Get to know Yasuke, the African samurai

Published March 13, 2021, 4:52 PM

by Rom Mallick

Oh, and there’s a new anime about him

If you are a fan of streaming service Netflix, then chances are you’ve noticed that K-dramas aren’t the only shows that have recently been gaining a following on the platform. There has been an explosion of anime on the service too, with some that are originally produced by Netflix. 

Among those upcoming titles, of particular interest is “Yasuke,” which is set to premiere on April 29, 2021. 


Dubbed as the Black Samurai, Yasuke was the first African to have served as a retainer for Japanese daimyō Oda Nobunaga in the late 16th century, at a time when Japan was in the middle of the Sengoku Jidai—roughly, the Warring States Period or Era. Yasuke arrived in Japan in 1579, working for Jesuit missionary Alessandro Valignano. 

Nobunaga took interest in Yasuke because (and this is recorded in history) of his skin color. The daimyō thought Yasuke’s skin was colored in dark ink, but after asking him to strip naked and seeing that his skin was indeed naturally black, Nobunaga was intrigued. The African soon after entered Nobunaga’s service as a bodyguard, although records aren’t clear how this came to be. Yasuke was even present when the warlord committed suicide, after the betrayal of Akechi Mitsuhide, one of his vassals.

There have been shows loosely based on this semi-legendary African samurai, most popular of which is the manga and anime series “Afro Samurai.”

In any case, Netflix’s upcoming anime isn’t set to follow the historical life of Yasuke. Instead, it will tell a purely fictional tale, set in an alternate fantasy world where the Black Samurai protects a mysterious girl. 


Animated by MAPPA, the same studio behind the ongoing series “Jujutsu Kaisen,” Netflix’s “Yasuke” is created by LeSean Thomas. 

“Yasuke is a fascinating, mysterious figure in Japanese history that’s drawn a growing interest in today’s media over the decades,” LeSean said in a statement. “I first learned of Yasuke’s role in Japanese history over a decade or so. The children’s book, ‘Kuro-suke’ by Kurusu Yoshio, featured images that piqued my curiosity. To eventually learn that he wasn’t just a fictional character, but a real person, was exciting material for an adventure story.”

“Yasuke” premieres on April 29, 2021.