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Akatsuki no Yona – Fantasy

[Insert some Whitney Houston song here]


 

I generally consider low fantasy to be harder to do than high fantasy (though both equally hard to do well) because you can’t just fall back on the old good vs evil Tolkien templates, but still need to be able to deliver an engaging fantasy world. And speculative fiction is already difficult, as a whole, because of the need to establish an unfamiliar world. For an anime with a limited run time, as opposed to a novel where you can relatively easily devote some extra pages, this puts more pressure on the precious 23 minutes or so you get each week. This is why it’s so common for anime to launch into big rounds of exposition, firstly because light novels do it, and second because it’s quick and easy.

The clever thing about Akatsuki no Yona, and other tales like it, is that much of its story involves its character waltzing around, walking the earth anyway. As Yona sees the plights and politics of Kouka for the first time, so do we (and it also helps that feudalism, quasi-Korean or not, is still familiar). So Akatsuki no Yona can save some ‘extraneous’ world-building time, and spend it elsewhere. Indeed, it’s an anime with a bit of everything—sometimes action, sometimes romance, sometimes comedy—and to its credit does all of it well. Much of the success, I feel, is owed to the show’s methodical pacing, which manages to juggle both the narrative’s tension and the cast of characters in a way that makes all elements look effective. The downside is that the plot moves forward rather slowly as a result. After 2 cours, Yona has only just managed to collect her team of Pokemon pretty boys, and returned to the cold open of episode 01. We don’t even know what the deal is with the Yellow Dragon (Shimono Hiro); he joined the party in the 11th hour almost as a matter of course (which is 1. too late and 2. too fast). In fact, the entire 24 episodes can be considered one long prologue, with much of the overarching plot (about Soo-Won killing the king, about the dragon myth, about strained love triangles) remaining unresolved. Sequel bait? Maybe. But it’s a rare thing these days for an anime to spend so long on essentially nothing but development.

The development is important though, because more important than the actual plot is Yona’s growth as a person. I was initially actually somewhat wary of Yona’s character, because the old yarn about royalty with special blood and some destiny and divine right is a bit too medieval for my taste—I make a very poor Monarchist. And yes, other characters do spend a bit long obsessing about how awesome Yona is whenever she does something morally superior, and the entire thing often carried a noblesse oblige stink to it, but Akatsuki no Yona spent enough time (again, time is an important factor) showing what makes Yona insecure that there’s still more or less a good balance. I don’t wish for angst, just doubt, especially because realpolitik and moral compromise seem like such significant backdrops to the narrative.

That’s one thing I wish Akatsuki no Yona dwelt on longer: its central theme of idealism vs realism, of necessary sacrifices, or moral individuals in an amoral geopolitical theatre. I wanted either Su-won or the late King Il’s philosophy vindicated. And I wanted Yona killing Kumji—completely anathema to her father’s pacifism—to be a more significant event. Yona killed an evil man to save a city; could she kill a good man to save a kingdom? It was a perfect time for her to run into Su-won again, but alas, nothing came out of it. Is he just a necessary Cincinnatus? Was King Il really that bad? It’s one thing to want peace, but it’s another to be weak. Switzerland is famously neutral, but they won that independence with blood. The Swiss Pikes carried such a fearsome reputation as mercenaries that it persists to this day—the Swiss Guard still protect the Holy See. Point is, if you want to speak softly you need to also carry a big gun. Or pointier sticks. Something like that.

The point of that point is that there should be a genuine moral struggle in Akatsuki no Yona—made doubly obvious by Hak being loyal to the king and Su-won murdering him—but it remains hanging. Just one of many things that scream ‘hey, we need a sequel!’. And hey, Akatsuki no Yona is well set up for one. There is still so much story left! It’s like only having the entree and nothing for dessert. I can’t believe a full 24 episodes were not enough. Give us 24 more.

For those interested in games and anime adaptations of them, I’ve also written a short thing on the Persona 3 Movie #2: Midsummer Knight’s Dream that you can find here on that blog I don’t update.

March 25, 2015 at 10:49 am
50 comments »
  • March 25, 2015 at 11:04 amKiritsugu

    Great show, great characters, interesting story… And then it’s over :O
    This show needs a second 24 episodes cour so badly, oh please make it so. It has potential, lots of it. These first 24 episodes were a long prologue/intro and now it’s time to get things done… and i would like to see that :) Hak and Yona’s “realtionship”, Soo-Won’s plan, how the kingdom will react if they go for the throne… there’s so much to be done and seen!

  • March 25, 2015 at 11:11 amHadas

    I must say this anime was one of the best anime I’ve seen for a long time!
    I started read the manga and it’s awesome.. and don’t worry,PASSERBY, they are dealing with everything you said.. It’s truly an amazing story!

  • March 25, 2015 at 11:23 amJani

    I absolutely loved this anime. I loved watching Yona grow these past 24 episodes. And I love how Su-Won is not your average “bad guy”. I have my fingers crossed for another cour! I cannot wait to dive more into Su-Won’s character and what exactly he must do before he dies.

  • March 25, 2015 at 11:28 amtjsama

    Akatsuki no Yona has a very interesting world and plot but direction wise, they could borrow a lot from Juuni Kokki.

  • March 25, 2015 at 11:50 amSolace

    >not a Queen song

    Bruv, do you even into music?

  • March 25, 2015 at 12:26 pmIrenesharda

    This series was one of the best fantasy shoujo series I’ve seen in a long time, I really, really hope that it gets another season.

  • March 25, 2015 at 12:29 pmdacolyte

    Good review but a low fantasy can still have the good and evil tropes and templates similar to Tolkien, like Dragon Lance’s first 3 book.
    The issue with high and low is where you draw your line for the shift, example some consider Harry Potter low fantasy as it takes place in the modern world and uses the laws of physics of the modern world but the counter argument is such laws are not laws as magic brakes them at ever given turn. Where I point to Dragon Lance first 3 books as low fantasy because low degree of magic (very small populations and they have to be part of a tower) and gods interaction plus very reasonable rules for the fantasy part, if your a god going as a mortal your stuck with mortal capabilities. Much latter Dragon Lance becomes high fantasy because of the “epicness” of the characters and the amount of magic.
    AEG is a “Low Fantasy” setting but it has some epic stuff in it which may put it as a High Fantasy, EXAMPLE google L5R and the last wish.

    • March 25, 2015 at 6:15 pmPasserby

      Ah yes, this is why I said before we started that I didn’t want to debate the differences between high and low fantasy, because drawing lines between genres is finicky and, ultimately, not very useful. For the record, I distinguish between high and low fantasy by the spirit of the piece as much as the level of magic and all that, because when ones gets down to it fantasy is fantasy. That said, I consider sci-fi to be fantasy too, which may speak poorly about my respect for genres in general.

  • March 25, 2015 at 12:33 pmCryght

    i was like “This is the END?!?!?! what?! when they put the “thank you for your support” at ending…. I havent been this hooked on a anime since SAO.

  • March 25, 2015 at 12:36 pmHochmeister

    In the end, I can’t help but feel all dressed up with nowhere to go. Yona was a good show that erected an awesome setup with good characters, worldbuilding, and conflict, but in the end it was just a setup. Yona collected her pokemon bishounens and grew as a character, but her conflict with Su-Won, the real meat of the story and to me the most interesting part, was left undeveloped. I really wish that it spent less time establishing a reverse harem, and more on the sociopolitical elements and conflict. While my final impression is favorable, I can’t really judge the show when its played so little of its hand. It kinda feels like I wasted my time following this weekly as the conflict presented at the beginning was not followed up on, and absent multiple subsequent seasons (which are sadly unlikely) I can’t see the main plot being wrapped up.

    • March 25, 2015 at 2:26 pmRalicht

      It’s undeveloped because the manga isn’t close to completing. Unfortunately, there was just nowhere to go. I have a lot of confidence that the manga will have a great story. It’s one of the more compelling mangas that I’ve read in recent years.

      • March 25, 2015 at 8:40 pmHochmeister

        Based on what we’ve seen I agree the rest of the story will probably be good (at the very least), but at the moment the dragons and the time spent on them feels rather superfluous to the main plot. It’s similar to my views on Log Horizon, there are elements I really like, and elements I’m not so keen on, and naturally I want the show to spend its time on the parts I like the most.

    • March 25, 2015 at 6:28 pmPasserby

      ‘…all dressed up with nowhere to go’ is a pretty good way to describe it. I don’t feel like I wasted my time, though, because what we got was still mostly good and entertaining, journey not the destination, yada yada. They did stop at a good spot even if they didn’t really end (with no denouement to speak of!). And I guess I’m unreasonably optimistic about a sequel. I just don’t believe they can leave a story like this. It’s not proper.

      • March 25, 2015 at 8:54 pmHochmeister

        I wouldn’t say I’ve wasted my time watching the show, just watching it weekly. If I’d known ahead of time that the adaption would end up like this I’d have benched it until the story was completed (in anime or manga format). Once I started suspecting this ending around episode 18 I was sorely tempted to drop it, but kept going mainly because of sunk cost. Personally, with plot heavy (real plot, not that other kind) shows like this I prefer to be able to watch them in one go instead of waiting years for the rest to come out. I’d like to be optimistic about the chances of more too, but I’m still waiting on the conclusion to Full Metal Panic! among other things…

      • March 26, 2015 at 5:48 amJustpassingby

        By the manga’s pacing, Yona still has a long way to go, so maybe you’ll have to wait a long time for that to happen. On a side note. FMP! has already ended… Although it being adapted in anime form remains to be seen as it had a genre change midway through.

  • March 25, 2015 at 1:10 pmweasl

    I sort of stumbled into this one on crunchroll and ended up loving. Very much feels like a modern version of Fushigi Yuugi. Hopefully we’ll see a second season since they only went through about half of the manga that’s out so far.

  • March 25, 2015 at 1:10 pmMormegil

    I am extremely bitter that there was no announcement of a 2nd season at the end.

  • March 25, 2015 at 1:13 pmMiaminights

    Really enjoyed this show. That ending caught me off guard…24 eps you would think i would pick up the hint the show was ending. I Guess that shows how into it I was. Heres hoping we do not have to wait too long for the next set of cours.

  • March 25, 2015 at 1:23 pmGog

    Pitty is ended so soon. Not sure if anybody else knows about this anime, but it reminds me somehow of Legend of Basara, also an unfinished anime run. At least in Basara the protagonist grows some balls sooner. This feels like a slower, more naive approach to Basara. My favorite scene is when Yona kills Kumji. The pirate battle reminded me of Basara in the first place actually.

  • March 25, 2015 at 2:37 pmWorldwideDepp

    A Tip:

    The name for the Whitney Huston song is: Bodyguard

    • March 25, 2015 at 6:31 pmPasserby

      Technically that’s the movie, but once you know the movie… well, the rest is rather famous.

  • March 25, 2015 at 2:51 pmKaba

    Apparently a second season had already been confirmed before the 1st season even began, but it was from some blog website saying so. It could be wrong.
    I thought this anime was just perfect, absolutely perfect from start to finish. All the characters so properly explored it’s amazing.
    As for the yellow dragon, the circumstances of his appearance will make more sense IF this gets a second season, it’s actually a very clever one too ^_^

  • March 25, 2015 at 4:43 pmzztop

    Oddly enough, the Yona Blurays and DVDs will only be on sale in the end of May. Observers have noted this “effectively eliminates (anime sales)as a real-time yardstick for commercial success.”

    Speculation is that the production committee is banking on manga sales increases, although the lack of announcements have left parties pessimistic on a Season 2. They also note shoujo titles aren’t super-sellers unlike shounen, LN and otaku-pandering anime.

    • March 25, 2015 at 5:41 pmScruffy

      It’s the same setup as Chihayafuru. That was sold as a boxset rather than as singles. I think we need to wait to see till after the OAD gets released to see if we get a sequel.

  • March 25, 2015 at 7:30 pmSweetCoconut

    We really need a sequel because of more developments, more plot, more bishounens, more arcs, more HakYona moments, more Soo-won and more Zeno //based

    Anyways, I’m glad that you watched this show Passerby, I thought Enzo’s the only one watching this from RC but yeah, great insights ^^

  • March 25, 2015 at 9:14 pmrandom viewer

    http://randomc.net/image/Akatsuki%20no%20Yona/Akatsuki%20no%20Yona%20-%2024%20-%20Large%2000.jpg
    This is the best choice of screenshots that you could have picked for a conclusion post. (thumbs up) I really, really enjoyed this series and I’m crossing my fingers for a sequel to this to be coming sooner than later. I’m holding myself back from spoiling the story by not reading the manga. Yet given what such lovable characters we got to know, it’s hard to not root for their future endeavors. The romance is always in the air, cause the chemistry between each dragon with Yona is always on the good side. Especially Hak and Yona being the one true pair for me. Yona deserves happiness right from the beginning and I look forward to her happy ending to come true to her wishes (also Hak’s best interest comes to mind). The one thing I would complain about is how they just put in a last-minute introduction for the Yellow Dragon, Jeno. I mean the very last episode at that and the three traits I could describe him as are cheerful, kind and mysterious. I guess I could always go back to watch the first episode to remind me that he really does act as the shield for the team (for Yona more) and is neither the fighter nor the “healer.” Disregarding that this was a 12-cour season and the time-span to cover the Awa arc, I’ll have to accept the anime’s conclusion as it is. The party of princess, general, bishonen, dragons, and squirrel are finally united and are ready for the next mission to be accomplished…to fill our hearts with favorable outcomes and approval in many standpoints.

    • March 25, 2015 at 9:16 pmrandom viewer

      Oops it was 24-cour season, went by so fast for me. My point was I loved it very much so to speak. ^_^

  • March 25, 2015 at 9:56 pmSekaya

    Surprised and happy to see a post on here with the end of AnY!
    As to what you mentioned, all points are (in their time) being addressed in the manga.
    I’m really crossing my fingers that a second, two cour season is announced sooner than later. So many great moments further into the manga! It’ll feel like a horrible tease not to see them adapted into anime.
    But if it doesn’t happen, they chose a good spot to stop.

    Only real complaint from me is – why does the sub group insist on subbing with the wrong names? I found the Kija = Gija thing annoying before, but never thought it possible to muck up Zeno as “Jeno”. Blehhh. Normally that sort of issue in subs doesn’t bug me, but it apparently really did this time!

    Still, really enjoyed and am hoping there’s more! Till then, I’m keeping abreast of the manga. ;)

    • March 25, 2015 at 11:32 pmScruffy

      The names are korean. His name is Jeno because there is no Z sound in Korean.

      • March 25, 2015 at 11:54 pmSekaya

        As far as I’m aware, it is Zeno. It’s spelled that way in Japanese, from what I understand/have heard in other discussions, and you can hear the Z pronounced through this episode. There’s never been an “oops, our bad!” announcement yet for any of the names being “mistranslated” in the manga releases that I’ve seen.
        Plus – crunchyroll subs aren’t known to be terribly accurate.
        Even if, again, “Jeno” is how it’s *pronounced* (and I’m simply imagining the “Z” sound), it isn’t necessarily spelled the way it sounds.
        I WILL eat my words if, in the upcoming chapter translations for the manga, there is such an “oops, our bad!” announcement regarding a translation error on the names, though. ;)

      • March 26, 2015 at 1:15 amScruffy

        You have to be careful to take the Japanese phonic spelling of a Korean name. It’s like a double translation. If the name is supposed to be Korean then it IS Jeno as the closest sound to Z in korean is J.

      • March 26, 2015 at 1:37 amScruffy

        (GRR Wish there was an edit button!)

        Let me try and demonstrate the problem. You have a Korean name. That is mapped onto the Japanese phonic alphabet. Then you have a decision to make when you translate that to English. Do you map that Japanese spelling direct to the English phonic alphabet or do you use the English phonic spelling of the Korean name? It depends on whether the name originally was Korean or not.

        Anyway .. moral of the story .. don’t get precious over the English phonic spelling of the Japanese phonic spelling of a non Japanese word. Either are probably valid.

  • March 26, 2015 at 12:08 amewok40k

    I am interested as to whom is the “sword” that will seve Yona (because the “shield” quite obviously is Hak!)
    I am also interested in what plans Su-Won is encating to ensure kingdom’s survival?

    • March 26, 2015 at 7:48 amMgMaster

      Perhaps the shield might turn out to be the Yellow Dragon, assuming his power truly is having a tough body(which of course, we haven’t had the chance to see yet).

  • March 26, 2015 at 2:29 amReikakou

    Oh damn… Over already? I still wanted to watch!!!

    But boy, I simply picked up this show on a whim and not expecting anything. But I was blown away. I found myself marathonig the 22 episodes after I watched the first 3.

    And yes, this first cour is an ENORMOUS sequel hook. While I somehow spoiled myself a bit by skimming on the scantalations, I want all of it to be animated. There’s so much character development in both protagonist and especially on the antagonist side.

    Wonder how the author will wrap-up Yona & Hak vs. Su-Won flick. It’s quite obvious that Su-Won is a very capable leader that exacting revenge against him puts the all-knowing viewers into an impasse.

    Simply one of the best animes that I watched this year.

  • March 26, 2015 at 5:00 amUltimate Gattai

    I didn’t have particularly high hopes for this but it was amazing. I’ll be really upset if we don’t get a sequel series for this (I really want to find out what happens next so I guess I’m checking out the manga). BTW are they any other animes, novels (not necessarily Japanese in origin) that are similar to this or handle similar themes and ideas (e.g. morality, no defined good/evil, decent world building)?

    • March 26, 2015 at 9:11 amPasserby

      Sounds like you’re generally looking for low fantasy works, which come in many shapes. In anime, if you’re looking for more medieval fare similar to Akatsuki no Yona, then Seirei no Moribito is very notable. If you want more urban fantasy stuff that differ in setting then there’s the first season of Darker than BLACK, which I recommend to everyone regularly because of its skillfully built near-future world and complex moral issues.

      I would actually most recommend you try a videogame, though: the original Final Fantasy Tactics. It’s almost a dark reflection of Akatsuki no Yona, featuring many similar elements (a dispossessed blue-blood, a religious prophecy, kingdom in turmoil) but played with much more pessimism. You can still get it today on various Apple devices and the PSP.

    • March 26, 2015 at 11:41 amgilraen_tinuviel

      May it be a manga? If yes, then Blade of Immortal of course, if you haven’t red it yet, it’s a low fantasy too. And there is similarity between Yona & Soo-Won’s relationship and a main character, Rin, who was watching a murder of her parents (and her quest for revenge was the main plot point) and a main antagonist of the series – Anotsu, who was responsible for the murder. Maybe except any romance vibe (but there were crazy shippers like that too).
      If I have to describe what the relationship it was I would say something like “It could be such a beautiful friendship, if you weren’t an A+ grade douche that one time, you sick fuck!“.
      I recommend, especially, even it’s seinen, the manga has bunch of great female characters.

    • March 28, 2015 at 9:46 ammarrow.

      If you don’t mind manga/manhua, Song of the Long March is excellent. It’s set in the Tang Dynasty (not a Fantasy btw) and while I’m no expert on Imperial China–the culture, customs, and politics in the manga are vivid and (seem) well-researched. There’s so much to love about it (the absolutely gorgeous art, interesting and complex characters, character development, engaging plot) but my favourite is definitely the main character. Chang Ge is clever, brave and charismatic, but she is also humble and vulnerable in a way that makes her very human and very likeable. Anyway, Song of the Long March and Akatsuki no Yona have distinct flavours, but they do share the same basic premise and many of the same themes. So I definitely recommend SotLM if you enjoyed AnY. Reaaaaaaaaaaaad itttttttt. Aaand this ended up being too long but oh well.

  • March 26, 2015 at 7:45 amMgMaster

    Waiting ’till fall before reading the manga seems reasonable. If there’s any positive news that hints towards an above 50-50 chance of a 2nd season that won’t take like, 2-3 years to come out, then I can probably endure the Yona starvation – probably…

    So Soredemon Sekai last year & Yona this year, damn Pierrot, you’re on a roll, making guys who rarely watch any shoujo like me slowly open up to them. Then again, you really don’t have to be a shoujo fan to thoroughly enjoy these. I just know that when I try others I’ll be like “Right, I should just keep in mind that Pierrot’s the go-to studio nowadays for shoujo.”

    And I can’t believe how well this season stand’s on it’s own, even if it can well be looked at as one big prologue that just scream’s “SEASON II WHEN???”. I wouldn’t change it even if it doesn’t get it’s S2. Pierrot seems to be experimenting with faithful yet adaptations that direct you towards the manga in order to see the story to it’s completion and ones that are the complete opposite(oh hai, Tokyo Ghoul). Here’s to hoping they’ll lean towards ther former.

  • March 26, 2015 at 8:49 amzztop

    To send opinions and thoughts on Yona to mangaka Kusanagi Mizuho, mail them to:-

    Hakusensha – Hana to Yume Editorial Department
    Kusanagi Mizuho
    Tokyo Chiyoda-ku, Kanda-Awajicho 2-2-2
    101-0063 Japan

  • March 26, 2015 at 11:26 amAkatsubaki

    <3 Love Yona So Much

    It really is a shame that coverage abruptly stopped. I felt like this series really deserved more attention and of course More Episodes !!

    @Passerby
    Thank you so much for writing a season finale review. It was refreshing as usual, and i thoroughly enjoyed the quirky way you have chosen to write in.

    Just as an extra note. An upcoming Grisaia is on the horizon :O
    I am anxious to know if you are planning to cover this show again, as the last season left me wanting more :)

    • March 26, 2015 at 11:30 amAkatsubaki

      @ Passerby

      Just as a heads up.
      The link for “cast of characters” is not working.

      I am not sure if it only applies to me, however i just wanted to inform you.

    • March 26, 2015 at 6:38 pmPasserby

      The link for ‘cast of character’s was indeed broken. I have fixed it. Thanks for the heads up.

      I have no plans right now regarding coverage of Grisaia next season (and indeed, have few plans about coverage in general). Ask me again some time after the season preview comes out.

  • March 26, 2015 at 1:30 pmMi-Chan

    It has been very rare lately to find a story with such depths as this one. I think Akatsuki no Yona is going o go up on my list of animes that are a must watch! Of course if there is a continuation then it would definately be etter to have a conclusive ending.

    I find myself in love with both sides at this stage. I am in love with Soo-Won and his lot and I am in love with Yona and the dragons and most amazingly Hak. During this late hour of the night, I can’t come up with words about this anime but I know for sure that it offered a story that was all the worth to go through. It felt like a book I was reading of a historical event that actually did happen. I mean I am willing to also believe the dragons are real xD

    Thank you for your review.

    M

  • March 29, 2015 at 12:18 amOwaranai

    I came in expecting fluffy crap typical with many shoujo adaptations, and got blown away.

    Not quite sure I’ve ever came across another shoujo adaptation that mixed humor, character development, romance and action that well. Most of the characters were very likable and there’s a very interesting element of whether the main villain is actually truly evil, or simply chaotic good. The pacing was excellent, and the whole thing played out rather finely like a novel, where the 2nd to last episode was the climax and the final one was a winding down (could have used more time for Yellow Dragon, though).

    Akatsuki no Yona is probably one of the better shows this season, and I definitely wouldn’t mind a season 2.

  • March 29, 2015 at 5:15 pmJFF

    Overall solid series. No real weakness. OVA is very possible.

  • March 31, 2015 at 7:08 amhoshi

    I’m just so glad people seem inspired to read the manga now. Samu all the things you want to see is explored in the manga. An OVA has been announced, but it will be released when volume 19 comes out which is odd because volume 17 just went on sell on March 20 and currently Hana to Yume is in the middle of volume 18 content which the complete volume will go on sell either June or August. So who knows maybe the seiyuu event happening in October will announce another season, but I also get the feeling they want the current arc in the manga to end before they animate more because the current arc is so damn important for Zeno character.

    • March 31, 2015 at 7:11 amhoshi

      sorry its passerby not samu

  • April 5, 2015 at 9:00 amCodex

    The anime was such an excellent adaptation–faithful yet also with its own distinct flair. I’m sad that there’s no news of a second season, but I’ll keep on hoping. And in the meantime, I’ll wait breathlessly for the Akagami no Shirayukihime anime adaptation this summer–Shirayuki and Yona are my two favourite red-haired shoujo protagonists, so here’s to hoping for an equally masterful adaptation!