Akatsuki no Yona – 12

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Akatsuki no Yona ends its first cour as it began it – and spent all the time in-between.

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.

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  1. T

    So happy to see Shin-ah formal introduction ^_^ I like that for each village the dragon system is fundamentally different from each other which meant that former dragons can be biological fathers to their successors or a new dragon will simply be born to another family in their village.

    Ao story was heartbreaking which only exemplified Ki-ja story about his own father waiting his whole life for a master that might never come meanwhile Ao had no idea what he was waiting for or why he had that power in the first place. Shin-ah is such a good kid that it is sad to see his kindness treated coldly by the villagers.

    On another note the series does a good job balancing the humor I swear that 8-bit sequence had me rolling with laughter.

    I noticed that crunchyroll is following Funimation romanization of the names but I will just stick to how they are written in katakana.

    Lastly can we talk about how much of a troll Hak is? He is so funny

  2. J

    Unfortunately I cannot agree with the way the jokes are handled. They really pull me out of the mood and I struggle to think of one I haven't found jarring – yes I know this is the not-so-serious part, I don't need it rammed in my face. And it's not as if Yoo or Hak are unable to snark without going to comedy cuts.

    Fortunately that's the only thing I don't like about this series. I don't think there's a fault to be found in the way Ao's past was revealed.

  3. B

    You know, I think I've become so used to Okamoto playing loudmouths that seeing him playing the painfully quiet Blue Dragon was a bit off-putting at first. In hindsight though, his performance was excellent, and that backstory was gripping, tragic and executed with a lot of sensitivity. Ao was an interesting parental figure- he cared for the village and for the young child in his care, but was also short-tempered and undeniably bitter. He was never able to attain true happiness in life- even his anticipated death was marred by the fact that he'd be dooming a hapless child to years of misery and isolation.

    I also think they implied something about Ki-ja's past- that it was his father, the previous White Dragon, was the one who put those claw marks on his back (I haven't read the manga, mind you- the framing seemed to imply that). I kinda hope they go into that- my friend says that Ki-ja's past gets covered in a "special story" rather than the main plot, but I hope they animate it regardless. He's a perfectly competent character right now, but I think he'll be overshadowed by the others in anime if this keeps up.

  4. K

    I'm surprised Enzo didn't notice or point that out. I loved the storyboard in this episode: the way Ki-ja talked about his father before the transition to his back and how the cuts were framed before revealing the baby Seiryuu's eyes. Small things here and there so that it wasn't adapting the manga panel by panel and so it wouldn't be a show of talking heads.

  5. I don't know how literally to take that… And it sounds as if it could at least in theory be a spoiler.

  6. K

    I wouldn't consider it a spoiler. Just think of it as the squirrel watching over the dragon rather than the dragon keeping the squirrel as a pet (and its name symbolizes that).

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