Yasuke voiced by LaKeith Stanfield. Picture: Netflix
Yasuke voiced by LaKeith Stanfield. Picture: Netflix

'Yasuke' is a giant step forward for more representation in anime

By Jamal Grootboom Time of article published Apr 28, 2021

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The new Netflix original anime “Yasuke” makes not only for one of the best new shows, but also takes a huge step forward with regards to black representation in the medium.

The anime is set in alternate fantastical Japan during the feudal era. Created by LeSean Thomas, the story is about black samurai warrior Yasuke (LaKeith Stanfield) who must return to his life of sword and violence to protect a mysterious girl from the dark forces.

I’ve recently dived back into anime after I got back into it during the depths of lockdown in 2020 with, “Seven Deadly Sins”, on Netflix and fell into a rabbit hole and have finished “Attack On Titan (AOT)”, “Tiger & Bunny”, “Black Clover” and “Demon Slayer” recently.

And while it is one of the most underappreciated mediums for storytelling in the global west, it is one of the biggest viewership pullers in the East and for lovers of the medium elsewhere.

However, with more media becoming more and more inclusive, anime has still been lagging – specially since the amount of POC/Black, women and queer fans have increased.

Last year “Cannon Busters”, also created by Thomas, was extremely well received with an all POC/Black lead cast.

“Yasuke” takes you on an exciting ride and it’s clear that the show-runner and writers are black people, with the way race is handled in the show.

Yasuke is a well-written character with Stanfield bringing life to our tortured hero along with the rest of the English voice cast.

The animation is spectacular, which comes as no surprise since the studio behind it is MAPPA, which is also responsible for “AOT”. Similar to AOT“, ”Yasuke“ finds a perfect balance of blending 2D with 3D elements without feeling forced or out of place.

A small detail many POC/Black fans have been begging for when it comes to black, specifically dark-skinned characters, in animation as a whole is the depiction of type 4 hair and not having black character’s palm and soles of their feet be the same shade as the rest of their bodies.

That is not accurate at all. “Yasuke” doesn’t have this problem. And it’s these small things that make it so enjoyable to watch as POC/Black person.

The storyline is paced well and we get a good understanding of Yasuke being an outsider in the fictional world set in Japan, since he is the only Black samurai.

And while it might seem short at 6-episodes, the show has an average of a 30min runtime – excluding the opening and credit – which is well above the average runtime for anime shows.

The music score also blends traditional Japanese music with hip hop, house and R&B elements which underscore how blackness is integrated with everything on this show.

This is a fantastic show from beginning to end and if you are a POC/Black anime fan it will be even more enjoyable to watch.

“Yasuke” starts streaming on Netflix from April 29.

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