Princess Yona has lived a pampered existence in the palace, but her life is shattered when her cousin Suwon murders her father in a coup and she is forced to flee. Yona of the Dawn follows Yona’s quest with her servant Hak to gather powerful allies known as the four dragons who have extraordinary abilities granted to them by ancestral dragons.
This is not a formal review, but rather a more intimate look at what the two of us found enjoyable or otherwise, collaboratively written from both our viewpoints. Neither of us had watched this anime prior to us watching it together.
We Liked: A Likable Heroine
Yona is one of the most likeable female characters my wife and I have come across in some time. She starts the series weak and in need of protection, as she has lived a pampered existence in the castle. However, when her circumstances change, she vows to become a woman who can protect herself and aid her allies. Through hard work and determination she develops into a capable heroine. Yona’s spiritual journey is echoed in her growing aptitude in using implements of war… which serves as a compelling internal conflict in that her father never wanted her to wield a weapon of any kind.
While the premise is simple, it creates a satisfying through-line to the series and makes Yona a great character to root for. Anime seems to have a veritable bevy of female characters who are helpless in the face of danger, becoming objects to be protected or trophies to be won. This is not the case with Yona, and my wife and I appreciated that fact.
He Liked: Someone Put Shonen in my Shojo
Yona of the Dawn follows both Yona’s quest to gather powerful allies and her desire to become a capable fighter herself. It’s as if the writers took the basic outline of many shonen shows that focus on fighting and transplanted it onto a female character. For me, it was a welcome respite from the trappings of typical shojo anime. Where Yona’s romantic relationships barely developed (a trope common to shojo), the series is able to reward the viewer with her development as a fighter (a trope common to shonen). The beats of a shonen are familiar to me, and it was nice to see how Yona of the Dawn tried to upend certain conventions while keeping others. While my wife was given character development during slow times and the possible love polygons developing between Yona and her allies, Yona of the Dawn gave me action scenes and sense of progress not typical of a shojo.
She Liked: Empowered Princess
Yona has to be one of my favorite female characters in all of the anime I have watched. She grew up in a sheltered environment in which she received everything she had ever wanted. Yona was the daughter of a king whom she worshipped and loved and did not know about the harsh reality that existed beyond her world. This quickly changed when her father was murdered by her love (and cousin...bleh!!!). Instead of hiding in the comfort of her riches, Yona left on a quest and never looked back. This girl has courage!!! We learn later that Yona plays an integral role in an ancient legend involving powerful dragons. It is believed that she is our Red Dragon and has the power to make the other dragons gravitate towards her. Yona is the master of the other dragons that she recruits on her journey, and she is essentially a badass! With the help of her protector, dragon pals, and medically proficient friend, Yona learns how to fight and survive through adversity. She is sweet, level-headed, and fights for those who do not have a voice in the society that she had thought was perfect. Yona is so easy to root for, and I found myself forming admiration for her character and values. LOVE HER!
We Disliked: Cousin Lovin’
I don’t understand the justification for romantic relationships portrayed between family members (especially siblings) in anime, so I found myself at a loss trying to explain why this series starts with Yona in love with her first-cousin Suwon… and everyone around her seems to be on board with her romantic inclinations. Granted, it’s not a relationship that really has a chance to develop. If you are going to share this with your significant other, just assure them that Yona and Suwon aren’t going to end up together, and that it’ll become apparent as to why not at the end of the first episode. Since I hadn’t pre-screened this series, I was definitely squirming for a bit. We’re glad the the show didn’t venture down that path, but it made for an uncomfortable start to the series.
We Disliked: It’s Over?
Yona of the Dawn, more than any other series we’ve watched together, feels incomplete. My wife does not pay attention to the episode count, and was unaware that we were watching the final episode of the series. When it ended she asked, “Can we watch one more?” to which I had to bear the bad news that it was over. Yona of the Dawn does a terrible job of wrapping things up, especially since the fourth dragon just walks into camp and introduces himself and never demonstrates his power. I know this is an adaptation of a manga, but we were flabbergasted by where the writers cut off the anime... There isn’t even a climactic battle to cap things off. I’m especially shocked given how slow the rest of the series is. Yona of the Dawn does not stick the landing. Our opinions might change if it gets picked up for another season and can come to a proper conclusion, but as it stands Yona of the Dawn’s ending is the most unsatisfactory we’ve experienced so far.
He Disliked: The Plodding Pace
Yona of the Dawn is about the journey, not the destination… although this is not what the show is selling when it begins. The first two episodes always start with action, lead into character exposition, and end with action. The writers cut ahead in the story to accomplish this, but doing so gives the viewers questions they want answered and a reason to watch the next episode. The backtracking and filling in of details works out perfectly. Additionally, the first two episodes tell their own small arc and set the stage for the rest of the series. I was so hyped for Yona of the Dawn after those episodes, but then the rest of the series became a slog.
The reason for this seems to be that Yona of the Dawn simultaneously wants to be both a shonen and a shojo, but is unable to balance the two. The shojo aspects of the series appear as a ‘slice of life’ comedy that follows Yona and her deepening relationships with Hak and the Four Dragons. The shonen aspects of the series are about Yona’s epic quest to locate and win over the Four Dragons while maturing into a capable heroine. On paper, this formula works out great. In practice, you can feel the gears grinding between the two halves of the series… and not in a good way. The comedy elements don’t feel as artfully handled or punchy as a true comedy series, the action elements don’t have the consequences or narrative weight as a true drama series, and the result is a series that doesn’t give you the character depth necessary to justify the glacial pace of the overarching plot.
She Disliked: Cousin Lovin’... Again
As you read previously, we both disliked the incestous cousin lovin’. This was really the only aspect of this anime that I did not like. I will never understanding the comfortability of cousins loving cousins. In addition to this ‘icky’ feeling I got while watching Yona swoon over her family member, I didn’t understand why she had lingering feelings for him after he killed her father right in front of her. This did not make sense to me at all!
Because this is not an official Ani-TAY review, we have eschewed the normal review card.
My wife really enjoyed Yona of the Dawn, but I have reservations in giving it a full-throated endorsement. The way the series ends is such a letdown that it became the deciding factor in our decision not to give Yona of the Dawn a ‘Go For It’ recommendation. The series does not have any fan service, the comedy and action is serviceable, and the main plot is interesting if a bit slow. However, if you’re trying to hook your significant other into watching anime with you, there may shows better suited to the task.
Yona of the Dawn can be watched on Hulu and Crunchyroll streaming services. Yona of the Dawn is based on a manga series by Mizuho Kusanagi, serialized in Hakusensha’s shōjo manga magazine Hana to Yume. The series was adapted to anime by Pierrot and is licensed for regional release in North America by Funimation Entertainment.
Interested in watching anime with your significant other? My wife and I have written a guide based off our experience watching anime together that offers some tips.