This review might be a little late to the party but you know what they say: better late than never. Yasuke has been on my watch list for quite some time and I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into it once it was released. As expected, it did not disappoint. Mild spoilers ahead.
Yasuke, as Tik Tok randomly informed me one day, is based on an African man who was once a slave under the Jesuit missionary but was freed by the daimyo (Lord) Oda Nobunaga. As documented in historical records, Nobunaga had never seen a black man before and thought Yasuke needed to be washed. He had Yasuke strip and attempted to scrub the man clean but quickly discovered that this was actually the color of Yasuke’s skin. This is also depicted in the anime itself where Nobunaga buys Yasuke and trains him to become a Samurai (see here for more info on the history of Yasuke).
Though the anime may be based on a historical figure, it also has fantasy themes implemented as well. After the suicide of Nobunaga, Yasuke is left wandering for years before settling in a quiet village. It’s not long before the peace is broken when a woman asks him to bring her and her sick daughter, Saki, up the river to see a doctor that could help with her illness. Yasuke eventually agrees but when they begin their travels, they’re attacked by a group of mercenaries that aren’t something you’d read about in history books. One is a shapeshifter, another can summon warrior spirits, a mecha, and a woman who wields a scythe. They attack the boat and the girl suddenly displays powers, destroying their surroundings and causing her mother to disappear.
Personally I’m a fan of the fantasy aspect of it. It’s not overwhelming and it doesn’t feel like it’s being forced on you every second of every episode. While there are some historical references to the real Yasuke, I believe there’s a healthy balance between what’s real and what’s not. Obviously the girl having powers and the mercenaries wasn’t real, but it adds flare and excitement to the show. I enjoy the flashbacks to the past where Yasuke was fighting in the Daimyo Wars, where we even get to see how Yasuke was taken from slavery and placed into an environment where he lived a good life and learned new skills and eventually become the bodyguard for Oda Nobunaga. There are racist remarks thrown in here and there, other men under Nobunaga reminding Yasuke that he’s “not their kind” but he pays them no mind. So the balance between history and fantasy is very well done and written.
The artwork for the show is stunning. It’s not just your normal run of the mill art style where everything except what’s moving is 2D. That’s not the case here. Although the fight scenes are amazingly animated, the environment alone is breathtaking. From the villages to the forests and rivers, everything has depth and I think that’s important for any anime that wants to make an impact visual wise. It’s just straight up gorgeous to look at. You can tell when trees are way off in the distance or when a river is getting further and further away. The colors are so vibrant and it’s just visually stunning. Props to the artists who created this masterpiece.
As a fan of sound design, this show does a phenomenal job with it. Every clink of armor, the wind in the trees or the sound of horse hooves is so distinct and so crisp. Even the sickly squelch of someone getting sliced in two by a katana sounds incredible (as gross as that literally sounds, but it’s done so well). As someone who only has one working ear, I have a deep appreciation for beautiful sounds and this show does a fantastic job with the sound design. Everything sounds as if it’s happening right in front of me.
There are very few anime themes that I sit through and listen to the whole thing, but the Yasuke theme has to be listened to. The opening theme slaps, as the kids would say. It’s a mix of East Asian and Trip Hop, produced by Flying Lotus and Thundercat. It’s one of those anime openings that you don’t skip. Instead you listen to the whole thing. Same goes for the ending credits song; one does not simply skip such a beautiful piece of music. You can listen to the opening song here and the credits song here.
I highly recommend this anime to anyone who loves either a good fantasy show or even enjoys historical references. It does get gory and graphic at times but if that doesn’t bother you then you should be fine. There hasn’t been any announcement of a second season yet, but I’m hoping it’ll be picked up again. Who knows what story they could tell next.
Yasuke is available to stream now on Netflix.