A growing legion of Blerds, or Black nerds, are praising Yasuke’s arrival. Anime suffers from a “real dearth of Blacks” and “the depictions of Blacks or of people made to resemble Blacks are drawn with exaggerated and imagined physical features of Blackness,” says Garrett Washington, an assistant professor of history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Washington researches modern and traditional Japan and the broader interplay of race, religion and nation in East Asia. He welcomes an anime that draws more nuanced portrayals of Black characters and the array of Black experiences across Japanese society. “There has long been a question of legitimacy, of a Black person actually belonging in Japan,” he says. “But this kind of historical fiction can help demonstrate that Blacks have been a part of Japan’s history and have their place in Japan just like anyone else.”

The world is watching more anime, a $24 billion industry with massive global appeal. Streaming giants HBO Max and Disney+ want a slice of that pie too. Just last year, Netflix invested hundreds of millions and dedicated an entire creative team to the genre. According to Netflix, more than 100 million households around the globe watched at least one anime title on its service in 2020, up by 50 percent from the year before.

Yasuke is also well-positioned to move beyond the silver screen. A live-action film was slated to star Black Panther’s Chadwick Boseman before the late actor’s untimely death. The movie project is now scrapped, but the legend and lore of Yasuke could still live to fight another day.

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