It’s pretty much a given that this series is going to be great at this point – it may as well be called “Yona of the Yawn”, the consistency is so unbroken. Of course it’s worth making note of the stellar production quality at play here, given that obviously isn’t a given with Pierrot – but the narrative excellence is consistent with their recent work. There are two elite series airing at the moment, this and Kiseijuu, and while there’s some disagreement among the fans of that one as to the anime’s quality (as someone who’s read much of the manga, I almost entirely disagree with the negativity) there seems little such discord with Akatsuki no Yona. It’s pretty hard to find anyone among the manga readership who’s really displeased, and that’s a remarkable thing.
If there is a negative, even that’s tied into a positive – the series is about 2/3 completed, and the story and cast are still expanding. If we knew there were another season coming that wouldn’t be a problem, but of course it seems unlikely there will be. That’s really the only downside of seeing this fascinating group of characters joined by yet another winner, Jae-ha (the unmistakeable Suwabe Junichi, very much in his comfort zone here). He of course is the Green Dragon, the Ryokuryuu, and as have all the prior cast members he has his own unique story to tell.
We meet Jae-ha during the Yona party’s visit to Awa, the port city where Ki-ja and Sinha have sensed his presence. The introduction comes when he and Hak simultaneously come to the aid of a young woman being harassed by the local officials, but it’s as we see him playing the erhu on the deck of a ship (I delight in the way this series continues to thumb its nose at nationalists) that he really makes an impact on-screen. The ship, it turns out, is a pirate vessel – and on-board Jae-ha serves under the command of an elderly female captain named Gi-Gan (Sakakibara Yoshiko). But as always with Akatsuki, the truth is considerably more complicated than it appears.
It’s worth noting that the scenes towards the beginning of the episode, which could be throwaways in the hands of a lesser show, are a delight – the interactions among Yona’s party, the banter between Hak and Jae-ha (neither knows who the other is), the recriminations from the others (especially Yoon) when it’s discovered that Hak bas been to a brothel. In his defense, of course, that’s merely where Jae-ha took him to hide, though Yona doesn’t know that – and her lack of indignation seems quite sincere. We feel so close to these characters by now that watching them interact really is like spending time with family, and that can only come through really good writing – no shortcuts.
That this city is such a corrupt mess reflects rather badly on Geun-tae, who it seems is very much the disengaged leader of the Earth Tribe he appeared to be. A corrupt noble named Yan Kumji controls Awa and the citizens live in fear as a result (Hak is quite impressed that Yona has noticed this). This is where Gi-gan and Jae-ha come in – they play a sort of Robin Hood role here, at least to the extent that they disrupt official trade (including drug trafficking) as much as they can. If Ki-ja was desperate for his destiny to be fulfilled and Sinha lived in ignorance of it, this new Dragon is another matter altogether.
Jae-ha is still another twist on the Dragon role – he knows his destiny very well, and rebels against it. He’s an individualist, a playboy (and perhaps one with varied tastes – when the girls at the brothel gasp at “the look” Hak gives them, Jae-ha’s response is “Try it on me!”), a man who touts the virtues of “freedom” and beauty but one suspects is really more concerned with just being able to do whatever he likes than any nobler ideals. His destiny is a burden he doesn’t want, a choice he didn’t make for himself – and thus, his response to the presence of the other Dragons (which he senses of course) is to flee them.
I think we all know how this is going to turn out – Jae-ha will eventually cave and join forces with Team Yona. But we knew that with White and Blue, too, and that didn’t stop their stories from being fascinating to watch. Jae-ha clearly would be leaving a lot behind here – he loves his rogue lifestyle, and for all his cavalier attitude it’s obvious that he does bear some sense of loyalty to Gi-gan and the ragtag group of fishermen and farmers she leads. Jae-ha is crucial to their success – with his Dragon power (flight, or something close to it) and the weakness of the others, he’s pretty much a one-dragon army. In fact, the twist here is that – unaware of Hak’s true affiliations – Jae-ha is going to try and recruit him to his cause. What will it take to make a man in Jae-ha’s situation leave behind a life he loves and allies who need him for a destiny he’s been fleeing for his entire adult life?
Just for fun, I added an Akatsuki no Yona character poll to the sidebar, although we haven’t met the entire cast – check it out.