A Black-led anime series starring Oscar-nominated actor LaKeith Stanfield is making its way to Netflix this week.
Netflix’s “Yasuke,” which tells the legendary story of the first Black samurai in feudal Japan, follows the titular character — voiced by Stanfield — as he navigates life following his violent past, until he is tasked with bringing a mysterious child who’s wanted by dark forces back to safety.
According to Complex, the series is inspired by real-life samurai Yasuke, who many believe to have traveled from Africa to Japan back in 1579.
In an interview with the outlet, the series’ creator LeSean Thomas — credited for animated series such as “Boondocks” and “Black Dynamite” — detailed his sentiments about creating and leading the charge for this revolutionary project.
“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,” Thomas says. “Part of me deep down feels I was meant to create this adventure series with MAPPA, Flying Lotus, LaKeith, and the rest of this talented team.”
According to Thomas, his desire to center an anime series around this character stems from him learning about Yasuke’s real-life historical significance to Japanese culture years ago.
After seeing online images from a Japanese children’s book, the creator told Entertainment Weekly that he found Yasuke’s story interesting considering “a Japanese artist was doing stories focused on samurai who were not only foreigners, but Black foreigners” as well.
“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,” Thomas tells Complex. “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. I’m so excited for both longtime fans and newcomers to enjoy our reimagined take on this historical figure.”
He even revealed to Entertainment Weekly that actor Chadwick Boseman was set to play Yasuke in a historical biopic prior to his death last year.
Thomas’ new series shows the parallels between the main character and his own story as well.
Entertainment Weekly reports that he relocated from New York City’s South Bronx to South Korea in 2009, before later moving to Japan as one of the few Black creatives working in the nation’s anime industry.
“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,” he tells the outlet. “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.”
Hardly do we get a chance to see Black characters lead in the anime world, much less projects that are largely Black-led. Thomas’ creation is a refreshing take that shows how streaming platforms like Netflix are making more room for Black creators to thrive and share their work with the world.
The new series “Yasuke” is set to hit Netflix on April 29, 2021.