Things developed just a bit differently than I expected here, in that I figured tragedy was going to visit Akatsuki no Yona – and Fuuga – this week. But apart from several hearts melted by shota-moe, the capital of the Wind Tribe averted disaster, and the impetus to move the story and Yona’s character arc forward came from a slightly different direction. But in a very real sense, it was still the spirit of the people of Fuuga that was the catalyst for change in the Princess.
One thing has been absolutely certain from the beginning, and would have been even had we not been shown flash-forwards that prove it – Yona was going to transition from the passive, helpless child utterly dependent on Hak to the avenging angel of death determined to save her kingdom. It’s just that sort of story. The two questions were when it was going to happen, and what that transformation would look like. We got the answers to both this week, and while Yona transformed a bit too comprehensively and quickly to be truly believable, it more or less worked for me. And of course, it frees the story to move onward to the next stage.
The key to all of this is Yona’s realization that letting Hak leave alone would mark a continuation of her prior existence – living a life wholly dependent on others, and watching others suffer on her behalf. It’s the matter-of-fact determination and courage of the Wind Tribe (not least Tae-Jeon) that provides the example. I find myself hoping both that Fuuga avoids catastrophe and that its residents remain part of the story – From Son Mundok on down they’re an extremely likeable bunch, totally straightforward and lacking in extraneous ceremony. With a cast of pretty big names (last week I forgot to credit KENN as Hang-dea’s buddy Tae-woo, who’s apparently next in-line to head the tribe) perhaps there is a role for this bunch in the future.
The degree of familiarity between Hak and Yona is quite endearing, and it could only be possible between people who’ve been friends for as long as they have. Hak’s response to Yona’s insistence that she join him in exile is to ask her if she has money to pay him, now that he’s resigned his position and name and owes her no allegiance – he does this knowing full-well she doesn’t – and then, to ask her if she intends to “pay with her body”. There’s no stock anime moment of outrage on Yona’s part here, as she gamely takes this joke that isn’t-quite-a-joke in stride. This is clearly going to be an ongoing dance between these two, and at this point it’s not fully clear to what extent Yona understands that Hak’s actions towards her are colored by his romantic interest.
The thing is, Hak has earned enough credibility at this point to where we understand that he’d be taking the actions he is even if he wasn’t in-love with Yona (which he obviously is). He’s doing this because he is who he is, and it’s his nature to try and shoulder the burdens himself without much complaint. That’s up to and including taking a (poisoned) arrow aimed at Yona when the two of them come under attack from Kang Tae-jun’s Fire
Nation Tribe forces. Kang says he “doesn’t care about the Wind Tribe”, and it seems that’s true as he does bypass Fuuga and go after Yona and Hak directly. For him this appears to be strictly personal – he doesn’t care about politics or Soo-won becoming King, he just wants revenge for the way Hak and Yona humiliated him.
The first five episodes of Akatsuki no Yona have been terrific, but there’s no escaping the sense that they’ve been prologue – that the real story began when the fire in Yona’s eyes came alight and she decided to seize control of her own life. For the first time now we’re going to see she and Hak interacting on more or less equal terms – he’s already established himself as one of the best and most admirable characters of the season – and while there’s no reason to suspect that won’t make the series even better, it is going to represent a huge change. The “Thunder Beast” is proving to be truly superhuman in battle, but even he isn’t enough to stand against the machinery of an entire kingdom on his own – and that, presumably, is where Yona and the rest of her ragtag group of rebels come in.