As mentioned earlier, I’m facing a serious time crunch over the next few days so the posts – even for a series at the top of my interest list like this one – are temporarily going to be on the short side. And while this episode certainly isn’t an absolute top of the line effort by Akatsuki no Yona’s high standard, it continues to lay out a remarkably interesting and nuanced story featuring a cast of extremely complex characters.
As mysterious as any of those, of course, is Soo-won. And he gets an entire episode more or less to himself here, dedicated to his efforts to win over the Earth Kingdom and General Geun-tae (Aizawa Masaki) to his side. It’s obvious from the start that Soo-won is playing the jaded Geun-tae here to some extent (though not necessarily just how much), seeing in the General a sleeping giant who, if roused (and recruited) will be an invaluable ally in the trouble the young ruler is sure is coming.
There’s a lot going on here, most of it under the surface. Sky Tribe general Joo-doh (Nakaya Kazuhiro) may outwardly commiserate with Geun-tae about his frustrations with Soo-won, but he clearly knows him better than Geun-tae does – and berates the Earth general for dismissing Soo-won as a “rabbit”. Everything that’s happening here is part of a larger plan by Soo-won – the war games, the wardrobe, the tea arrangements for the general’s wife Yuuno (Kayano Ai), and the results of the mock battle. Soo-won is clearly playing the long game, and anyone who sells short either his vision or his determination to see it through is clearly going to pay a heavy price.
We’ve known for a while that Soo-won is not a stock villain, and that his decision to murder King Il was not the setup for a simple game of good versus evil. But the extent to which our loyalties are going to be tested is still unclear. Right now one would be hard-pressed to say that Soo-won doesn’t look the part of a better king than Il – perhaps much better. The war game with Geun-tae (beautifully staged with the first OP as background music) shows off a man with physical prowess, strategic genius, patience and – perhaps most importantly – a sufficient lack of vanity to allow him to avoid undermining his own success as a result of pride. Not only does he clearly win the mock battle and then engineer a conclusion to allow Geun-tae to look like the winner in front of his own people, Soo-won also single-handedly revives the Earth Tribe capitol’s economy. It’s a neat bit of kingsmanship by any standard, and even Geun-tae is impressed.
In the end, though, this is still that man who murdered the lawful king – and the father of the girl he loved – in cold blood. And the endgame for Soo-won here is surely war – that’s why he needs men like Geun-tae, fools in peace but geniuses in battle, at his side. That war may simply be one of “self-defense” to protect his stolen crown, or it may be a return to the days of Kouka as an imperialist and warlike nation. As Akatsuki no Yona prepares to return to Team Yona next week along with the introduction of the next Dragon, it leaves behind an ever-more intriguing and difficult figure in Soo-won – the biggest enigma in this cast, and one who still holds most of his cards close to his chest.