Yasuke Review: A Slick Blend of History and Fantasy

There's a good chance you've heard about Yasuke. Yasuke was a man of African origin who once [...]

There's a good chance you've heard about Yasuke. Yasuke was a man of African origin who once served as a retainer to famed feudal lord Oda Nobunaga in early Japan. There are various legends and stories filling in the details of Yasuke's time with Oda, but one main throughline was that Oda had taken such an interest in Yasuke that he soon became one of Oda's most trusted confidants. It even got to the point where Yasuke is said to have bore witness to Oda's death, but Yasuke's fate itself remains a mystery.

With such an inherently interesting story like this, it's a wonder that the anime medium has yet to tackle it in some way. This all changes with Yasuke, a new original anime series from Cannon Busters creator LeSean Thomas. Releasing with Netflix, this new series features a distinct pedigree that features some big names from multiple entertainment worlds. But do all of these pieces come together well in the end? Yes, but with a small caveat.

Yasuke Netflix Anime LeSean Thomas Poster
(Photo: Netflix)

Yasuke has a killer team behind it that puts in the work that exceeds its inherent potential. Not only does it feature Cannon Busters creator LeSean Thomas as the director, but it's produced by the studio behind Attack on Titan's final season Jujutsu Kaisen, the upcoming Chainsaw Man, and many more. This means you get notable staff members such as Chief Animation Director Satoshi Iwataki, Junichi Higashi as Art Director, and many more.

Character design is handled by Redline's Takeshi Koike, so the overall package looks great with a fun blend of realism and kooky fun. Fight scenes are fluid, CG animation does not stick out to obviously, and blood has a neat gloss to it that's satisfying to see on the various katana. Yasuke himself goes through various character designs depicting different periods of his life in Japan, and each one feels distinct enough to highlight a different aspect of its main character.

It sounds excellent, too, with Flying Lotus composing the music (who also produces the opening theme performed by Thundercat), and voices from major award winners such as Darren Criss and Ming-Na Wen, with LaKeith Stanfield as the voice behind the titular Yasuke. But the real standout in the series is Maya Tanida's Saki. While the series is inspired by the real-life Yasuke's past, it uses it as more of a springboard to set the stage for its own original story and world.

Yasuke Netflix Anime LeSean Thomas
(Photo: Netflix)

The main crux of the series follows Yasuke when he's hired to escort a young girl named Saki to a doctor that can help her when a strange power awakens within her. This is also unfortunately where the caveat comes in. At only six episodes, Yasuke is attempting to cover a lot of ground. It's essentially a two-arc anime condensed into a single arc's time, so it becomes less of a journey than it might seem at first.

Some of its best moments are when Yasuke and Saki are playfully bonding with one another, but they reach a destination and start a new mission for the final three episodes. This means that there isn't enough time to explore any of its characters, and while Yasuke and Saki stand out, they are really the only ones that do. These two main arcs are even blended with a third arc that explores Yasuke's past with Nobunaga.

Netflix Anime Yasuke Saki
(Photo: Netflix)

It's a lot of spinning plates, and, while there are many moments where the entire experience comes together, there are a few that notably stick out because they lack the same emotional resonance. It's almost over right when it is really gearing up to begin. This might be a caveat that's bigger for some than for others, but it's still a fun experience in its own right.

It's a slick and cool six episodes that offer a fun time that we really need more of. Even with as much ground as it covers, there's still lots of potential directions to explore. There's a unique world within Yasuke's universe as it blends history with fantasy, and this team really needs to all work together again. If this is it, however, then it's still worth the trip.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Yasuke releases April 29th on Netflix.