The final trailer for Netflix’s Yasuke, which features Judas and the Black Messiah star Lakeith Stanfield as the title character, teases all the samurai action and supernatural happenings that you could possibly want in a new anime series. Loosely based on the historical figure of the same name, Yasuke comes from creator LeSean Thomas (The Boondocks), with Stanfield on board as an executive producer alongside Grammy-winning artist Flying Lotus.
Set in an alternate-reality 16th century feudal Japan, reimagined with magic and advanced technology, a warrior named Yasuke witnesses the fall of Oda Nobunaga in battle against the army of the warlord Yami no Daimyо̄ at Honnō-ji. Twenty years later, Yasuke puts his storied past as a legendary ronin known as the “Black Samurai” behind him and retires as a boatman named Yassan in a remote village.
Here, he encounters a singer at a local bar named Ichika and her daughter Saki, a sick girl with mysterious magical powers. After an attack, Yasuke is tasked by Ichika to escort the child to a doctor, and quickly finds himself the target of dark forces and bloodthirsty warlords as he is caught in the middle of a power struggle between those who wish to claim the young child.
Creator LeSean Thomas crafted this six-episode series, and wanted to approach the story of the real life samurai in a more unconventional way than had previously been planned. “I didn’t want to do what everyone else was going to do, which was most likely a hardcore biopic,” he said referring to a planned biopic that was due to star the late Chadwick Boseman. “I didn’t want to be trapped by the elements of history, so to speak, and I wanted to add a sense of fantasy, a sense of romanticism to it, much like the Japanese do with their historical figures.”
The story of Yasuke in fact has parallels with Thomas’ own life. The creator relocated from New York City’s South Bronx first to South Korea in 2009 and then later to Japan, becoming one of the few Black creatives working in the country’s anime industry. Indeed, these similarities have not been lost on Thomas who said, “I’m a Black man who moved to Japan to work with the Japanese making an anime about a Black man who moved to Japan to live with the Japanese and become a warrior. That’s kind of cool. I don’t know if there’s anyone else who could actually say that as a TV animation show creator, but I wouldn’t say it was an intensely personal experience. It made it more fun.”
The voice of Yasuke, LaKeith Stanfield, meanwhile has been on the receiving end of much praise recently for his powerful performance in director Shaka King’s Judas and the Black Messiah. The biographical drama details the betrayal of Fred Hampton (played by the Oscar winning Daniel Kaluuya), chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party in late-1960s Chicago, at the hands of William O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield), an FBI informant. Yasuke will be available to stream on Netflix from April 29, 2021.