Season 1, Episode 1-6
Yasuke tells a story of the first African Samurai with some historical accuracies and liberties with technology and magic. Quickly recapping the series, it is set in feudal Japan with Mechs, magic, foreigners and demons. Showrunner and creator LeSean Thomas along with animation studio MAPPA brings 6 episodes with a lot of blood, battles and a soundtrack by Flying Lotus.
The story premise is a basic Japanese ronin genre where after the events leading to the fall of Oda Nobunaga, Yasuke has wondered for 20 years doing odd jobs moving from village to village. His demons from when he was a samurai haunts him to alcoholism. With events forcing Yasuke to take up the sword again, he battles to save all of Japan from a demonic dark age.
Yasuke is an interesting story as it combines two different themes of historical feudal Japan with fantasy and science fiction. There are historical accuracies especially in his arrival to Japan and the relationship with Nobunaga to a point. Beyond those and other small instances, it goes heavy on fantasy and science fiction.
Including the typical story of a hero’s redemption and coming to terms with their inner demons, the anime pushes what viewers can see as reasonable or plasabile. The science fiction part is what pushes and destroys the trust of viewers. They are forced to believe that giant mechs are possible during the same time as samurai. One of the characters is even a robot with fully functioning AI, radar and an ice gun.
The voice acting unfortunately isn’t strong and suffers a slew of issues. Throughout some of the episodes you can hear bland acting or as if they just read the script with a deadpan voice. The cast isn’t amateur as it features the voices of LaKeith Stanfield, Johnny Yong Bosch and Ming Na-Wen. Many voiceover work was done at home in makeshift studios during the pandemic and can explain the variation in quality.
The biggest stand out feature is the animation. The mixture of hand drawn and CGI is impressive as there are times it was difficult to tell the difference between them. The design of the characters, especially Yasuke, are unique and fit the time frame. Even the Mechs are designed to fit the art style of the period.
Yasuke is a quick digest as it is only six 30-minute episodes. This allows for a quick binge especially if you want blood, good battles, samurai and minimal plot. Besides being short it fell flat and missed a great opportunity to take advantage of the popular Netflix series “Age of the Samurai: Battle for Japan” that covers Oda Nobunaga rise and fall that’s shown in Yasuke. The story bounces around a lot and doesn’t explain or follow up events in a logical or coherent order. Also it’s still jarring to see giant mechs battling as if it was out of a Gundam series.
If you want an anime that incorporates samurai and technology, I highly recommend Samurai 7.