Imagine my belief when I found out that LeSean Thomas, the creative mind behind one of my favorite Netflix animes, Cannon Busters, was working on a new project. Let alone one that was a modern-day take on the first black samurai complete robots, demons, religion, magic, and history. I couldn’t believe it when I first heard about it, and now that I had a chance to watch it a few times, I still can’t believe it’s here.
Yasuke (played by LaKeith Stanfield) is a character who is interesting as soon he’s introduced. When we first see him, he’s telling his master to get off his butt and let’s get out of here before it’s too late. The next we see him, he’s a hermit who only wishes to be alone. The “I messed up now I get to live with it” sort of character. Despite a proud character and being a complete badass, he’s held back by the events of his past.
For you history buffs, LeSean Thomas was keen to include historical details into the show by including history records from Yasuke’s and Oda Nobunaga.
Thankfully that was short-lived as the story picked up, and we’re introduced to all sorts of villains, anti-heroes, and even a super-powered child who requires Yasuke to watch over her. I want to take a moment to say that I did enjoy the way the villains and anti-heroes are fleshed out. There’s no beating around the bush here, and all of the villains are shown for what they are prompt. It is not so much with the anti-heroes, as they end up being mercenaries who do whatever they’re paid for – until they’re not.
The story, at times, does struggle, and there are moments where I wondered when exactly would this get back to the task at hand. Normally I can understand this being a thing, but it left me wondering if there was more LeSean Thomas wanted to do with the story with just six episodes. There’s an interesting story that’s told, and we could have done with a bit more character development. This really needed more than just six episodes.
Ah, yes, the fight scenes – I loved the fight scenes. If you watched Yasuke for just one thing, it would be those fight scenes. There’s plenty of those to be had through the series; they’re not only action-packed but stylized as well. Fans of anime shows such as Jujutsu Kaisen will enjoy, which makes sense since MAPPA handled Yasuke’s animation. Heck, anyone who enjoys a good fight will. A word of caution, some of those fights do get bloody, so if that’s not your sort of thing, be sure to cover your eyes. When people are using sharp swords, there’s bound to be some blood here and there.
The animation is a mixed bag as there are times that a few scenes are not the same quality as the rest of the show. Beyond that, Yasuke is pretty on the eyes – especially in the fight scenes. The music is a lovely infusion of African and Japanese themes, complete with string, wind, and percussion instruments, all thanks to Flying Lotus.
Two examples of this are the opening “Black Gold” and the ending tracks “Between Memories,” which are available to listen to on Spotify. There are more than a few bangers in the show, with most of those reserved for the fight scenes.
While I enjoyed Yasuke and couldn’t stop talking about it to my family and friends, it does fall on one important topic. The omission of how a black person is at odds on finding his place in feudal Japan. In the show, we clearly see that he’s not wanted there by several people, and that’s brought to the forefront more than a few times. Yet, Yasuke ignores it, even when it’s said to his face.
I understand why this was glossed over, and that was to stay on track with the story. None the less it could have delivered a powerful message to people who look like Yasuke. And when I say it like it, I’m referring to how people, especially children, were looking at the Black Panther when he first arrived on the big screen. Everywhere I looked, someone was going, “that guy looks like me,” followed by smiles. This was a missed opportunity to bring Yasuke up to that level, to voice his objections to how others see him.
The ending left me frustrated. Obviously, I’m not going to come out and say what happens, but there’s a chance of redemption to be had for a certain character; they never take it. It’s like, do the right thing for once, and he’s like, Nah… I got gold; I’m good.
While I’d like to see another season of Yasuke, everything is wrapped up at the end, and there’s nothing to expand on. So enjoy what you get, unless Netflix and LeSean Thomas decide they want a second season. I really hope they do. The show is a fun ride and is worth checking out a few times before your done with it.
Yasuke premieres on Netflix on April 29, 2021, and is a 6-part season.