The creator of Cannon Busters brings us the story of the only black samurai.
In a version of feudal Japan populated by magic, mecha, and monsters, a former samurai, the only African retainer of Lord Oda Nobunaga (Takehiro Hira), named Yasuke (Jun Soejima/LaKeith Stanfield) has spent twenty years in hiding as a boatman. He previously watched the fall of Nobunaga to the forces of the Dark Daimyo (Yoshiko Sakaibara/Amy Hill), a powerful dark magic user. Now, a young girl named Saki (Kiko Tamura/Maya Tanida) who has magical powers is being hunted by Catholic Church operative Abraham (Shigeru Ushiyama/Dan Donohue) as well as the forces of the Dark Daimyo. Yasuke must help keep the girl safe from robots, werebears, mutants, and madmen.
So, I deeply suspect that this series was commissioned back when Chadwick Boseman was set to produce and star in a film adapting the life of the real Yasuke back in 2019. Unfortunately, as we now know, Boseman’s illness was winning and he was unable to make the movie in his lifetime. I think that’s why this version went ahead and took so many creative turns, including the over-the-top fantasy/sci-fi kitchen sink world, because it was assuming people would just have seen a terrific performance of the real story.
The story of the real Yasuke is one of the more interesting historical oddities about Japan. Yasuke was, as the show depicts, an African who was in service of a Jesuit missionary who came to the capital of Japan. When the Daimyo Oda Nobunaga saw him, he supposedly didn’t realize that his skin was black, thinking that Yasuke was either very dirty or completely tattooed. This led, somehow, to Yasuke entering Nobunaga’s service and, eventually, fighting for the Daimyo during the war that would become his downfall. He usually is considered to be the only black samurai (although he probably didn’t actually have that title).
Because the series veers so far from reality, it allows for incredibly creative powers, characters, and visuals. For example, among the mercenaries that serve Abraham are a Russian woman who is also a werebear (Hiroki Nanami/Julie Marcus), an assassin with giant scythes (Eri Kitamura/Dia Frampton), an African shaman who summons warriors (Kenji Kitamura/William Christopher Stevens), and a hilarious malfunctioning robot (Shunsuke Kubozuka/Darren Criss). Watching them fight a samurai is an amazing sequence that would be hard to put in any other medium and would be impossible to put in almost any other series.
The voice acting is naturally great, regardless of the language. The soundtrack is amazing and is used to emphasize the story and Yasuke’s journey in a way that is reminiscent of James Gunn or Edgar Wright. The animation is very stylized and I’m a big fan of it. The biggest downside to the series is that it does require a lot of your attention to keep track of events sometimes, with major plot points being only a single line or two. To its credit and detriment, it is very short.
Overall, I thought this show was great. I recommend you give it a try. Just don’t expect it to be a true story of Yasuke.
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