Netflix’s big bet on anime is changing the Japanese animation industry, says expert
New TV programming like Yasuke combines Japanese art with western creators.
Netflix’s most modern anime original, Yasuke, tells the tale of Japan’s first-recorded Black samurai. The anime series was created by LeSean Thomas and features the voice of Academy Award-nominee Lakeith Stanfield as the eponymous main character. And while the show’s creative team is largely American, Yasuke was constructed by Japanese anime behemoth Studio Mappa.
The Yasuke animated series is drawing recognition for the way it both subverts the traditional Japanese anime genre, while also remixing traditional tropes in a way that appeals to North American audiences.
Yasuke. Season 1. Release year: 2021
Created by South Bronx, N.Y.-raised animator LeSean Thomas — known for his work on The Legend of Korra and The Boondocks, and for previously creating Netflix’s Cannon Busters — Yasuke is the latest expanding library of anime programming.
The show itself highlights a score composed by acclaimed Los Angeles-based experimental musician Flying Lotus. Academy Award-nominee Lakeith Stanfield voices the eponymous main character.
And though Japanese anime behemoth Studio Mappa was accountable for producing the show, there’s no denying that Yasuke walks the fine line between Japanese and North American sensibilities.
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Roland Kelts is a professor at Waseda University and author of Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S. He spoke with Day 6 host Brent Bambury about Netflix’s big bet on anime, and how shows like Yasuke are changing the Japanese anime industry.
What is it around anime that makes streaming companies like Netflix so excited to invest in not only the content but in studios and talent?
On the one hand, it joins borders really well. Streaming services are global. They’re not just located in one country or devoted to one.
I also like to think of anime characters as anime tribes. Take a movie star in the U.S. or China and they may not be that well-known outside of their own nation, but anime characters have this unique ability — partly because they’re just illustrations — to travel very, very well.