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YONA OF THE DAWN #1 -- Special Review

When I said we should play a game for my birthday, I didn’t mean The Game of Thrones!

Ever have one of those times when you get out of bed in the morning, feeling good, feeling like things are gonna go your way, yet somehow everything winds up going wrong and you end up having a really lousy day? That’s the situation our main heroine faces in the first episode of the historical high-fantasy anime series “Akatsuki No Yona.”

As the bright and beautiful only-child of the King of Kouka (A magical medieval kingdom which, unusually for an anime, seems to be based on ancient Korea instead of ancient Japan) Princess Yona is eagerly looking forward to her upcoming 16 birthday. She’s nearing the time in her life when she’ll be eligible to marry. And she knows exactly who she wants to give her hand to for a lifetime of marital bliss. The kind, caring, handsome Prince Soo-Won whom Yona has secretly been in love with since they were children.

However, when Soo-Won arrives at the royal palace to wish Yona well during the celebrations leading up to her birthday, absolutely nothing goes the way it’s supposed to. It’s true, the kind, caring handsome Soo-Won is still very fond of Yona, just as he was when they were children. But in a way, that’s exactly the problem. Soo-Won (who is a few years older than Yona) still treats her like a child. And the love he shows her is more like the love an older brother shows his younger sister than the love a romantic suitor would show a beautiful young woman whom he desires to woo.

If that weren’t bad enough, when Yona tells her father that Soo-Won is the man she’d like to marry, the King of Kouka (normally an extremely friendly and jovial fellow) flies into a rage and, without really giving any specific, clear, satisfactory reasons, adamantly forbids Yona from marrying the man of her dreams.

What’s more, when Yona decides to visit the king’s private chambers later that night in order to try to change his mind, she discovers the kind, caring, handsome Prince Soo-Won has entered the king’s chambers before her, and is currently in the act of brutally murdering the king, and dumping his bloody corpse on the floor, right before Yona’s eyes! (Wow. Teenage romance is a really rough road.)

Shocked, stunned, completely beside herself, Yona has no idea what’s going on, or why this is happening. Soo-Won is just as vague about his reasons for hating the king as the king was earlier when he spoke hatefully about Soo-Won. But apparently, for reasons yet unknown, the kind, caring handsome Soo-Won has been nursing a secret grudge against the king for quite some time. His murder of the king was only the first step in a long-brewing plot to slaughter the entire royal family and take over the kingdom. And now Yona is next.

Yona does her best to try and flee. But of course, no evil scheme to commit regicide would be complete without bribing the royal guards to turn against their rulers, and it isn’t long before the princess finds herself trapped, pinned down, and surrounded by a crowd of highly trained traitors who want to take off her head, with only one warrior, her brave friend General Hak, who is loyal enough to stand by her side in this time of crisis.

Will the princess be able to escape this diabolical plot? Will she even live through the night? What possible reason could Soo-Won have for committing such horrible acts? I don’t know, but after a highly satisfactory first episode, I very much want to stick around and find out.

As a personal note, I should probably confess here that in the past, I haven’t always been the biggest fan of Shoujo anime. Don’t get me wrong, It’s not that I think it’s bad, or that I don’t think people should watch it. I know there are tons of people out there who love Shoujo. And I can absolutely respect that. It’s just that, when it comes to my own personal viewing preferences, I tend to lean more toward the action anime side. And Shoujo anime, with it’s tendency to focus on romance and slice-of-life situations and the growing-pains of adolescence…well, I think it’s just aimed at a demographic that I’m not really a part of.

That’s why I was extremely pleasantly surprised when I sat down to watch “Akatsuki No Yona,” and saw it was effectively able to combine the love-story, growing-pains-of-adolescence elements Shoujo fans like, with danger-and-intrigue, sword and swashbuckling elements action/adventure fans like. It’s too early to know for sure just yet, but as of episode 1, “Akatsuki No Yona” looks like it might be one of those rare “Vision of Escaflowne” style shows that’s able to reach across multiple genres, and please anime fans of all different stripes.

Here’s hoping the show keeps up the good work. And in the meantime, for the first episode at least, I give it a whole-hearted thumbs up.

Watch "the Princess Yona" and decide for yourself.

Kaita Mpambara works every day to try and create shows, stories, and characters that are as exciting, energizing, and entertaining as the very best works that have been given to the world by both the western and eastern animation industries. Keep up with his musings on life, the universe and everything by following him on Facebook.

takashichea moderator on Dec. 10, 2014 at 9:29 p.m.

It's rare to find Shoujo shows that has action and adventure like this one. This one reminded me of Vampire Knight because it was different from the stereotypical Shoujo. Like you, I find it odd this show had Korean names and Korean settings. It was a refreshing to change.

At first, I thought Yona of the Dawn was a reverse harem because of the poster art work. I found out it was more about Yona finding people to help her save her kingdom.

Without spoiling you, this series suffers from the overload of flashbacks. Be wary of that.

zeemod155on Dec. 12, 2014 at 10:36 p.m.

I was pleasantly surprised after watching when I found after not sure what I was getting into seeing how dark and dangerous the show unexpectedly got. I'm not even sure if it's really a profound or unique show but at the same time I'm incredibly biased as it hits me in all the right spots regardless. The mix of romance and adventure, political intrigue and action, and fairly effective comedy. The concept of a roaming and growing band of misfits, outcasts, and rejects coming together, finding meaning in something and unifying by defying corruption of the government and defending the weak; going from town to town in the pursuit of a singular goal.

The main female lead has a refreshingly great character arc where she doesn't continuously cower and become a damsel in scenarios that require personal resolve in life and death scenarios, like most archetypal anime women all too often become. The romance is also pulled off as either comedy or when it tries to be sincere it feels deserved (not fan-service-y).

One of the few that I became so engaged I decided to continue on through the manga where the anime leaves off. The anime follows 1-1 to the source material.

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