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'Yasuke', anime on Black samurai under Jesuits in Japan, premieres tomorrow on Netflix

Though a live-action depiction is on the rocks, the story of the 16th-century Black samurai Yasuke is a-go for Netflix, available starting tomorrow.

Everyone’s favorite Black samurai is making his way to the small screen.

Yasuke, the famed 16th century African expat warrior, is depicted in an eponymous Netflix series premiering tomorrow—the latest in a long line of artistic depictions of one of Japan’s most curious historical figures.

He was brought to Japan in 1579 in the service of one Alessandro Valignano, an Italian Jesuit missionary who worked in the country before it banned Christianity in the early 1600s.

Yasuke soon become a samurai, on retainer in the Oda clan.

Documentation of Yasuke’s life is somewhat sparse, but that hasn’t stopped various artists from animating his life anyway, including Takashi Okazaki in his Afro Samurai franchise.

As such, he has become something of a cult figure both in Japan and stateside, with a live-action film planned as of 2019 before the unexpected death of lead Chadwick Boseman from cancer last year.

The Netflix series was announced in late 2018, and stars—in its English version—Lakeith Stanfield, with Lesean Thomas at the helm as writer and director. Thomas and Stanfield were joined by Flying Lotus, the show’s composer, as executive producers.

Of note is the fact that Yasuke is not the only Black character in the series, with a certain Achoja being portrayed by William Christopher Stephens. (Thomas wished to make a point that, even in ancient Japan, Africans were not uncommon sights.)

Early reviews are quite positive, and it seems the show manages to make quite the artistic spectacle in its pursuit of animated historical fiction—even if it goes out of its way to denigrate the Catholic clergy in so doing. (The main villain of the show is Abraham, the Catholic priest employing Achoja.)

One lingering mystery in the story of Yasuke is whether he himself was Catholic, and there is no indication in early reviews that the show takes a strong stance in either direction.

In any case, the caliber of creators on board seems to indicate the project will wow viewers of any creed—or clan.

Tune in tomorrow, April 29th, beginning at 2am CST.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, in priesthood formation with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).