Princess Yona of the Kingdom of Kouka has always had an easygoing life. Her father, King Il, is a peace loving King, and she’s always treated with the best gifts and play time with her best friends, the bodyguard Son Hak, and Soo-won, her cousin crush. Yona has always loved Soo-won, and on her sixteenth birthday she’s excited to see him yet again. Her day of celebration quickly takes a turn for the worse however, as she finds Soo-won murdering her Father on the night of her birthday. She also discovers that Soo-won has been planning King Il’s downfall ever since his Father’s mysterious death, which he claims to have been a murder committed by her Father. Yona is devastated, but luckily Hak is able to whisk her away into the mountains, keeping her safe from harm.
Now if I had one word to describe Akatsuki no Yona, or Yona of the Dawn as it is known in English, it would sadly have to be generic. Despite being an anime that was been produced in the modern day, it really feels like should have been made a decade or two earlier. From the ancient and vaguely Chinese inspired fantasy setting, to the princess Yona being surrounded by a harem of warrior dudes, everything feels very familiar; to the point where it starts to cripple the potential of this show. However the premise doesn’t really mean much in the long run, after all if the execution is good then the show can become much better. So, does Akatsuki no Yona accomplish this?
Well let’s first take a look at the characters here, because, like I’ve said before, you can have an average and boring plot and have it be elevated its memorable cast (Just look at the World is Still Beautiful for example). Now, in my opinion, Yona is probably the best character so far, though she is not without her fair share of problems. She’s clearly supposed to have this nicely thought arc about her transforming from a demure, weak hearted princess, and into a strong valiant warrior, but the story is definitely taking its time getting there. So far Yona hasn’t done much, and while I will admit that they are portraying her character very well, her character development isn’t very face paced. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as signs of growth can be seen, but for the most part she’s mostly just been wandering around in a daze of depression for the past four episodes. I get the feeling this will change pretty soon, but right now she isn’t nearly as likable as she could be, though I will give props to her voice actress for delivering an excellent performance.
The other two good characters here are probably Soo-won and Son Hak, though they suffer from mostly being presented as harem archetypes. Hak is clearly the childhood friend who Yona will inevitably fall in love with despite their bickering relationship, and Soo-won is undoubtedly the hot elegant guy who turns out to be a complete jerk. They have been given distinct personalities, Hak being a strong willed leader, and Soo-won being a smart calculating person with fleshed out motivations for his actions, but they mostly come off as eye candy in the end. After all this show mainly is a reverse fantasy harem, and it has to have some appealing male leads.
However, if one thing does work here, it has got to be the relationship between these three characters, and how the show goes to such great lengths to show the viewers the impact of Soo-won’s actions. When Soo-won kills King Il, it isn’t proof that he’s always been an a-hole, it’s the breaking of the trust and friendship between him, Yona, and Hak. Throughout these episodes they show multiple scenes of these characters playing around as children, and Soo-won often has moments were his true feelings for his friends shine through his brutal actions as an adult, despite how much he wants to suppress them. He doesn’t want to hurt them, but he has no other option if he wants to avenge his Father. It’s effective, and the show makes sure this heartbreak and pain is tangible for the audience.
That being said, the best aspect of the series so far is probably the production values. I mean don’t get me wrong, the animation isn’t anything particularly laudable, but it’s clean, efficient, and gets the job done well. Fight scenes are decently executed, characters are on model and emotive, and the art overall looks pretty nice. What really makes this series a marvel for the senses though is the music! Every piece here is beautifully orchestrated traditional Japanese music, with drums, flutes, and plenty of other wind instruments. There are admittedly some parts where the music and sound effects are way too loud and drown out the voice acting, but these occasions are pretty rare, and they can be ignored pretty easily.
With all that praise out of the way though, I’ll still have to admit the show is pretty flawed. Besides the somewhat messy characters, the plot is completely uninteresting and generic. Really you’ve probably seen it a million times before and executed in much more creative ways. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Akatsuki no Yona is bad, far from that in fact. It’s been a fun ride so far, with decent animation quality, some well executed moments, and a lot of great music. Sadly though it’s not really bringing much else to the plate, and unless you like hot anime guys and love yourself some fantasy shoujo adventuring, you’ll probably want to check something else out.
And with that I bid you adieu. I’ll see you in the next post!