There’s really only one negative I can point to with this series, and it’s a petty and peevish one at that – it does make me think “If Pierrot is capable of production values like this, why don’t they show it more often?” A look back at the last couple of years really does show an impressive body of storytelling work for this studio – Kingdom, Soredemo Sekai, Baby Steps, Tokyo Ghoul, et al – I give full props for Pierrot’s top-flight skills at adaptation (using the caliber of directors they do is a big reason). I just wish masterpiece-tier narratives like Kingdom and Baby Steps got the same production treatment as Akatsuki no Yona, which I think is Pierrot’s prettiest series of recent vintage.
It’s a pretty safe bet that if “it looks too good” is the worst charge you can raise against a series, that series is in pretty good shape. But that’s the caliber of show this is. I can sort of point to the same kind of thing with character, because the cast is so strong that someone like Ki-ja – a perfectly fine addition to the cast – only pales when compared to the likes of Sinha. In a sense, the Hakuryuu was a sacrificial dragon here because his introduction had to be a rather straightforward one to highlight just how different the Seiryuu’s was.
And boy, is it different. As expected, an intentional contrast is being suggested between the White and Blue Dragon villages – a point that Yoon is unsurprisingly the first to pick up on (that’s not all he picks up on, as his “that’s not the only reason” aside clearly shows he knows which way the wind is blowing as far as Hak’s feelings for Yona). Where one man is a hero, the other is a demon – what one holds as a sacred blessing the other holds as a curse. Given that, it’s not surprising that Sinha is so much more the emotionally engaging character than Ki-ja, and it’s no shame for the Hakuryuu that this is the case – it’s just a natural function of the way the story is being told.
There are basically two aspects to this very straightforward episode – the dynamic of the Blue Dragon’s village, and the shifting dynamic of Yona’s party itself. Yona continues to want to spread her wings a little, yet remains aware of how dependent she is on Hak both emotionally and physically. This is the reason she chooses to go search out Sinha with only Yoon and ki-ja as company, and Hak surprisingly agrees. The malice of the villagers is so thinly veiled as to effectively be not veiled at all, and it seems clear that the only way this situation can be brought to a positive conclusion is if an appeal is made to Seiryuu himself. And Yona understands that she’s the person best-placed to make it.
As Yoon says (with grudging admiration) Yona has guts – she allows Sinha to brandish his sword against her and faces him armed only with compassion. But compassion isn’t enough (immediately, at least) to counterbalance the years of self-loathing that have been beaten into Sinha. The villagers, meanwhile, have followed the trio to the meeting and seem determined to eliminate them as having seen too much when an earthquake (surely not coincidentally) hits. A couple of things stand out in the sequence for me: first, it seems that Yoon is claustrophobic, which may be foreshadowing something. Second, Ki-ja shows some restraint in the way he faces down the villagers, indicating that his association with Yona is subtly changing his outlook. And when Hak desperately tries to claw through the rubble of a rockfall to get to the trapped Yona, it’s to King Il that he pleads she not be taken away from him.
There’s not much drama in this scenario in the sense that we know how it will end – the Seiryuu will certainly leave his hellish village behind and join Team Yona. But there’s plenty in watching it play out, because Akatsuki no Yona has proved itself brilliant at spinning compelling character arcs is very brief stretches of time. Sinha’s situation has genuine pathos – he’s a kind and noble soul who’s been ostracized and isolated by his own people. Will he retain his innate humanity and decency through these trials? Of course we know he will, but it’s still a gripping thing to see proved out.