Akatsuki no Yona – 02

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Akatsuki no Yona is really delivering the goods.

I keep promising myself I’ll stop reading anime forums, because as I find my perspective growing more and more remote from the mainstream of anime fandom it’s an increasingly frustrating experience.  But it’s always fun to watch the mass of viewers react to an old-school series like this one, which is especially disinterested in following any of the ever-more narrow band of allowable prescriptions for appealing to today’s audience.  Most viewers choke on a series like this one and spit it out, and that’s why fewer and fewer of them are getting made and the ones that do rarely succeed commercially.

In many ways it doesn’t get more old-fashioned than Akatsuki no Yona.  A shoujo fantasy coming from Studio Pierrot? Yeah, good luck with that, Marketing Department.  The thing is, though, that this fusty old relic if following in the well-worn footsteps of some excellent series, and doing a pretty darn good job of it so far.  I think the first two eps have been engaging and well-paced (this one especially flew by) and did an excellent job acting as the prologue to set-up the real story (which of course only a multi-cour series has the luxury to provide).

One element I want to mention right off the bat is the music, which I think is a vastly under-appreciated part of the series’ appeal.  It too, is resolutely old-school, starting with the instrumental OP.  It and the background music come from the pen of Ryo Kunihiko, the composer for the likes of Tegami Bachi, Emma and (of course) The Twelve Kingdoms.  There’s not an ounce of concession in choosing Ryo-san for this soundtrack, as his style of cinematic orchestral compositions are rarely heard in TV anime these days.  Music helps paint a picture, and in this case it’s of an Asia (in this case Korea) of long ago, an almost-forgotten time that somehow lives on in the imagination.

One undeniable element of this series is that Yona is so far the ultimate helpless female protagonist – spoiled, sentimental, utterly dependent on males first for her happiness and then for her life itself.  This is all for a purpose, of course – I haven’t read much of the manga but even the anime has made it clear that Yona’s transformation is one of the major themes of the series, and the more passive and weak she is now the more stark that transformation will be.  I think it’s also important to recognize that in the historical context Yona’s behavior is quite realistic – she’s led an utterly sheltered and protected life, and in an age where women were expected to depend entirely on men for their safety and security.  It’s certainly easier to initially bond with someone like Nike (a wonderful character) and her “just do it” spirit, but she’s a different kind of heroine for a different kind of story.

There are several interesting elements in this episode, in which events inside the castle played out largely as expected but were presented in a vastly entertaining way.  First off is the revelation – or is it a claim – by Soo-won that King Il (Akagi Susumu) killed his father, the King’s older brother.  If indeed this is true it certainly casts Soo-won’s actions in a greyer light, especially if his description of his father as a loyal and brilliant warrior is true.  There are really two separate questions here – is what Son Woo says true, and if not, does he believe it to be true?  It seems that the answer to the second question is yes (though it’s too soon to say for certain), but I’m withholding speculation on the first one.

Also of note is the heroism of Min-soo (Yamamoto Kazutomi) the mild-mannered servant who was clearly in love with Yona.  While Hak’s heroism in saving Yona from Soo-won (it does seem as if he was willing to see her killed) is obvious, Min-soo’s humble sacrifice is the quiet headline of the episode.  It’s his making himself the target of the traitors’ fire that buys Hak and Yona the precious seconds they need to escape into the mountains, where Hak’s experience and rugged upbringing will play to their benefit.  It’s hard to imagine him surviving what’s happened (this isn’t Aldnoah Zero), but the last few moments of the episode make it clear that Min-soo’s sacrifice wasn’t in vain (though we really wouldn’t have had a series if they had been).

If things follow the expected course for this sort of series (and I would guess Akatsuki no Yona will do that more often than not) it’s about time we start meeting the other members of Yona’s party, whose appearance was teased in the flash-forward that closed the episode.  But it looks as if we’re first going to look back again, towards the shared childhood of Yona and Hak.  That too makes sense as it’s their relationship which is the obvious center of the series, and thus far we’ve explored it only on a superficial level.

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  1. R

    Man, old school is what I personally miss like hell, so I'll join you in the corner for old fossils. xP

    In all seriousness, Akatsuki no Yona hits most of my favorites spot on. Fantasy, adventure, political turmoil, all that good stuff. And if series on a more epic sprawling scale are getting increasingly rare, well I may just be in for an early retirement from anime

  2. H

    The characters in this look note-for-note out of Yuu Watase's Fushugi Yugi. Certainly old school in design, but I think the glaringly obvious female target is what turns most (male) viewers off to be fair. Like asking females to give a damn about Girls und Panzar.

    Episode one was frankly a plodding snore (I was counting seconds for that prince to do something shitty), this ep looks a step up judging by the screenshots.

  3. Thank you for endorsing my main point.

  4. H

    It sounds like a bit of a bitter oversimplification. But since you're only regarding general modern audiences (not individual taste), that should be fine enough.

    Now off to watch some Hyouge Mono.

  5. c
  6. H

    'kay, perhaps I went into this one a bit blind. That 2nd episode alleviated most of the doubt I felt from the 1st ep. It was very solid in fact that I can kinda empathize with the frustration expressed above.

    This show certainly presents itself as a reverse harem show on the outside (signs point to it aiming higher). I'm not much into harem shows in the first place where romance is a fixing point, but at the same time AnY is playing it very traditionally as a fantasy shoujo in both presentation and execution (clearly doing a good job at that).
    The first episode did little for me personally because I have a slight aversion to romantic themes overwhelming the other elements of a show. I read a lot of Yuu Watase in my youth, so you may know where I’m coming from. That's a legit concern I had with AnY due to the nature of its set up. Thankfully the focus seems more balanced going forward.

  7. Z

    Do you think it's worth a watch Hangman? Seeing as you're not really a fan of this sort of thing I can probably trust an assessment more than that of a fan. If it is indeed more politically focused I might be more keen.

  8. H

    This episode is definitely politically driven. It retains the tone left at the end of the first episode and never really falters. Although some found (I don't disagree) that the time shift right at the is a bit jarring. Witnessing Yona's personal shift is a pretty compelling component too.

    I'd say it's in the top echelon of second episodes of the season.

  9. T

    "I find my perspective growing more and more remote from the mainstream of anime fandom it's an increasingly frustrating experience."

    I agree wholeheartedly on this comment I've been getting increasingly frustrated over the negative response to Akatsuki no Yona and how no one seems to giving the story a chance to tell its story. But I have also been surprised by some of positive reviews of the series too so there is hope. I do wonder how this show is fairing out in Japan.

    As for the episode wow I already knew what was going to happen but the music and the atmosphere made me feel like I was experiencing the whole series for the first time again. Soo Won is an interesting character and he does bring up some questions worth discussing. Number one what was the relationship with their fathers? It seems to me a lot more was going on in the background during their childhood but the main three are largely unaware of those events. Also if King II did kill his brother why did he do it? If he did not then WHO did it? How did Soo Won get that information that made him truly believe his uncle killed his father?

    Also seeing Yona world collapse before her eyes was heart breaking to watch you almost wish it was a bad dream. Also Hak reaction to the news was intense and I credit the music for making the audience and the other soliders in the show nervous over how angry he was at hearing the betrayal of his childhood friend. The show definitely has done something right when you feel truly sad for a character (Min Soo) to have died so early in order to create a chance for his friends to survive to live another day.

    I'm glad your enjoying the show Enzo your one of the few bloggers I really like because I appreciate the deeper analysis you put into the series you blog. ^_^

  10. That's kind of you, thanks, but I really think it's mostly (sigh) age and a little perspective to realize that the anime world didn't begin in 2011.

    Among the many disturbing trends I'm seeing in anime, this impatience with any kind of mystery or growth curves for characters is definitely a major one. Too many people want everything explained in the first episode, and they want every character to be fully-formed and relatable. If they're not, they see no point in sticking around.

  11. s

    One can see that trend with media outside of anime in general as well; Instant gratification is what most seek when watching visual media. See, the thing is, a huge part of the anime fandom watch anime for instant entertainment, and while entertainment is purely subjective, the type of entertainment those who have that view of anime seek is the one that can be easily "understood" and otained. Those kind of anime fans got into the medium in the first place because the entertainment factor was immediate and gratifying and so they seek that within whatever anime they view. If they dont get it, then they bail; and hey I guess there's nothing necessarily wrong with that (im not here to talk down to the anime fandom or peg them as one-note viewers), but i do believe in keeping an open mind and broadening your horizons. To me, Akatsuki no Yona is just ok. It has that old school touch that i can respect, but it's not really telling anything unique, and nothing outside it's old school feel really stands out. In my opinion, the narrative and the way it uses its story-telling isnt all that compelling and the world the narrative wants to immerse me in is not all that great; i haven't quite seen anything that i can say is truly captivating. The writing is decent and the directing doesn't really stand out but at least it's ok. Still, the story is competent and its execution is commendable so the show definitely has merits.

    This is definitely not anything elite, or outstanding, or even great for that matter (or whatever other highly positive semantics one would like to use), but it is good stuff and quite frankly, that's all it needs to be. As ive said before, not everything needs to be complex or deep to be gratifying; simple and entertaining can go a long way. A story with genuine emotion executed fairly well can turn out to be such a wonderful story and ive seen it happen time and time again with narratives such as this.

  12. D

    "Too many people want everything explained in the first episode, and they want every character to be fully-formed and relatable. If they're not, they see no point in sticking around."

    Well, it's easier to make a character fully-formed in the first episode when you boil their entire personality down to one or two traits or tropes…

    Personally I'm loving AnY so far. Admittedly I've had almost a 15-year love affair with shoujo fantasies, so I'm biased, but there are hints of depth and layers to all of the characters, a sense that they have a history that influenced them and a future where they will continue to grow. It's not like there's anything genius or avant-garde about that – it's just good storytelling, plain and simple.

    I don't hang out on anime forums so I wasn't aware of the backlash against this show, but if the complaints leveled against it are because of the character development, then I just… what? Makes no sense to me. Maybe we need to strap some folks down and make them watch "Twelve Kingdoms" – teach 'em a little something about growth and character arcs.

  13. K

    I thought the 2nd episode was excellent and not sure how people can think Yona won't develop into a stronger character when the flash forward makes that abundantly clear (in fact I thought that was the one awkward moment of the episode but it seems people still don't get it). The reason I am most excited for this show is for Yona's character development.

    Well people say outdated I say classic.

  14. .

    Yona’s music composer, Kunihiko Ryo, is an ethnic Korean born and raised in Japan.

    Under his Korean name, Yang Bang Ean, he’s acheived a level of musical success in South Korea itself.
    One of his composing acheivements is his rendition of Korean folk song Arirang, performed at the 2013 inauguration ceremony of South Korean President Park Geun Hye.

    He also performed his rendition at the handover segment of this year’s Winter Olympics closing ceremony in Sochi, Russia to mark Pyeongchang as the 2018 hosts. Other performers included old pop singer Lee Seung Chul, jazz singer Na Yoon Sun and soprano Jo Soo Mi.(He was playing the piano on stage.)

  15. p

    Wow episode 2. I didn't like the 1st half of the 1st episode due to all the shojo tropes, but the 2nd half of that episode was quite good. This second episode though blew me away. It actually reminded me of Seirei no Moribito in terms of storytelling quality.

  16. R

    Yup, it reminded me of Seirei no Moribito, too.

  17. It was a very good episode indeed, but I'm not prepared to go anywhere near there yet. Maybe Junko Kokki or Romance of the Three Kingdoms (unlike some, I don't really get Fushigi Yugi vibes yet).

  18. w

    The music is very good. But I think we may have a Brynhildr scenario with the OP, since it also seems to be part of the series main BGM. It's unusual to see the OP music used so prominently throughout an episode. I wonder if there's an 'official' opening song that has yet to be released for whatever reason.

  19. T

    I do not want to make assumptions Enzo about your age but I'm going to be 25 and often times I feel too old for this fandom there is an over saturation of shows that are popular that I will never understand (looking at you Attack on Titan) but I think its safe to say our generation had a good balance of good story telling and "action" and that now and days a lot of young folks do not seem to be that patient anymore in waiting to see where a story goes.

    To be frank it surprises me two of my favorites Natsume Yuujinchou and Mushishi are still commercially popular even though by all accounts it should not be given the mainstream audience. Anyways I'm just happy there are good gems this season that reaffirm my faith that there are people out there that want to animate good stories for all to see. I can't wait for the upcoming episodes~~~

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