Quiet Death, or Blaze of Glory?

Yasuke has it all, just not all together. Not unlike its title character.
by Bob Johnson

Here’s a show that came out exactly nine days too late last year: Yasuke. I do not know what chemical blend fuelled the production of this technicolor blur, but my friend has this desperate need to get some of it.

Livestreamed from the editing room.

Since there’s very little I can say about Yasuke that hasn’t been said more rudely elsewhere, let’s just start with the positives: This is a beautifully animated show with a killer soundtrack. We’re talking tunes that make you forget how direly anime needs another Nujabes — Flying Lotus could very well rise to the call. Lakeith Stanfield nails the VA for the title role. And well, I can’t really remember the last time I managed to hear about anime on NPR – maybe the FuniCrunch merger made the business section – but they talked up some Yasuke for sure. So Netflix indeed put some weight behind this and marketed the shit out of it, this is not one of the obscure, back-burner titles.

But the plot? It is… hot garbage. It barely budges from the through line of the standard sword-and-damsel plot, plus or minus certain squiggly arrows doodled on the storyboard, all hastily drawn around boxes with fresh Xs drawn through them. This is so palpable I’m trying to spit out the taste of red Sharpie. There’s so much that seems to occur “in between” episodes, almost as if entire extra episodes were meant to have taken place in the meantime. I’d call it Gonzo Ending, but the whole show is this way.

Out of everyone available, I mostly blame Netflix: its famously immutable budgets were unlikely to have covered a full 10 or 12 episodes once the bills started rolling in from MAPPA to draw up LeSean Thomas’ vision. The rest of this show, however epic it was to be, found itself on the cutting room floor.

So, legitimate question: if you were in the same bind, would you decide to go with dull, cheap animation to tell your whole story – or would you turn every knob up to 11, break them off, and spam “robots versus katanas” until your cash ran out?

As odd as it may seem to say, this show’s incompleteness may make it uniquely suited as a “gateway anime” – something to get the new anime viewer hungry for more substantial shows. Anime may be more popular than ever, but there are still plenty of folks out there who don’t fully grasp the capabilities of the medium. One look at Yasuke will cure anyone of that.

Word is that more of this show is coming. I don’t think that, at this late stage, it would make any sense to try to fill it in, as tempting as it may be to complete “missing” episodes. My vote would be for a prequel, as Yasuke’s personal history remains shrouded in mystery.

I would mostly recommend Yasuke for people who are less familiar with anime and want something that can, in about three hours, introduce them to a wide range of anime tropes. And if you like watching anime for the background noise, this is a must-hear.

Maybe look it up:
Yasuke
(6 episode anime)
Story by LeSean Thomas and Flying Lotus
Produced by MAPPA, Distributed by Netflix

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