Episode 1 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 2 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 3 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 4 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 5 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 6 – | Review Score – 2.5/5
Yasuke has all the hallmarks to be a great anime. There’s some gorgeous visuals, an intriguing story and a unique protagonist in black samurai Yasuke. Unfortunately these promising marks are bogged down by mundanity; cliched plot tropes that suffocate any glimmering lights of promise.
Set in the 16th century, Yasuke dives deep into Japanese culture with a reimagining of an epic war between the forces of darkness and the samurai. At the heart of this is Yusuke, who arrives as an outsider in Japan and works hard to shake the xenophobia and distrust surrounding his arrival.
As he hones his skills, Yasuke becomes a trusted samurai for Lord Nobunaga. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes and as the dark forces swallow up the land, we cut forward 20 years.
Living in isolation as a fisherman, Yasuke ekes out his days in a sleepy village and blends in with the locals. However, one girl there looks to change everything. This is Saki, and she’s the light-bearing “chosen one” of this world, complete with shimmering blue-white light and telepathic powers.
Assassins are after her, and as Yasuke takes this girl under his wing, he sets out on a journey to uncover the truth about her powers and fight back against thee forces of darkness.
It’s all very cliched territory and unfortunately Yasuke slips into that humdrum of mediocrity pretty quickly in its six episode run.
The biggest problem here though comes from the pacing. There’s absolutely no time to really drink in the atmosphere and time period. Sure there’s a few quiet lulls but the characters are never given the screen-time needed to give them fully developed personas. Saki and Yasuke, for example, are given next to no time to develop their bond together so their journey feels hollow and emotionless.
Part of the problem comes from the 6 episode format, which does this show absolutely no favours. With a more patient build-up and a larger set of episodes, Yasuke could so easily be one of the better anime of the year. As it stand though, this feels rushed, blasting through its formulaic plot points without taking the time to make us care about what’s happening.
To be fair, Yasuke himself is actually really interesting and out of all the characters here, he at least gets some good development along the way. His journey across the six episodes is about as close to a consistent arc as you’re likely to get though. The antagonists in particular fall into generic “take over the world” territory and aside from their unique design, don’t have any distinct traits to help set them apart.
Visually though, Yasuke is a gorgeous anime. The neon-lit colours work wonderfully against the more colourful and vibrant settings of the village and other exteriors. There’s a real artistic desire to show off the talent working on this and it definitely pays dividends; Yasuke is certainly easy on the eye.
Unfortunate this beauty doesn’t extend to the story and plot, with both bathed in a dull shade of grey. This isn’t a bad anime per-se, but it’s not a particularly good one either. It could have been so much more but instead Yasuke ends its run with an indifferent shrug rather than a triumphant slash of a blade.