Yasuke: Live by the Sword, Die by the Sword

I didn’t think I would be going down this path again. Like with Wonder Egg Priority, I finding myself faced with reviewing a series that is far more difficult to form an opinion on, while still being fair and objective. I value those views so dearly, even though blogging is always a hobby. Nevertheless, we have to press on. After the cut let’s take a dive into the Netflix original anime: Yasuke.

Right, let’s do this…

Looking at this anime, there will always be a part of it I won’t be able to understand, or relate to. As I’ve said before, that is fine. Not everything is always made ‘for you’, and accepting that can go a long way to trying to come to terms with a show. I cannot, should not, and frankly won’t speak how Yasuke relates to the ‘black experience’, but I can acknowledge that to many viewers, seeing someone who looks like them mainlining an anime, when you can count the amount of times that happens on half of one hand in this genre, is a big thing. To many the mere fact of Yasuke’s existence in animated form will be enough to pave over any of the perceived flaws or issues with the series.

Is that wrong? I don’t know. People always take something different out of shows. There is no right or wrong way to watch something, and as annoying as it is to listen to some pretentious guy go on and on about something. That isn’t incorrect. Opinions are everything, and accepting that people have different views on things will go a long way to making sure you have a good anime and frankly, just life experience. So then we are left with just my views of Yasuke. And what did I think of this show?

It’s kind of a fucking mess.

Yasuke is at its best when it is a show about a samurai doing samurai things. Every time the show gets into the weeds of that, when blades are out, and being swung. When the blood starts flowing, then Yasuke is absolutely great. The action is well animated, and invokes the best of series like Berserk: The Golden Age Arc, and Vinland Saga. I expect many people, myself included, thought that was what Yasuke was going to be, a gritty look into the era of Oda Nobunaga and start of the Shogunate era, though the eyes of Yasuke who indeed was an historical figure. Yes there would be some liberties taken, we know so little about the person, but it wouldn’t matter that much, because again, when the swords are out, this show is remarkably solid.

A lot of people expected, perhaps hoped that Yasuke was going to be about samurai, and when the show is just about that. It’s a damn good tale.

Until the giant robots, were-bears, and magical powers.

Now anime is no stranger to putting a fantastical spin on things, and the story of Nobunaga has been picked over and re-imagined dozens of times. The addition of giant robots and those fantasy elements wouldn’t have been bad, but coupled with the show’s mere 6 episode run makes everything collapse in on itself. The absolute rushed sense of pacing, minimal breathing room lets nothing really sit in place. You can’t process any characters or the world because you are just being tossed from one plotline to the next. By the time I final episode came around, I swear it felt like I had watched two whole cours or even seasons of a regular anime, and not in a good way. I have no doubt that such elements could have worked had Yasuke been given time to breathe. Instead we have an anime that feels like the powers that be said to the creators. “Oh, you want a full 12 or 25 episodes to tell your story? We’ll give you 6, so make it work.”

12 or 25 episodes might have made this go down a bit easier, but for the 6 episode Yasuke gets, the introduction of giant robot mechs is difficult to swallow.

And yet despite my questions and befuddlement at some of the story decisions, I also can sort of understand and appreciate what is on the screen. To me at least, when all these random parts come smashing together I can’t help but feel something akin to a child playing with a box of action figures. That box is filled with different ones, ones from different series and have no place being together, yet when you dump them on the ground, you take them in your hands and let your imagination go wild. I remember doing that with a mixture of Legos, Transformers, and Star Wars figures. Did it make sense from a logic stand point? Fuck no! Was fun to play with? Hell yeah it was. And Yasuke is the same way. None of it makes sense, and the combination of such factors might turn off some, but there is a earnest sense of glee when it is being done. I can’t help but respect the show for doing that.

The sense of “let’s smash all these ideas together just for shits!” had a sort of childish glee that I can respect. A true toybox approach.

In the end, Yasuke is a show that reminded me a lot of Chivalry of a Failed Knight. In that it is a show that wanted to have things both ways. It wants to be a story of a gritty samurai epic starring a real black samurai, but also be fantastical series were giant robots, mystical monks, and Russian were-bears duke it out. All while the blood and guts go flying and the truly stellar soundtrack and solid voice cast gives their A-game. Some are going to love it for what it represents, others will lambast it for those reasons or for being a hodgepodge of ideas. For me? It is a mess of a show, something that desperately needed more time to do what it wanted, but I won’t deny that I didn’t at least enjoy myself watching it. If what I’ve said here interests you, then give it a looksie and come to your own decisions.

And that music, damn it’s good.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s