We Wuz Samurai

Recently Ubisoft announced Assassin’s Creed Shadows, the next title in their overly-long-running series. This would normally attract little to no attention from me as I don’t particularly like the series and never have. The only two I played through to the end were the original game and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag which was set in the Caribbean and so was a refreshing departure from what had come before. This announcement was interesting for a couple of reasons. The first was that there was finally going to be a game set in Japan which is such a perfect setting for the series that I’m surprised it wasn’t done a decade ago. The second was that one of the game’s two protagonists was revealed to be a samurai of African origin. This latter piece of information overshadowed the former and has been the source of understandable controversy.

I wouldn’t normally bother with this as this absurd race-swapping is happening so much now that it is best to just ignore it. This one at least is based on a thread of historical evidence though it is a tenuous one indeed. What is more interesting, and so worth discussing, is that this is the first time to my knowledge it has happened in a non-European context.

One problem I have to address before continuing is that this controversy has many people arguing that previous Assassin’s Creed titles always aimed at historical accuracy. This was never the case. The original had the screen below appear as the game loaded and even all the way back in 2007 there was some controversy around it being set in the Holy Land during the Crusades. This I should hasten to add was only in deference to the feelings of Muslims. The series in general has only ever been “inspired” by historical events and while they may have done a wonderful job re-creating ancient cities, the narratives of most games wouldn’t hold up to genuine historical scrutiny and that is without including the silly meta-narrative of the Animus that I’d rather not get into. 

For this reason alone, it is a waste of time to dwell on the historical accuracy of a negro samurai let alone the diversity shoe-horned into most of the previous games. One has to remember that the people you’re dealing with don’t care about what the truth is. From what information can be gleaned, it is obvious the historical Yasuke was nothing more than an oddity that fascinated Oda Nobunaga. One can gather this from a section still present on Wikipedia (where there is currently an edit war):

Fr. Organtino took Yasuke to Nobunaga, who upon seeing a black man for the first time, refused to believe that his skin colour was natural and not applied later, and made him remove his clothes from the belt upwards. Valignano describes how Nobunaga, thinking that he might have ink on his body, made him take off his clothes and wash his body, but the more he washed and scrubbed, the darker his skin became.

I have read some of these sources previously when discussing another subject. Remembering there is very little concrete information about the historical Yasuke that this game is relying on, it is obvious just from the above that he was little more than a novelty who fell out of Japanese history as quickly as he came into it. 

Yet even pointing this out is wasting energy. If the game were to include a transvestite dressed in the colours of the tranny flag who went around murdering “cis-white chuds” in Medieval Mongolia, they would not only defend the game, they would be almost giddy with delight. They would defend it no matter how absurd it was. They have ready answers no matter what you might say. Even if you manage to corner them with something indisputable, they will dismiss it as “just being a game” and ask why you’re “mad” about it. Of course, if there were a game that displeased them for any reason at all, they would have every right to be mad. You simply can’t argue, reason or discuss anything with these people and you shouldn’t try.

Now to the reason I decided to write this post in the first place: the muddening of Japanese history. I want to first congratulate the Japanese on their achievement. The Japanese first shocked the European world with their rapid industrialisation during the Meiji period. Now, well over a century later, they are finally under attack in the same way most European nations are. Not only are they under pressure to become “diverse” but they are also now having their cultural history vandalised. The Japanese are now truly one with the European races whether or not they would like to be. 

Only a very short time ago, simply not being identifiably European was enough for those pushing diversity. Now, being Japanese (and presumably Asian), is not enough either. There must be black faces. IGN has given us a portion of the new history of Japan which absurdly claims without evidence that…

 … many African people lived in Japan in the 16th century, working as interpreters, soldiers, and other professions, it may be that Nobunaga had never encountered someone with dark skin before.

So this is how far things have come and where we can expect them to go in the future. Japan is no longer for the Japanese.

Before concluding, I want to consider the questions people would raise about female warriors and other historical inaccuracies we readily make exceptions for in fiction and particularly in video games. The short answer is that female shinobi are cool in a way that a black samurai simply isn’t. So I have no issue with the female ninja at the very least because she is Japanese. I should also add thought Tom Cruise playing an American samurai was stupid too. And this was not just with hindsight but at the time The Last Samurai released in 2003. What is more important the inclusion is the intention behind it and we all know why Ubisoft chose to have Yasuke as the protagonist. 

All Ubisoft really had to do was make an Assassin’s Creed game set in Japan with ninjas. That would have actually had me and many others interested in the series for the first time in a decade. With the Tenchu series long dormant, Ubisoft had a unique opportunity to do something cool. I don’t mind if they want to include an African character but if they do, they should set the game in Africa. It could be quite fun to run about mud huts with a spear.

One also has to remember that it is still Ubisoft game. Even in the best of circumstances, it still would have been another unimaginative sandbox game. I wish them every success in bankruptcy.

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