Akatsuki no Yona – 18

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I’m beginning to see why so many people voted for the damn rodent.

And whoever finally voted for King Il, thank you for your kindness.

Truth be told, this wasn’t my absolute favorite episode of Akatsuki no Yona, though as much as I’ve loved this show through 18 episodes that’s praising with faint damnation.  It was still excellent – it just didn’t “click” with me on the same level the last run of episodes have, for whatever reason.  That said there were still several outstanding moments, and the series tackled the current situation in a way I genuinely wasn’t expecting.

Akatsuki no Yona does a very fine job balancing humorous moments with serious ones, which is quite a feat giving its extensive use of chibis (normally a robust irritant if ever there was one) and that the serious involves stuff like murdered parents.  And in this case, a little boy beaten to death by official thugs belonging to Yan Kumji (who I assume we’ll meet at some point).  The comedy during Hak and Jae-ha’s meeting didn’t work so well with me this time (apart from Suwabe-san’s “Uwao!”), but I don’t think it was so much the ugliness of what had just happened but that the comedy was a little cliched and struck a flat note.  There haven’t been many times in 18 episodes when I’ve felt that way, so it was notable for that reason at the very least.

Setting that aside, the circumstances involving the child’s death are pretty important for reasons that are immediately obvious, as well as ones that only become so later in the episode.  The key point here is Yona’s helplessness that she was stopped from intervening by Ki-ja (who was then stopped by Hak, who was stopped by Yoon).  They were all correct and she knows this intellectually, but it would be hard for any young person of conscience to know that their action could have prevented a child’s death – and all the more so when that person is the daughter of the king under which the conditions leading to his death arose.  There’s a lot happening here – of course Yona’s frustration at her own helplessness is a recurring theme, but she’s also starting to see more and more evidence that King Il’s reign might not have been a kind one for the common people (though I think Geun-tae shares plenty of blame in this instance).

The other major thread running through this episode is the question of free will and its application with the Dragons.  Jae-ha wants to recruit Hak to his cause, of course, but even absent the (perhaps) misunderstanding about Jae-ha’s intentions Hak isn’t interested. Eventually it’s Ki-ja who tracks Jae-ha down, and Jae-ha dismisses him as a “dragon puppet”.  When the rest of Team Yona catches up Jae-ha has to physically fight back his compulsion to serve (it even forces him to take a knee) but he’s resolute that even though Yona is a cute girl and not the warrior king (or perhaps soft, spoiled king) he expected, he has no intention of leaving his freedom behind to become anyone’s puppet – even hers.

Yona reacts as you’d expect – she tells him that she’s disappointed but she’ll respect his decision (I must note here that the most mesmerizing part of this scene is watching Aoi pat Yona’s hand – complete with sound effect), and she notes that she doesn’t consider herself the Dragons’ “master”.  I don’t doubt her sincerity at all, but I think there’s a bit of denial at work here – even packaged as sweetly as Yona packages it, we’re still talking about service to a cause that predates these mens’ birth by centuries.  Would any of them feel compelled to serve her if it weren’t for their bloodlines urging them to, even Ki-ja?  Once they got to know her well and understood her cause perhaps, or if they were urged to by their beloved guardian as Yoon was.  But under normal circumstances, no – I can definitely feel where Jae-ha is coming from on this point.

In fact, it’s only Hak for whom this service can be said to be wholly freely given, even if his family is sworn to serve Yona’s.  And when he notes the difference in Yona’s willingness to be told “no” with Jae-ha as opposed to himself, she can only say “It’s different with you.”  Of course it is, and we all know why, though it’s clear neither Hak nor Yona knows exactly what form that will take yet.  It’s enough that the bond is there and that it runs so deep.

In the end, Yona’s solution to this conundrum is simple – her group and Jae-ha’s both have an interest in fighting the injustice that prevails in Awa, so a meeting with Gigan should take place.  Jae-ha agrees, as long as Hak comes along.  I quite liked the brief moment when Yoon expresses his anger that Yona committed to this dangerous without his approval – it shows the strong bond of trust that’s grown up between them – especially Yoon’s reaction when Yona tries to suggest he stay behind in case things turn violent.  It’s so classically Yoon – which means it’s almost wholly unique for a male character in modern anime.

It’s quite a twist Akatsuki no Yona has pulled on us here, then – rather than Jae-ha joining Team Yona, Team Yona is going to join forces with Gigan’s pirates, at least for now.  That means proving their worth to the canny captain, which is no problem for Hak, Ki-ja and Sinha (who really needs to be incorporated into the story more).  It’s slightly more complicated for Yoon, but his answer is again perfectly him – “I hate violence so I don’t fight, but I can do everything else” he says modestly before listing a litany of options relevant to the interests of the modern pirate/freedom fighter, “and I’m a bishounen.”  For Yona it’s even more complicated, because for all the work she’s put in she has no pat answer to the question “what can you do?”  It’s still more a matter of “who are you?” with Yona, which is a big part of her character arc.  And this interlude with Gigan’s pirates will doubtless give her further opportunity for progress, and her team perhaps the first real chance to strike a serious blow for its cause.  I don’t think this partnership is going to be a long-term prospect, but it’ll be very interesting to see where it takes the story in the meantime.

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  1. Y

    I'm glad you pay such detailed attention to Yoon's character — most people tend to skip him over in favour of the "much cooler" Dragon Quartet + Hak/Yona (not that they aren't all awesome, but still). I think you'll like this arc a lot — it's certainly a fan favourite. Keep up the good reviews!

  2. You're welcome. Just like Shounen are better with an interesting male lead, so are shoujo with an interesting female lead. If some genre fans choose to ignore them, that their loss…

  3. C

    It also helps that he's a bishounen, lest anyone forget.

  4. Heh – TBH I misread Yana's OC and thought she (he?) was talking about Yona being ignored. Otherwise my reply doesn't make much sense…

    As for Yoon, well – I think his facial expressions alone would be more entertaining than 75% of the stuff on the schedule. But the reason he gets overlooked is the very reason I like him – he's not a stock male character, either in shounen or shoujo. He's not physically strong, yet he's not lacking in confidence or tenacity. And I love the fact that Kusanagi acknowledges this through Yoon's actions – he clearly bristles at being overlooked (even by his allies) because his formidability isn't combat-based. There's something of art imitating life in that.

  5. T

    its worth noting that both kusanagi, fans, and voice actors were complaining that Yoon character design was not getting much love while the series was being promoted and the characters designs were released (Yoon character design was the last be appear on the website a few weeks before the anime started) which sucks because he is a fan favorite too aside from the Yona/Hak and the dragons.

    What I like about this episode is how well the chemistry is with all the characters. The bit with Ki-ja and Jae-ah was hilarious on how they can work off each other even though they just met. It must be heart-breaking for Yona to continuously see how terrible things were under her father's rule (under Geun-tae too because sitting around waiting for war is not going to bring long-lasting policies of change) so for her to take on the responsibility in order to atone for his mistakes must be a huge burden, but its an opportunity for her to grow.

    I know I have said this before but it sucks we are not getting anything more than 24 episodes >_<

  6. K

    "I know I have said this before but it sucks we are not getting anything more than 24 episodes"

    I am still hoping for a second season announcement when this one finishes,

  7. K

    Personally I really loved this episode but then the humor worked for me in the scene between the Green Dragon & Hak (but then humor is quite subjective).

    I also loved the scene when the Green Dragon first meets Yona and he feels the pull. But I am also looking forward to him wanting to follow her for who she is as a person, not for what she is.

    As for the poll I ended up voting for Yona and Jae-Ha (who has already made quite an impression on me) but with such a strong cast it was really hard to choose. Although I kind of think you should have waited for the yellow dragon to appear to make the poll.

  8. K

    P'kyuu is basically the tanuki as it shows up with its (usually) unchanging happy face in the most inappropriate of situations.

    Ultra serious action-packed scene? Pukkyuu~
    Someone's child just died? Squirrel.
    Hak and Yona have a moment? Ao poses to commemorate.

  9. Yup, I have. Swap the Green and Blue Dragons and the order is the same as here,

  10. K

    Shin-Ah has the strongest introduction out of the dragons, but yeah he does fade into the background afterward.

    Sweating in the background 90% of the time, just like Bert.

  11. r

    Hak may be #1 in popularity, but I hear Yoon is widely considered the most eligible bachelor among fans!

  12. Was that before or after that pic of Jae-ha giving him a piggyback ride?

  13. r

    Definitely agree with the observation here that Hak is the only one who legitimately had a choice. And yeah, definitely some denial going on there with Yona. But interestingly, I think a subconscious part of her also understands? There's a level of guilt and regret she displays towards Hak that doesn't come ever come up in her interactions with any of the other characters. After all, Hak could have continued as general of the Wind Tribe under his buddy Soo-won if he had not made the decision to throw his lot in with her.

  14. I absolutely agree – Yona is quite aware (at least subconsciously (and probably altogether) of the imposition her existence places on not just but especially the Dragons. It's part of what drives her so hard to be worthy of it.

  15. w

    Yona's reasoning for gathering the dragons isn't exactly rock-solid. Unless I'm forgetting something, she's on her quest because Ik-soo said it was the divine will, and "because I'm a scoundrel who wants power," or whatever she told Kija. Also, Yona hasn't explained what her plans for the future are, which makes her case for getting the dragons to join her seem even more vague. Taking all this into account, the will of the dragon's blood is the only consistent motivation for the dragons to ally with her.

    ^This is a more modernist perspective than I would expect from this show–the only character in AnY who I could imagine blathering about 'concrete plans, reasoning, and desired outcomes' would be Soo-won, and I doubt he'd do it out loud–but if I think about it this way then it's no wonder Jae-ha feels the way he does. His words even had an effect on the normally unflappable Kija. I don't know to what extent it's possible to separate the will of the dragon's blood from the will the individual with dragon's blood, but if we ignore the former then what was Kija's reason for joining Yona? Maybe boredom and a longing for adventure. I don't think (or I don't want to think) Yona is manipulating anyone, but it seems like the issue of what the dragon's actually want will be an obstacle for her and her followers to overcome.

    On an unrelated note, it looked to me like Ao was shaking its adorable paw in tandem with Yona's fists as a gesture of emotional solidarity.

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