Akatsuki no Yona
By: Caroline Frost · August 15, 2015
Yona, princess of the kingdom of Kôka, grew up pampered by her father the king and protected by the powerful warrior Hak, her faithful bodyguard and childhood friend. As her sixteenth birthday approaches, Yona basks in happiness: her cousin and secret love, Soo-Won, is visiting to celebrate with her. But when an unexpected betrayal tears everything she holds dear away from her, Yona, with Hak as her sole ally, must go on the run and fight for her father's throne.
I'm still weak. But, I don't want to pretend I don't see what's happening around me.
Between Akatsuki no Yona and Akagami no Shirayukihime, 2015 has been a wonderful year for anime-lovers, with beautiful designs and music alike. Both are fantasy shojo shows, and both are absolute marvels and honor the manga they were adapted from. For instance, this shamisen track excerpted from Akatsuki no Yona's original score:
Akatsuki no Yona tells the story of a girl—a normal girl, a bit naive, pretty weak, completely ignorant of the outside world—who, confronted to the real world, learns her place in it and how to look beyond herself, to those around her.
The first thing I noticed when I was watching Akatsuki no Yona was the the opening which, unlike many others, wasn't a song but an instrumental, with a gorgeous flute melody which gives the anime a fitting historical atmosphere right from the start. The opening images are beautiful as well, with drawings I will leave you to judge for yourselves.
The second surprise was the undeniable Korean influence in the show. I'd noticed it in the manga as well, from the names (Son Hak, Soo-Won, Ki-Ja, and so on) to the costumes (much reminiscent of those of the Goryeo era, when Korea was still a Chinese dominion, and I was very pleased to find this refreshing atmosphere in the anime.
Story-wise, there's nothing unexpected in the way the story starts. Arslan Senki starts on the same premises, with an exiled prince fighting to get back his throne and kingdom. The plot does take a turn, however, in episode 24, since it can't be denied that Soo-Won really doesn't make a bad king, or even a bad person. In fact, he's kind, smart and obviously attached to both the kingdom and the people, and it's very difficult if not impossible to hate both him and his team, as none of them are horrible human beings or anything. They're just people, and actually have good intentions, weird quirks, and their relationships are just as moving as Yona's team's. Far from being a random bad guys team, they're just...well, another team.
That difference is probably what sets Akatsuki no Yona apart the most among the legions of similar shows. No good and evil, tooth-rotting fluff and big bad guy who needs to die to save the people here. Soo-Won is just as much of a good guy as Yona, Hak and Company are, and he's got just as much right to the throne as Yona does, so why bother fighting him? What kind of argument does Yona have against him, when he's obviously working his butt off to help the people and strengthen the kingdom? To be quite honest, if I were asked to vote for one of them as my ruler, there's no doubt in my mind I'd pick Soo-Won, because he's so much more competent than Yona.
The princess knows nothing. She's basically useless—“weak” would be a nice word to use, and that made it a bit hard to get interested in her story at first. In the end, though, that same weakness was what helped me get attached to her. She's just an outrageously sheltered sixteen year old girl, naive, inexperienced, ignorant. And that's the thing, isn't it? Aren't we all like her? Weren't we like her at some point in life? Would we really have fared any better in her shoes? Probably not. It's easy to identify with her after a couple episodes, because really, the poor girl is just doing the best she can with what she's got and sure, that's not a lot, but she's doing her best, especially when she realizes that hiding behind Hak's back is all nice and easy, but the guy's far from indestructible, and she's going to get him killed if she keeps up the uselessness. So she takes a deep breath, vows to protect her friends like they protect her, and gets to work. It's a very nice bit of character development here.
The drop of fantasy the legend of the Dragon King Hiryuu and his four protectors brings to the show made me flashback to my beloved Yuu Watase's work (Arata, Fushigi Yuugi, Fushigi Yuugi: Gembu Kaiden,...) and instilled a subtle magic to the anime which, combined with the gorgeous chara-design, strengthens its beauty.
The show's also peppered with comedy and humor, thanks to Hak and his interactions with— well, everyone. For such a powerful warrior, he sure can be immature.
In my opinion, however, Akatsuki no Yona has barely started, and really needs a second season. Episode 24 is when things really start to get serious, and I really want to see more of this show.
A beautiful work and a nice time to spend while waiting for—hopefully!—a sequel.
Titre: Akatsuki no Yona (Yona of the Dawn)
Aired: 10/07/2014 to 03/23/2015
Number of Episodes: 24
Genres: Shojo, Romance, Fantasy.