This certainly isn’t the last time this year I’ll be writing about Akatsuki no Yona, a series I’ve come to love unreservedly. But it may be the last time I’ll be writing about new anime for the franchise, which is an exquisitely sad thought. Yet the act of reuniting with these characters for 22 short minutes is an absolute pleasure, the kind of effortless enjoyment very few series can aspire to. That’s why OVAs for series we love are such an emotionally complicated proposition.
It hasn’t been a great couple of years for anime generally, but it has been a good run for shoujo fantasy – especially at Pierrot, the studio that’s more closely identified with the genre than any other. As fond as I am of the likes of Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii and Akagami no Shirayukihime, I think Yona is the best of the bunch (though Akagami still has a cour to make its case). The combination of fascinating plot and superb cast here is truly special, and the humor is an underrated part of Yona’s appeal as well. Simply put, this is a terrific series.
As OVAs go, Sono Se niwa is a fairly representative example – it covers two bonus chapters from the manga, “On That Back” and “Kija”. As canon material that’s not essential to the main storyline this is good material for an OVA, but it should be noted that it’s a pretty important bit of character development for Kija (and to an extent Jae-ha as well). Kija isn’t among my favorite characters in this series but there’s no one in the main cast I don’t like, or that doesn’t make an interesting subject for character study.
The A-part is Akatsuki no Yona’s take on an onsen episode, and as you can imagine it’s done with considerably more dignity and class than the typical example. Set sometime after the final episode of the anime, the story sees Team Yona stumble (thanks to Sinha’s eyes) across a derelict old onsen ryokan deep in the woods, and decide to take a little break for some R & R. Much to Jae-ha’s disappointment there are no Konyokuburo (mixed-gender rotemburo, quite the norm for these rural hot springs actually). But that gender segregation does settle the question once and for all – Ao is in fact a girl (how I’ve missed that “P’kyuu!”).
There’s some funny stuff here as the gang interacts in the onsen environment (I loved the bit where Ao rode on Yona’s shoulder and blinked at exactly the same rate she did, and the way Yoon just can’t stop being a nurturer even in the bath) but things get a bit serious when Kija refuses to go into the bath with the others. Jae-ha assumes it’s because of the scars on his back, which Kija says he received from his father, the previous White Dragon, and endeavors to protect Kija’s secret (though it turns out Kija was just afraid of a spider). It’s especially interesting watching Jae-ha and Hak – the two alpha males in the group – get into a semi-serious rutting match, even as Jae-ha is putting on a show for the purpose of protecting what he thinks is Kija’s painful secret.
The B-Part – “Kija” – is basically the Hakuryuu’s memories of his time as a child in his village, and how he got that scar on his back. It’s emotional without being overwrought – which is this series’s specialty – and serves as a reminder of just what those who’ve been “blessed” with the blood of the dragon have been forced to give up for the privilege. The matter of the Dragons and their free will has always been one of the fascinating subtexts of Akatsuki no Yona, bubbling forever just beneath he surface, and this storyline again teases it out in a very interesting way.
Will we see another season of Akatsuki no Yona? I’ve certainly asked that question in this space before, and while I still of course don’t know the answer, I will say that the more time passes without one the less likely the eventuality becomes. The anime ended up selling decently for a shoujo (especially considering how absurdly delayed the releases were), and the manga received a very solid boost – but my guess is that it just wasn’t enough. I’ve been holding off on reading the manga, hoping that announcement would come, but it may be time to face reality and start reading. I’ll be excited to do so, but make no mistake – this is a very special anime, and it’d be a real shame if we don’t get any more of it. As always with shows this good and non-commercial, though, the best thing to do is be grateful that it was produced in the first place, and appreciate how lucky we were to have it.
ED: “Egao no Rensa (笑顔の連鎖)” by Cyntia