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Why you should watch “Yona of the Dawn”

OP2.mp4_snapshot_01.26_[2015.04.14_19.14.03]Yona of the Dawn (or Akatsuki no Yona… which ever you prefer) is a rare breed among the shojo fantasy genre. What makes this show stand out to me is how much more focused the plot is rather than the romance. If you’ve seen other shojo animes such as Fushigi Yuugi, Ceres: The Celestial Legend, and The World is Still Beautiful, this should already next on your list to watch. Even if you’re not into that genre, I’d recommend this regardless.

Honestly, I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about this show when I first watched it. I checked out the show because it took place in feudal Korea, so I had to see if they actually named the characters in Korean and have the historical aesthetics correct. In some ways it did, but still felt Japanese centric in some respect. The show kinda starts off as this typical shojo anime where a naive teenage girl has a complete crush on some pretty boy and the pacing took its sweet time. While it was a predictable twist at the end of the first episode, the show finally introduced a somewhat conflict, however I still wasn’t completely sold. About five episodes in, I was hooked. The animation and the action scenes made the show look great! What really my interest was the whole setup of the conflict, there’s so many layers it.

The main protagonist, Yona, is the princess of the Kouka kingdom. As with most sheltered princesses, she’s bratty and ignorant of the outside world but (thankfully) not unbearably annoying. Her father, King Il, is a peace keeping man who’s so gentle he can’t hurt a fly. Unfortunately, one night he gets killed by Yona’s first love, Suu-won. Yona witnesses the murder and was about to get silenced (hesitantly) by Suu-won and his men. Yona’s bodyguard (also Suu-won’s best friend), Hak, comes to rescue Yona and they both free from the castle to survive. As the show progresses, Yona comes in terms with reality and sets on a quest to learn about the outside world along with Hak as they gather up party members like a RPG game.

As I’ve said before, the setup of the conflict is very compelling on many layers because it’s a very gray area on both sides of the conflict. When King Il was ruling the nation, he sacrificed the condition of his kingdom in order to maintain peace no matter what. Suu-won didn’t want to see his kingdom die in waste where it can be easily invaded by other nations so he took the initiative along with his followers by taking over the throne in order to keep the kingdom alive. During Yona’s journey, she learns that most of the kingdom’s citizens weren’t happy of King Il’s era and cheer for Suu-won as the rightful king. This obviously puts Yona in a huge bind since she sees Suu-won as a traitor for killing her father but she can’t deny the dying state of her people. The show puts a lot of emphasis on the three main characters – Yona, Suu-won, and Hak. These three have been best friends since childhood. After the death of King Il, their relationship has become very complicated. Before that incident, Hak fully supported Suu-won and Yona to be a couple, however he’s develop feelings for Yona over time as he’s traveling with her on her quest. The problem is neither of them can let go of Suu-won. Yona still loves him just as Hak is unable to completely cast away his friendship. What interesting is the fact that Hak wanted Suu-won to be king but not int he way he expects. Although King Il was publicly known as the “cowardly king,” Hak never saw him that way after King Il stopped a blade being drawn from an angry noble with his bare hand. It’s pretty clear Yona and Hak are experiencing the same journey Suu-won went through determined to save the helpless people, meaning the both sides have the same goals making them undeclared allies. It’s complicated, but the execution is very well done.

I’ve never invested so much of my attention to an anime like this before. It’s got a lovable cast of characters and a great memorable antagonist in recent years. Even the side characters, more specifically the four dragons warriors, are interesting on their own rights. Yona’s development from a sheltered princess to a strong, empathetic character makes her without a doubt the best shojo main character. Suu-won on the other hand, is one of the few antagonists I’d put on the same league as Char Aznable (Gundam), The Count of Monte Cristo (Gankutsuou), and Suitengu (Speed Grapher). Yona of the Dawn is a slow burn in the first several episodes but it’s necessary to build up the world and the characters. Unfortunately, a 2nd season hasn’t been announced yet. It’d be really cruel just to leave us hanging with such an incomplete story. Oh well, there’s always the manga which is still ongoing by the way. You can watch this for free on Funimation’s youtube channel. This is definitely a day one bluray purchase for me. Currently, there is no other anime out there with such an engaging story such as this one (well, except for Parasyte).

Rating: 9.5/10

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