Akatsuki no Yona – 15

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In the immortal words of Azuma Yuhei, this is getting complicated.

OP2: “Akatsuki no Hana (暁の華)” by Cyntia

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There’s lots happening in this week’s episode of Akatsuki no Yona, but let’s start at the beginning – there’s a new OP (and a new ED too), presumably delayed from the start of the cour because they weren’t ready.  The new OP song is perfectly fine and the animation excellent, though I was a huge fan of the old orchestral one and I think it’s better suited to the mood of the series.  Shikata Akiko’s ED, however, is a sensational one – the animation is simple and understated, but the music is majestic and ethereally beautiful.

As for the show itself, while this episode didn’t match the sheer emotional perfection of the last one, it doesn’t try to – and of course any series would be foolish to try and hit that note every week.  Once again we see an episode split down the middle into two stories, but this time the entire setting and cast of characters changes in the B-part.  The A-part serves as a kind of coda to last week’s episode, as well as setting the scene for a very interesting change of theme.

I’ve said from the beginning that I admire Akatsuki no Yona’s stubborn refusal to paint-in the entire picture for the audience, in primary colors or otherwise.  Again and again we’ve seen that the truth is far more complicated than the initial impressions we (or the characters on-screen) might draw).  This certainly applies to the reign of King Il, as witness the events in the desolate Earth Tribe village Yona’s party encounters as they begin their search for the Green Dragon.  As is often the case it’s the sensitive and well-informed Yoon who fills in the blanks, talking of the way the village was stripped of its men – sent off the train for the military – and left to fall into ruin in the arid interior of the Wind Nation.  The party gives some aid and comfort to a dying villager (Yona against Yoon’s warning to avoid him for fear of infection), who speaks of the disdain who hold for the late Il – who he describes as a “terrible king”.

This is yet another really brilliant scene in a rapidly growing list of them.  Yona excuses herself, obviously unwilling to let the others see the anguish the man’s words cause her.  But Yoon notes that he, too, didn’t hold King Il in high regard – that his professed desire for peace had done nothing to save villages like this one and his own.  It’s Hak who speaks up for Il, and it’s again clear that it’s not only Yona but her father that he loved.  Hak is a warrior, but in contrast to most in the series he sees Il’s aversion to conflict not as cowardice, but idealism and courage – even as Yona cries at the cruel irony that she must learn to use weapons against her father’s desire.  Who’s in the right here?  The series refuses to give us easy answers – and in-light of the evidence that Il’s reign was a hard one for the common people of his kingdom, it’s hard not to wonder if Soo-won has done the wrong thing for the right reasons.

Speaking of Soo-won, after a long absence he returns to the narrative with a vengeance this week.  We meet him on a visit to the Earth Kingdom capital of Chishin, where we meet a character who’s been absent even longer – the general Lee Geun-Tae (nope, nothing Korean about this setting…).  Geun-tae is a slovenly, sharp-tongued layabout whose open and brusque interplay with servant Chul-rang betrays that he’s a man little concerned with ceremony.  He’s a warrior who loved Soo-won’s father, and despised King Il for outlawing war and – in his eyes – making the Kingdom of Kouka weak and subject to bullying by its neighbors.

Soo-won’s visit in the company of the Sky Tribe general Han Joo-doh provides the disillusioned Geun-tae a chance (while still dressed in his robe) to size up the new king – and he’s not impressed.  Soo-won is the picture of kindness and bonhomie – and thus, nothing at all like the father that Geun-tae idolized as the true kind of Kouka.  Soo-won speaks of sightseeing and waxes poetical about the deliciousness of the tea.  What to make of Geun-tae – a likeable ruffian whose servants clearly love him, but speaks constantly about his desire to return to the battlefield and spill the blood of his enemies?  He shows the new king little respect, but if Soo-won is in any way angered or even ruffled he betrays nothing – he merely smiles and reassures Chul-rang that no punishment will be forthcoming.  He also announces that a “War Game Tournament” will be held – which both generals greet with a great deal of derision.  Ostensibly this is to give the generals a chance to stretch their muscles and the people a chance to see them in action, but Soo-won is a very clever man – and it’s not hard to imagine he has a larger goal of seeing just what these men are still capable of, and to get them in the mindset of warriors once more.

There’s so much to ponder on here.  On the relative merits of Il and Soo-won as leaders, and on the choice Soo-won made, and on the character of men like Geun-tae who cannot adapt to peacetime and dream only of a return to battle.  It would be so easy to make us hate Soo-won for what he’s done, but since that terrible night at Hiryuu Castle the narrative has chipped away at his villain status – first by strongly suggesting that he did what he believed was right (at great emotional cost to himself), and then, that he might just have been right in his beliefs.  This is a personal story and an epic at the same time, offering nuance and shading to a degree we almost never see in anime – and the more we learn about both the grand and personal dramas playing out here, the more fascinating and troubling they become.

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ED2: “Akatsuki” (暁;Dawn) by Akiko Shikata

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  1. k

    I love the new OP. Man, those bass slaps and the adrenaline. ^_^

  2. R

    I don't think it's a bad SONG per se, but I just don't think it suits the type of show Akatsuki no Yona is. Personally I don't think anything that invoke bass slaps and adrenaline is. I like the song on its own though

  3. T

    I like the new ending theme the most (it just make you feel like there are greater things to come for Yona and her crew) I like the opening theme too but not as much as the first opening theme.

    Yeah Su-Won is definitely in the grey area he is so hard to understand that at this point I feel like "making the kouka kingdom a powerful nation" may not be his only objective. Even now I still think a lot more is going on behind the scenes then what is being presented. I can understand now why they put this arc before the green dragon arc…there is not much time left and we need to at least spend time with Su-Won in order to try to understand him. That being said it was hard to watch Su-Won remember Hak and his crew so fondly especially after what he did. Its just creepy to see how much he valued his relationship with Hak, but still set out to do what he believed was right.

    But the fact remains King IL was not a good king. That is a brutal fact for Yona to accept since its clear aside from herself and Hak no one cares that the IL is dead and even less so that she is the princess of the country. I like it when things come into full circle since last week you mentioned how intimate a moment Yona and Hak had when she asked him to continue to refer to her as "hime-san" which now makes more sense because its the last bit of pride she has left being related to her father whom she loved dearly. its sad that Yona now has to consider if maybe just maybe it was a good thing for her father to be overthrown because it was clear he was not doing the nation a favor being a pacifist. The flip side to that is that war cannot answer all of Kouka problems either because that will result in a lot of deaths. Yup things have gotten complicated.

    Personally I still feel there is more to King IL and his brother then what has been presented but I guess we have to wait for that reveal (it has not be revealed in the manga too)

    Lastly Kusanagi-sensei confirmed the official total of episodes on her twitter yesterday. Its a shame there will not be more than 24 episodes because there is so much more to this story I want to see animated. It does not help that the new OP and ED make me feel this series is going to be around for a lot longer than anticipated.

  4. f

    i've already suspected king il was murdered because he was a bad king, i was right after all. i find it hard to sympathize with yona's cause now because suwon seems to be doing the right thing by removing king il from the throne

  5. T

    True as of now its hard to give any reasons to overthrow Su-Won but it does bring to mind what is Yona and the dragons destiny in all of this. I doubt it has something to do with something simplistic as taking the throne by force.

  6. m

    I love how in this story, there's no full stops, the pieces keep adding up.. and while I feel tortured not being able to glimpse Jae-ha for another week, I think Soo-won's arc is pretty wonderful too. I have no idea what his intentions are, and he keeps reminding us of his kindness.

    I think King II's stubbornness for peace may have been misplaced, but it's interesting to see the angles different people take. The people see King II as a king, but yona and hak see King II as as a respectable father figure. Why King II never tried to explain his intentions and strive towards a solution better than surrendering land is what I really want to know now.

  7. R

    My music godessssss ugggh I love the ending.

    That aside, I think this is about as perfect a transition episode as you could possibly ask for.

  8. a

    Enzo, in case you were wondering, the instrument played in the ending is an Erhu, a traditional Chinese instrument.

  9. Was not aware of that, thank you.

  10. r

    New OP is jarring. Old OP was much better suited to the tone and feel of the series.

    I get the sense that a lot of people didn't like the tablesetting/shift in focus to Soo-won that happened this episode. Which surprises me a little, because I always like it when a story is expansive enough and the characters developed enough that the author feels comfortable handing the mike off to secondary characters and other POV's. One of the charms of an epic is the obligatory epic cast of characters and the resultant multitude of viewpoints being pitted against one another in a single narrative. It actually took me a long time to get into the manga, because I'm kind of lukewarm when it comes to fantasy adventures, but part of what eventually sold me on the series is the author's willingness to develop and explore secondary, and even tertiary characters who could very well have been throwaways in a different work. And as Enzo points out, Soo-won's perspective is kind of important here. Soo-won's actions are controversial, but so was King Il's decision to remain a pacifist all the way to the bitter end.

    I also like that Yona is directly confronted with the suffering that may have resulted in part from her father's decisions as king. There are plenty of bad parents in anime who are neglectful and even abusive towards their children in their private lives, but I think it's a relatively rare thing for anime to try to explore the situation where a child is forced to face head-on the consequences of his parent's conduct in the public sphere. Now that King Il is deceased, and all that Yona has left are memories, this will be especially hard for her.

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