Forgive me for being a little distracted as I type this, as the Chicago Cubs have just signed a free agent other teams actually wanted for the first time in about a decade and I’m a bit euphoric. As any American sports fan can tell you, being a Cub fan is suffering (and we, more than anyone, have earned the right to say that unequivocally) so we have to take our victories where we find them. It’s too bad that usually happens in the off-season when it happens at all, but I’ll take what I can get.
But in any event on to this week’s Akatsuki no Yona, and if it wasn’t one of the more memorable episodes of the series, it was certainly a highly entertaining one. The humor quotient in the village of the white dragon was quite high, and there weren’t a whole lot of surprises in the way things played out. The makeup of the cast seems to change on just about a weekly basis with Yona, and that’s clearly going to be the case for a good while longer as well.
At long last, we have our first official member of Yona’s dragon squad – Ki-ja (Morita Masakazu). Again, things in the village play out pretty much as expected. Yoon is a prisoner and Hak and Yona are likely about to be, but the reaction of the Elder (Kanemitsu Nobuaki) betrays the reality that red hair is apparently uncommon in Kouka (as indeed one would expect in medieval Korea). But ultimately it’s up to the will of the figure the entire village has existed to protect to decide the outsiders’ fate – if the White Dragon gives the thumbs’ down, presumably it’s the chop for the three of them.
It’s too early for me to see whether Ki-ja is going to be a strong character – he’s fine so far, but doesn’t make a huge first impression. He’s unsurprisingly a bit pampered and self-pitying, seemingly stemming mostly from boredom, and the doting of his loving but onerous Granny (79 year-old Kyouda Hisako) – who may or may no literally be Ki-ja’s grandmother, though I don’t think it matters – doesn’t help. She’s especially concerned that the now 20 year-old dragon hasn’t found “a bunch of wives” yet, but Ki-ja seems to be holding out for something more spiritually meaningful.
There’s some background here on how the dragon process works, but it’s not absolutely clear. It seems as if as soon as a new dragon is born, the traits of the dragon (in this case a claw and presumably in all cases formidable fighting power) pass from the old to the new. What isn’t clear is whether the dragonhood (?) has to be passed in a direct bloodline, or whether anyone in the clan is theoretically eligible. It seems more likely to be the latter, and this of course has important implications as far as determining just what Yona herself is.
What is clear is that Ki-ja has been desperately hoping that Hiryuu – or his descendant/reincarnation – would show up and give meaning to his life. And immediately we see a rivalry forming between he and Hak, which is hardly surprising. Ki-ja sees the dragons as the only companions Yona needs and tries to buy Hak off with a sack o’ gold, but the Thunder Beast (here depicted as a tiger) will have none of that. And when Yona makes it clear that it’s Hak she still considers her indispensable companion, he looks as happy as he has any time in the series.
At this point it’s pretty much down to the farewell feast and the tearful goodbyes, which are by the book but have their amusing moments (most courtesy of Obaba, who tries to include a bishoujo in the swag she tries to get Ki-ja to take with him). Fortunately for the screenwriter Ki-ja has the ability to detect the presence of the other dragons (“almost like siblings”) via his claw, which will give direction to the plot for the next phase. What’s going to be interesting is seeing how the new four-way dynamic of the Yona party breaks down (though of course it’s not going to last for long). Will we see romantic tension between Yona and Ki-ja, adding to the potential for conflict between he and Hak? Or is inter-dragon canoodling absolutely a no-go? And how will Yoon manage to stay relevant in the presence of those physically far more formidable than he is?