Akatsuki no Yona

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Genres: Shoujo, Adventure, Fantasy, Romance, Action;
Episodes: 24;
Studio: Pierrot;
Personal Rating: 7/10;

At the start of the Fall season, when I was looking at the chart, a lot of titles stood out, but Akatsuki no Yona wasn’t one of them. The premise sounded really cliché for a shoujo adventure anime, plus I am not the biggest fan of Studio Pierrot. Nonetheless, I decided to watch the first episode, and then kept watching it weekly until it finished airing last week.

Akatsuki no Yona is an adaptation of the manga of the same name, and is all about a girl who lived as a spoiled princess who never once left the castle and the security of her guards. She didn’t know the first thing about the outside world, nor did she care to. She also had a crush on Su-won, her cousin, much to her father’s dismay. Besides the castle guards, she also has a personal guard, called Hak, and he is also her childhood friend, like Su-Won. The life inside the castle she took for granted crumbles one day, however, when a revolution takes place, led by none other than Su-Won. He kills Yona’s father (the king) in front of her, leaving behind a trauma on the girl. Hak manages to take Yona and escape the castle, but now they’re being hunted by Su-won’s army. They know that, alone, they don’t stand a chance against Su-Won’s army, so they will need help if they ever want to save the country, and thus begins their adventure.

It’s simple and cliché, but it actually develops in a different manner than most expect. Instead of focusing too much on the whole “saving the country by defeating Su-won”, the first season of Akatsuki no Yona focuses more on Yona’s development growth as a person. Indeed, she goes around the kingdom trying to find powerful allies that can be useful and help her defeat Su-Won. With this, she finally gets to know the reality outside of the castle walls, she will see misery, disease, hunger, all the things that her spoiled self never thought even existed, because she was sheltered. The pacing is the only real issue that is worth mentioning when it comes to the overall development of the story, and this is a bit of a problem; some arcs can REALLY drag out for a lot of episodes, and they could have easily been shorter and deliver the same impact at times. Other than that, the story flows nicely and it feels real because of how good the presentation and directing is.

Like mentioned above, the themes that Akatsuki no Yona presents are a big part of why the anime actually worked: each arc shows a different reality of the outside world, and how not all people live happily with the previous king’s reign. No, people were miserable, constantly asking for help and cursing the king who put them through this because he was too afraid to take up weapons. Yona’s ideology eventually grows into one that contradicts her father’s desires, as she is forced to recognize how foolish her father was, especially after seeing the state of the kingdom. The show explores its themes in a really interesting yet simple manner, and it does so very nicely, I might add. Each episode feels fresh, and the overall consistency of the anime is actually really good.

The artwork is really good overall: it’s varied (since the group travels a lot), it’s detailed and the backgrounds look extremely gorgeous at times. The animation is nice most of the time, though some sudden changes are noticeable; the budget spread wasn’t that good in retrospect. The character designs are mostly bi-shounens and they look generic, but Yona’s design stands out, especially because of her red hair that is actually mentioned several times in the series. As for the music, the soundtracks do an extremely good job at setting the mood, but ultimately fail to be memorable, though the first OP theme is REALLY good, even if not voiced, and fits the overall feeling of the anime extremely well. The same cannot be said about the second theme though, which is good as a standalone, but doesn’t fit the series as much as the first. To wrap this up, the voice actors did an excellent job for the most part, and made it so that the audience can grasp the emotions of the characters even better.

Now, let’s talk a bit about Yona. She is the main character of the series, and well worthy of that title. She starts off as a rotten spoiled child who only cares about how she looks and her love for her cousin, and doesn’t know the first thing about the world. After the traumatic experience she went through, she grows, though not suddenly: it will take time before she can finally overcome what happened, and once she does, she will gain motivation to regain the kingdom. Unlike her father, she is not afraid to take up weapons if needed, she has more determination than anyone, and this all happened because of the reality she saw as she became a fugitive. Yona’s characterization is the best aspect of the show, and the reason why it worked in the first place. All the build-up of her character pays off big time, as you see her growth first-hand.

“I always wanted to become stronger. At first it was to protect myself. Next, it was to protect Hak, who gave up everything for me. Now, it’s to repay my friends, who enabled me to live.”
-Yona, Akatsuki no Yona

The antagonist, Su-Won, is also nicely developed, and we have some episodes that show a bit of his “work” as the new king, giving us an insight about why he did what he did. It’s a good thing that Akatsuki no Yona doesn’t depict Su-Won as being evil or anything, and instead it shows how he is doing it for the well-being of the kingdom, making him grayer in terms of morality. Hak, the personal guard, and the one who rescues her, is moved because of loyalty and love, and many of the dialogues between the two hold a lot of meaning. He has a very strong hatred for Su-Won, one that Yona herself is probably not aware of.

As for the other characters, there’s not really a whole lot to say, they are given a backstory and some development, but they are just average characters, unlike the three I mentioned previously. They are there to help Yona and nothing more, and I felt like the show could have done a better job fleshing some of them out, though that might still happen later on. The dialogues between them are sometimes very interesting and insightful though, and their personalities are likable, though I wouldn’t call them very well written characters myself.

I’d say I really enjoyed my time watching Akatsuki no Yona. It was one of the shows I kept watching week after week, and never lost interest. It has great consistency, good directing and presentation, but suffers from problems such as the pacing or the support cast not being that memorable. It most certainly deserves the praise it got after it finished airing, and it got better after the first half was over, which helped maintaining my interest for it. Overall, this show is really good for an unfinished (for now at least) story. Season 1 focused only on character development and fleshing out for the main trio, but if Season 2 ever happens, I expect the story to progress at a faster pacing. It has been a really good ride, and I’m definitely going to miss the show.

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