When “Yasuke” looks back at its protagonist’s regrets, it infuses elements of genre – sci-fi, Blacksploitation, Western, and fantasy – that also go against tradition. Thomas fills the series with an evil shapeshifter bear, a quirky futuristic villain, an African wizard, and other mystical beings. A tortuous, bordering on grotesque Jesuit priest acts as an ode to Catholicism’s goals of converting the Japanese in the 16th century. Sika travels to a vibrating stumbled astral plane. And hallucinogenic dark magic permeates.
Thomas’ spectacle can often kick-start through these sharp sound and visual changes: at times, we see classic samurai duels and technologically advanced cannon shots in the same setting. The story is also meaningless and seems convoluted. And there are too many minor monsters chasing Yasuke and his company for any of them to have a noticeable impact. But, oh, the bloody sword game is always thrilling. Rosy-purple views of the Japanese landscape, brought to life with surprising clarity, serve as the backdrop to Yasuke’s spouting massacres. With dazzling fluidity, he takes down his opponents in the width of a single slash, causing their innards to explode on the screen.
Beheadings are abundant; Exposing it to piles of guts offers even greater rewards. The large sets, which see vast armies descend on our heroes, who are locked in a fortified fortress, recall “The Lord of the Rings: the return of the king”. A heartbreaking final epilogue is on “The Last Samurai”. Throughout it all, Stanfield’s laid back voice oscillates between weariness and fiery, holding together the wide emotional fluctuations of this latest creation from studio MAPPA (“Attack on Titan” and “Banana Fish”).
At the rate of six half-hour episodes, Thomas’ “Yasuke” hits the spot for any anime lover while offering new subversions to the samurai genre. This raises questions about racism and sexism. And he never fears real cruelty. While the story has a few extra dots that need to be connected, “Yasuke” connects in all other ways for maximum bloody impact.
All six episodes were reviewed for review. “Yasuke” will be released on Netflix on April 29.