INTERVIEW: Yasuke’s Flying Lotus Talks Music, Anime & Working on the Upcoming Samurai Series

Adding to the exciting list of MAPPA anime projects, Yasuke tells an original story based loosely on a real-life African samurai of the same name who lived during the Sengoku era in Japan. The series will add some fantastical elements to the story -- expanding it with some shonen flare and all the swordsmen content fans could hope for. Yasuke will premiere on Netflix on April 29th, and if the trailer is anything to go off, fans are in for an exciting ride.

CBR sat down with Flying Lotus (FlyLo) -- executive producer and composer -- to discuss the music behind Yasuke, breaking into anime and animation, and things fans should get excited about. FlyLo has an impressive history in the music industry with his studio albums and works in animation -- including composing credits on Carole & Tuesday and Blade Runner: Black Out 2022.

CBR: How did you first become involved with the project?

Flying Lotus: This project came to me out of the actual blue, out of the blue sky. It was trippy because it wasn't a thing that I was seeking. It just kind of fell in my lap because I worked with this other producer who's part of Yasuke, Matt Shattuck. He thought of me for whatever, awesome reason and brought me on board. And I was in meetings, taking meetings with Netflix and doing writers' meetings and all this stuff. And I was thinking, "This is never gonna happen." I'm just going through the motions, and you know, we'll just see what happens.

Then they send us to Japan to beg MAPPA Studios to animate the show, and they say they'll do it. [Even then] I'm like, well, who knows what can happen? I'm so used to film stuff being in development hell and projects never happening that I believe it when I see it. So even now, I'm like, "Well, they could delay the show, and it might not come out until next year," or some COVID thing might happen. But it's a dream come true. That's why this feels like I'm waiting for someone to wake me up from it.

Your initial entry into animation is fascinating (responding to an Adult Swim submissions ad).

Yeah, that was kind of my first way into the TV and all that stuff -- working with Adult Swim. That was huge for me. That's all shout-outs to Jason DeMarco.

What project was the most influential in terms of now working in anime?

Working on the Blade Runner Black Out short film that I worked on with Shinichiro Watanabe. That and the "More" video that I did with him and Anderson Paak, --  it was like dipping your toes into a warm pool. You know, it's like, I don't just want my toes in, I want to get in the pool.

I feel like I got that experience now. It was an amazing, amazing ride.

Speaking of Blade Runner Blackout 2022 -- it had an identifiable tone and vibe given the existing material. However, you still found incredible ways of providing the score its own original sound befitting Iggy’s story. How was your experience on Yasuke different when considering its historical roots?

Yeah, coming up with the sound for Yasuke was was really difficult because I had put a lot of pressure on myself. I've been so close to this thing from the very beginning, and I didn't want my part to be the crappy part. Everybody's worked so hard. We've gone through so much to get it to the point where you can add music to it now. I was just like, "So now I'm supposed to instantly be brilliant, right? I'm supposed to flip the switch, and it's supposed to happen, and I'm supposed to have all the ideas and all the stuff." You know?

But yeah, it was really difficult because I also wanted the show to have a sound. I wanted it to have its own identity and its own vibe. I didn't think it would be fun to be able to compare the show [to other shows]. Like, oh, this is like a Cowboy Bebop type beat, or this is a Samurai Champloo type beat or Afro Samurai, you know? Take your pick of the comparison joints. I didn't want that. I wanted the show to be able to have its own thing where people add this show to the pile -- it's its own thing.

What do you hope viewers take away from the series?

This is something that's really important to me. I hope that when people watch the show, specifically the black anime audience -- which is huge. We haven't had any characters [in anime] that we can look to, like a Black Panther, an iconic figure. And I hope that Yasuke can be that for someone. I hope that Yasuke can be the beginning of a whole new movement in anime and ideas. I hope people leave it inspired more than anything.

Whatever my involvement -- and people want to hear the music, of course -- I think the overall thing I do hope is that it's something that people find inspiring, and people feel like maybe I can make one of these now. So we can have new people coming to the table.

With all of the impressive work that goes into composing and producing music for anime, did you have a favorite part of the process during Yasuke?

It's all so fun. I guess the best part of the process is once the sound is figured out, once I had my palette to work with, once I figured out what Yasuke's theme was, and once I figured out certain motifs and ideas that I wanted to explore. Everything else became super easy because I know the recipe. I know all the things it takes to get into that headspace now. So, once I got to that place, the ball was rolling, and it was so much fun.

I haven't had a role like that in a while, where everything just had purpose and meaning. I felt so connected to the story because I was scoring it in a real-time situation where I didn't watch anything after what I hadn't worked on. So I'm in it with Yasuke. And I think that just really added another level to it that was so much fun to play in.

You mentioned Yasuke's theme -- did you have a favorite character theme that resonated with you?

Yeah, I think the one for Yasuke. That's the best for me because as soon as it happened, as soon as it came out, it just illuminated the rest of everything. That was all I needed right there. It's so fun to make stuff, and then you could just sneak it in ever so slightly, just little bits of it. It gets me juiced -- just those little times when you can sneak a little motif in there. It's sweet.

Did you have a favorite scene and track featured in Yasuke that your excited for fans to see?

My favorite scoring scene was Episode 3. There's a vision, a flashback scene of Yasuke on the battlefield, and he has this kind of psychedelic vision. And they talked to me about the scene for weeks before I got it and were like, "Yo, once this scene comes, this is going to be the real Flying Lotus moment right here. This is like the quintessential Flying Lotus moment." It's psychedelic, the tree comes out of this guy's head, and it's insane. They cut his head off, and there's Cherry Blossom leaves everywhere. Then I saw it, and I was like, I know exactly what they want. It was awesome.

I love that scene, and working on it felt like, again, one of those moments where everything kind of fell in place. It came together super fast. It's very tedious stuff, but a lot of fun.

In terms of another favorite scene, there are several, but I guess my favorite action scene has to be the scene with Yasuke versus Kurasaka in the forest. There was a forest chase sequence, and there's like some superhuman craziness going on that I love so much, and there's a cool beat. That was cool. I love it.

MAPPA is exciting, working on some of the best series at the moment, making fans even more excited for Yasuke. How has it been working with them?

I gotta wonder if any of them sleep over there because I remember when I went over to the studio, they were giving us a little tour, and it was like, "oh, wow, y'all are for real about it." Like, everybody just looked like passed out with a pen in their hand like y'all need to get some rest.

Yeah, I'm sure it must be kind of cool to work in animation when there's a pandemic because you get to do it all at home and send them drawings. That's got to be kind of cool.

Hip hop and anime have always had a strong connection, and it’s great to see the relationship becoming even more collaborative. Was there a particular series or artist that introduced you to the idea of hip hop in anime or anime in hip hop?

That's a good question. I feel like it's always kind of made sense. And it's like, oh, now they did it, you know? But it always made sense. And it's always been in the back of my mind that I need to make some music for anime. That's like a dream come true. It's such a copacetic relationship.

Aside from Yasuke, is there a character you’re excited for fans to meet?

Since he's so unique and so new, it's going to be hard to say anything other than Yasuke. I do love our characters so much. There's a character named Ichika, who is a singer. And there's a cool mystery surrounding her story -- I love that about the show. We got to have a nice mystery in there, kind of woven in, and maybe it's something we'll explore a little bit more in the future, hopefully. But there's something lingering with that character.

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