Yasuke is an animated television series that tries to capture an alternate reality. During the reign of Samurais, a king employs a black man to serve in his army who through his loyalty gains the title of Samurai. This man becomes the first Black Samurai who serves the code of honor and fights bravely to serve the Japanese land.
Created by LeSean Thomas, the animated series Yasuke is loosely based on historical figure Yasuke, a deserted African warrior who severed feudal king, Oda Nobunaga during 16th century Japan. The animated series focuses on the warrior but takes extended liberty by introducing the magic and demons in the story. Does it work or just go overboard?
In a conflicted Japan terrorized by feudal chaos, an audacious autocrat and accomplished warrior Nobunaga Oda lay the foundation of a United Japan. But before he can reach his full potential, his nation is attacked by the army of dark warlord Yami no Daimyo. Her army is blessed with dark lore magical power and Nobunaga’s army is no match against it. His nation falls at the Honnō-Ji Temple and a Black Samurai named Yasuke, the most loyal warrior of Nobunaga is ordered to cut Nobunaga’s head to save him from captivity. Yasuke fulfills the command but the horrors of guilt haunt him even after 20 years.
In the present day, Daimyo reigns o the lands of Japan and Yasuke lives under the pseudonym Yassan, the black boatsman, spending the rest of his life in a remote village. Yasuke is still haunted by his past which narrates the story of how he became the legendary ronin who was famously known as Black Samurai. Living a life of denial, an opportunity knocks at his door when a local bar singer, Ichika, pleads to him to take her sick daughter Saki to see a special doctor who lives upstream. The river border is heavily guarded by Daimyo’s men and going through the woods is extremely dangerous, that is the reason Ichika seeks Yasuke’s assistance.
Remembering his code of honor and oath to save people, Yasuke agrees to accompany the mother-daughter. However, during the journey, he realizes that Saki is not sick but instead she is blessed with mysterious powers and is hunted by mutants and bandits for the same. In a clash between Yasuke and the mercenaries, Ichika loses her life. Before dying she hands over a pendant to Yasuke that reminds him of his deceased love, Natsumaru. In a battle against Hanzo, while serving Nobunaga, Yasuke killed Natsumaru because he found her guilty of treachery. The pendant reminds Yasuke of his guilt-ridden past and to correct his mistake he pledges to accompany Saki to the doctor, Doctor Morisuke.
Major Spoilers Ahead
‘Yasuke’ Ending Explained
After cutting off his master, Nobunaga’s head, Yasuke lost pursuit and his will to live. But the pendant brings new hope and a medium to redeem his past. He takes Saki to a magical warrior, an old friend from Nobunaga’s army, Doctor Morisuke. “The Doctor” was a name Morisuke earned in the battle because he attacked with the surgeon’s precision. Ichika wanted to take Saki to him so that he could train Saki to control her powers and reach her full potential.
On the other hand, Daimyo the dark lord is hunting down Saki because her magical powers would rejuvenate the witch, helping her to live another century. In the last battle between Saki and Daimyo, Saki’s bright light destroys Daimyo’s dark magic and thus saves Japan. Saki even brings Yasuka back to him whose guts were pierced by Daimyo’s dark webs.
In the end, the resistance under the guidance of Doctor Morisuke begins to rebuild Japan. Saki returns back to her remote village with Yasuka where his friend Ichiro awaits her. Upon arrival, the whole village welcomes Saki and accepts her as their own. Yasuka decides to leave and continue his journey as a Samurai. Before leaving, Saki hands him the pendant, a souvenir he deserved. It is also a symbolization that Yasuka redeems the mistake he made by killing his beloved Natsumaru.
The Yasuke animated series is colorful and vibrant. Its characters spark cultural acceptance. It explores the message that a Samurai or a Warrior should be judged upon for his skills and loyalty rather than the color of his skin. However, all this seriousness sways away a bit when the series introduces the realm of dark magic and witch-lore. At some moments, characters like an evil mutant priest and a Russian bandit seemed gimmick and out of context. A lot of supernatural elements like the Astral Plane in the second last episode served no purpose. A lot of time, some elements complicate the narrative instead of making it intriguing. These supernatural elements convoluted the plot.
In a few scenes, Yasuke finds its similarity with another animated character, Samurai Jack who fought against a shape-shifting wizard Aku. However, Samurai Jack had better visuals and the background score was really intriguing. In Yasuke, the techno mixed bass score felt out of the context. Though few scores are really appreciative.
Overall, Yasuke is a dull series. In case you want to binge stream anime, this animated series could be an option. But in my opinion, it could be missed.
Yasuke is a 2021 Animated Television Series created by LeSean Thomas. The series includes 6 episodes of half an hour each, in both Japanese and English language (dubbed). It is streaming on Netflix.
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