So here is my review of well a relatively recent anime Akatsuki no Yona (aka Yona of the Dawn). I’m relatively new at this and there’s a lot to get through so I’m going to tackle this step by step. ALSO SPOILER OMGURD SPOILERS
Yona of the Dawn is set in a semi feudal era in the Kingdom of Kouka, our title character is the princess of this kingdom under the rule of her father King Il who is extremely pacifist and although a kind man he is not thought well of by his subjects who see him as ineffective. Yona has been brought up without hardship and with two very attractive childhood friends, Soo Won, her cousin and Son Hak, her bodyguard (also head of his clan and generals and well this guy does a lot). Yona while loving both her childhood friends has her heart sent on the kindly Soo Won although her father forbids it for reasons unknown (well he says he wants to choose the next king but I’m thinking there’s more to it, I’m onto you Il!).
After everyone in the kingdom starts gathering for her 16th birthday she resolves to tell her father to suck it and that she loves Soo Won Ariel style unfortunately this doesn’t happen on the account of her father being murdered by Soo Won. I knew it the moment I saw his placid face this guy was no good, he reminds me of a less creepy Gin Ichimaru, never trustworthy! Well this guy then proceeds to tell her that yes he has indeed always hated her father and intends to take over the kingdom as should have been his father’s right before apparently King Il offed him (go with him on this there is no evidence apart from Soo Won wishing upon a star at this point) before some other Jafar looking guy shows up (Kye-Sook) and suggests he also kills the princess now she has seen. With the help of Hak and a servant named Min-Soo she manages to escape and sets about trying to find a way she can live free with the Kingdom basically assuming she’s been kidnapped/killed and Hak is a big dirty murderer. All this is in the first episode!
Along the way she must gather the 4 dragon warriors (linked to an ancient legend of the founding of the Kingdom) and well do something… She never actually swears revenge on Soo-Won or shows any motivation on taking her throne back she’s kinda just in it for the collectibles at this point. Well the ancient legend does mention protecting the king (which she is clearly the king) and restoring the land but it kinda glosses over this.
The characters in this anime are great no matter how big their role, all characters receive great motivation and writing. Hak particularly is a great character struggling with the hardships Yona must face and the fact that he can’t protect her all the time as it would stop her growing as she definitely can’t remain powerless for long but he represents stability as well as a hot love interest (huehuehue) although this is never forced or creepy and Yona always manages to defuse the situation to return to status quo.
Along the way they pick up Yun, a boy a year younger than Yona, yet has a lot of noncombat experience e.g. medicine and cooking . To me I feel he was written the most realistic, he retains his fear of the unknown while not becoming a useless crybaby, he also generally mediates the most in the group and seems to know what the hell to do compared to the rest.
The four dragon warriors suffer a little as each one added means less time to characterisation. The dragon warriors are human descendents of 4 warriors who drank dragons blood to protect the king of ancient Kouka (also a dragon but magicked himself human? You know as you do when you’re bored I guess) and are destined to serve and love him forever.
Ki-ha is the white dragon, this means he has a gnarly right dragon hand that would totally cause problems when needing to write letters, use the bathroom, peel oranges etc. He is the most star struck by the legends and has waited for Yona to arrive all his life and immediately wants to serve, he is devoted but naive which makes him very endearing as he just wants to help without asking for anything in return.
Shin-ah is the blue dragon which bestows the powers of awesome contact lenses, too bad his village is full of dicks who feared the dragon and just kept him around for obligation. His eyes can see far distances and paralyse people if need be, ala Basilisk. Because of his abuse he is practically mute but very gentle and understanding of people, he also has a pet squirrel named Ao so that’s nice, its like a two for one deal.
Jae-ha is the green dragon and like Ki-ha gets to have a gnarly dragon appendage except in his leg so he jumps like he has spring shoes. He’s the womaniser and the freedom seeker but with the power of Yona’s blank stare he abandons his freedom to follow her. He remains aloof but you can tell he’s a big ol’ softie.
Last dragon is the yellow dragon Zeno, who nobody knows what his power is cause he’s introduced in the last episode and does nothing, there is a hint that it is ‘stout body’ so invincibility? Maybe, but Hak does punch him right in the face and he goes down like a sack of spuds. He reminds me of stupid Soo-Won nice and happy yet clearly know so much more than he’s saying.
I’ve deliberately left Yona till last as she is kinda a let down, the first few episodes she was awesome to me, she kept true to some princess clichés but broke a lot of others that make me hate princesses, she was devastated by her loss and clung to the only person she had left you know like a normal person. She was weak but kept pushing on and she fought against her powerlessness and then by the time she met the blue dragon she kinda became Jesus. Why?! Why you do this to me Yona?! Now she isn’t a total loss, there’s obviously lots she can’t do but she suddenly becomes sage like in her calmness and understanding, she acts like how I would imagine her to be at the very end of her journey not like 10 episodes in, also everyone falls in love with her which always rubs me the wrong way as it means that she never has to face disagreements between her friends, as they always back down cause they daren’t upset their beloved one so she just does whatever she likes with little consequence. She also always makes the right choice which for a series with writing as good as this is just lame. Nothing is ever her fault and she is a virtuous flower child bleh. I still like her, just the least in the bunch of characters who have actual flaws.
Now as you can tell by how long this is getting there is loads to this anime, every minor and side character is fully developed and written beautifully and the show never hides from some gritty realities, in fact it actively embraces them. Yona must face the fact that although there were no wars under her father’s reign people suffered, he never enforced the clan leaders to look after their lands properly so there is poverty and famine as well as corrupt lords abusing their power and people becoming rebellious. Soo-Won actively tries to change things which leads me to believe that despite his douchey methods he may infact be far better for the kingdom then the previous king.
I’m going to group these together as I’m already writing an essay here. The music was lovely throughout, had a lot of traditional sounding instruments that really set the tone, I did notice occasionally music playing that didn’t match the tone like a bloodthirsty fight with a flute piping off in the background that just jarred with me, like watching a romance scene with the theme from attack on titan playing. Also the second opening doesn’t fit at all, it went from folksy upbeat music to suddenly trance J-Pop, no, stop, what are you doing?! Other than that it was mostly fine but nothing too memorable aside from the first opening.
The art was nice but again was just kinda standard, the character designs were exceptional though, Yona particularly standing out as being very beautiful. The palaces and towns were the highlight and at least gave you a taste of the different cultures present in the Kingdom.
There is so much room for this anime to expand as it really forces the viewer to assess whether the ends justify the means or should things change to suit the majority even if it means hardship and loss for the minority. The manga apparently continues on past the anime luckily as there is no announcement of a second season yet. I hope that there is more to the four dragons then just lets collect them so Yona and Hak can live happily in the bushes somewhere. The politics and world that’s been created has a lot more to give and I would heartily recommend this anime to any lover of a good fantasy/historical anime.
Also if you’ve made it this far congratulations! I knew you could do it, I will work on perhaps summarising more but this was just a lot to get through. >_<