If you were waiting for a lull from Yona of the Dawn, you can keep looking – they just don’t seem to happen. If you take out the hors categorie Mushishi (and it really doesn’t seem right to weigh that show against any others) I think this has been the most consistent anime of the season, even more so than Kiseijuu. It’s a true marvel in that sense – my interest has never flagged, and there hasn’t been a significant character introduced about whom I wouldn’t like to know more.
That certainly applies to the long-awaited Blue Dragon, who makes quite the entrance. I think it’s fair to say I immediately found Sinha (Okamoto Nobuhiko, doing double-duty in this show, and brilliantly too) more interesting as a character than Ki-ja (though that’s only first impressions – we’ll see). We meet him in his current incarnation (18 years old), as well as when he was a child (played by Kobayashi Sanae). That child was looked after by the previous Blue Dragon, fittingly named Ao (a brilliant cameo by stalwart seiyuu Miyamoto Mitsuru). And for company both have only a squirrel who it seems is also named Ao. He (she?) is played by Yamamoto Nozomi, and here’s the ironic bit – she was also in Captain Earth, which featured squirrel characters (Pitz/Mia) that sounded exactly identical, but those rodents were played by a different actress. Go figure.
The crux of this story is that the Blue Dragon’s circumstances are as close as possible to completely opposite those of the White Dragon as it’s possible to be. It’s immediately clear when the heroes arrive that something is amiss here – the villagers are creepy and suspicious, and disclaim all knowledge of any “dragon” in their midst. And most of them wear masks, which the Elder tells Yona are traditionally worn by unmarried villagers in public. It’s clear they don’t take to outsiders, and only begrudgingly does the Elder allow the group to rest inside a cave complex he refers to as a maze – and that without any help in terms of provisions.
This is a fascinating take on a different way the Dragon phenomenon can play out. Where Ki-ja was revered and coddled by his people as a kind of God waiting to be called to service, Ao and Sinha are shunned as cursed (Sinha’s mother killed herself after his birth, and that didn’t seem unusual). The villagers believe their gaze can turn others to stone – it can’t, but the reality (it can paralyze) is scary enough. They’re only too willing to rely on the Dragon’s power to protect them from greedy outsiders who’ve heard the rumors (think Kurta Tribe) but the Dragons themselves live in lonely isolation. Young Sinha, naturally, doesn’t understand why he’s not allowed to have friends or even interact with other villagers, and Ao is a stern and volatile guardian.
I really found Ao’s story especially powerful, in no small thanks to Miyamoto-san’s gripping performance. As his power slowly but surely passes to Sinha and his eyesight fades, he tries to teach his successor what he needs to know – never interact with others, rely on the sword rather than the cursed gaze. But what he really wants is to die – to be put out of his misery. And it is misery – Ao’s existence is a curse in itself, wracked by both physical and emotional pain. Yet when the moment finally does come where his powers have completely passed to Sinha, Ao is filled with regret that he’s going to leave the child utterly alone.
While it was plain to see the joy that Yona’s arrival brought to Ki-ja – and his village – it’s clear that it will transform Sinha’s existence in a far more powerful way. His power has only ever been a curse to him, and it seems likely no one in the village even remembers its origins or purpose. Now he’ll be shown that there’s a reason for his existence, and even a nobility to it. If he has a sense of this, there are no signs of it. He only meets Yona when she wanders off chasing Ao (the squirrel) – seriously Princess, that was a dumb thing to do – and a creepy villager seems intent on leading her deep into the bowels of the cave to be lost forever. Maybe Sinha saved her because he sensed who she really was, but I think it’s more likely that it was an act of simple decency and kindness – and indeed, he flees when he sees the others waiting for Yona’s return.
Akatsuki no Yona is going on hiatus next week, as most series are, but it leaves things in a really good place. The series is already engaging and eloquent, but it has a way of adding layer upon layer of content while only making things more interesting and involving. As this world is fleshed out more and more I want to know more and more about it, and about the people who inhabit it. This is a fascinating story flush with fascinating characters, and that’s certainly about as surefire a recipe for success as you’re going to find.