon after the encounter, and Yasuke joins the daimyō’s service.
The pair spent many years together. Yasuke served not only as a bodyguard but as Nobunaga’s weapon bearer. Many historical accounts say Yasuke and Nobunaga were close friends. With Yasuke having learned Japanese during his time there. The two remained close comrades up until Nobunaga’s forced seppuku during a battle against Akechi Mitsuhide. Alright, we gave important historical context to its inspiration so now let’s talk about Yasuke.
The anime itself, created by LeSean Thomas (The Boondocks, Cannon Busters). It’s set in a fantasy version of late 1500’s Japan. The world is full of technology and magic that win wars. Yasuke (Lakeith Stanfield) begins his journey. Tasked with protecting his Lord Nobunaga (Takehiro Hira). Specifically from the Akechi Mitsuhide (Noshir Dalal) and the Hojo Daimyō’s army. Yasuke tries to convince Nobunaga that there might be a way for them to win. But Nobunaga has already made up his mind. He resigns himself to commit seppuku as a show of surrender. Ordering Yasuke to deal with the final blow. As Yasuke strikes, he opens his eyes and 20 years have passed. Waking a nightmare about the fateful event. He now lives as a humble ferryman in a small village. Far away from the horrors of war.
Sadly, Yasuke’s peaceful life doesn’t last long. Our hero when local performer Ichika (Gwendoline Yeo) hires him. Yasuke escorts her and her daughter Saki (Maya Tanida) to a doctor far away. However, there is more to Saki than meets the eye. They soon find themselves hounded by bounty hunters who come to take Saki for a mysterious power.
The animation in the six episodes is beautiful. Full of eye-catching character designs. The simplistic yet psychedelic opening is a flex of skill on its own. As far as the designs go, Yasuke has numerous looks throughout the show. But the characters that stuck out to me the most were a group of bounty hunters. Those hired by a representative of the catholic church to retrieve Saki. They include a black-clad vixen with a giant sickle. A sharp-witted African sorcerer. A talkative mech with elemental powers. And their leader. A giant Russian woman who happens to be a werebear. Their client is a frightening-looking evil missionary. Who seems like he’d fit right in a Castlevania game.
Outside of the recurring characters. Almost every background character has a unique look. So you can easily recognize characters from scene to scene. They also often have some distinctive traits. Informing the viewer of their role within the setting they occupy.
The design of the environment is a masterclass. You cannot ignore that artwork. From the small village that Yasuke calls home. With its streams of crystal clear water. To Oda Nobunaga’s territory. Or the snow-capped village of the Iga clan. The attention to detail compliments the characters beautifully.
The anime’s OST is by noted artist Steven Ellison aka Flying Lotus. His work shines here, bringing the show to life. The theme Black Gold accompanies the opening credits, and t’s a subtle jam. With help from vocal performances by Thundercat.
Yasuke isn’t the first piece of Black fiction to tell a story of a jaded warrior protecting a child. But it manages to make its own unique mark. Yasuke’s journey not only has him confronting his past failure to protect his lord. But helps him deal with his past actions. As well as what it really means to be a warrior. Though he gained freedom as a Samurai. Yasuke was instrumental in Nobunaga’s conquest of Japan. Yasuke protects Saki as a means to find redemption for his past failure. But this quest also helps him rethink his previous ideals of what “honour” means.
If you are a fan of anime like Samurai Champloo or even Cannon Busters, Yasuke is worth a watch.