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Who Is Yasuke, Assassin’s Creed Shadows’ Black Samurai Protagonist?

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Ubisoft formally revealed Assassin’s Creed Shadows on May 15, and like 2015’s Assassin’s Creed Syndicate before it, it will feature not one but two playable characters. One is an original character named Naoe, a ninja who bears the Hidden Blade weapon synonymous with the Assassin’s Creed series. The other is Yasuke, a Samurai who is based on the historical figure of the same name. Assassin’s Creed tends to play with historical events and fit its own version of them into the series’ overarching lore, so Yasuke’s story will likely play out differently when Shadows launches on November 15. But you may be wondering who this guy is, and just how Assassin’s Creed might fit him into its alternate history. Let’s run through what we know.

Yasuke lived in Japan during the 16th century and is believed to be the first African to appear in Japan’s historical records. His story has been adapted into books, manga, and even an alternate-history Netflix anime starring Sorry To Bother You and Knives Out actor LaKeith Stanfield. Fictionalized versions of Yasuke have also appeared in video games like Nioh and the Samurai Warriors franchise.

While some of the specifics of Yasuke’s life are disputed by historians, the commonly understood story is that he arrived in Japan as a bodyguard for Italian Jesuit Alessandro Valignano in 1579, before going on to serve the Japanese feudal lord Oda Nobunaga. The nature of his service is a matter of debate for those who have studied Yasuke, with some claiming he was a slave. Thomas Lockley, co-author of African Samurai: The True Story of Yasuke, a Legendary Black Warrior in Feudal Japan, told Time that he speculates Yasuke was a “free actor” who was likely enslaved as a child and taken from Africa, but that he had possibly been freed by the time he met Valignano and was a working mercenary.

Ubisoft’s marketing describes Yasuke as a samurai, but it’s unclear just how holistic that label is in Shadows’ take on historical fiction. While the version of Yasuke seen in Shadows clearly wears the armor and uses the Japanese swords commonly associated with samurai, the samurai moniker encompasses both an occupation and a social caste that became more codified in the 1600s after the last known record of Yasuke. According to Lockley, the concept of a samurai was fluid during Yasuke’s time, and if you took up weapons in service of a lord, you could take on the name. So right now, we don’t know how much Ubisoft is playing with history with Yasuke’s samurai status.

Yasuke served Nobunaga from 1581 to 1582, and his service ended after Nobunaga was betrayed by his general, Akechi Mitsuhide. Nobunaga performed seppuku, a ritual suicide considered a way to retain one’s honor in defeat. Lockley describes it as his “last victory,” and says Yasuke would go on to join Oda Nabutada, Nobunaga’s son, who also fought Akechi’s men the following day and performed seppuku. Lockley says the last known record of Yasuke is of him being escorted to a Jesuit mission house by Akechi’s troops.

Ubisoft

According to Shadows’ associate narrative director Brooke Davis, the team is using what is known about Yasuke and filling in the blanks with its own story. Davis describes the team’s version of Yasuke as a “thoughtful, level head” compared to Naoe, who is more passionate and fiery. The two are meant to contrast in both personality and playstyle, as Naoe will focus on stealth as a ninja, while Yasuke will be a more action-oriented fighter utilizing samurai skills.

Yasuke differs from previous Assassin’s Creed protagonists in that he’s the first character who is based on a specific historical figure. Most of Assassin’s Creed’s heroes have been original characters striving to stay invisible and nudge history from the shadows, hence providing a neat explanation for why little historical record exists for them. They’re still maintaining that in Shadows, of course, as Naoe is an original character in the Assassin faction. But Yasuke’s known history is another wrinkle in the series’ storytelling that will be interesting to watch unfold when Shadows comes to PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X/S on November 15.

Pre-order Assassin’s Creed Shadows: Best Buy | Ubisoft

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