The worldwide distribution of Netflix’s original animation “YUSUKE” began on April 29th. It is said that the director, LeSean Thomas, did not want to finish the work of the main character, the African samurai “Yasuke”, who is a vassal of Oda Nobunaga, into an “animation-like animation”. Underlying was a strong desire to make anime a more “open place.”
It was more than 10 years ago that American animation producer LeSean Thomas saw a PDF file of a Japanese children’s book called “Kurosuke.” In this story, a vassal of Nobunaga Oda, a military commander of the Warring States period who aims to unify the world, appears. The high-spirited samurai supported the lord until Nobunaga was seppuku. One of them was an African.
“I felt pretty creative,” recalls Thomas. “And it’s going to be controversial, too.”
Japan is known as a highly homogeneous society. To be clear, it can be said that there is a “fear” towards foreigners. Thomas himself knew that there were some noble foreigners in Hollywood movies set in Japan, but blacks had never seen them.
A little research reveals a surprising fact, and Thomas is moved. The black samurai named “Yasuke” in the story actually existed. Yasuke was reportedly brought to Japan by Jesuit missionaries in the 16th century and was suspected of being from Mozambique. Yasuke served Nobunaga and became a samurai. It is believed that Yasuke was there when Nobunaga committed suicide.
Yasuke has been featured in Japanese media in fragments in the past. However, Thomas felt that there was no example of this African samurai depicted as a human being without passing through colored glasses. “It was like an adjunct to that era.”
In the Netflix original animation “YASUKE” that was born in this way, Thomas will be producing and directing with actor LaKeith Stanfield and music producer Flying Lotus. Thomas revived a person named Yasuke while highlighting its charm in this work without passing through unnecessary filters. At the same time, it was also an opportunity to work on animation for the audience that I cherish.
“Japanese animation has become very popular with Americans, especially Africans,” says Thomas. “Even among anime fans, there is a lively debate over individualism in Japan and a sense of weakness towards foreigners. That’s why I thought. I deny this man who served as one of the most important figures in Japanese history. I think there are no people. ”
A fascinating figure
“YASUKE”, which began distribution on Netflix on April 29, is a story that dramatizes historical facts with magical power and robots, like other animated works, while celebrating the actual samurai of the same name. There is.
The work is stylish from the beginning. While the drums are beating, a huge robot appears in the burning capital of Kyoto, and samurai with swords confront it.
The time was 1582 when Nobunaga was attacking to unify the world alone. Against the backdrop of beautiful jazz-style music, the samurai cut through the armor worn by the robot. Magical users dance and unleash a purple laser spider thread.
At this time, Yasuke and Nobunaga are sitting in a room at Honnoji Temple. He begs Nobunaga to drink up the offered sake and run away. It’s a strong opening.
Twenty years later, Yasuke wakes up in a quiet village. I feel sick because of deep drinking. Hold a cup on the portrait of Nobunaga on the wall and drink again. Yasuke lived in this village as a black boatman. Perhaps it is to suppress the trauma of Nobunaga’s death, he does not reveal himself to the villagers.
One day, Yasuke is asked by a doctor upstream to take a girl from a sick village. The girl secretly had a mysterious power. On the way up the river by boat, Yasuke and his friends are attacked by enemies that appear one after another. Eventually, the situation became clear, and this land, which Yasuke thought was a quiet village along the river, became a place where great powers intersected.
It is not accurate to call Yasuke a “boy”, but it cannot be ignored that it is familiar to popular anime such as “Kimetsu no Yaiba” and “Rurouni Kenshin”. The battle scene is tense, fast-paced, skillful, and spectacular.
The image of Yasuke, who cherishes honor while suffering, is deeply drawn to me, but the work itself does not place much emphasis on digging into the characters. Rather, the theme of “YASUKE” changes its appearance as the story progresses, and takes on its own character. Strong and complex concepts such as power, trauma, and honor add meaning to the battle scene that continues on a flashy scale.
Unfortunately, one episode of the six-thirtieth episode is too short to complete the pattern of shōnen manga that leads to liberation through tension. New enemies are thrown in without much background explanation, and even when they are finally defeated, they lack the excitement in terms of feelings that they should have experienced there.
Anime sound that will remain in posterity
What really stands out about “YUSUKE” is the soundtrack. The music produced by Flying Lotus can be said to be an anime sound that will remain in posterity, but it is different from the music that anime fans would envision. “I thought it would definitely be compared,” said Flying Lotus, citing past anime works “Afro Samurai,” “Cowboy Bebop,” and “Samurai Champloo,” whose music was highly acclaimed.
Therefore, “YASUKE” inevitably had to establish its own musical identity. That is the spiritual synthesizer, reverberation, light horn, improvisation, and Japanese drum that make this sound. Flying Lotus says he didn’t want to create a sound that would add a rhythmic song to the battle scene. “I’m not going to do that.”
At first, he felt that creating an anime soundtrack in a Japanese way was a “challenge.” Flying Lotus explains that music is created according to a designated menu. “Action scene theme, battle scene theme, battle scene 1, battle scene 2, tied scene theme, kiss scene song, and so on.”
In fact, this can be a great piece of work. But Flying Lotus wanted to avoid a disconnection with Yasuke, both visually and audibly. The result is an amazing series of songs with strength and fragility as if you were smoking marijuana after opening a glass. It’s perfect.
The best result of the work
Like many Netflix original anime, “YASUKE” is different from what otaku have been accustomed to since childhood (unlike many Netflix anime, it has a taste for using CGI). Of course, the setting is Japan, it’s a samurai story, and it’s packed with actions to entertain. Above all, MAPPA, known for “Yuri !!! on ICE” and “Kakegurui”, worked on the production.
Still different. The original voice is in English, and it does not rely on the standard visual expressions in anime such as facial expressions that emphasize cuteness and sweat that expresses confusion. Thomas asserts that he didn’t aim to make the purest anime possible from the beginning.
“At this point, anime is essentially the same as” sushi, “Thomas compares. Everyone knows sushi. It’s definitely Japanese food. However, not everyone can make it. “I doubt it’s okay if there is a sushi restaurant without Japanese craftsmen.”
What Thomas aimed for in “YASUKE” was such a low-limitation work. It can be said that it is the first anime that people who do not usually watch anime watch. Is it a California roll in terms of sushi?
“That’s the approach. It’s work that you can fully enjoy, and you don’t have to be a hardcore fan. It does not change the narrative of what anime is. Thomas says it’s a new addition to Narrative.
The advantage of expanding the range of animation is that three people like Thomas, Flying Lotus, and Stanfield can work together to create a single work, which can be a masterpiece. In starting the production of “YUSUKE”, Flying Lotus and Thomas wondered why there were so few black people in the world of animation production.
“What’s so bad,” says Flying Lotus. “It’s hard for Black children to see, and it doesn’t look like an open space,” Thomas said.
I hope that “YUSUKE” will create such an “open place” and that children who like anime will jump out and stand on the side of making their own. Flying Lotus hopes so. “I think that is the best result of this work.”