Sommerleigh Pollonais, Senior Writer
Plot: He came from Africa and fought alongside a mighty feudal lord in brutal 16th century Japan. They called him the Black Samurai, and he became a legend.
Review: Netlfix anime series Yasuke (pronounced Yahs-kay) is loosely based on the historical figure of the same name, a warrior of African descent who served under Japanese daimyo Oda Nobunaga during the Sengoku period of samurai conflict in 16th century Japan. Now if that’s not an intriguing story I don’t know what is! Chadwick Boseman was supposed to play this same character in a live action version of the story but due to his untimely and tragic passing, Netflix’s animated version is what we’ll have to settle for, at least for a while.
With a premise so engaging and the story being told via anime, I was truly excited for this six-part series. But sadly, the more I watched, the less interested I became in the samurai known as Yasuke. I wanted to like this series, I really did, but like Batman Ninja, a compelling protagonist is drowned out by an overuse of fantasy themes that just didn’t fit well with the rest of the narrative. Now I enjoyed most of the animation and the score by musician Flying Lotus, both of which made me think of one of my favourite past anime, Ninja Scroll, and some of the fight sequences were quite eye-catching. But Yasuke himself feels lost under all of the zaniness of this world, and I couldn’t help thinking if they had gone with a more grounded version of this character and his adventures this could’ve been truly memorable.
The first three episodes are the strongest as these are the ones that give us a look into what Yasuke’s life may have been like living in Japan in that era. Nobunaga, Yasuke’s master and the ruler of this Ido period, was also one of the better elements of the show and I liked that he was presented in a way that was mostly truthful to who he was. He was the type of open-minded ruler that would allow a black man (and a woman for that matter) to be samurai in his clan.
The voice casting was solid too although it was a bit surreal to hear sweet maternal Amy Hill (Magnum PI) voicing the demonic Daimyo. Another stand-out performance for me was Takehiro Hira (Lost Girls and Love Hotels) as Nobunaga, but unfortunately, I can’t say the same for LaKeith Stanfield (Get Out, Judas and the Black Messiah) as our lead, Yasuke. Stanfield himself has a very distinctive voice, but he did nothing to really bring emotional nuance to this character and his dialogue came across as monotone and flat to me.
As it was, I got to the final episode and when it was all over my reaction was to reach for my remote to hit the “thumbs down” icon. Not exactly the outcome I was hoping for when I started watching Yasuke. That said, I do hope we get another whack at this interesting historical figure, and I don’t even mind if they go the anime route again. Only less giant robots and more samurai shenanigans, okay?
Sommer’s Score: 5 out of 10
For more Netflix anime-inspired content you can check out Editor Jules’s review of DOTA: Dragon’s Blood by clicking here. Or for his review of classic anime film Ninja Scroll you can click here.
Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.
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