Akatsuki no Yona – 08

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I’ve already opened with “Thank goodness for Akatsuki no Yona“, so how about “Thank goodness for good shoujo”?

Thank goodness for good shoujo.

You know the drill with this series if you’ve been watching, so this episode won’t have surprised you.  It’s just good, week after week – patient and nuanced and emotionally accurate, and this ep was really no different.  But this content in particular is such a rare thing in anime these days that it makes me especially glad to have this series around.  I think we appreciate shows like this which give us something so simple and meaningful, because they make us realize how rare that is in anime.

In structural terms, this was a side-story episode, basically – the back-story for Ik-su and Yoon.  Both (especially Yoon, it seems) are important characters, but at first glance one might have taken it as a pleasing diversion.  But it was absolutely essential, most obviously because really elite stories take the time to fully flesh-out all the major characters, and none of them are used as props.  But in a more subtle sense it points up that shoujo can get away with things shounen – or whatever demographic label you attach to the main body of LN (and manga trying to be LN) adaptations – simply cannot.

It’s a matter of expectation, really.  On the most recent RC podcast Kairi, Samu and I were talking about why this show isn’t more popular, and they theorized that it bears the stigma of being shoujo and worse, a reverse harem (which it isn’t).  The ones attaching that stigma of course are the ones who buy most anime Blu-rays (though not DVDs) these days, and thus effectively control the creative direction of the majority of the anime industry.  It’s only because Akatsuki no Yona is a shoujo that it can devote an entire episode to a cute and likeable boy rather than a cute and likeable girl, and to his (effectively) father-son relationship with his guardian.

You’d think father-son relationships would be common grist for the anime mill, considering who the biggest block of the audience is – but they’re almost entirely absent.  And normal, healthy ones – driven by love, empathy and a bit of moody tsundere from the teenage “son”, and where emotional attachments are openly acknowledged – are virtual dinosaurs.  Make no mistake, most mainstream shoujo isn’t nearly this good at depicting relationships, much less father-son ones, and there are some truly execrable shoujo that fall into depressing traps like heroines obsessed with abusive bad-boy leads.  But in shoujo, at least, Ik-su and Yoon can happen, even if it rarely does – and I don’t think it can happen in anime aiming for the biggest target audience (males) any longer.  Thank goodness for Akatsuki no Yona, and for really good shoujo.

All of the cast of Akatsuki no Yona has been interesting, including the antagonists, and most of them likeable.  And these two are certainly no exception.  As expected, the favor Ik-su asked of Yona at the end of Episode 7 was to take Yoon with her when she and Hak left. Why?  Because Ik-su wants Yoon to see a world that he can’t see stranded in nowhere’s back yard with Ik-su – the world the eight year-old Yoon said he dreamed of seeing when the two first met in the Fire Tribe’s arid land.  Their backstory is straightforward: Yoon is a starving orphan, and Ik-su – then as now too kind for his own good – travels about, giving all the alms of gold he receives to needy children (apart from the sizeable percentage he has stolen from him).  The desperate Yoon introduces himself with a stone to the back of the head, but the priest hasn’t a flake of gold dust or a crust of bread on him.  And seeing what his attack has done to Ik-su, Yoon orders him to stay behind and treats his wound.

It’s an odd meeting, but in context quite believable.  And simple as it is, the two have a great chemistry.  The smile on Yoon’s face when he says “I learned something!” after Ik-su teaches him to weave straw sandals (at which Ik-su himself is helpless) is both heartwarming and heartbreaking.  Ik-su is generous to a fault (literally) and Yoon soon proves himself to be frighteningly quick.  He can memorize and understand a book in one reading (he’s already shared this with Yona).  Ik-su has little to give Yoon but he long to see the boy’s mind have a chance to flower, and when he tells the boy he’s going off to live a life in solitude Yoon – who only after Ik-su entered his life realized how lonely he was – insists on going with him.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

So why, then, should Yoon leave now?  Ik-su’s motivation is genuine – he knows Yoon can never reach his full potential chained to the helpless priest who trips over his own feet – but there’s also an element of knowing Yoon can be a vital ally for Yona, whose quest he’s acknowledged as vital.  It’s all the more heartbreaking because both of them know full well that Ik-su is pretty much helpless without Yoon, but Yoon ends up agreeing mostly, I think, because he realizes how much Ik-su wants him to live a richer life.  Self-sacrifice for the one you love – the essence of a parent-child relationship, and so beautifully and eloquently portrayed here.

I was glad the camera caught Yoon’s true feelings in the end, even if he managed to hide his face from Yona and Hak when he revealed them.  As hard as this is for him, though, surely he’s thrilled on some level, given his insatiable curiosity and ability to learn.  And I don’t think there’s any doubt he brings things to the table Yona and Hak desperately need – he’s a healer, and quite clearly also very clever and innovative.  Yoon’s mind is going to prove crucial to Yona’s success and very survival, of that I don’t think there’s any doubt.  But I hope that at some point down the line the story (in the manga if nothing else) shows us the moment when he’s reunited with Ik-su.  They both deserve that much.

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16 comments

  1. T

    Yona should never be left alone with inanimate objects to cut her hair LOL

    This episode was really heart warming its rare you get to see the exploration of a parent-child relationship in anime these days so this was really sweet. I thought Yun backstory was interesting because it gives the audience a different (maybe even more prominent) idea of what the rest of the Kouka kingdom is like for common folks. So far we have seen the wealthier parts of the kingdom so I'm interested to see if the high amount of poverty and famine in the country will be continuously brought up or not.

    I want to bring up the prophecy for a moment. It says after the 4 dragons are gathered the sword and shield will awaken to protect the king. I'm wondering if the sword and shield are inanimate objects or living beings like the dragons?

  2. w

    I've already decided I like Yoon a lot.

    Yeah the dismissal Yona gets on the grounds of being a shoujo/reverse harem is unbelievable. Looking through the some of the comments the series gets on RC (even outside of the bile aimed directly at Kairi), you'd swear they're not watching what's on screen. Like they read the synopsis and genre tags and decided what the series was. I mean, it is technically probably going to be a reverse harem at some point, but it's sure not behaving as one in the meantime. And really, why should that matter anyway?

    Interesting point about how there are things only shoujo can get away with. I can't really think of shonens that would normally feature this kind of sentimentality. Exceot… Letter Bee was a shonen, right? That was one which wore its heart one its sleeve. Also, Pierrot again, natch.

  3. Letter Bee is a "shounen" but it always struck me that the readership was mostly female. Labels aren't absolute by any stretch – I mean, Pandora Hearts is technically shounen for crying out loud…

  4. K

    Pandora Hearts…or Pandora Hurts. I think it's pretty shounen. I get that is a lot about feelings and what not but the core of the story is well in the shounen label.

    Back on topic Yona is a great anime and I'm way too used to great series being a commercial and a popular failure.

    Otaku have really ruined anime as a whole, at least the otaku that have money and only buy BD or figmas, or whatever is hot theses days, of certain types of shows. The other I was talking with a friend how stupid can get anime to keep "girls pure" ChuRen2 is a perfect example of this.

  5. H

    Black Butler was in the same magazine as PH too and we all know that one has a 90% male fanbase. 😛 But yeah, actually if we're gonna talk magazines, AnY is from Hana to Yume which, in my experience, both has more fantasy titles in it and also has more sentimentality but not necessarily romance as well, it's also not aimed at the super young shojo readers so it can be a little more mature in it's themes without toeing the shojo-josei line. I actually find it a bit fun to compare which manga came from which magazines and see what common themes the editors/readers seem to gravitate to and how they give each magazine their own distinct "tone".

  6. Sorry, got to disagree here. Pandora Hearts is all about bishies, bishies, bishes as far as its commercial prospects IMO. It's a good story, don't get me wrong, but…

  7. Z

    I mean, it is technically probably going to be a reverse harem at some point, but it's sure not behaving as one in the meantime. And really, why should that matter anyway?

    Some of us don't like harems of either sort.

    I know this isn't one (for now at least), but one could have been forgiven for mistaking it as it such as it had all the trappings of one. Yona is not falling over every hunky man she comes across, despite ample opportunity to do so, which is refreshing.

  8. A

    I thought I would be bored with an episode shifting the focus away from the main characters to Yoon but funny enough I wanted to see more of his interaction with Ik-su.

    As for the whole "it's reverse harem, so I'm not touching it" business, it's a cope out because I have been to too many forums telling me to give Cross Ange chance and look beyond the awful fan service blah blah blah.

    I feels like with anime fans in the West (or least the ones around me) they have become spoiled brats and they have long decided that anything that doesn't fit their preconceived notion of what anime is should be then discarded. I mean, I actually had a friend say to me that he doesn't consider this show anime (?!?!)

  9. S

    How does that work? To an outsider, just looking at the art style, something like Yona must look as anime as it can get.

  10. Z

    I feels like with anime fans in the West (or least the ones around me) they have become spoiled brats and they have long decided that anything that doesn't fit their preconceived notion of what anime is should be then discarded.

    You could just as easily apply that to anime fans in the East. Moreso since they have greater bearing on overall industry trends.

  11. K

    I do actually consider this reverse harem with one girl surrounded by a lot of guys (although we haven't met most of them yet) but I don't think "reverse harem" is necessarily a bad thing.

    If the characters are well developed (which I say they are) then a label like reverse harem shouldn't matter.

  12. g

    If that was only criterion of the reverse-harem, then many show would it be the one. What about shounen sport anime very often with a female manager? Is it the reverse harem? Or maybe a gay harem of a male protagonist?
    There have to be some romantic development between female protagonist and all men, or at last every one of them has to be into her, right? Well, the most of them aren't or it's played as a joke. There isn't even much romantic development at all, even with rather obvious paring.

    Don't get me wrong, we can't say there isn't pandering to girls/women, who dream being brave princess surrounded by handsome warriors (rawr!), because if it wasn't, two of the Four Dragons could be women, for example (I wish). And If you want, you can find hints for different parings, of course.
    But I think that if there were any constant presence of a woman/girl with them, the mangaka couldn't play with Yona's obviousness towards Hak's feelings for her so much. And I don't even mean if the woman was into him (but she could), but one girls talk with: "You know Hak has hots for you, right? Why aren't you sleeping with him anyway? You can die as a virgin tomorrow!" and Yona would have to confront her feelings toward Hak much earlier than the author wants. But guys don't know how to break the news to 16 years old ex-princess. At last it's more believable that way.

  13. K

    "If that was only criterion of the reverse-harem, then many show would it be the one. What about shounen sport anime very often with a female manager?"

    No because the female manager is NOT the focus or the MC of the show, Here Yona most certainly is and she is collecting male characters, building a harem. It may not be a romance harem but still a harem (the opening makes that very clear).

    The issue is people seeing "reverse harem" or "harem" shows are something inherently negative. Many are, but there are many good ones of both types,

  14. K

    And no not every male character has to be romantically into the female character for it to qualify as a reverse harem.

    Ouran High School host Club a reverse harem and only 2 of the male characters had romantic feelings for Haruhi (but all the characters cared deeply about her). Often in a reverse harem there is even a clear pairing or maybe just one love triangle.

  15. Z

    I feel it's more of a reverse harem on the part of its audience. You have different male characters each fitting a specific preference (snarky young boy, confident older man, clumsy pacifist etc).

  16. E

    But in a more subtle sense it points up that shoujo can get away with things shounen – – simply cannot. … You'd think father-son relationships would be common grist for the anime mill, considering who the biggest block of the audience is – but they're almost entirely absent.

    This is really interesting, because as soon as this flashback started I was reminded of a series that is stock full of father-son backstories like the one shown in this episode. And what do you know – it's probably the most popular series of all time. Yep it's one piece. Especially in the most recent manga chapters – I guess the author of that series knows what the people are missing.

    OP is the definition of sheer bombast and over the top ridiculousness, but when it comes to human emotions, I don't believe it's ever fallen short of works like AnY or HxH which are dedicated more to subtlety and detail.

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