It truly has been an incredible weekend for LeSean Thomas and MAPPA’s Yasuke, debuting at No. 7 in the U.S.’s Top Ten Series and Movies List and has received praise for an incredible portrayal of the first African Samurai.
This Original Jidaigeki Anime was inspired by the true story of the very first African Samurai named Yasuke, a warrior who served under Oda Nobunaga during the Sengoku Period.
“In a war-torn feudal Japan filled with mechs and magic, the greatest ronin never known, Yasuke, struggles to maintain a peaceful existence after a past life of violence. But when a local village becomes the center of social upheaval between warring daimyo, Yasuke must take up his sword and transport a mysterious child who is the target of dark forces and bloodthirsty warlords.“Official Synopsis
While there are reviews out there that give out low scores for this series, citing that it was rushed or too fast-paced, I felt that it was perfect the way it was and you might be looking at me funny while you read this but hear me out. With what little information there was about Yasuke but what was known about the Samurai was that he was the servant of a Jesuit Missionary named Alessandro Valignano, eventually becoming a Retainer/Bodyguard of the Japanese Daimyo Oda Nobunaga, who was in the Battle of Tenmokuzan, and was present at the Honnō-Ji Incident, where Nobunaga would be forced to commit Seppuku at the hands of his former General Akechi Mitsuhide. This series helped bring more attention to a mysterious man, even in a Reimagining It with a mix of Jidaigeki and Fantasy.
While it is a six-episode limited series it does have two interconnected arcs that span three episodes each, in every episode gives the viewer a glimpse of Yasuke’s past, this also gives us a look into what the Daimyo (A Spider-Like Ancient Creature) is planning and how it involves a girl’s Mysterious Powers. The delineation of “good” and “evil” is quite clear for Yasuke, the only major villain in this story is the Daimyo and the former general Akechi Mitsuhide. There are plenty of characters that served as rivals (In this writer’s opinion) in the series, the werebear Nikita, Benin shaman Achoja, The Brawler/Sickle-Wielder Ishikawa, and a sentient ice-wielding mech named Haruto.
Let’s move onto the Animation, overall it was a visual treat from the beautifully painted backgrounds, the sweeping battlefields to the Magic and Mechs. The one thing that made this authentic other was how Yasuke was designed, he was designed and drawn as an actual Black Man and that was incredible. The Character Design was handled by Takeshi Koike, he did an amazing job on this series, and his hard work shows in the animation. The flow of the animation with the hand-to-hand (or in this case, Sword-to-Sword) fight scenes invoke the vibes of Samurai Champloo, Jujutsu Kaisen/God of Highschool aesthetic mixed in. IGN’s Akeem Lawanson pointed out the reason behind that vibe in his review of the series, Megumi Iwabuchi, who worked on both Jujutsu Kaisen and God of High school brought that 2D visual work knowledge for this series. It was the right idea to have to go in a 2D animation direction.
Next, the music and voice acting, music was handled by record producer and rapper Flying Lotus, better known by his Stage Name “FlyLo” with the help of Bassist and Singer named Thundercat crafted this beautiful soundtrack that had a sublime mix of lo-fi and Japanese instrumentals, which blended atmospheric sounds with looping, peaceful strains. The tempo picks up in action sequences, ramping up in tempo to a smooth, thrumming beat. The opening “Black Gold” is one of the catchiest songs out there today in the Anime Landscape and it is accompanied by beautiful animation, with hints of what’s to come as the series progresses. In the final part of this review, we’re going to look over the voice acting, the Oscar-Nominated Actor LaKeith Stanfield portraying Yasuke, it was emotional, powerful even when going through the memories of the past. An interesting fact regarding the Voice Actor for Oda Nobunaga, Takehiro Hira voices for both the Dub and in the Japanese Version. I believe that this was one of LeSean Thomas’s best works hands down, this was a great homage to not only Yasuke’s Legacy but to the Jidaigeki Genre and so much more. The series is available now to watch on Netflix, it was an incredible journey one of which one worth sharing for anyone who is a fan of Anime and History.
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