Who is Assassin's Creed Shadows' protagonist Yasuke? The history behind the first Black Samurai explained

Assassin's Creed Shadows
(Image credit: Ubisoft)

It's often the little-known historical figures that prove the most fascinating. That's the case with Yasuke, one of Assassin's Creed Shadows' two new protagonists, who employs a more forthright assault-based approach compared to Naoe, Ubisoft's other lead, who acts as a Shinobi to fill the stealth-based approach to the new game.

Firstly, let's get the obvious out of the way: Assassin's Creed games take liberties with their historical context. No, a man named Ezio Auditore did not fistfight the pope and get assassination weapons from Leonardo Di Vinci. This doesn't detract from the historical evidence that yes, Yasuke was a real-life Samurai in Japan, who served under Oda Nobunaga until his assassination in 1582. 

Ubisoft taking creative liberties doesn't disqualify the historical evidence surrounding Yasuke's very real existence. In fact, the developer might very well have to take some creative liberties when it comes to Yasuke, because so little is known about Japan's first Black Samurai for certain. 

Yasuke's history  

Assassin's Creed Shadows cinematic screenshot

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

We don't even know Yasuke's real name, or where he came from. Yasuke was merely the name Oda Nobunaga bestowed upon him, and even the history books themselves disagree on where Yasuke hailed from: Jean Crasset's Histoire de l'eglise du Japon claims Yasuke was brought to Japan from India, whereas Francois Solier's Histoire Ecclesiastique Des Isles Et Royaumes Du Japon alleges Yasuke originally came from modern-day Mozambique. 

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What we do know is that Yasuke arrived in Japan in 1579 in the service of Italian Jesuit missionaries. Yasuke is said to have accompanied the Jesuits to a meeting with Nobunaga, where the latter became slightly obsessed with Yasuke - he demanded Yasuke be scrubbed, because he believed his black skin was merely ink.

Yasuke, of course, did not magically become white after being scrubbed repeatedly, and Nobunaga became even more fascinated with him. The daimyo requested the Italian Jesuits effectively hand him over, which they apparently did, because Yasuke then entered the service of Nobunaga, who bestowed upon him his Japanese name. 

The first Black Samurai 

Assassin's Creed Shadows cinematic screenshot

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

Now, some people are claiming Yasuke isn't in fact a Samurai, and here's the bit that disproves that. Yasuke was effectively Nobunaga's 'Retainer,' which meant that he was folded into the daimyo's 'Kashindan.' Think of it like a ruler's standing army - entirely different from the 'Ashigaru,' which were a conscripted army composed of peasants. 

If you were part of a Kashindan, you were considered a Samurai. You probably know Samurai as an elite military caste that members are often born into - and you're not wrong, that's just not the case here: Sengoku-era Samurai were soldiers, while the Edo era put the firm stamp of a caste system on the Samurai. Note, though, that Yasuke was also considered Nobunaga's Kosho, which did cement him as a Samurai, but one with more direct access to the daimyo he served. 

Yasuke unfortunately wasn't to serve Nobunaga for long. In 1582, Nobunaga was betrayed by his vassal, Akechi Mitsuhide, in what's since become known as the 'Honno-ji incident.' If you've seen FX's excellent Shogun, you might recall Mitsuhide as Mariko's father, but neither the TV show or real-life historical records provide any clues as to why Mitsuhide betrayed Nobunaga, only that it resulted in the latter's death.

Assassin's Creed Shadows

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

Yasuke then pledged his allegiance to Nobunaga's son and heir, Nobutada, but the heir was similarly cornered by Mitsuhide's men and forced to commit Seppuku. So Yasuke was once again left without a daimyo to serve, and this time, the history records get murky - it's claimed Mitsuhide had him sent to India, and only spared Yasuke because he wasn't Japanese, but no one's really sure why. 

What happens to Yasuke after that is a complete mystery - no one knows where he went, or what became of him. There have been attempts to delegitimize Yasuke's Samurai status by pointing to Ubisoft's creative liberties with history, but considering the Samurai's story is quite literally unwritten after Nobutada's demise, the area of Yasuke's story that Assassin's Creed Shadows could focus on is painfully obvious. 

Which is all to say nothing of Yasuke having a significant pop culture presence in Japan. LeSean Thomas and MAPPA produced the 2021 Netflix anime series Yasuke, for example, blending the Samurai's real-life deeds with some sci-fi action, while Team Ninja's two Nioh games both feature Yasuke, and Guilty Gear's Nagoriyuki is heavily inspired by the Samurai. Hell, it's even claimed Takashi Okazaki's Afro Samurai manga series is inspired by Yasuke.

Assassin's Creed Shadows is out later this year on November 15, and personally, I can't wait to see Yasuke's story continue. 

As we await Assassin's Creed Shadows later this year, check out our ranking of the best Assassin's Creed games you can play right now. 

Hirun Cryer

Hirun Cryer is a freelance reporter and writer with Gamesradar+ based out of U.K. After earning a degree in American History specializing in journalism, cinema, literature, and history, he stepped into the games writing world, with a focus on shooters, indie games, and RPGs, and has since been the recipient of the MCV 30 Under 30 award for 2021. In his spare time he freelances with other outlets around the industry, practices Japanese, and enjoys contemporary manga and anime.