Yasuke trailer

Recent Oscar nominee LaKeith Stanfield is heading into the world of animation – and the result is unlike any anime project I’ve ever seen.

The Judas and the Black Messiah and Atlanta actor lends his voice to the lead character in Yasuke, a new Netflix anime series that he’s executive producing alongside Grammy-winning artist Flying Lotus (The Boondocks) and director/writer/executive producer Lesean Thomas, who previously worked on shows like The Boondocks and Black Dynamite. Check out the full trailer below, which showcases his Black samurai character and lays out the imaginative and unconventional world in which this show takes place.

Yasuke Trailer

LeSean Thomas created this six-episode series, which is set in alternate fantastical Japan during the feudal era. The story follows Yasuke (Stanfield), “a samurai warrior of African descent who must return to his life of sword and violence in order to protect a mysterious girl from the dark forces.” The idea of a ronin who serves as the protector of a child is nothing new – see Lone Wolf and Cub, or The Mandalorian for a more modern spin on the same idea – but the stuff that is new here is pretty exciting. Centering this story on a Black character and exploring his experience in depth instead of just using his Blackness as shorthand is, sadly, still a remarkable choice. And while I’m not an anime expert by any means, this is a far cry from something like Samurai Champloo, which incorporated a hip hop influence into its style and soundtrack but did not, if memory serves, focus on a Black character in any meaningful way.

One of the other standout aspects of this show is just how bonkers it’s willing to get. This is not a show about a grounded, realistic take on this time period. It’s a full-blown alternate reality that features supernatural elements, shapeshifting animal creatures, evil castles, and purple-tinted skies.

The only potential downside? Stanfield’s delivery seems a little lethargic – but perhaps that’s an essential aspect of his character, or maybe it changes over the course of the series.

Here is the official synopsis for Yasuke:

In a war-torn feudal Japan filled with mechs and magic, the greatest ronin never known, Yasuke, struggles to maintain a peaceful existence after a past life of violence. But when a local village becomes the center of social upheaval between warring daimyo, Yasuke must take up his sword and transport a mysterious child who is the target of dark forces and bloodthirsty warlords.

Yasuke will be released on Netflix on April 29, 2021.

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