Yona of the Dawn

Rating: 4 out of 5.

As the sun rises at dawn, so we rise to join in life. Or to join in battle. So Yona rises before us like the sun which burns life into our world. So Yona shines onto all around her, standing at the head of men who would not readily swear allegiance to even a powerful male leader. The beautiful scene with which this series (currently only one season) both begins and ends will ignite your heart and dazzle your eyes.

This series is easy to watch and lots of fun. It’s never too intense, but at times tearfully heartfelt. Very bright and pretty, lots of fun characters, and a believable storyline make this an easy favorite. I very much enjoyed watching it, and I really hope for a season two at some point!

Characters

Rating: 9

As many of you know, one of my favorite things about anime is, essentially, how it can portray humanity in an obviously non-human way. I evaluate every anime on this criterion, on some level. I guess I can say it’s a constant underlying thought of mine while I watch and think about any particular anime. The characters of Yona of the Dawn do a great job in this area.

But it’s a little bit difficult to describe why I think so. I could say they all feel relatable individually. But then again, how many of us have lived in a time like this is set in? How many of us have dragons for friends? So it’s something like that, but more than that. I could say the dialogue is very easy, in the sense that the flow of conversation is pleasant and happily normal. But conversations are not extensive in this show, and they aren’t very detailed either. So it’s also that, but also something beyond that. I could say it’s the humanness of their behavior. They laugh, they cry, they get a little moody, they get hungry, the make ordinary mistakes, they make daring decision. But all of that is present in any anime. So it’s something about their behavior, but something more as well.

As it is difficult to describe what it means to be “human,” so I think it’s difficult to describe what feels so very “human” about the characters in this series. And I think that’s a beautiful thing, especially in anime. Watching these characters is a beautiful experience. My powers of description fail beyond that, both for individual characters and all of them together.

Yona is at the center of everything. And well does she deserve it. I should go ahead and point put the fact that Chiwa Saito provides the voice for this amazing character, and that instantly raises her character in my estimation. She doesn’t use quite the tone we’re accustomed to from such amazing voices as Homura Akemi (Puella Magi Madoka Magica) and the great Hitagi Senjougahara (Monogatari), but nonetheless I can’t get enough of listening to her. So right away I’m in love with Yona. But there’s so much more to this character than just her voice.

Of all the things I could pick out, I will choose to highlight what I feel is the most fantastic part of this character, the one part about her that stirs my blood just as her presence stirs the blood of the Four Dragons. This girl is worthy to be king.

If I possessed a superpower, and I used it for good, wandering from place to place in the world I found myself, and one day this young lady with startling red hair comes around with her brutish bodyguard and maybe one or more warriors already in tow, I would probably react in one of the ways that our Four Dragon friends react. Caution, disbelief, excitement, etc. But after looking into those eyes, listening to her speech, and then spending any amount of time around her, I would follow her to the ends of the earth. Because I fell in love? Whether I did or not, I would still follow her. Because this girl is worthy to be followed. She earns the love and respect of men, mighty men, men who aren’t easily inclined to those softer feelings towards their fellow man. She earns the love, respect, and admiration that a great leader deserves from good men. She earns the respect that a good king would want to earn. That is the kind of love I feel towards this character.

I have to give a lot of credit to the original author of this story, Mizuho Kasunagi, for creating such a leader among men. The way this series starts, seeing her at the head of this mighty band, is very appropriate. As her character develops from spoiled princess to the budding warrior we see at the end, you come to believe that she belongs in that place. Her design and execution, both in the story itself and as a character in this anime, are magnificent.

It’s hard to create characters that we can feel this type of respect towards. For one thing, we don’t often have the opportunity in life to encounter such figures. Avoiding any commentary on our society today, I will simply say that we are not at a point in history where great leaders are easily generated or particularly sought after. There is not the opportunity for such people to exist and flourish like perhaps there once was. The fact that this story is set in a time where such respect and admiration could be earned by someone in Yona’s position is a great choice by the author, as it easily allows for this kind of character to flourish. And even if we cannot fully understand the experiences of these characters, we can easily imagine ourselves following in Yona’s footsteps, just as the warriors who follow her do. It’s quite a job well done in her design.

The question of what makes a good leader is most studied. Most people point to a general kind of integrity, strength, and even an element of charisma. That’s a weedy field, so I won’t go there. But how does this apply to Yona? It’s hard to describe. But I will say this. She may not have the strength in her legs as the Green Dragon, but she will not stop walking. She may not have the eyesight of the Blue Dragon, but she will never stop watching over her friends and looking towards the future. She may not have the powerful arm of the White Dragon, but she will deliver the decisive blow when called upon. I’m sure she reflects the particular power of the Yellow Dragon somehow as well, but unforutnately at this point we don’t know what his power is (manga readers keep it to yourselves). And while she doesn’t have the physical strength of Hak, she has a power of mind that shines through her eyes, throwing back her enemies with a single gaze. Yes, I would stop what I was doing and I would follow her if she asked. She’s fantastic.

There isn’t a ton to all the other characters. I kind of touched on parts of each Dragon. They’re all fun to encounter and learn about. Hak is a nice foil for Yona. You know he’s suppressing his feelings a great deal. I hope that develops a little more in the next season. Please be a season two soon! It’s still a mystery whether the two kings are good or bad guys ultimately. Yona’s father is accused of a terrible and seemingly uncharacteristic act by Su-Won, so we don’t know everything about him yet. Su-Won of course does a dastardly thing himself, setting off the events of this story by doing so. Yet by the end of the first season we don’t know for sure if he is such a bad guy. He and Yona may be aiming for the same thing. I hope for more development there too.

My two favorite supporting characters are Ik-su and Captain Gigan. Ik-su is just a nice guy. He’s a big goofball that trips over his own feet and can’t stop doing good deeds for people. He’s so nice he’ll run out of money and food trying to help others if Yun didn’t keep up with him. In Ik-su we see the kind of power that good can have. He has a strength we rarely get to see. I think Yona learns a lot from his example, as it’s similar to the kind of quiet strength and goodness of heart we come to admire in her. Captain Gigan is the old lady that captains the pirates in the Earth Tribe city of Awa. She ends up being a mother figure to Yona. While this is kind of overtly done, it’s makes for a very sweet set of moments for Yona. Gigan herself is very harsh outwardly, but you know underneath there lives a heart of gold. We usually don’t see aged characters featured much in anime, and while she isn’t hugely in the center of anything, you can see the author put some thought into her character.

If I had to sum up the whole cast of characters, I would say it’s an adventure meeting all of them, and they add very positively to our experience. It’s a lot of fun encountering and getting to know them. Just like it would be if we made friends with them in our lives. That’s what I think is the best part of these characters. Our encounters with them are ordinary in many ways, yet so subtly rich and beautiful. It’s a very happy experience.

Artwork

Rating: 7

I love all these colors! It’s not KonoSuba or No Game, No Life colorful, but it’s peacefully and lively colorful. While everything is bright and pretty, most notably this lively coloring occurs in the main place color is highlighted in this anime: hair color.

Even if it’s on the blonde side, every character has normal hair color except Yona and the Dragons. This leads me to a part of this show I really like, and that’s the limited use of the fantastical or supernatural. There’s only an appropriate level of superhuman powers in this show. And it’s pretty clear who’s going to have those powers: the dragons. They all have the hair color to match their dragon color. It’s funny because you expect to see these unusual hair colors in anime, yet here it’s used to highlight those with superhuman abilities. Or is it?

Because the only other person with unusual hair color is: Yona. What’s Yona’s superhuman ability? I will leave that to a second season to answer. But I’d like to think that maybe she doesn’t have one, and that her distinctiveness will therefore lie elsewhere. Her red hair denotes two things. One, of course that she’s the Red Dragon. Two, she is superhuman in a way. We use the word “great” in the term “great leaders,” and she most certainly is that. She is exceptional. She’s a teenage girl with warriors following her into battle! How crazy is that? So in a similar way in which the male Dragons’ hair color sets them apart, so Yona’s dinstictive red color does for her. 

And I love the red! Like the dawn, they say. It connotes so much that we think of as beautiful in our lives. Who looks at a sunrise and doesn’t feel thrilled in some indescribable way? Yona can inspire such a feeling in followers and viewers alike. I could dig down into the significance of a red dawn too, and what that means for various cultures and their battle traditions, etc. That would add yet another level to her power. Whatever the full connection is between the dawn and Yona, I love how it’s encapsulated in her design through her hair color. For a simple color to carry so much meaning is a masterful artistic touch.

I’m not sure what the style of the clothing is that we see on these characters. If it’s supposed to match a particular era or location, it’s beyond my knowledge to know where. But they’re nicely drawn and pretty eye-catching. Eyes! Yona’s beautiful violet eyes! Well, as pretty as she is, I think her eyes are just a tiny bit too big. They’re definitely a major part of her character design, so I can understand why her eyes are larger than everyone else’s. But they’re a lot larger than everyone else’s. There are relatively few female characters in this series, so mostly you’re comparing Yona’s eyes to the stereotypically smaller male eyes around her. Perhaps just that makes her eyes seem too large. Either way, it makes you double-take on her sometimes when you’re watching.

Appropriately there’s a lot of scenes just as the sun breaks over the horizon. Those scenes are really beautiful. Everything is just really pretty in general! Almost all the scenes have a feeling of catching the surrounding light very well. Whether that’s sunlight or moonlight, it has a very nice effect. You’ll never feel edgy or apprehensive just by looking at the art during this series. It fits very well with the overall feel of the show.

Story

Rating: 6

The story is still developing by the time S1 ends. But so far, the plot does a great job leading the characters into all the adventures and encounters I’ve mentioned so far. It isn’t the greatest focal point of this series, but it doesn’t have to be. It does its job of allowing the characters to drive this series forward.

Pacing is the one thing I might quibble about in the storyline. It starts out a little slow, perhaps spending a little too much time establishing Yona as sheltered and spoiled. Then as things begin to unfold, it speeds up dramatically. Su-Won, King Il, and even the palace guards transform into potential bad guys all in a single episode. While I don’t dislike this rapid change of pace, it was very surprising at the time. During those first few episodes you wonder if Su-Won is actually the villain, but I remember thinking how unlikely that seemed. That whole sequence for the handful of shows surrounding Su-Won’s coup seems out of character for him. Anyway, once outside the capitol, the pace again slows a great deal. But once Yona sets out to find the Dragons, this show finds its happy gear. From there it continues at this comfortable pace right up to the end. 

Right up to the end! The Yellow Dragon is introduced in the last episode! Suddenly his appearance, Yona’s return to Ik-su’s residence, her decision on the future, and returning full circle to the scene where she overlooks an advancing army at dawn, are all crammed into a single episode. It’s a bit too fast, even if it’s handled well enough in the show. And it leaves you hanging, waiting for the next season. I don’t see how this series could stand as it is right now without a second season. If it never gets another season, then it will always feel very unfinished, and somewhat unsatisfactory therefore.

I make it sound like it’s a big deal. But it’s not distracting. Each episode fits nicely into the sequence, even if they cause massive acceleration or deceleration within the story. Every episode gives us new insight into Yona’s life and experiences, and it’s a ton of fun regardless of pace.

I like that this story is set in a time long past. When and where exactly we’re not told. The era and place may all be completely fictional, not based on anything at all other than generally how things were in Japan before any technological advancements arrived. But to be set in this fantastical environment, the show doesn’t stray too heavily into the fantastical. The only superhuman powers are those that the Dragons possess. Even those are not some giant and overwhelming mystical powers. They’re unusual and definitely make the Dragons nearly invincible in combat, but it’s not Goku powering up or Nastu Dragneel blowing fire out of his mouth or your favorite mecha character tearing away at a kaiju. It’s not even on an InuYasha level, where they encounter mythical creatures and use mythical/magical powers to enhance their abilities. There myths here to be sure, but the powers are simply there. Often the characters don’t even seem to use them to their fullest extents. Jeaha and Gija are the most capable with their powers, but Shinha only ever uses his eyes to see at greater distances than anyone else can. And we don’t even get to see the Yellow Dragon’s power. They seem appropriately limited.

So the story feels very “normal” with just a little of the fantastical thrown in there. So far it hasn’t let the fantastical overwhelm it, something that often happens in the fantasy genre. I find myself even wondering if this fits in the fantasy genre at that rate! We’ll see what happens in S2. Please make a S2!

Overall: 8

One thing kept nagging at me as I watched this show: I kept wondering if it was Japanese in origin. Why does he think this, you ask? Because the characters’ names don’t seem Japanese, either in a traditional or modern sense. Upon the most minimal of research, I discovered the series is Japanese in origin, but I also discovered something unusual. Stop me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think you usually see Japanese names written in katakana characters. For those who aren’t familiar at all with Japanese writing systems, katakana is used almost exclusively for words that don’t exist in the Japanese language family. Yona’s name is written in katakana characters when you see the title of the series written out, implying that her name is not “Japanese.” I haven’t read the manga (you know I don’t do it!) so I don’t know how the other characters’ names are written, but I’d guess it’s the same way.

So I don’t really know why the author chose the names she did. They almost seem more mainland Asiatic, like Chinese or Korean even. It’s a curiosity in this show. I kind of like it though. Not that I tire of Japanese names, traditional or obscure, but it adds another light fantastical element to this show without it becoming ridiculous. In both Eastern and Western literature, names in fantastical stories often get a little crazy, and seem kind of silly at times. It’s just unusual enough in this show without ever seeming ridiculous. 

If I had to pick a word to describe this show, it’s “inspiring.” Get out of the floor and back in your seat. I know I never use that word. I find very few things “inspirational” in the truest sense of the word. I might find things thrilling or exciting to the point that I might take some limited action based on it, but I don’t feel “inspired” very often at all. But as I said several times above, I could see myself following this girl. I can only give more and more credit to the author, and to the makers of this anime, for creating such a character. Nothing about her seems especially great, and that’s the magic of it I think. Nothing particularly feels great about this show either, yet I think it will hold a special place in my heart and memory. I look forward to the chance to follow Yona on her adventures yet again in a new season!

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