Akatsuki no Yona – 09

Akatsuki no Yona - 09 -8 Akatsuki no Yona - 09 -24 Akatsuki no Yona - 09 -37

They just had to go ahead use the word “Moribito”, didn’t they?

It was a quiet week in Kouka, not my home kingdom.  But with this series that doesn’t mean important stuff didn’t happen, both in terms of character and plot.  Akatsuki no Yona doesn’t have a whole lot of wasted energy – everything is directed towards something, even if it’s simply filling out our impressions of a character in the ever-growing cast.  It wasn’t the most exciting episode so far, but it was certainly a thought-provoking one.

Perhaps most thought-provoking was a short, “don’t blink or you’ll miss it” pre-OP look-in at Soo-won and Kye-sook (nah, this isn’t Korea at all…) back at the castle. This is about all we’ve been getting of Soo-won lately, but with every glimpse his character grows more fascinating and perplexing.  Here we see Kye-sook bring him the news that, as Soo-won suspected, a corrupt official has been plundering the treasury for his own gain.  Several things are interesting here – first, that the man was “dismissed” (rather than, say, killed or imprisoned).  Second was Soo-won’s reaction – “King Il was a kind man, and kindness is not a crime.  But sometimes it awakens the greed and selfishness in others.”

Does this play as the interaction of two sociopaths, or even villains?  Not to me.  Rather, it further cements the impression of Soo-won as a man who’s become cold and hard, perhaps, but in pursuit of what he sees as noble goals.  Soo-won is not a raving lunatic – he’s calm and rational, and he’s done what based on what we know seem to be terrible things.  Why did he feel such deeds were necessary?  I love this element of his character, which makes him one of the most compelling antagonists we’ve seen in anime for ages.  As a bonus, he’s also looking at the story of the Four Dragons, which Il had forbidden anyone to read – though Soo-won seems skeptical of its veracity.  If indeed Il forbade anyone to read it, does that mean he knew what his daughter was, and was trying to protect her from the dangers implied and the burden of her history?  That would synch with the image of him as a man who sought to avoid conflict to the point of disfunction – which seems in large measure to be the reason Soo-won murdered and deposed him.

I got two paragraphs out of the first 45 seconds of the episode and it easily could have been more – that’s some fine writing the series displays here.  But there was indeed other stuff going on, as we rejoin Yona and Hak on the road, now with Yoon in tow.  I rather like the three-way dynamic of this group, though it seems as if it’s going to be quite short-lived.  Yoon easily slips into his role as both the “domestic” and the strategist, but he’s keenly aware of his own vulnerabilities as a fighter.  Both he and Yona are fully cognizant of the extent to which they rely on Hak to survive, and so is he – and I think it makes all three of them uncomfortable.  But the alternative makes Hak even more uncomfortable, as he passes up the opportunity to purchase a lightweight “self-defense sword” for Yona, instead reiterating his intention of doing the protecting (which was a rather careless slip in front of the weapons merchant, I thought).

In many ways this part of the journey has been about Yona’s awakening desire to assert some control of her own life, so it’s inevitable that she’s going to declare her desire to learn self-defense sooner or later.  When she does, Hak relents only to the point of agreeing to teach her archery – he won’t show her the sword (yet).  She can shoot from a distance, concealed, while he fights – but in addition to her strength and skills, Yona is lacking something else in the use of the bow and arrow.  There’s a very revealing conversation between she and Yoon, where he admits that he’s skilled with the weapon himself (sasuga) but reluctant to wield it.  Why?  Because when you pick up a weapon you have to be prepared to kill, and all the more when you’re “weak” as the two of them are.  Hak can afford to hold back because of his fearsome strength – people like Yoon and Yona have to know how to exploit fatal vulnerabilities, or try and win a battle of wits.

This is a really intelligent, incisive analysis of the situation – as you’d expect from Yoon, and as you’d expect from Akatsuki no Yona.  As far as Hak’s training of Yona he proves (again, as you’d expect) to be a poor teacher, as those naturally gifted at something often are.  But Yona proves that she’s willing to pay the price in sweat and blisters once she sets her mind to a task, and she does improve – though she still lacks the final piece that Yoon referred to.  Hak actually challenges her to try and his him as he moves, and he dodges easily – it’s only when he mentions Soo-won that she fires with intent and draws blood.  “I hate this side of you.” she says tearfully, but declares her willingness to “sacrifice someone” in order to protect him.  “Don’t say you’ll protect me.” Hak mumbles.  “It stirs my desire.”

That’s great stuff right there, but events are catching up with the character arcs by this point – the trio have arrived at the mysterious “village hidden by mists” where Ik-su has told them the first of their Dragons may be (the only one whose location he can guess at).  And Yoon – who Hak sent ahead while he engaged Yona in target practice – has been captured.  This is something like a ninja village, seemingly, and its inhabitants quite willing to kill outsiders to maintain their secret existence.  But that all changes when they see Yona’s red hair, and it’s obvious that we’ve arrived at the point where the first of the Four Dragons will make their appearance – the White Dragon the village is protecting. And with that, Akatsuki no Yona will seemingly enter another new phase in its narrative arc.

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15 comments

  1. e

    @enzo what do you think yona lacking exactly in her arrows shooting? i think the problem is she put too much strength when she aim before she shoot the arrow

  2. I think the series believes what she's missing is the will to actually take a life with her arrow.

  3. S

    Second that, though I noted, the series completely shied away from Yona doing such silly things as maidenly squealing at the thought of hurting oh-so-innocent cute animals for her training. True, she may subconsciously lack the will to take a life, and that's perfectly understandable, but she also has definitely her mind already set on her new, harsh reality. She's shaping up as a perfect mix of kindness and wilfulness; the mindset of a mature, wise ruler (one that her own father seems to have partially failed to attain, in fact).

    Actually, this makes me think a lot of my matches at Long Live The Queen XD. Ever played that game, Enzo?

  4. I've never even heard of it!

    I pretty much agree about Yona – her hesitation is very believable, and the balance is spot-on right now. I also loved that little speech Yoon gave her about strength and the need to be willing to kill if you're weak. So, so perceptive and on-point.

  5. S

    > I've never even heard of it!

    It's basically a very anime looking Visual Novel/RPG hybrid game. You start as Elodie, princess of *generic European-ish fantasy kingdom #9001*, whose mother just died and who's set to become queen of her country in 40 weeks. Every week has you picking which skills you want to spend time training on, ranging from royal demeanour to dancing to archery, swordfighting, economics, or military strategy, and which leisurely activities to engage in (affecting the princess' mood and therefore her learning abilities). Then something happens, and you have to hope your choice of skills was good enough to allow you to live another day. Basically everyone is out for your head – despite the cutesy anime look, the setting is more Game of Thrones than magical girl (well, unless you count PMMM, that is). If you make it to the crowning, you win. If you die before that, you get a cute chibi rendition of the princess' gruesome demise. It's quite addictive.

  6. K

    The scene with Soo-Won got me thinking that maybe Yona's father was guilty of killing Soo-Won's father but in a more indirect way. It sounds to me that Soo-Won didnt think the king was a bad man but a bad King which are two different things.

    It doesn't make what Soo-Won did right but it makes his reasoning more interesting than either him just lusting for power or even being mislead by someone else to think the king did something be he did not.

    And yes I am liking the slow burn this series is taking to build its characters and world. I just hope we will get a good stopping point because I'm sure 2 cour wont cover the whole manga.

  7. i

    I literally had the exact same take as you did on King Il banning the book, but then a commentator on my blog told me—that was actually a translation error. It was Soo-won's father who banned the book, NOT King Il.

    Which makes more sense, because—if you recall—it was King Il reading the creation myth to Yona a couple episodes back. Why would have have been reading a myth that he had banned? Certainly, if he was trying to protect Yona from her destiny, he wouldn't have been telling the myth to her.

    They got us both, heh.

  8. Thanks a pantload, Crunchyroll.

  9. K

    Thanks for the information, that does change things.

  10. T

    Its great I did not need to point out crunchyroll error in translation. Anyways it only adds to Yun-ho desire to rid of all things related to spirituality in the kingdom even though it was ineffective because the 5 tribes are based of the myths of the dragons plus oral tradition has helped the origin stories of the kingdom survive. it only goes to show how paranoid he was about the whole matter and it makes me wonder if he was planning on doing anything against Yona? I mean how many people in the kingdom have red hair? By I think its also safe to mention that the scene with Su-won in this episode is an anime original, but it does highlight several theories about the relationship between IL and Yun-ho.

    As for Yona in this episode I like that after all she has been through she is able to reflect about her basic needs for survival: food. She is now able to appreciate where the food she ate at the palace comes from and is one of the main things that is keeping her alive. After getting almost killed she is able to look at the value of life differently which is such good character development.

    Hak got good development here too with his internal struggle to follow the King's orders and also being realistic that Yona definitely needs to be able to learn how to fight. Plus he also loves her so I can understand that basic desire to protect the person you love, but its great he does not stop her from learning and becoming a better person. Despite his worries he supports her decisions and will side with her in this long journey.

  11. U

    Both Soo-Won (as an adult, anyway) and his father seem to dismiss the notion of dragons and gods influencing human events. This corresponds well with Soo-Won's cold utilitarian persona–he strikes me as realistic to a fault. It also makes a nice contrast with Yona's quest, which the priest said was part of a divine will.

    Wooo first post on your site. Thank you for introducing me to this series, Enzo.

  12. C'mon – you know you want a better screen name than that…

  13. Y

    Just wanted to say thanks 'cause I dismissed this series after the first episode (did not like the art and at the risk of sounding superficial, it's a very important part of the experience for me…) but I kept an eye on your reviews and after reading all the positive things you had to say about it, I gave it another shot and it stuck this time 😉 It's getting better and better and I'm glad I've changed my mind!

  14. Good to hear. Surprised about the art though – is it a shoujo allergy? I thought the art was quite nice.

  15. Y

    The shoujo thing doesn't help, but it's more about the character design and a sort of overall rigidity of the lines. I wouldn't say it's bad, but it just doesn't work for me…

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