Akatsuki no Yona – 06

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Thank goodness for shows like Akatsuki no Yona.  Really, what else can you say?

At this rate, folks are going to have to start being thrilled when Pierrot is announced as the studio for adaptations.  I mean, look at the last year or so – Kingdom, Baby Steps, Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii, Tokyo Ghoul, and now Akatsuki no Yona.  Admittedly the animation for the first two shows on that list was subpar, but I don’t think we (myself included) are giving enough emphasis to the artistic choices a studio makes – what material they adapt, and their storytelling choices.  All of these shows have been faithful and adroitly adapted, and in fact Ghoul and the two shoujo fantasy series have been quite good visually – especially this one.  I think the art and animation (and the soundtrack) for Akatsuki is outstanding.

At heart, though, why I’m coming to love this show is because of the writing.  It’s patient, it’s subtle, it respects the audience.  In short, this is an anime that narratively speaking plays like a novel – which is why it’s so unsurprising that the anime it puts one in mind of are mostly adapted from novels.  It’s so bloody refreshing to see a series where the characters aren’t fully-formed in the first episode but change, slowly and unevenly as people do, over time.  Where what people say isn’t necessarily what they mean.  And that doesn’t explain every mystery or grind the story to the halt with clumsy exposition, but lets the audience pause and consider what they’re seeing, and what it might mean.

I liked the way Yona’s transition from passive heroine to proactive participant was handled in the first part of the episode.  Seeing Hak pushed to the brink of death clearly pushed her past the breaking point – but she didn’t emerge on the other side of the divide as a super-soldier.  She was emotional to the point of panic, clumsy, desperate – but what’s changed is that she’s no longer willing to stand aside as her fate (and Hak’s) is decided.  She snagged Tae-jun’s sword (perfectly believable as he would have been utterly taken by surprise at her resistance) and cut off her own long hair to free herself from his grasp.  Swinging the sword wildly she rushed to where Hak was hanging off the precipice by his fingertips, but wasn’t strong enough to lift him up herself.

The symbolic nature of the act of cutting off her ponytail won’t have been lost on anyone with a working knowledge of Bushido – it’s a theme we’ve seen repeated many times in anime (and Avatar the Last Airbender).  Yona is throwing away her status and her title, embracing the life of a ronin and a fighter struggling against the new centers of power.  She’s certainly helped here by the fact that the last thing Tae-jun wants is to kill her, which makes this a difficult situation for his men – but when they approach to try and wrest her away from where she’s holding Hak’s hand, they both fall over the precipice.

If there’s an element of this episode I was even a bit dubious about, it was Hak and Yona surviving that fall – though of course they had to.  Judging by the visuals that’s pretty unlikely, trees or no tress, but be that as it may survive they did – discovered by “passing bishounen” Yoon (Junko Minagawa).  His self-deprecation about what he’s done for them is pretty obvious – this was no simple act of healing.  Yoon, it turns out, lives with the Priest Son Mundok had mentioned, Ik-soo (Kanemaru Jun’ichi).  Are these two a pair of the “Dragons” we’ve heard so much about?  In any event it’s clear the next phase of Yona’s journey is fully underway now.

As good as all that was, what was going on back at Hiryuu Castle on the eve of the coronation was possibly even more interesting to me.  I really find the whole Soo-won storyline and arc a fascinating one, because the numbers just don’t add up.  Watching the B-part play out, more than ever the sense I got was sadness – that this was something good and beautiful turned tragic and violent, and that everyone involved understands that.  It really appears that Soo-won genuinely loved Yona and Hak, and that Hak genuinely wanted to see Soo-won and Yona marry so that he could serve at Soo-won’s side.  And now, here we are, with Tae-jun bringing Soo-won Yona’s ponytail and announcing that she was dead (a la Chagum from Seirei no Moribito).

Looking into Soo-won’s eyes in that moment, it’s clear that he’s feeling the full impact of this.  He’s realizing that it was his actions – his decisions – that directly led to the death of Yona (they didn’t, but he doesn’t know that).  And not just Yona – he clearly loved Hak as well, and the fact that Yona and Hak won’t be at his side as he rules grieves him.  Yet I also sense that even had he known this would be the end result, Soo-won would have accepted that price.  Why?  What drove this seemingly gentle and kind boy to murder his Uncle and put the lives of his two closest friends in play, to seize the throne for himself?  Yes, he blamed Il for his father’s death – but there’s surely more here.  More that Soo-won knows – or believes he knows – than has been revealed overtly to the audience.

It’s a really fascinating scenario Kusanagi-sensei has created here, with so much internal and external conflict.  Soo-won comes to power fully realizing the depth of the challenges he faces, but it’s clear he’s both smart and driven – and equally clear that while King Il may have been liked he wasn’t necessarily respected.  Many in the population preferred the strength and pugnaciousness of Yu-hon, and see the coronation of his son as a chance for the Kingdom to be restored to its former glory.  It’s not just personal choices and their cost that are on trial in this story, but political ones too – and we’re still a long way from seeing all the evidence being submitted.

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  1. G

    I'm really loving this series. The characters are all well fleshed out and believable. I did a facepalm when they fell that distance and lived. Even if they fell into a large boy of water they still would have died.

  2. T

    Pierrot has really been putting me in my place this season. I seriously believed they were not going to be able to pull off adapting this story, but after this episode damn they are good. Also Hana to Yume released the episodes titles up until episode 10 and damn they are going slow. I have to wonder if they are going to do more episodes after the 24 episode mark? There is so much story to tell that I want to see the full impact of that story animated.

    Anyways this episode was great and further exemplified that these characters are complex and nothing is what it seems. For all accounts Tae-jun is an asshole, but its clear in his own way he loved Yona and was genuinely devastated at the idea that he killed her. Its exciting that now the next phase of Yona journey will finally start soon.

  3. I'm very pessimistic about getting more than 24 episodes (frankly I'm shocked we got that). This show doesn't figure to do squat on disc and the manga is modestly popular but not a powerhouse. But hey, who knows? If you'd told me Kamisama Hajimemashita was going to get a second season I'd have laughed that off as preposterous.

  4. R

    No shhhh let me believe in the power of shoujo fangirls please *desperately clutches her imported Japanese copy of the 15th volume of Akatsuki no Yona*

    I love all of Mizuho-sensei's works so, so SOOOOO much and there'd be nothing in the world that could make me happier than to see one of her more popular works succeed.

    Of courses, the chances don't seem to be in her favor, but dammit I'm going to hope and pray until I have confirmation otherwise.

    And import DVDs.

  5. T

    Even if the awesomeness of the later story does not get animated (my poor little fan woman heart) I love that Pierrot is giving this show a lot of love. The music, the animation, the voice acting, the action sequences, etc Pierrot did not have to make this series good but its clear that much like the fan base the people behind making these episodes have a lot of love for the source material.

    Rita I don't know if you read the synopsis for the later episodes but it seems they are really going all out to tell this story slowly. Which is great but at the same time saddens me because my favorite moments don't come until way later~~~MEH I need to stop complaining and just enjoy what is in front of me.

  6. i

    Ugh yes! Soo-won not just getting ignored is one of the best choices I've seen in any show recently. There's such a huge disconnect between him in the past, his actions in the present, and his thoughts in the present that we might as well have had someone say: "Look! There's something else going on here!"

    Whenever we find out what it is, I'm going to be fascinated. Great show; really impressed.

  7. c

    Before there was any noise about an anime, I read around 16 chapters or so of the manga and — while I liked it — didn't think it anything special. Boy, if Studio Pierrot aren't proving me wrong! Yona is the show I look forward to most each week. It takes what is there and brings out its best with subtly and earnestness and everything anybody could have hoped for. You're right — sometimes Pierrot are lacking in certain departments — especially animation, i.e. Baby Steps — but their choices in adaptation deserve a measure of respect. At least that's how I feel.

    Also, I lol'd about them surviving the cliff fall. If I'm to go out on a limb, I'd say whatever in that universe which gives Hak the ability to take on dozens of soldiers, delay the power of a poisoned arrow, and send out gusts of wind via his massive polearm/spear…thing… might also allow one such as himself to endure such a fall. If barely. I sense if he hadn't been protecting Yona, however, she wouldn't have made it. No, uh, Wind General powers for her.

  8. M

    This series continues to impress. I love the fact that we see things from So-Won's perspective as well and even the fact that even Lord Tae-Jun isn't a purely evil generic villain and shows great regret at the fact that Yona died(as far as he knows anyway) due to him.

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