[Review] Legend of Yasuke #1: An Engaging Start to a Promising Epic

June 10, 20207 min read

Legend of Yasuke synopsis: A young Portuguese captain breaks all rules to obtain an ancient relic which once belonged to an African god. He meets a proud Bini soldier and their fated bonds form over a calabash of palm wine. Swords are drawn as betrayal and treachery sour their brotherhood. The road to the Legend known as Yasuke begins here.

This is a paid review of Legend of Yasuke.

The creative team of Morakinyo Araoye (writer), Dominic Orizen Omoarukhe (artist), Kareem Oladejo (color artist) and Osiris Santos Jr (letterer) bring us Son of the Soil, the first issue in the Legend of Yasuke series.

The story is a retelling of the real-life Yasuke, the enigmatic black samurai who lived in the sixteenth century, although creative liberties are freely taken here.

But when has the presence of magic ever ruined a graphic novel? And really, who cares, as long as the story is well told and presented? 

Legend of Yasuke by TAG Comics
Yasuke | Credit: Legend of Yasuke © TAG Comics

Fortunately, the story here is, for the most part, well told and nicely presented. The visuals are delightful, the characters engaging, and as a teaser for the larger tale yet to unfold; it’s quite effective.

The graphic novel opens in the African Kingdom of Bini during the 16th century – a reference to the historical Benin Kingdom and its infamous but often forgotten great walls – with the arrival of some morally questionable Portuguese sailors.

One of the highest compliments you can pay to art in a visual medium of storytelling is that it feels distinctive and unique to the world of its story. Son of the Soil achieves that.

Right away what I noticed was the art: the art in this issue is vibrant, eye-catching, and most of all, believable. Save for a few isolated panels, facial expressions are excellently captured and body physics are on point. The colors could generally do with some more contrast or shadow, though.

Christopher Da Gama Legend of Yasuke
Christopher (Kurristof) Vasco Da Gama | Credit: Legend of Yasuke © TAG Comics

The world of the story also seems well thought out. The action in this edition only spans the city of Eko but enough hints to a larger world and a mythology that should be interesting to explore. I really liked how the architecture of Eko played a role in conveying the setting. Background engravings in the royal vault displayed Benin heads while a local palm wine spot gave off very distinctively West African vibes. It’s subtle, but it made me aware of where I was.

Now let’s talk about the story. It’s good, but it stops short of being spectacular. This, admittedly, is due to the fact that this is only a first issue, a setup to how the Yasuke Legend began. Still, certain story developments could have done with more room to organically develop. Add the fact that it all takes place in a very short period of time – only a day – there isn’t an awful lot of room for character growth. 

And some growth we do get doesn’t feel quite earned. The bad guys’ motivation felt very shallow beyond “this is the 16th century so the white guys are bad”; I would have liked for them be more complex. Still, I expect that to be addressed in future editions. 

The dialogue works for the most part, although there are certain phrases from modern English here which feel incongruent. It’s very weird to see language associated with 21st Century military maneuvers – such as “Operation Medusa”, “Squad Alpha” and “Squad Delta” – in 16th Century Africa. 

I realize that I’ve said very little about the title character, Yasuke (or Osayuki, as he’s called here). That’s because he doesn’t have a lot to do in this issue. The main bulk of the story’s development happens away from him. That said, Osayuki is definitely likeable, and I hooked enough to see where his story goes. 

In fact, all the natives of Eko feel like real people with real culture. One of the characters that stole the show for me was Iyoba Idia, Queen Mother of the Bini Kingdom. She only shows up in a few panels, but boy is she badass. 

Iyoba Idia from Legend of Yasuke
Queenmother Iyoba Idia | Credit: Legend of Yasuke © TAG Comics

An unexpected credit to this issue is the naming. This may not be the kind of thing you usually expect in a review. It certainly wasn’t something I went in looking for. But the names of each character roll off the tongue in delightful ways. 

And the writer clearly has an ear for dialect: The Portuguese characters kept Anglicizing the names of the African characters while the Africans pronounced the European names in distinctly local ways. I’ve never before thought of Christopher as “Kuristofa”, but once I saw it, it made immediate sense. One character kept mispronouncing the name of the main character as “Oyasuki”, which seems like a nod to the further mispronunciation that’ll presumably give us “Yasuke” once they get to Japan; I found that delightfully clever.

When all is said and done, I had a good time in this story. Son of the Soil is a well-told tale that successfully hooks you into the larger story that awaits in future issues. If this is only the beginning, then I for one look forward to seeing where they go next.  

Reviewed by Kofi Nyameye.

Legend of Yasuke is published by TAG Comics, and is available to buy digitally via the publisher’s website.

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