At a time of peace there is no position more comfortable than that of a royal. All seems calm, all seems well, all seems happy. Their biggest concerns are not of any particular importance, only extending to things like, “what to wear,” “what to eat,” “what event is tomorrow?” This is very much the case for Princess Yona. Being a typical princess, Yona appears to emit beauty, youth, love, and care, but the typicalness doesn’t stop there. She is politically ignorant, blind to worldly struggles, and has never been given the chance to comprehend what the word pain really means. She has always been on the receiving end of support, never being the one to lend a hand. A flower may be the symbol for true beauty, but what is that worth if it can’t support more than the weight of its own? These questionable traits of hers are quickly addressed and tested as brutal, unforeseen circumstances diminish Yona’s title and force her to flee from her castle. With only the assistance of her protector, former general of a fifth of the country, Son Hak, Yona is put through unbearable trials one after another. Her only salvation lies in the hands of four humans who are the reincarnations of historical dragons. Together with Hak, Yona plans to find these dragons and have them assist in her grand retribution, all while she learns the truth of the world.
Yona of the Dawn is the grand amalgamation of a shounen adventure that has been refined and revamped into a shoujo form. The selling point is action and adventure rather than romance, but it is calmed down with reason and sophistication. At the same time, it manages to pull you into its fandom through its remarkable ability to appeal to everyone. Whether you’re male or female, a fan of shounen, shoujo, action or romance, there is something to be found in this show for all.
Take a gander at this:
Ever notice that every fighter inexplicably has this kind of jumping capability in your standard shounen? This is not the case for Yona of the Dawn, for powers are subtle and proportionate. No-one is creating energy in their palms, no-one is harnessing the elements at will. What you saw above was the single person in the world with this capability. Rather than trying to impress by making things bigger, faster, and stronger, the show promotes its action with efficiency and strategy. Rather than perpetually gaining new powers to surpass that of their opponents’, characters use the few powers they have to their fullest. The only exception to this is Hak, but he is just one powerful badass with a guandao that gives him an eight foot advantage. In all, the resulting entertainment is the same, but Yona of the Dawn’s means just come off as more realistic, calm, and collected, making it feel more like a shoujo.
Yona’s reformation is highlighted not only by her broken ignorance, but also by her desire to do something about this world. There is nothing worse than a show that introduces a dumb, delusional, absent-minded, or plainly ignorant main character which then leaves them undeveloped for a long period of time. If an anime stays like this for too long it becomes an annoyance for viewers. A pampered princess will never know how terrible the world can be unless she herself is thrown into it. In Yona of the Dawn however, an escape from these fears comes impressively sooner than expected. Yona’s mentality quickly sways from that of a helpless princess who always relies on others to that of a heroine who strives to take action into her own hands.
As viewers, we don’t want to see a hero that’s just dead weight. We want someone interesting enough to get behind. We want to see motivation, determination, a sense for what is right! Yona’s character development is more than satisfactory in this regard. She’s not just a pretty princess anymore!
This show holds a pretty deep insight into how kings are viewed by their people. King Il may have been introduced as a harmless soul, but this superficial quality means nothing to many people. What’s really important to an average person is how they particularly benefit from their ruler. Sure, everyone living in the capital is fine, and that’s where Yona would have conjectured that her father was a great king, but almost everyone who does not live in the capital (or a tribe’s epicentre for that matter) seems to be living in poverty. The people Yona meets on her journey mention that a good king would’ve surely saved them from demise. What is special here is that after Yona learns of these perspectives, she overwrites her own. This is a world that needs change, and Yona figures that out. You can see that she makes an internal resolve to save these people.
Let me enlighten you; there is no fan service in Yona of the Dawn, full stop. *Drops mic* - round of applause - standing ovation. This show is truly in the minority and it receives my sincerest praise for this fact. Yona is untouched by obscurely angled cameras, conspicuous wind, violating entanglements, ripped clothes, and most of all, tripping into a cupped position with a fellow cast member. Praise Tatsuya! Hail Hydra! Start the Storm Warning! pm Dexomega! Put it on the box! Enough grace cannot be said.
The new king’s true motives are suspiciously unclear. There is more to him than what meets the eye. He clearly states why he executed his actions, but it just seems like he truly cares for Yona. He tries to scare her out of the throne room before others come in, almost hinting that it’d be dangerous to stay. When others do show up, he asserts to merely capture her. Once she escapes, he sends no immediate dispatch. When he learns of her supposed death, he seems to falter. Upon the unexpected reunion, he makes sure to conceal her identity. This must all mean something. The speculation is really up for grabs, but everything feels to be pointing towards anti-heroism. Whatever his reasoning, his character is a good subject for delving into and holds promise for the future.
This thought couldn’t escape my mind throughout the entire production. I don’t mean this in the sense that Yona of the Dawn feels western, but more refer to the fact that it fills the Disney checklist. We’re given an amazing soundtrack, beautiful character design, lovable and well written characters, a story that can be adored by youth and has more to offer to adults, a main heroine with a cause that we can all root for, a supportive cast, the staple animal companion (“Best rodent sidekick in anime since Pikachu.” - Koda Kazar. See below), an initial plot twist that throws everything out of whack, the recuperation journey that follows, and an evolution for the better within the main character. This show has almost everything, the only thing missing are the musical numbers. Kind of reminds you of Mulan now, doesn’t it?
“Son Hak. The grandson of Son Mundok, former head of the Wind Tribe, he rose to lead the tribe at a young age. A single blow from his blade is like lightning, earning him the nickname of the ‘Thunder Beast (Raijuu) of Kouka.’” Hak is without a doubt the strongest fighter in Kouka. He is brave, strong, and persevering, but none of these words do enough justice when trying to describe him. Without him, Yona would have easily died on multiple occasions, that is, if her journey would have even been able to start in his absence.
We have seen Hak take on dozens of men at once and succeed, survive falls that would have left anyone else dead or paralyzed, heal from cuts that were more than just flesh wounds, and yet, maintain his bad-ass composure. In all fairness, Hak may seem a bit overpowered compared to everyone else, but his power is both still possible in the limits of this world and a key element of the story. With such a stature, reputation, and weapon, who wouldn’t hesitate in the face of the Raijuu?
Thanks to the snippet at the end of episode two, we knew from the start that Yona would find all the dragons. A window into the future can easily be as a hinderance to a story, but in Yona of the Dawn’s case, there was no way in hell that Yona wasn’t going to find all the dragons. What makes the story better than its superficial find dragon one, find dragon two plot are the trials that the party goes through to recruit each dragon. This flash forward focuses the plot on how they will succeed, rather than if they will succeed. It focuses the viewer on the individual dragons and the telling of their own stories and complexities instead of wondering what is to come.
There are a few scenes in particular across Yona of the Dawn that leave you saying, “oh come on, no-one could live through that,” or, “that guy could have easily killed her.” The answer that most people would jump to is that Yona possesses plot armour. In short, that means she is invincible because she is the main character. While this may be true, I believe that there is a justifiable explanation to this as well. The following is opinionated, but please regard the speculation nevertheless. Yona has the power to subconsciously convey and control. Take, for example, the fact that Yona can stun the four dragons by just being in their presence. This is possible because she is the reincarnation of the dragons’ tamer from 1000 years ago, Hiryuu. Hiryuu was a divine incarnation who was able to conquer the country along with the four dragons. If you ask me, this would be impossible to do with just five people, but persuasion changes everything. By sharing Hiryuu’s soul, Yona is able to subconsciously restrain people and stop them from dealing harmful blows.
Keep in mind that this is all just speculation, so believe what you will, but in the very least it makes sense. As for her method of conveying (and this one is easy), it’s all in her eyes. I don’t care who you are, you would stutter and take a second thought after Yona hits you with her powerful gaze. Those eyes are weapons in their own right and if you think I’m just gabbing, take a look at this gif:
The show has really just started ramping up; to stop now seems almost criminal. There was a great deal of time to get to know the first three dragons and have their characters develop and fleshed out. Then came the fourth, introduced in the last episode. How do you expect to make an integral character rememberable with 10 minutes of airtime? He definitely needs a good few episodes to settle in like the rest of the dragons. It’s really a shame.
Believe it or not, a shoehorned character is not the biggest problem with the end. Yona’s found the four dragons, she’s said her plan, and now it’s time to start going at it, right? Wrong! First you need to split the story in the middle, wait for more content to be written, hope the BluRays sell, then you continue. Depending on how the BluRays do sell, this show will either be a prologue to one hell of an adventure, the amazingly adapted first season to a show that fell short for all the wrong reasons, or in the worst case a show with no sequel at all.
Looking over what we have here, Yona of the Dawn is well done anime that just isn’t done yet. This is a timeless adventure with characters we can all get behind, animated in a beautiful shoujo style. It is a mature take on genres that we already love and it takes itself seriously in that regard, never faltering. When considering watching this show, you only have to ask yourself one question: do I want to watch a story that is halfway done, or wait until it’s finished? A good portion of the time this answer is no, but in the case of Yona of the Dawn, there is no harm. This prologue, if I may, stands on its own as a recuperation journey and a path to revealing the truth. Not only that, when the second season does come along, the only thing that you’ll be required to remember is that Yona has assembled the four dragons. Without a doubt Yona of the Dawn is a Go For It! as it stands now, and once complete the show will just be that much better.
Yona of the Dawn can be watched on Crunchyroll, Funimation, and for free, in SD on Funimation’s YouTube channel, legally.
Yona of the Dawn is the second of thirty reviews from Winter 2015 that Ani-TAY plans to cover. That’s right, we’re doing on for almost every show that’s finishing this season! Stay tuned over the next couple of weeks for the review onslaught!
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Special thanks to the one and only Protonstorm for editing. Without his help we would have all been unable to give Senpai some chocolate on Valentine’s day.