Akatsuki no Yona – 17

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When it comes to Akatsuki no Yona, this episode is a case of the rich getting richer, in every way.

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.

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33 comments

  1. T

    I like with Jae-ah story there are hints to his backstory which I guess it can be said his experiences were probably similar to Shin-ah but he was able to escape that fate and find people who like him for who he is. Its a tough call to perhaps leave your chosen family in order to follow your destiny.

    Poor Hak to get burned by the girl you like at the brothel scene by her saying "she is ok with it" was funny yet I also wanted to pat the guy on the back.

    I'm glad your enjoying the series enzo. If there are any concerns I have right now is folks from the manga area spoiling stuff for you. I say that because right now there is a lot of commotion over the newest chapter. Big stuff is happening in that area at this moment.

  2. i

    "Yona of the Yawn"? Gosh, Enzo why do you pull this crap? 😛

    I know you're a Yoon fanboy, but I plan to riot if Hak doesn't win the poll. He's such a fascinating, multi-layered character—and he managed to be uncompromisingly entertaining while doing it. Not saying you have bad taste, but…perhaps you ought to reconsider some of your priorities…

  3. Who's to say who got my other vote? ;-P

    I give Hak his full due – great character, for all the reasons you cite and more. I happen to really love Yoon because it's much harder to be a hero as a guy – especially in anime – if you aren't physically imposing. Yoon is all about intelligence and integrity and resourcefulness, and I find that a really interesting combination.

  4. Y

    I have to say I completely agree with Enzo on this one: Hak is a wonderful charatcer (and person), but I've always found Yoon to be more impressive (in a rather unobtrusive manner), precisely because of his mental strength and lack of physical prowess. Plus, he's the only one in the main cast (as far as I've read) besides Yona to get some truly life-altering character development — keep your eyes open, his big moment is coming. 😉

  5. c

    I love the ending theme but hate whenever it comes on. Yona is too good.

    I'm glad Yoon is at least third in the poll (SO FAR). Gotta love that handsome genius, whom even the Thunder Beast relies upon. Though, it's really hard with this show. Can't think of a single character I don't like in some way.

  6. Eh, that sure looked like a manga spoiler.

  7. B

    I thought it was foreshadowed heavily enough in the anime itself that my mentioning it wouldn't get me marked down for spoilers. I also tried to avoid mentioning specific details, so I figured I was okay.

    In hindsight, I suppose that line of reasoning was a bit weak… ah well. I guess it can't be helped.

  8. K

    Enzo, great review- I look forward to your AnY reviews each week the most. That being said – I don't know whether you've had some unpleasant racist/xenophobic experiences in Japan, but I do feel uncomfortable with you inserting your political stance in your reviews. For example, when you called "Kouka" as "Korea". I mean, it's obviously inspired by Goguryeo of the three Kingdoms Era (and I suspect the Kai Empire is an analogue of Manchuria), but Kouka is just as much Korea as Westeros is England. At this point, it feels like you're inserting your anti-nationalist comments every chance you get – the erhu is a chinese instrument and has been used extensively in anime already: such as in Saiunkoku Monogatari. I mean, it's fine to have an opinions and I respect them (if they're anti-crazy-right-wingers, then I agree with them), of course, but the way you word your opinions is like you're putting words into the author/director's mouths and I think that's always a slippery slope where political affiliations are concerned. Why not just enjoy the series at face value? :)

  9. Y

    Well, this is Enzo's blog, so I suppose he has the right to mention and hint at whatever he wishes? I personally support his views regarding xenophobia and nationalism, and I'm glad he has decided to share his opinion with his followers. Of course, I understand that there are people who may feel displeased with the inclusion of "political" material in his reviews; therefore, my best advice would be for you to simply ignore the parts of his reviews that may (have) upset you.

  10. All I can say is I'm not meaning to give any offense, but it doesn't strike me that my reviews are overtly political and I don't intend to censor myself in this respect. And in terms of nationalism generally and Yona specifically, I make no bones about my distaste for the nationalist streak in Japanese (or any other politics) and I make no apologies for that view. Anyone who follows anime closely knows this issue has reared its ugly head many times, and this very series had to insert a disclaimer at the end because nationalists were upset that the setting was too "Korea-like".

    If you choose not to believe this setting is based on Korea, that's fine. I feel differently, and apparently so do the nationalists in Japan. Again, I intend no offense but I don't intend to change either my views on this subject or my manner of expressing them.

  11. K

    Errrr, Enzo, I don't know who you might be offending, but it's not me.
    Ah, rereading my post, I see where I might have been misunderstood; the second sentence didn't come off the way I meant it to – I didn't mean to oppose you inserting your political opinions in your reviews (not only is this YOUR blog, I come to this blog in order TO read your opinions, after all (wish I could use italics instead of CAPS)), but rather how it's done. I made a post simply because I wasn't sure if you were aware that some of your statements to a few might sound like you're making assumptions on the political stance of the author and the production team-based on confusing logic like the use of an erhu. One can't know what they feel – perhaps Kusanagi simply felt ancient China settings were over done, for all we know, and wasn't thinking about the climate between Japan and Korea very much at all. For all we know, the director might be a secret right-winger only doing this for the pay (even if improbable). Again, we can't know, and saying that Kouka IS Korea (like you did in one of your reviews) feels like (IMO) disregarding all the wonderful worldbuilding that Kusanagi is carefully incorporating into her story – I only pointed it out because I'm sure you don't mean it that way and I wasn't sure you knew it might sound that way to some (like me).

    Me when reading your reply:
    Enzo: "If you choose not to believe this setting is based on Korea, that's fine. I feel differently"
    Me: B-But I said, "I mean, it's obviously inspired by Goguryeo of the three Kingdoms Era" :'(
    Enzo: "I make no apologies for that view"
    Me: B-But I-I just said, "I mean, it's fine to have an opinions and I respect them (if they're anti-crazy-right-wingers, then I agree with them)" 0__0 **sad**

    In any case, would you feel disappointed if the anime doesn't get to developing the yellow dragon, or would you read the manga? The way the pacing is going, there's no really good place to end off the anime without feeling awkward, so maybe anime original ending?

  12. r

    The current ending song is totally Chinese – sorry if someone mentioned that already.

  13. N

    Unless you're a nutcase on /a/, no english speaker is getting really upset over the fact that Akatsuki no Yona is set in fantasy Korea. Enzo's trying to piss off the nutcases on 2ch who threw a shitfit over the Korean chicken soup in Sakurasou.

  14. To be precise, I'm not trying to piss off anybody. I'm just not hiding when something pisses me off.

    Also worth noting, again, that this series was impacted (the need for the end card) by the same people who attacked Sakurasou.

  15. Y

    I don't know if I'm just dense or if I don't have the necessary background or historical knowledge but… Let's assume this is in Korea, why would that upset anyone? Thanks 😉

  16. N

    It *shouldn't* upset anyone. But it does, because there is a loud and really fucking annoying population of right wing japanese people who really hate korean and chinese people. Partially out of a nationalistic superiority complex, and partially because of constant sniping from korean and chinese nationalists (who use japan's long history of killing and robbing korean and chinese people for their own political purposes). This is one of those classic cycle of violence things that needs honest dialogue and reconciliation, and not nationalists on all sides fanning the flames for short-term political purposes.

    Nevertheless, don't make the mistake of assuming that japanese nationalists make up a majority, there is plenty of diversity of opinion amongst japanese people. People like Ikuhara and Tomino and Murakami sit well on the opposite side of this line.

  17. It's certainly been my experience that the majority of Japanese aren't Nationalists. Unfortunately the currently ascendant wing of the Liberal Democratic Party (the political party who've ruled virtually uninterrupted in the postwar era) is Nationalist, very much so. Many Japanese are uncomfortable with this, but the degree of apathy and fatalism when it comes to politics in this country dwarfs even what I saw in America – it's remarkable. 70 years (almost) of LDP corruption and cronyism has virtually sapped all hope and optimism from the political process.

    It's also worth pointing out that while most Japanese don't share Abe and his faction's nationalistic views, there is a lot of casual racism towards Koreans (and other Asians, but especially Koreans) in Japan. In a sense it equates to white Americans' views of Mexico and Mexican people – but it's even more endemic and deep-seated. A typical conversation I've heard close variants of many times in Tokyo:

    "I have to go to Adachi-ku tomorrow."
    "Adachi! Be careful – that's a very dangerous place."
    "Dangerous? Why?"
    "Lots of Koreans live there."

  18. n

    Thank you for your review, Enzo.
    I am wondering if this time we won't see Yona and the others help Gi-gan before recruiting Jae-ha.
    After all, this is the first time they are directly exposed to such an issue : there is someone brutalizing citizens and the ones who protest against this aren't strong enough like Gi-gan said. Could they really leave the city without taking action and with there best support (Jae-ha) ? We already saw that Hak couldn't resist helping one girl in danger.
    The others Dragons weren't necessary to defend their village (except maybe for the Blue Dragon, but the threat was not as direct and clear as this one).

  19. r

    I bet that's what's gonna happen. Apart from the overly positive portrait of the pirates, the end of the episode and some frames of the preview pointed at it.

  20. .

    "If there is a negative…the series is about 2/3 completed, and the story and cast are still expanding."

    It is, especially after finding out the manga's still ongoing at 16 volumes and counting. Kusanagi-sensei's already surpassed the 9 volumes of her previous work, NG Life.
    There hasn't been any news yet on when Kusanagi wants to end Yona?

  21. K

    I am sorry but making me choose between Akatsuki no Yona characters is pure cruelty.

    Anyways I've been thinking about which do I like more this or Parasyte and I have to go with this. Both have strong narratives but Yona just has the better characters and it is more fun. Not to take anything away from Parasyte which is riveting each week.

    Also the Green Dragon was worth the wait.

  22. s

    there's some people who have a problem with the anime adaptation of kiseijuu vs the manga?

  23. One need look no further than the comments at this site to see that, though you see it everywhere the series is discussed. As I said I mostly disagree with it, but any time an anime adaptation isn't 100% faithful I think it's inevitable.

  24. s

    haha, predictable. I may have my small nitpicks about the series but that's from a story-telling standpoint than a "oh, this wasnt adapted or this event was supposed to happen before this" type of complaint. Overall kiseijuu is a very good series (and the most recent ep definitely helps there, but more on that when you actually write the post). Heck, i wish more anime adaptations wouldnt adapt manga or light novels by the letter. One should always adapt in a way that accommodates the medium as in for example a visual medium like anime or live-action should have less unnecessary exposition and more "showing" through visuals unlike light novels, novels, or manga, but eh i guess that's just me.

  25. I also think some changes are going to be inevitable when you're talking about a 20 year-old manga. Purism is fine, but anime has to be crafted with the modern audience's preconceptions as a factor.

    In other news, Ki-ja trails the rodent by one vote. Oh, the humanity.

  26. R

    I didn't even notice that until you pointed it out and now I can't stop laughing

  27. s

    hahaha; It's going to be interesting to see who wins this popularity race although i have a pretty good idea who it's going to be

  28. Given that I would have no way of knowing the timing of when characters are going to be introduced, that's a spoiler, sorry.

  29. w

    Oh dear. For the record, I haven't read the manga, and what I said was based on assumption rather than knowledge of what's to come. It seemed a fairly likely guestimation.

  30. r

    Thanks for another wonderful review, Enzo, I am also in awe of this series.

  31. You're welcome, roger.

  32. OK, fair enough – though I had no way of knowing that, I think you'll agree.

  33. w

    Oh yeah, it's totally understandable. I should have been more clear that I was speculating, wouldn't want you to think you really did just get spoilered! ^_^

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