Akatsuki no Yona – 24 (End) and Series Review

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As I said recently in another post, hope can be the cruelest thing of all…

As finales go, Akatsuki no Yona’s delivered just about everything I would think any fan of the series would want.  Yet there’s no denying that what most of us were hoping for was the one thing we didn’t get, and that’s any news of a second season.  Between Anime Japan this weekend and the finale today, it would seem that if such news were coming this would have been the time – but instead we got a “Thank you for your support!”  As despairing messages go that’s probably about a “7” on a scale of 10 – it’s better than “Goodbye” or “The End”, but not exactly what I’d call bursting with optimism for the future.

I’ll talk about the (wonderful) finale itself in a minute, but I feel like starting by talking about the series as a whole, even if that’s a bit backwards to how I usually do Series Review posts.  A few things we can say for certain, one of them that Studio Pierrot is becoming a bastion of extremely faithful manga adaptations.  It also seems clear that Akatsuki no Yona was generously budgeted compared to Pierrot’s usual standard of late – this was not a case of simply coming in with the low bid.  And obviously, Pierrot is a go-to studio for shoujo – though that’s been a tradition of long-standing, it’s nice to see them prove over than last year (I loved Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii, and Yona was even better) that they’re still as at-home as any studio working with shoujo.

So a question I need to ponder now, as Yona comes to an end, is just what Pierrot and the production committee’s intentions were with this adaptation.  Curiously, the first volume of the Blu-ray/DVD isn’t even going on-sale until the end of May – an odd piece of scheduling that effectively eliminates it as a real-time yardstick for commercial success.  Disc sales are typically modest even for popular shoujo titles, though, so perhaps closer attention is being paid to manga sales, where we’ve had a decent-sized (though not massive) bump (I’ll be very interested in seeing how the new volume does in the weekly rankings, which should hit about 8 hours from when now as I type this).  It’s hard not to speculate that this season was produced with another in-mind, because Yoneda Kazuhiro (a first-time director certainly proclaiming himself one to watch) made no effort to hurry the pacing or deliver a conventional ending.  But if that’s the case, what is the production committee waiting for?  There’s plenty of source material.  Perhaps, in the end, this really is simply a case of Pierrot adapting the manga in extremely faithful fashion for its own sake.

That decision leads us to the point where we find ourselves – with the Awa Arc having concluded (in the process providing the closest thing we get to an ending) we get a major character introduction in the final episode.  That would be Zeno (Shimono Hiro), the Yellow Dragon – and his introduction is (like the others) unique.  There’s no pomp, no conflict, no search, no backstory – he simply shows up at the campsite the day after Gigan’s group has been left behind, stomach growling.  And it’s not until the other three Dragons confer and confirm that, hard as it is to believe, this is the Ouryuu that the others even discover the truth.  Zeno, for the record, has known who Yona and the other Dragons are from the start, that much is 100% clear.

There’s a lot that isn’t 100% clear about Zeno.  Setting aside the issue of introducing him at the very end of the series (which I’m basically OK with, under the circumstances), this is an extremely incomplete introduction.  He’s cheerful, a bishounen (is there room for another, Yoon?) and supposedly has “a stout body” – but of what his true power is there’s no obvious clue.  I find Zeno’s behavior highly suspicious – his cheerfulness may be genuine but it seems a bit overplayed, and I think he reveals a bit of his true nature when he asks Yona the cutting (and wholly necessary) question of just what she wants to do next.  He’s hiding a lot, this one, and while Shimono Hiro wouldn’t have been my first choice to play the role, Zeno’s appearance certainly leaves me hungry to learn just what that is.

Happily, the finale also gives us the chance to see Ik-Soo again – and he’s still so utterly clueless at self-preservation that I’m amazed he survived as long as he did.  Yoon (who fancies himself the main decision-maker for the group, and I’m not sure he’s wrong) seeks Ik-Soo out because with the four Dragons reunited it seems time to take the prophecy to the next level (and because he’s homesick).  But of the Sword and the Shield – the next pieces of the puzzle – Ik-Soo says the time has not yet arrived.  This is when Zeno asks his pointed question, and it’s about time someone did.  Zeno again tips off that he’s sharper than he acts by saying quite authoritatively that four Dragons could be “enough to take a single castle”, should that be the route Yona chooses – though he denies trying to push her in that direction.

What does Yona want?  Not to re-take Hiryuu Castle and not to kill Soo-Won – not right now, anyway.  She makes a very interesting comment – “Before returning to the castle, I have something I must do”.  This, of course, is exactly what Soo-Won said to her in Awa – and though Yona has her own reasons for saying so, she’s struck by the alignment of their words.  It got me pondering just what it was that Soo-Won meant – just as it was intended to – and I was struck by the notion that perhaps what Soo-Won has in mind is to make Kouka a fit kingdom for Yona to assume the rule of, and then hand the reigns of power to her (possibly after his own death).  Fanciful probably, but not impossible – and think on what Jeaha said, that it would be “unwise” for a 16 year-old girl to assume total power even if she could seize it.  Perhaps Soo-Won felt that Il was an unfit King, and resolved to do the dirty work that had to be done so that Yona wouldn’t have to – starting with murdering her father and assuming power.  To “keep the kingdom alive”, as he says to Mun-deok in the end sequence.

That’s speculation, and even if the anime continues we’d be a long way from knowing the accuracy of it – so for now, Yona’s intentions are the more pressing.  And her notion is to do throughout Kouka what she did in Awa – to take her merry band of outlaws and act as a sort of freedom brigade, doing battle with the cruelty and injustice she now knows flourished under her father’s rule.  It’s an interesting notion – it puts her at-odds with her father’s wishes, but it could conceivably make she and Soo-Won allies (though undeclared ones).  After all, from what we’ve seen it looks very much as if the two now share the same goals – which is a delicious bit of irony if ever I’ve seen one.

The other thing we see in this sequence is what was already obvious – Yona still loves Soo-Won, and it seems very likely Hak does too.  Yona confesses the truth of their meeting to Ik-Soo, and Hak overhears – and it’s Jeaha (the most astute of the dragons, befitting his age and experience) who verbalizes to the others what Ik-Soo has to say to Yona.  The nature of just what these three feel for each other is yet another major theme of the story going forward – it’s complicated to say the least.  Jeaha has suggested to Yona that Hak wants to “hide her away” from other’s eyes, and while she declares it a lie and Hak is probably quite truthful when he says he wishes he could “show her to everyone” (in his pride at what she’s become), there’s a part of him that would prove Jeaha right I suspect.  As I said, it’s complicated.

It really does seem almost cruel to engage in such breathtakingly good setup only to leave the story here, with so little effort to resolve, well… anything.  But we’ve seen anime act as commercials for manga before, and will again – and Akatsuki no Yona has certainly performed that task admirably.  I’m pleased to see the big uptick in the ratings this series is getting at places like Anime Planet and MAL – of dubious meaning though those numbers are, they do reflect a growing consensus that Akatsuki no Yona is something special.  And it is – it’s a magnificent piece of storytelling, patient and subtle and emotionally powerful.  Like the great anime fantasy epics it excels both as an intimate personal story and as a sweeping tale of myth and history.

I’ve certainly not given up hope for Akatsuki no Yona as an anime, and we’re definitely getting an OVA at the very least.  But the announcement of that OVA and the absence of any other communication does leave me feeling somewhat pessimistic, especially since it’s  not clear just what the decision makers would be waiting for if there really was a second season hanging in the balance.  I’m never going to be satisfied when a story as brilliant as this one gets an incomplete telling, especially when no much generic (and worse) anime is produced every season.  But the fact that this was such a faithful and beautifully-produced adaptation of a great manga is something to be celebrated, whatever happens from here.  It’s timeless anime in the best sense, and as long as series like this can get made – even if they can’t get finished – there’s at least reason to be hopeful for the medium’s future.

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ED Sequence:

Akatsuki no Yona - 24 -45 Akatsuki no Yona - 46 Akatsuki no Yona - 24 -47
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End Card:

Akatsuki no Yona - 24 -54
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39 comments

  1. w

    Excellent review Enzo (speaking for all your Yona write-ups, not just this one). Yeah, Yona is a timeless series. I wish there were still more like it made. There were definitely times where the pacing felt a little too laboured to me – such as the early Awa episodes – but I wouldn't change a thing.

    It leaves me in a bit of a quandary, though. Do I hold out until October in hopes of a second season announcement, or dive straight into the manga? As much as I'd like to experience the entire story in animated form, I'm not sure I can wait. Even if there is a second season, it'll probably be at least a year before it hits the screens. And there's 70 chapters right there begging for me to read them…

  2. I'm wrestling with the exact same decision.

    My view is this: if I knew there was a second season coming, even if it was a year off, I'd wait. But I don't know. And I'd put the odds at less than 50-50. That makes it mighty hard to hold off.

  3. h

    I had been meaning to ask you if you were going to pick up the manga or not! (Long time lurker in your forums, here). But I wanted to wait until this season was over since I had read ahead, and was enjoying your unspoiled responses to everything. I can say that as someone who read ahead after like, 5 episodes, my enjoyment of the anime remained high… the story is just that good!!! And without giving any spoilers, I can say that the story just gets better and better going forward too. It's a hard decision to make, for sure. I'll admit that I kind of hope you do, because I'd love to read your responses to the manga going forward as well. But I can totally understand wanting to wait a bit to see if a second season is announced as well. For me? I think I need to go dust off my YesAsia account and pre-order some DVDs… it never hurts to give a lil financial boost to a series that has been as amazingly and faithfully (and beautifully!) told as this one…

  4. Thanks, herongale – glad to have you decloaked. How quick are the translations coming for the new chapters, if I may ask – do you know, or are you following it raw?

  5. R

    Pretty regularly. It's shoujo, so release are always kinda choppy (I tend to see two chapters at a time released with delays in between) but it isn't months on end with no update (sighs as Soredemo manga)

  6. E

    Two of your ED Sequence screenshots have ads….

    Like those episodes about Soo-won, this series can be awfully cruel sometimes. I can't wait to learn more about the Yellow Dragon and his powers, theres definitely something going on there. Hopefully they are waiting for DVD sales which might turn out positive before they think about making a second season.

  7. s

    Again the rumor mill says that there will be a second season will happen; perhaps it will be announced when the OVA releases so keep ya heads up Yona fans. While i found the show to be average, it's been interesting to see how many people grew to love Akatsuki no Yona which makes me pleased to see how well shoujo's will perform in the future of the anime industry. There are some pretty good shoujo's out there just waiting to be adapted (cough taiyou no ie cough).

    By the way, has anyone noticed how quickly anime are being dubbed nowadays; most likely do the fact that the licensing process of anime's in to the west has become quicker but akatsuki no Yona has already been dubbed. This has been happening with plenty of anime as of late like Durarara X2, maria the virgin witch, death parade, rolling girls. This could actually be good in the long run for anime as ive found that one of the best way to reach a wider audience to anime is to introduce them to anime's with good dubs. The quicker these anime's get dubbed, the fast they can be exposed, the sooner they can grow in popularity and generate interest. With the way the anime industry is headed (looking at the summeranichart 2015 was a lil depressing…only 4 potentially good shows, Gangsta being the most promising) any methods that may help the industry international is very welcome

  8. c

    While I disagree about Yona being average (on paper, maybe, but in execution…), I'd almost be as ecstatic for anime announcement of Taiyou no Ie as I would a second season of Yona. What a great manga…

  9. s

    See, but i thought the show was average in execution as well my other gripes with it. However, it was the charm of the series that kept me coming back to see what was happening (different folks for different folks i guess) however i am glad for the fanbase it has generated for the aforementioned reasons. With the way anime are being produced nowadays, it's nice to see an anime that has charm and none of that crass bullshit we;re so use to seeing, generate such a fanbase

  10. M

    It's an awesome thing on it's own that Akatsuki no Yona is one of those anime that everyone can thoroughly enjoy and it's rather hard for it to go below that – don't see why ANYONE would dislike or even consider it a mediocre series. You don't need to be a fan of shoujo either. Hell, I just started giving shoujo anime a chance about a year ago and I probably still count the number of shoujo anime I completed(tried my fair share…) on two hands – still not a fan of most of them though, for good reasons. What gave me the start was another Pierrot show, everyone on LIA knows it, Soredemo Sekai and I also think that Yona was even better.

  11. J

    Nobody is saying it's mediocre or even poor, but I do think people are confusing the thought of a faithful adaptation (which this series certainly is) with an excellent one (which I'm not on board with) because this series has been so unusual by modern "standards".

    Like sonicsenryaku I kept coming back to AnY even though there were parts that annoyed me no end because there was always something to look forward to. I'll echo the sentiment that this series should hopefully show studios that there is still a loyal (profitable) audience for shoujo series.

  12. T

    On their main twitter account they are putting alot of emphasis in fans buying the DVDs and the new PV4 is just a promotion for the DVD's. Hell they had a contest a few days ago saying if they got 30,000 followers by March something they will give out 10 posters and in a few hours they got 30,000 and more followers. 0_o I'm hoping the October event will shed some light but who knows.

    Now onwards to the episode!! I'm so glad you caught out that there is a lot more to Zeno than meets the eye when he was introduced ^_^ He is definitely unique i got teary eyed when his introduction happened. The feels are strong in this episode. Also about the sword and the shield. Your guess is as good as mines as to what they are. I'm hoping they are actual inanimate objects as opposed to human beings. Also when the prophecy mentions "darkness" what does that mean? How messed up does kouka kingdom have to be for when the red dragon will arise? I'm glad you enjoyed this series and here is hoping for another season!!!!

  13. C

    According to mangaupdates, the anime goes through the end of chapter 47 (the war game arc actually comes after the Awa arc in the manga), so there isn't quite enough material for a second season immediately. My hope is that after 6 to 12 months, Pierrot will feel enough material is available to support a second season flexibly.

    Still, it's a sad comment on the state of anime that just seven years ago, Saiunkoku Monogatari – another shoujo historical romance with a similar focus on feudal power politics – could receive two seasons of 39 episodes each, while Yona's fate is undetermined after 24.

    I've enjoyed your reviews, Enzo, and I agree that Yona is one of the best shows in the last twelve months.

  14. T

    Currently there are 103 japanese chapters released. So there is enough for a second season but even then it probably wont conclude anything because there is still a lot more to the story.

  15. Sainokoku is a product of another era – probably anime's finest, in fact. No way it gets 78 eps of run if it were launched today.

  16. c

    Yona is over. Wow.

    Thanks again for your reviews and analyses every week. Didn't feel up to commenting, usually, I read and appreciated each one.

    While I can't afford buying the anime, I'm seriously considering finding the manga at the closest Japanese book store and scooping up as many volumes as they have. Do you think they count manga sales in foreign countries? Or are exports better? I want to see the second season made and will do every reasonable action within my power to make that happen, dammit.

  17. Any contribution helps. If you it at Kinokuniya or such, I'm sure that still gets tabbed by the publisher.

  18. G

    It's the time of the year where we start playing the "Let's see what's going to top this show as my anime of the year" game.

    Thanks for covering it Enzo.

  19. G

    Also it's nice to see the new volume of the manga sold fairly well. (Even though I'm not sure it's a big increase next to the previous ones).

  20. Yeah, actually that's a pretty depressing number. Just not enough of a bump – especially with no appearance by the earlier volumes. Not looking good.

    Why in the world are the discs going on sale two months after the anime ends? Why? Shoujo doesn't sell, yeah – but at least give it a chance.

  21. G

    That's too bad then.

    Even the second ending's single is being release super late. I'm not sure why everything is coming out this late for this show either.

    It more or less feels like this is this year's Shin sekai yori to me. Those that gave it a chance found out it is much more then it looked like at first but not enough people gave it the chance it deserved since it's not the type of show that tells you everything from the start and sadly the average viewer doesn't stay for those series :(

  22. Don't get me wrong, 80K isn't terrible – SSY could only dream of being as popular as AnY is. That's the best week the manga has had, but in the big picture, when you're talking about a series that can't rely on disc sales (even if the releases weren't idiotically scheduled) it really needed almost a Tokyo Ghoul-like bump to be convincing enough for the production committee.

    I still have faint hopes, but it's a long shot.

  23. R

    I'm going to pray that Kamisama Hajimemashita is a sign of future possibilities where a lackluster turnout (there was no huge bump in manga sales either, just a decent one) can still net you a second season. PLEASE. Akatsuki no Yona is one of my all time favorite manga period.

    In the meantime, I'm going to pray to the anime gods daily.

  24. E

    Has a shoujo ever gotten that kind of bump before?

  25. KamiHaji would be the template here, yeah, though it's pretty much a unicorn and one of the most surprising sequels ever. Also a bigger seller than AnY.

    As to whether another shoujo has gotten that kind of bump, I honestly don't know. Kimi ni Todoke spiked pretty hard, though it was a large seller already.

  26. To look on the bright side, it seems Yona V. 17 only went on sale on the 20th. So maybe it could have a big 2nd week – if we see it crack, say, 150K that would be a very positive sign.

  27. D

    > Why in the world are the discs going on sale two months after the anime ends?

    This is probably why: http://www.someanithing.com/2676/comment-page-1#comment-53757

  28. Yeah, I saw that on twitter. It may explain it, but it certainly doesn't help the series' chances of getting a second season.

  29. r

    Had fun following your coverage, but, yeah, not holding my breath for a second season here. Which is a bummer, because these 24 episodes are really only kind of the prelude…

    I think the attention and care lavished onto this adaptation should be pretty apparent to any manga reader. The adaption is extremely faithful. Down to the panel, sometimes. And hardly any material at all was skipped. They shifted the timeline of Soo-won's visit to Chishin around, but that was a smart and justified move in my mind. Yeah, I'm kind of surprised. Shoujo series usually get short shrift, and I was initially kind of worried when they pulled that flashforward stunt in the first two episodes (and the last one), because that move reeked of desperation. But this first time director really paid attention to details and I think, made sensitive adaptive choices. Especially since shoujo doesn't tend to have as much money to throw around, this sensitivity is important re: decisions about framing, angles, pacing, and the like. I was also surprised that they were able to get ahold of the kind of big seiyuu talent that they did. And the gorgeous soundtrack. I wonder if a lot of money went towards these two things.

  30. T

    I ordered the soundtrack from CD Japan and I will order Akiko Shikata single in April when it comes out. I want to order the DVDs but its expensive to order from aboard, but I will order volume 17 and the novel at some point. Enzo is there a link where we can track the amount of sales for the manga?

  31. ANN publishes the top-50 every Wednesday. Akatsuki usually ranks for two weeks. If there's a way to track beyond that I'm not aware of it…

  32. That's it, but you can see it all the way down to 50 on MAL (in the forums) and ANN.

  33. T

    I have to admit top 10 ranking is very good. I know its not enough but still I feel very proud for Kusanagi-sensei being acknowledged. You should check out NG Life its her earlier work and the themes are somewhat similar to AnY

  34. N

    I thought this episode was not as good as the last few, it rushed through 3 chapter of the manga and butchered one of them. Having cut out the way she got the knife it cut up one of the biggest strengths and humor of the story. And no one though it weid that Hak didn't want her to learn how to fight with a sword that she would get one out of the blue without Hak knowing?

  35. H

    "I was struck by the notion that perhaps what Soo-Won has in mind is to make Kouka a fit kingdom for Yona to assume the rule of, and then hand the reigns of power to her (possibly after his own death)." I've contemplated that theory myself sometimes, it doesn't quite fit the tone of the story IMO but it does match the facts, Soo Won did plan to keep Yona in the dark about the circumstances of her father's death and I can see Soo Won assuming that he would die young and that Yona would be the next take over. We know that Soo Won wants to strength the kingdom against internal and external strife but if there's a greater goal/his plans after that are still a bit too murky to tell….

  36. S

    I have to wonder, what Soo-Won had planned to have happen in the first place. While I could see him dying young and handing the reigns over to Yona, had she not left the castle, regardless of his attempts to make Kouka a better kingdom, she would not be a fit ruler, and the kingdom would end up in worse shape than it was during Il's reign,

  37. T

    Kusanagi on her twitter account has confirmed that the OAD will be released along with volume 19 and the dates for that release will be told in the near future. I find that odd because volume 17 just went on sell and the current Hana to Yume magazine is in the middle of volume 18 content. So volume 19 won't be out until almost the end of the year if my guess is correct.

    Anyway here is her twitter account to confirm what I just said:
    https://twitter.com/KusanagiMizuho/status/581447979665481728

  38. S

    Hak's "I want to show you to the world" speech gave me the shivers, no kidding. Beautiful moment of character writing. I think I'll just have to check the manga now though :P.

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