Generally, as I have mentioned, I'm not into shoujo. I find that Japan's habit of using cookie-cutter formulas for their genre's means you get way too much of the same thing and it gets boring and problematic, especially in a girl focused story where the heroine doesn't do much, is acted upon rather than being active, and uses rape as a plot device/back story. Especially in a historic shoujo. While shoujo has great success, it leaves little room for creativity and uniqueness - though there are exceptions (Dengeki Daisy, Ouran High School Host Club, ect. ect.)
Well, today Ladie's and Gentlemen, I would like to introduce a Fushigi Yuugi/Historic Romantic drama done right.
I don't know how many of you remember or even know about Fushigi Yuugi; it was popular in the late 90's and every fan knows and can imitate the horrible, 'Tamahome! MIAKA! Tamahome! MIAKA!' litany, as their relationship was classic of shoujo, hot and cold, love me now you don't but you really do! formula used in the genre. Not to mention it carries all the problematic themes (and then some) I've mentioned above. Not to say it wasn't enjoyable, only that looking back on it now I can see how problematic a LOT of story material was. Don't even get me started on Yuu Watase's Arashi no Ceres.
So I was more than a little dubious when a friend recommended Yona of the Dawn because it was very VERY similar to Fushigi Yuugi. So I watched an episode. Then another. Then the next thing I knew two days had passed and I had just gobbled up everything I could about Yona of the Dawn in anime and/or manga form.
I want to discuss the story (its pretty short, so far - not even to 100 chapters yet) so if you don't want to be spoiled you better stop reading.
The world we are introduced to is very similar to ancient China - a ruling family in troubled lands where mystical creatures (descendants of dragons) exist. Yona is the only child of the Emperor; sweet and spoiled and beloved by the people as the only Princess. She is a child of privilege, having never even traveled beyond the walls of her castle, never having known any trouble or darkness. The Emperor is a good man. He is loving and peaceful and has gone so far as to forbid the use of weapons in his castle. He refuses to get drawn into war with his neighbors or pick up a weapon, after having lost his wife to an assassin.
He has called upon the Wind Tribes greatest warrior and General to protect his daughter. Son Hak has known Yona since childhood, loves her but can't come to term with those emotion's yet, as she is the royal Princess and also -
Yona is desperately in love with her cousin and other childhood friend, Soo Won. He is compassionate, kind, handsome and treats Yona like a precious flower.
Our story really begins on Yona's 16th birthday as she has decided she wants to marry Soo Won, no matter what. Her father refuses in absolute terms, shocking Yona who has never been refused anything.
She goes about her day, celebrates her birthday and come that night she decides she is going to try one more time to convince her father to let her marry Soo Won. She doesn't notice that palace grounds seems to be strangely empty and pushes into her father's chambers....
only to find Soo Won in the action of impaling her father on a sword.
This catapults Yona into an extraordinary destiny. She barely escapes thanks to Hak and his inhuman prowess in battle and they flee to his village. From there Yona realizes there really isn't anywhere that is safe for her and demands that she travels with Hak around the country she has never seen, in search for an oracle priest who may have answers for her. Once they find him he tells them of the story of the Four Dragons and first king of the country Kouka.
It is now Yona's destiny to gather the descendants of the Four Dragons and understand how her destiny came to be.
Things I LOVE about this series:
- It is surprisingly realistic and level-headed. Yona goes from being spoiled Princess to War Hero in the Making throughout the 24 episodes of the first season and by the end of the first season she isn't there yet but is vastly different from when she started out. You SEE her struggle with her weakness. You watch as she comes to terms watching her father being murdered by her one true love, as it almost destroys her. She is GIVEN the opportunity to live out a trouble free existence with the Wind Tribe but lets go of security and an easy life to search out the Dragons.
In short, she is fucking incredible.
She full stop says, 'I am ignorant of the world and I am weak but I will not remain so'. No matter how much shit people throw at her, she keeps standing up and finds things that she's good at. After Hak is seriously injured protecting her she says, I cannot remain like this and asks to be trained NOT to be a warrior but be able to take care of herself, at least a little. See, she is under no illusion that she can be some warrior god, but she knows she cannot just let other people protect her all the time, either.
There is one scene at the end of the season where she says to Hak, I WILL NOT USE YOU AS A SHIELD. and for that I love this series more than anything.
I also love that Yona is the most compassionate, level-headed and kindest person you will meet but holy shit if you piss her off you better run.
She straight up murders a bitch with an arrow after he kidnaps and pimps out young women and tries to kill one of her Dragons.
- This series is deliciously morally complex. Soo Won is not the bad guy. You'd think after murdering the Emperor he would sit around twirling his thumbs like a good villain but HE DOESN'T. As Yona travels the country she comes to realize that her father was actually a very poor ruler and Soo Won may have had a good reason to murder him (kind of, I don't know if it was necessary to kill him to get him out of power). Even though her father was a pacifist and a good man, he was not a good ruler. His unwillingness to fight or even reprimand people allowed those who would use him as a shield to do some very bad things. This is shockingly realistic for a shoujo - absolute pacifism in a ruling class is actually a very bad thing.
Soo Won throughout the series is taking on the monumental task of putting the country, and tribes, back together before another country evades and decimates them all. In fact, there is a point where he says not to bother looking for Yona anymore and let her be. It is also strongly hinted at that he loves her and Hak but willingly destroyed that relationship to become Emperor.
- The true antagonist of the story is hard to point out. But mostly because, I think, the story is still new. Throughout the first season of the anime Yona manages to find all four Dragons and in the very last episode the final dragon says, 'Sooooo. You found us. Now what?'. And it brings up a very good point - with the Four Dragons (and Hak's inhuman strength - strong enough to even overcome one of the Dragons) she now has the power to overthrow Soo Won, if she so desired.
But think! What on earth would she do with the country if she won it back? She knows NOTHING about politics, nothing even about the country she supposedly would rule. It would be even worse than her father because not only would she have to wrangle all the tribes into respecting her she has to deal with a country that is falling apart. It would be a complete disaster and she realizes this. Soo Won is actually the better candidate for keeping the country intact.
While the anime didn't get into it, the manga has Yona and her dragons traveling the countryside, putting out some of the smaller fires - like a corrupt leader of a city, drug rings and helping the decimated villages. My hope is that when this great and terrible foe appears (as hinted at when the Four Dragons come together, its to save to world basically) Soo Won and Yona and Hak can come back together to save everyone. It also strongly hints that Yona is the reincarnation of the original dragon king of Kouka.
As the series ended on a rather abrupt note there isn't much more to go on about. I like Hak's and Yona's relationship - how complicated it really is and how the author takes into consideration that there are definite obstacles between them. I like how Hak realizes he can't always protect Yona and she needs to learn self-defense but still doesn't want to let her dirty her hands and he struggles with practicality and romantic feelings of wanting to protect her. The final episode has him saying, instead of putting you in a safe box somewhere I want the world to see how extraordinary you are! Damn, that's hot.
I really, REALLY hope there is another season to this. That this story reaches an end. That there is merchandise, oh Lord let there be merchandise. If you liked how this sounded you can find Yona of the Dawn on Hulu, Youtube or Crunchyroll. Also, you can continue past the anime with the manga on MangaHere.