It would be a mistake to call Yasuke a shonen, but parallel to the beloved anime like Demon slayer or Rurouni Kenshin are hard to ignore. He thrives in his fight scenes – tense, fast-paced, and artful. And while Yasuke’s tortured yet honor-driven character is deeply captivating, the anime doesn’t invest much in character development. Instead of, YasukeThe themes of, which transform as the anime progresses, take on a character of their own. His strong and complex notions of power, trauma and honor give meaning to fashionable fight sequences. Unfortunately, however, YasukeThe six 30-minute episodes are too short to draw the coercion and release patterns of a shonen arc. New villains are introduced without much backstory, turning their emotional backs when they are inevitably defeated.
What really uplifts Yasuke is his soundtrack. Flying Lotus designed an anime score for the ages, but not in the way anime fans might guess. “I felt like people were inevitably going to make comparisons,” he says, citing the highly regarded scores for Afro samurai, Cowboy Bebop, and Samurai Champloo. So it was imperative Yasuke have their own musical identity: ethereal synthesizers, reverb, noodly horns, improvisation, Japanese drums. He didn’t want to be another composer spirit-spirit, spirit-spirit, spirit-spirit-through battle scenes. “I’m not going to do it,” says Flying Lotus.
At first, Flying Lotus found it difficult to navigate the Japanese system to create an anime soundtrack. The musicians, he explained, contribute to the menus: “Action theme, then fight theme, fight one, fight two, love theme, kiss song,” he said. Sometimes that produces great art. But he wanted to avoid any disconnection between Yasuke visually and acoustically. The result is a surprising blend of intensity and fragility, like hitting a joint after taking a photo. Perfect.
Like many original Netflix anime, Yasuke is not exactly what otaku grew up with. (contrary to a lot of Netflix anime, its use of CGI animation is tasteful.) It is, of course, set in Japan, about samurai, delightfully action-packed and, most importantly, produced by Mappa, known for Yuri on Ice !!! and Kakegurui. It strikes differently, however. Its original audio is in English. It doesn’t rely on anime visual tropes, like cute facial expressions or frustrated sweat drops, in shorthand. Thomas says the goal was never to make the anime as pure as possible.
“Currently, the anime is still mostly sushi,” he says. Everyone knows what it is: a uniquely Japanese dish. But not everyone can make sushi. “You would be skeptical about a sushi restaurant without a Japanese chef,” he says. Its objective with Yasuke is to make something less specific. Someone’s first anime, maybe. Like a Californian roll. “This is the approach. You can still enjoy it, and you don’t have to be a die-hard fan. It is a catwalk. It’s not about changing the narrative of what anime is. It adds to that, he says.
The good thing about expanding the anime is that a trinity like Thomas, Flying Lotus, and Stanfield can come together and make one, and it can be great TV. When they started working on Yasuke, Flying Lotus and Thomas wondered why there hadn’t been more black people doing anime. “What is the problem?” said Flying Lotus. He remembers Thomas saying, “It’s hard for black kids to see him. It doesn’t seem like an open space for them. Flying lotus hope Yasuke will dig that space, inspire the next kid who loves anime to come out and create one. “I think,” he said, “that’s the best thing that could come from this show.”
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