The story of Yasuke, the first African samurai, will soon come to life in a new way: as an anime. Series creator, producer, and director LeSean Thomas is working on the show starring LaKeith Stanfield as the voice of Yasuke. In the pages of history, Yasuke arrived in Kyoto in 1579. He joined the ranks of the samurai in just a year. In the six-episode anime Yasuke, the warrior is in a different setting. This time it’s an alternate fantastical Japan with mechs and magic during the feudal era. The story centers on the samurai warrior of African descent who must return to his life of sword-fighting and violence in order to protect a mysterious girl from dark forces.
Netflix shared first look images for Yasuke and the debut date in a blog post on Monday evening. Thomas shared, “There is a serendipitous nature about this project, how an African-American man goes to Japan to live and work amongst the very best in Japanese anime to create an anime about an African who goes to Japan to live amongst the Japanese elite and become a warrior. Part of me deep down feels I was meant to create this adventure series with MAPPA, Flying Lotus, LaKeith & the rest of this talented team.”
Thomas continued, “Yasuke is a fascinating, mysterious figure in Japanese history that’s drawn a growing interest in today’s media over the decades. I first learned of Yasuke’s role in Japanese history over a decade or so. The children’s book, Kuro-suke by Kurusu Yoshio, featured images that piqued my curiosity. To eventually learn that he wasn’t just a fictional character, but a real person, was exciting material for an adventure story.”
This reimagining of Yasuke looks striking, even just from these few images. In addition to the book Thomas mentions, Yasuke has appeared in Japanese period dramas and mangas over the years. Chadwick Boseman was going to portray Yasuke in live-action film before he passed in 2020.
Yasuke will premiere on Netflix on April 29, 2021.