“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.The story of Yasuke, the first African samurai who actually served the legendary Oda Nobunaga, will be released to the world.” – Netflix Synopsis
So I don’t know if I speak for a majority of people but certainly, I and a good bunch of people never knew the story of Yasuke. I was scrolling down twitter last summer before I came across a post talking about him and how there was gonna be a movie adaptation maybe starring Chadwick Bosman (May he rest in peace). It really piqued my interest. A black slave in Japan who rose up to become a samurai is a great story to tell. So when it was confirmed that not only is a live-action movie coming out but an anime on Netflix by MAPPA would be too? Hell yeah, I was so excited for this show. Until I saw the trailer. Then I started to get a little worried about the direction of the story and the English voice acting. Unfortunately, my worries came to be.
I have more of a problem with shows, or anything in that matter, where I can see the potential in it. Yet it fails to meet that. This anime had so much potential. A very unique real-life story to draw from which on top of that isn’t widely known. This anime could have told a version of the Yasuke story about him being a slave to being one of Oda’s trusted samurai to the final days of Oda’s reign. What makes me so mad is that all of those story bits are in this show sprinkled through flashbacks that happen during the painfully horrible main story. Those flashbacks are so good. Legitimately if those flashbacks were the actual main story of this show coupled with the other things this show does great it might be a 9/10. Instead, the main story is half some uber generic escort mission that turns into a giant battle with horrible build-up. Not to mention the pacing of this show is so off. Events happen at the snap of a finger with little room to let some events breathe and also introduce new concepts and powers with just one-off lines and no other explanation.
This anime feels like someone wanted to put all their favorite ideas into one and it simply doesn’t fit. The period of this anime is a version of feudal Japan set in the future I think? But the only high tech stuff is mechs?? Every time I saw a mech it looked straight up goofy and clashed with the aesthetic of the show. There’s this element of magic and mysticism in the show which I think is fine and can fit with the period and aesthetic. But the powers are never fully explained. Characters will do stuff and get a one-off explanation of what they just did. But how? It’s so unexplained that while it was whatever in the first 3 episodes. The later episodes got real goofy with characters doing op stuff. I guess we’re just expected to roll with it and not question the goofiness that’s going on.
The villains in this show not only, once again, clash with the aesthetic but also are so damn boring. There’s this mercenary group led by a Russian lady who can turn into a bear? Because that’s just normal I guess. For some reason that can really only be attributed to bad writing. They all get a redemption moment even after all they did to our two main characters because I guess the power of friendship. The main villain in the second half of the show and her lackeys weren’t noteworthy in the slightest.
All of the characters that weren’t in the flashbacks are dreadfully boring and uninspired. There’s no one outside of Yasuke who I even slightly cared for in the main story. Now the flashbacks, that’s another thing. Once again with the flashbacks being so great, there’s a good few interesting characters here. A young Yasuke dealing with being an outsider in a prestigious position. Oda Nobunaga dealing with other clans and people opposing his viewpoints. There are two other samurai who have great interactions with Yasuke and interesting stories that play out during the flashbacks. A female samurai who relates to Yasuke being an outsider and another samurai who feels as of Oda is disrespecting tradition by letting Yasuke and the girl be in such positions. All of those characters are so interesting and I really wish we got a full series detailing that story instead of whatever we got instead.
Animation wise Yasuke overall looks pretty good. The art style is kind of jarring for me. I love Castlevania on Netflix and if you’ve been following my blog for a long time or even just glanced at some of my mal scores. It’s easy to tell I love MAPPA. This shows art style is like a mixture of the Castlevania art style and the art style that was used in Dororo. But like 85% of the time it looks like Castlevania. It was jarring to say the least but not bad. What was bad was the CGI. It’s not Berserk (2016) levels bad but it’s bad. Which only helps to further make the mechs (which were all CGI) clash more with the show. The fight scenes were awesome but too short. They straight up reminded me of Dororo and all the 1v1 sword fights are great.
The soundtrack is the best part of the show by far. Flying Lotus produced it and it fits the vibe of the show perfectly. A blend of lo-fi hip hop with some tribal influence. If I look fondly back on anything from this anime it will the soundtrack, especially the opening. The voice acting was one of my main concerns after watching the trailer. I love Lakeith Standfield but the bits in the trailer had me worried he wouldn’t do a good job voice acting Yasuke. Surprisingly he had one of the better performances here. It was actually pretty good but that can’t be said for the rest of the voice acting. I think I have more of a problem with the voice-acting direction than the actual va’s themselves. There were so many lines in the dub where It was kind of like you couldn’t get a second or third take on that? Was that really the best line read they could’ve got? It wasn’t the biggest issue, I’ve definitely heard worse (I watched Elfen Lied’s dub c’mon) but still, an issue I had.
So yeah Yasuke is one of the most disappointing anime I’ve ever watched. With such potential to tell a unique and under-told story. There were hints of that but sadly all of that was relegated to flashbacks and overall taking a back seat to what is a super generic and boring main story. This show really let me down. I wanted to love it but ultimately I feel less than meh about it. The soundtrack is great though, shout out to Flying Lotus.
Yasuke – 4/10