‘Assassin’s Creed Shadows’ Called ‘Woke’ For Black Protagonist In Feudal Japan

Some conservative critics are criticizing the forthcoming Assassin’s Creed video game as “woke” because one of the playable main characters in the game set in feudal Japan is Black—even though he is based on a real Black man who served as a samurai warrior—and because the developers hinted players will be able to pursue LGBTQ romances.

“Assassin’s Creed Shadows” sparked controversy over a Black main character in feudal Japan. (Nathan … [+] Laine/Bloomberg)

Game publisher Ubisoft unveiled the trailer for “Assassin’s Creed Shadows” last week six months before it hits stores, introducing players to the setting in feudal Japan and the two main characters: the female ninja Naoe and male samurai Yasuke, a Black man based on a real samurai of African origin.

The developers said in a blog post they decided to include Yasuke because there are “still plenty of questions and speculation” surrounding the real-life inspiration, which allowed for creativity in creating his character.

“Assassin’s Creed Shadows” director Charles Benoit told the Canadian Press Yasuke was also chosen because he’s not native to Japan, allowing both Yasuke and the player to discover Japan at the same time.

The developers also hinted that players can pursue LGBTQ relationships as either main character: “Romantically, they will also attract and be attracted to different types of people,” with options for a “multitude of relationships.”

The game’s diverse character options have angered some critics who have slammed the game as “woke,” including the right-wing YouTuber Tim Pool, who posted a video to his 1.3 million subscribers calling it “pandering” to base a game in feudal Japan on a Black character instead of a “real Japanese hero in a Japanese time period.” Several hosts associated with the conservative Daily Wire media organization also criticized the game, including Brett Cooper, who quipped to her 4 million YouTube subscribers that a Black samurai is “exactly what I think of when I think of feudal Japan. Ever cracked open a history book?” Though she praised the look of the trailer and Yasuke’s story, she suggested a Japanese main character would have been a better fit for a story set in Japan and accused the game of “vapid empty representation.” Daily Wire host Michael Knowles slammed the potential options for LGBTQ relationships, stating to his 2 million YouTube subscribers that he supported Yasuke as a character until Ubisoft “made him gay.” Some players took to X and the comment sections of Assassin’s Creed’s Instagram posts to lament that the game’s male protagonist is not Japanese.

Yasuke is a real historical figure thought of by historians as the “first Black samurai.” Though his exact origins are largely unknown, many historians believe he was from Mozambique, while others claim he may be from Ethiopia or Nigeria, BBC reported. Yasuke traveled to Japan with the Italian Jesuit missionary Alessandro Valignano in 1579, likely in service to him as a bodyguard, historian Thomas Lockley told Time. Yasuke and Valignano traveled to Kyoto in 1581, where Yasuke met the Japanese warlord Oda Nobunaga, known as one of the great “unifiers” of Japan. Nobunaga—who at first did not believe Yasuke’s skin was black and ordered him scrubbed—recruited Yasuke into his army, impressed by his tall height and strong stature. Lockley told Smithsonian Magazine Yasuke was the first foreign-born man to enter Japan’s samurai ranks, and he was with Nobunaga when he committed seppuku (a form of suicide) after he was ambushed by one of his generals.

Other video games have come under similar fire from players and critics over diverse character options. Some players criticized the PC and Xbox game “Starfield,” which came out in September, because the game allows players to select their pronouns—he/him, she/her or they/them—which can be changed at any time. “The Last of Us Part II,” a sequel to the hugely successful game that spawned an award-winning HBO series, also angered some fans in 2020 because one of the primary controllable characters, Abby, is a woman with a muscular physique. Others felt the backlash to Abby was misogynistic and transphobic (though Abby is not transgender). The game was review-bombed on Metacritic, causing the user score to drop to as low as 3.4 out of 10, despite universally positive reviews from critics. Abby’s voice actress was subject to death threats by angry players, causing developer Naughty Dog to condemn the hateful messages.

Yasuke’s story has been adapted several times in popular culture: A Netflix anime series debuted in 2021 with actor LaKeith Stanfield voicing the warrior in the English language edition. In 2022, Netflix also announced a live-action series based on Yasuke, with French actor Omar Sy in talks to star as the samurai. Several film studios have also tried to adapt Yasuke’s life for the big screen. Actor Chadwick Boseman was tied to a planned Yasuke film in 2019, though Boseman died of colon cancer in 2020. Last month, Warner Bros. acquired director Blitz Bazawule’s upcoming film based on Yasuke.

The True Story of Yasuke, the Legendary Black Samurai Behind Netflix’s New Anime Series (TIME)

The first Assassin’s Creed Shadows trailer shows off dual samurai / ninja action (The Verge)

The Last of Us 2 dev Naughty Dog condemns harassment, death threats (Polygon)

‘Starfield’ Gender Controversy: Some Gamers Go Viral—And Face Ridicule—Over Extreme Reactions To Pronouns (Forbes)

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