Sometimes, you go into a show not really expecting to be blown away. Sure, a lot of people you know are hyping it up, but cmon now, we all know they don’t have your discerning taste. Joking aside (well, partial joking), that’s what it was like for me and Yona of the Dawn: I wasn’t really sure if I could trust it to be good, because I’d had mediocre shows come highly recommended to me in nonspecific terms. Fortunately for me, the show wound up being really good, and while it’s not one of my most favorite shows, it’s still got a strong place on my list.
Yona of the Dawn is (so far) a 24-episode fantasy shoujo anime about a young princess who is forced to grow into a courageous heroine. In terms of subject matter, it bears a lot of similarity to an American Young Adult fantasy novel, following Yona’s path through trials and perils. Fair warning: as of yet, there’s no second season currently out, and the first season is definitely deliberately open for continuation.
What Yona’s About
Yona is a story about a young princess who, due to circumstances, is cast out into her kingdom. As she flees deadly peril, she starts to learn more and more about the kingdom, a place that she has been wholly ignorant of, spending her time in the royal palace. The show follows her maturity, as she must learn to not only survive but also turn the tables and begin to rebuild, preparing to right the wrongs that have arisen in her kingdom.
At the start, her only companion is Hak, the legendary Thunder Beast and general of the Wind Tribe, who has sworn an oath to protect her with his life. It’s a setup which reminded me heavily of Serei no Moribito, but as the series went on I was able to appreciate Yona as its own type of show–a bit lighter in parts, but also more vibrant and more overtly fantastical.
The Strength of Yona
The show is truly at its best when the characters who inhabit it are running at full tilt. That’s what eventually captured me about the show, despite its slow start. It takes some time to come into its own, because it takes time establishing the main protagonists (the princess and her bodyguard) and the antagonist. After the first run of episodes, it begins introducing new characters who start mixing up the dynamic between the two leads, and that’s when the characters get really good. The dynamics transform from quarreling banter to entertaining back-and-forth, particularly when the show introduces a straight man to roll his eyes at the whole thing. Adding more characters to the party just multiplies the effect, and the whole group of protagonists winds up being incredibly entertaining to watch.
That’s not all there is to the characters, of course. Every single one of them has some sort of pathos, and I’m tempted to draw parallels to Joss Whedon’s work. You can find the characters likeable and funny, but then you find out that they’ve got some serious stuff going on after all, and now you feel for them. This contrast lends the characterizations a lot of potency, especially when they serve as a backdrop for the transformation that the heroine undergoes as she journeys through the kingdom, learning the troubles and needs of her subjects.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a complete review without taking some time to talk about the antagonist. Without spilling too much of the plot, I can say that this is easily one of my favorite antagonists in fiction. Not only is he brilliantly cunning and psychologically manipulative, but he’s also believable and understandable…while at the same time being incredibly mercurial in his actions. You understand why he’s doing what he’s doing (in fact, he makes a very convincing case for acting in the name of the greater good of the kingdom), but it’s hard to be entirely sure of what’s going on behind a deceptively naive face.
And the Rest…
Visually, the show works pretty well. I’m a big fan of the character design, which draws heavily from traditional Asian clothing. It’s also splashed with plenty of different colors, and it helps to make the world feel like an interesting, living place. It’s even possible to see where parts of the kingdom have fallen into decay, by merit of their dull palette and visual design, which I think is a great touch. Otherwise, the show is fairly well-animated, though nothing super-spectacular among modern anime. It works pretty well, and it doesn’t detract from the rest of the show. Likewise, the music is pretty good–a bit repetitive at times, but it’s hard not to feel a swell of enthusiasm when the main theme of the show starts kicking in.
The plot can feel a bit scattered sometimes, and it only really starts gathering steam around Episode 7 or so, when the protagonists get a really clear objective beyond “don’t die”. From there, it follows a bit of an arc-based structure, but there are episodes which keep raising the stakes (both physical and moral) of the conflict between Yona and her enemy, building the metaplot even as Yona deals with episodic troubles along her journey. The plot definitely isn’t the biggest strength of the show, though. It’s a bit of a “quest for the MacGuffins”, although as a nice side benefit…each MacGuffin comes with a really cool new character.
Yona of the Dawn is a really good show. It took a while to grow on me, but by the end I was eagerly watching to see Yona’s journey from helplessness to scary awesome valor. It’s not complete yet, but it’s well worth a watch for the characters and the cool world.
I watched Yona at Crunchyroll.com