Akatsuki no Yona – 21

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Akatsuki no Yona just keeps finding new ways to close the sale.

For me at least, it’s almost always true that it’s more fun to watch superficially humble characters be GAR than generally overpowered ones.  You can draw a parallel to sports anime, where most of the best protagonists are along the lines of Shou from Ginga e Kickoff or Onoda from Yowamushi Pedal – regular kids who surprise the world by proving they’re not regular kids at all, but truly special.  There are rare exceptions, like Goro Honda from Major (whose son, BTW, is the protagonist of Major II, premiering this week) that manage to be great characters despite their ridiculous talent, in a way reversing the process by achieving narrative greatness by showing their vulnerability. But characters like that are indeed pretty rare.

When it comes to Akatsuki no Yona, pretty much all the characters are really good at the very least, but let’s face it – it’s a lot more inspirational to see the likes of Yona or Yoon kick ass than someone like Hak or Kija, who do it all the time.  It’s more effecting to see someone like Yoon take a beating he knows he can’t return a bad guy than to see Jae-ha dish one out to one he knows can’t return it.  It takes more courage for people like Yona and Yoon to be brave in the face of peril than the likes or Hak or the Dragons – not that they aren’t brave, but it’s easier to be brave when you’re packing the arsenal those guys are.

In addition to being the two supposedly “weakest” characters among the main cast, it’s easy to forget that Yoon and Yona are also the youngest.  And while Yoon is even younger than Yona, he’s seen even more of the world’s darkness than she has because unlike Yona, Yoon has stared that darkness in the face for his whole life (that’s why Kija says “Sometimes even I respect him” in response to Jae-ha’s doubts about Yoon).  So I’m not sure who’s got the biggest balls for showing up gloriously under fire the way these two did this week, but thankfully it’s not a competition.

After getting our first sort-of look at the cause of all this last week, we finally meet Yan Kumji (Sugo Takayuki) here.  He’s a real piece of work, a brute who thinks nothing of kicking (what he thinks are) little girls or his own men, not to mention selling them into sexual slavery (the girls).  Yes, the story here is about slaves being transported below decks on sailing ships – and while it obviously pretties things up a bit, it still goes pretty dark.  Kumji may be a sadistic wretch, but he’s not dumb – he immediately makes the connection to Princess Yona when he sees that red hair, but he drops the ball when he allows the fierceness he sees in her eyes (which may or may not be supernatural in the impact it has when others see it) to convince him that this village girl couldn’t possibly be King Il’s daughter.

That’s not the only reason Kumji makes that conclusion, of course.  There’s a common thread here with Yona and Yoon, and it’s that we see them both forced to repeatedly swallow their pride (another thing Kumji assumes he’d never see from the Princess) in order to survive.  Yona grovels before Kumji and offers to do whatever he wishes to please him.  And Yoon repeatedly puts himself in harm’s way to try and shield Yona (and the other captured girls and women, too) from further peril.  Yoon takes the abuse in stride, knowing he’s not strong enough to directly return it – but he doesn’t forget.  There’s a ledger in that proud and resolute head of his, and every indignity and worse is written down as it happens – along with the identity of the one who caused it.

This is great stuff, really.  It’s not that often in anime (or elsewhere) where we get action storylines driven by those fighting only with the wits and their hearts.  This is one big reason why I love this series, and why I especially admire Yoon – characters like him are incredibly rare, especially males. He’s no saint – just a boy who’ll do whatever he needs to survive, and protect those he loves – but make no mistake, Yoon has an honor code he lives by and a fierce pride in what he is.  In many ways I think he and Yona are more alike than any others in their party, because she too has become a person driven onward by stubborn resolve to do right and a fierce pride in who she is.

In the end, the best-laid plans go awry when the moment comes to try and set off the firework, undone by an ill-timed wave. This is Yoon’s moment of truth, really – his old instinct to survive at any cost is strong, but he’s also dealing with competing responsibilities.  He can try and set off the firework himself and put Yona and the other girls in danger, or he can sacrifice that to the larger goal of protecting Yona from imminent harm – which he does, by outing himself as a male and claiming he’s a pirate who threatened the girls to force them to help him.  This leads to yet another beating, and might indeed have led to far worse – I believe that’s exactly what Yoon expected, and he was prepared for it.  But Yona rises above herself too, and refuses to let Yoon die for her. It’s this combination, their shared resolve (and Ao’s teeth) that lead to the moment of opportunity – Yoon spots the way their plan might yet be carried out, and Yona executes it.  These two make a great team, to say the least.

We’re very close to the end here – disturbingly close, and we still haven’t even met the final dragon yet.  Just what Pierrot has in mind here I’m not sure – we could be looking at a “and their fight goes on” ending and that’s that.  I’m not without hope (manga sales have seen a respectable kick) but resigned to the possibility that this is going to be all the Yonanime we get.  If so, the series has already done more than enough to qualify as one of the better shoujo adaptations in recent memory, and continues what’s been a sneaky good run for Pierrot these last couple of years.

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  1. T

    I'm not sure what Pierrot is planning because in the OP's have shown glimpses of Zeno (yellow dragon). So it would be a waste if a 2nd season isn't announced because there is so much more to the story. Hell I have seen japanese manga readers discuss the way the current arc is now in the manga there is a lot of potential for a season 3 considering the character the manga is focusing on right now. Not sure if that is a spoiler so you can delete this if you want.

    What can I say about Yona and Yun? This was their time to shine and show off their respective skills in this episode. Yona's death glare was definitely terrifying and it shows the makings of a great leader in Yona. As for Hak and the dragons it was nice seeing them alone and bonding together. Often times we don't get to see the other team members in any series develop a friendship with each other so it was nice to see that here.

    Part of me still holds out that Pierrot has a nice surprise for us, but I dare not to hope anything.

  2. G

    iI'm hoping for another cour or two as well.

  3. o

    oops forgot to say, or if you already follow the manga then if there aren't any signs/announcements they're going to make another sequel later on, I guess we'll just have to stick with the manga only>.< Well, I'll just be a bit optimistic and expect the best outcome, hopefully.

  4. e

    It was a good episode. This arc features the strongest chapters for me among those I've read, the characters' nuances came off pretty well in animated form while adding a bit more oomph to the action and tension – and the pretty -. Among the 'weak' characters I think Beauty Mark Girl is also worth mentioning. For a non main cast character she is doing a good job and she can swing a – conveniently randomly available – log on a baddie's head just fine :p.
    Not much space for Ao's funny antics – rather understandably – but the Green's dragon 'Aaah I'm being defiled <3' moment had me giggling (although that might have been Binan's episode effect still lingering and leading me to project some 'Macho' Wombat post-cuddling vibes on the guy).

  5. Y

    There's this one thing that I've been wanting to point out about Yoon ever since your last AkaYona post, and that is his saying about how he "has lived more wretchedly than anyone else"; in the manga panel of that scene, according to the translation I read, he did not use the word "wretchedly", but instead "underhandedly". What Yoon meant by that was not that he'd been forced to use his body as a source of income when he was little (thank goodness) — which you alluded to — but that he had been prone to prioritizing his own safety and desires above those of other people; we even see this in the scene where he asks Hak about the depth of his devotion to Yona after first meeting them (it's an anime-only scene, by the way, which I commend the director for), to which Hak replies with: "When you want to protect someone, do you always weigh your own life against theirs?" Don't know how many people have noticed this, but up until now, Yoon has always been like "Hey, protect me, I don't wanna die/get hurt/be kidnapped!" or "You'll save us if we get in trouble, right?" or "I hate violence, so I won't fight." And it all comes full circle here, with his sacrificial decision. I think that's beautiful, as it shows that a person can treasure their own life and interests without necessarily being a selfish ass (even though Yoon sometimes labels himself as such later on in the manga).

  6. E

    That was beautifully interesting. This is exactly what I thought of Usopp in OP (amplified x10 of course). These two shows have a lot of parallels, I think, with the flashbacks, new group members, and seemingly unsuited leader, do you agree?

  7. a

    This reminds me of the prophecy that Ik-Soo mentioned before. The 4 dragons and sword+shield. I don't read the manga mind you, but I think that Hak may be the sword and Yoon might be the shield. Of course it could be switched but I think it's interesting no?

  8. A

    I have to thank Shirobako for giving a name to the "but our fight is only beginning" ending. A damn shame, of course, but at least it promoted the manga without spoiling it, which is by far the best compromise I can hope from an adaptations that got cut short. They introduced the premise and gave voices to the characters, and for that, I am grateful.

  9. You can thank them if you want, but that name has been in use for a lot longer than Shirobako has been around.

  10. Z

    Five Star Stories dammit! ;(

  11. C

    "He's no saint – just a boy who'll do whatever he needs to survive, and protect those he loves…"

    Correction: "He's no saint – just a bishounen who'll do whatever he needs to survive, and protect those he loves…"

  12. r

    Yes! Yoon is made of awesome precisely because he has ZERO superpowers, and he is NOT a crazy martial prodigy of the likes of Hak. It was a brilliant move on the author's part to include a character like Yoon, because I can see a lot of other authors sticking to just the dragons with their cool superpowers. But Yoon's presence in their group is different, and important.

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