Yona of the Dawn
Until recently, Princess Yona has lived a sheltered life together with her pacifist father, King Il, but also her two childhood frineds, Son Hak and Soo-Won. All that came to a brutal end when Yona came upon Soo-Won impaling King Il on his sword. With Hak's help, she escapes from the castle and wovs to find the four dragons, human beings who carry dragon powers.
In the interest of keeping the synopsis to one paragraph only, I've compressed the story explanation quite significantly. The show and its characters are far more complex than this.
Bodes well, doesn't it? It should too; it hasn't been long since I watched 12 Kingdoms, and this show is probably the closest equivalent I've seen so far, storywise, with maybe a little splash of Moribito. I've heard it being compared to Fushigi Yuugi too, which probably has something to do with the "gonna catch all them hot guys" mode the show also seems to play out, if not necessarily romantically.
Yona makes for an appealing lead too. Chiwa Saito really sells the sheltered, spoiled, but not really bad Princess. Due to King Il's somewhat overprotective upbringing, she's almost literally in her own world, and once it gets completely shredded upon Soo-Won's sword piercing her father's chest, her character development can really start. This is basically what the first season is all about, and seeing the fire light up in her eyes for the very first time is one of the crown-ier moments of greatness, as is her moments of coming to realize just what kind of state her kingdom is in, and her figuring out what she wants to do with her gathering allies.
Because despite the shattering of her former world, Yona is hardly alone. At first, Hak is the only one to keep her company and also keep her safe from the ones who wants to end her life like they did her father. He's also known as the "Thunder Beast", and for good reason; he's almost literally a one-man army. One swing of his heavy halberd will end lives on a grand scale, and even the backlash wind can and will throw everyone caught up in it off their feet. So, once Yona regains her bearing, she decides to track down the dragons of legend, and demands of Hak to help her doing so.
Their first ally, Yun, however, is not a dragon. Barely surviving another ambush, Yona and Hak ends up in his care for a short while, and Yun is a bit of a tsundere youngster as men go. He lives with a legendary priest in a secluded cabin, and for all his complaints, he really cares for the utterly hapless messenger of the heavens. On the other hand, he's also easily the most educated of the lot, and he has long dreamed of travelling the world and obtaining all the knowledge he can get his hands on. Poverty had a way of stopping those dreams before he met with the priest, and afterwards... well, he had his reasons then too. But once Yona enters the scene, his brain gets to be an integral part of the team, and a seemingly valuable asset at that.
And so, we move on to the dragons themselves, the core element of this season's plot. As the legend went, four dragons once aided a man who gathered his kingdom into one. From there, the dragon powers manifested themselves in human beings, each of them color-coded in a way: the white dragon, the blue dragon, the green dragon and the yellow dragon. (I admit the concept of a "yellow dragon" made me laugh -- yes, I'm a bad person.) Yona and her team meets up with the white dragon first. Ki-Ja is a... dedicated fellow, to say the least. He is also easily excitable, and as such, he immediately gets on Hak's nerves, who himself takes great pleasure in calling him "white snake".
Unlike Ki-Ja, who lived in a town that loved him unconditionally, Sinha's childhood woes is almost enough to bring anyone to tears, and his introduction is kind of creepy to say the least, mostly thanks to the village he... exists in. The third member of the dragon tribe comes in the form of Jeaha, the green dragon. We don't really get to meet him until at least halfway into the series, but the story arc he's a part of is easily the longest of the lot. It's also without a doubt the nastiest, featuring plot elements including large-scale corruption and human trafficking. If there ever was a trial-by-fire for Yona, this is certainly it.
Even Soo-Won makes for a complex villain. He actually has a past with Yona and Hak, even being Yona's main love interest before the betrayal and murder. The reason we are served off the bat is the fact that he doesn't believe in King Il's reign, including his distaste for fighting and killing, which comes across as hypocritical to him, due to a revelation he'll make. King Il's pacifism sounds sensible to a modern world, I'm sure, but the kingdom of Kouka is anything but, as Yona herself will find out. Soo-Won is a frighteningly intelligent man, hiding his veneer behind a mask of goofiness and airheadedness, yet his moral stance isn't necessarily entirely evil. Even if he rose to power through a coup d'etat, he honestly has the kingdom's wellfare in mind, as later actions proves. That said, he's hardly good either; if not for Hak's intervention, he might even have had Yona killed after he stabbed King Il through the chest. He seems to be perfectly aware of his sins, and his further development will certainly be interesting to behold.
Under the scrutiny of nitpicks, this show doesn't quite reach the level of 12 Kingdoms or Moribito, but I'll be damned if it isn't close. If I were to pick a main flaw, then that would be the humor. Not so much that the show isn't funny -- it certainly is when it puts its mind to it -- but that gags appears at really random times, sometimes even inappropriate ones. Given the shoujo-like core of this show, needless to say, it can get pretty emotionally heavy at times, and I didn't always appreciate the show just flip-flopping into slightly deformed humor at the drop of a hat.
There is also the fact that this might very well end up being all we get. While the show as it is now has a pretty exciting and large story arc centered around the third dragon, the show deals with that and ends up spending the last, epilogue-ish episode casually introducing the last dragon in what feels like the beginning of something larger... that we are at risk of never getting to see, and that is a mortifying thought.
But those are relatively minor complaints in the grand sceme of things... well, at least the first one. Simply put, Yona of the Dawn is a magnificent adventure of a show. It has a solid cast, including a girl with fire in her eyes... almost literally at that. The show is complex enough to avoid being a mere simple pleasure, and despite the strong bishie presence, it's not really a harem. A love triangle, certainly, but one that got complicated in a pretty brutal way, given that Soo-Won is one of the participants. And we've only just begun learning about the world this show takes place in. If enduring a bit of inappropriately timed comedy is all it takes, I'm all for that.
The beginning of a really promising fantasy epic and as close to five stars as four stars can get. Can we please have some more, sir? — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: The show goes into some pretty direct description of poverty, war, corruption and human trafficking, so needless to say, it's not for the youngest. A lot of soldiers are also killed in battle, though not violently so.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream on Crunchyroll, Japanese with English subs.
Review Status: Full (24/24)
Yona of the Dawn © 2014 Pierrot, Akatsuki no Yona Production Team
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