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The Fall 2014 Anime Preview Guide
Akatsuki no Yona

Rebecca Silverman

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

Sometimes you can't quite tell what you're getting into from the first half of an episode. Akatsuki no Yona, while not achieving Higurashi: When They Cry levels of second-half turn around, is still a case in point. While we do open with a scene of the titular princess and her band of merry bishounen clearly on the run, we quickly return to happier scenes of a girl about to turn sixteen. (Hint: this is a bad anime season to be a princess turning sixteen.) Yona is the only child of King Il of the Kingdom of Kouka, a vaguely-Korean land that appears to be happy and prosperous. Yona's sixteenth birthday is an important one, but she misses the meeting about it because she is fussing with her robes and hair prior to the arrival of her crush, Soo-Won. Soo-Won is her first cousin and the man she's been in love with most of her life, ever since he comforted her after her mother's death at the hands of insurgents. Her father, however, apparently scarred by his beloved wife's death, won't let her marry Soo-Won. Yona assumes that this is because he doesn't want her loved one to die like his did. The rest of the episode indicates that perhaps there was something else going on in King Il's head.

While Akatsuki no Yona does share a lot of trappings with other shoujo fantasies – the setting and cast appears similar to both Story of Saiunkoku and Fushigi Yugi and Yona's mysterious red hair recalls Dawn of the Arcana – it manages to pull off an interesting episode nonetheless. Yona starts out a very spoiled, sort of annoying character only to have the rug yanked out from under her. She spends the end of the episode in shock, but the prologue indicates that she's going to pull herself together. Watching her get from point A to point B should be rewarding, and one hopes that we won't be presented with an overnight transformation. Soo-Won is the most interesting character at this point, as we can't be sure how much of what he says and does is sincere and how much might come from an outside force. Likewise Yona's personal (?) servant Min-Soo's motives and allegiances seem suspect, particularly since he gives General Hak, another childhood friend, something to drink just before the tides turn. Is there anything about Yona's world that is stable besides Hak? It will be worth watching episode two to find out.

Akatsuki no Yona is available streaming on Crunchyroll.

Nick Creamer

Rating: 2.5

Princess Yona is the sole child of the king of Kouka, a small kingdom in Generic Warring States-esque Fantasyland. She's headstrong and experience-light, and longs to marry her gallant cousin Soo-Won while spurning her watchful childhood friend Hak. Over the course of this first episode, we get to know Yona and her relationship with these two men, their exchanges all leading up to a dramatic finale where Soo-Won betrays her father, apparently hoping to steal the kingdom for himself.

Akatsuki no Yona is one of those whimsical shoujo fantasies that seem to have fallen out of favor recently. The cards it plays are obvious and well-trodden - her antagonistic relationship with Hak prompts an immediate “well, I know where this is going,” her adoration of Soo-Won makes it equally obvious he's secretly full of dark intentions. In spite of that, I actually found myself solidly enjoying this first episode. There's something endearing about the show's florid-but-obvious metaphors, like Yona's constant fretting over her “unruly” red hair being an obvious stand-in for her own latent heroic nature. And the relationships between the characters are articulated well enough - Yona's naive emotions ring true, and Hak's superficially gruff nature isn't overplayed. I actually found myself particularly enjoying the exchanges between Yona and her father - maybe it's kind of telling that the thing I can most relate to in a shoujo is the dad's position, but his grappling of attempts to shelter his daughter with the demands of both their positions felt very natural to me. His admission of his own cowardice, and the fact that he never remarried in order to never put someone else in danger, made me feel a real fondness for the old dude. The show will very obviously take the form of “exile princess goes on grand adventure with friends” from here on out, but I think this setup did a fine job of getting us there.

On the aesthetic side, Akatsuki no Yona is generally serviceable but unremarkable. The incredibly bare-bones opening song had me worried the show wouldn't feature any animation at all, but it actually steps up well enough for the actions scenes, and some of the shot framing is very dramatically effective. There are shoujo sparkles and sinister figures hiding in shadows, but it's all executed well enough to not really feel like the show is phoning itself in. Overall, if you're in the mood for an obvious but reasonably executed “girl meets world” adventure story, Akatsuki no Yona fits the bill.

Akatsuki no Yona is available streaming at Crunchyroll.

Bamboo Dong

Rating: 2

Almost instinctively, I rolled my eyes when I first started watching Akatsuki no Yona. From the very, very beginning, it just seemed like yet another girl-in-sort-of-ancient-China-or-whatever-who-is-surrounded-by-hot-dudes-with-long-hair-and-goes-on-adventures show, but in spite of it having many of these same elements, I didn't end up actively disliking it. I didn't really like it either, but at least it didn't leave a bad taste in my mouth. I wouldn't make a habit of watching it every week, but let's just say that if I were still 14, I would absolutely love this show.

Airheaded Yona is the princess of the Kingdom of Kouka. She seems like a sweet enough gal, but the only thing she really worries about is her hair, which she says is strangely red-colored and unruly (although all of the main characters seem to have not-black hair, which doesn't seem to be an issue. In her case, it signifies a plot point). She's got a pretty good life, considering she's a princess and all, but the one thing she truly wants is the loving heart of Soo-won, her childhood friend and long-haired bishie hunk. Also in the mix for Crushable Guys is Hak, her hot servant.

But wouldn't you know, Soo-won's got an evil glint in his eyes, and even though the episode tosses a couple red herrings around regarding mysterious bad guys, it turns out Soo-won is the baddest of them all. Before the episode is out, Yona is crumpled up in tears, and her life is being saved by Hottie McManservant Hak.

While this first episode mostly sets out to introduce Yona and Hak and point out the calamity facing her and the kingdom, one may not be surprised to learn that the premise of the story does involve traveling around the country finding hot protector dudes. It's a tale as old as time—or at least as old as shoujo manga has been in existence. From the opening scene, we can even gather some information about the eventual cookie-cutter cast of characters, including the slightly exhausting addition of a squirrel mascot.

Sadly, there just isn't much to say about this first episode. It's fine. Everything about it is fine. The backgrounds are nice, I guess, and the character designs are attractive. The prop designs are neat, and Yona has some pretty cool hairpins. The animation is good enough, although Pierrot probably just reused some of the other ancient Chinese backgrounds they had kicking around in the warehouse. The fight scenes are serviceable, the music is decent, and the scene where Hak and Soo-won are doing archery on horseback is kind of neat. It's cool that Yona becomes a warrior, though I hope we don't have to sit through another four episodes of talking about her incoming-plot-twist hair. Also, in comparison to her dad, Yona's head is kind of big, but that's about all else that stuck out to me.

Akatsuki no Yona is not a bad show, but it's fairly unremarkable. It seems to mostly cater to viewers who already know they want to watch a show about collecting pretty boys who will protect their princess at All Costs, but on a bell curve of all shows that have written about this kind of thing, this show sits exactly on the mean.

Akatsuki no Yona is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Hope Chapman

Rating: 2.5

Akatsuki no Yona feels like a show that should have been made a decade ago, and it's not the first time this has happened recently. Just a year ago, we had the cheap and unremarkable Arata The Legend, and that's the closest recent title this one resembles, although at least compared to Arata it's a small step upwards. No, this isn't a bad show by any means, but I also have no idea why it was green-lit. Fushigi Yuugi is almost twenty years old for a reason. Tastes change with time, and Akatsuki no Yona is shockingly out-of-date, from its Chinese-themed fantasy kingdom, to a love triangle impossibly slanted in favor of the "red oni/bad boy/pauper" option, to the world's most blatantly foreshadowed twist, this show seems snipped right out of the early 2000s at the latest...even though its source manga was penned in 2009.

I'm getting ahead of myself, though. This story is about the naive princess Yona coming to terms with her feelings on the eve of her sixteenth birthday. She has a bad case of the lovey-doveys for her gorgeous cousin (bleh) Soo-won, but her father wants her to marry someone who can add something to the royal bloodline, and studly royal bodyguard Son Hak (hmm) agrees. (Son Hak's a nice guy and all, but the princess mostly finds him infuriating because they've been friends since childhood and he teases her too much about how big of a baby she still is and JUST KISS, YOU IDIOTS.) In the world's most telegraphed plot twist that I couldn't actually "spoil" for anyone if I tried, Soo-won turns out to be a traitor! He kills the king right in front of princess Yona and then turns his knife on her! The episode concludes with Son Hak stepping in to rescue her, and once again no one is the least bit surprised.

Mind-blowing twist aside, I'm familiar enough with this tale-as-old-as-dirt to know that Soo-won killing Yona's own father is not going to be enough to kill off her feelings for him. (I'm sure he has some tragic "good" reason.) They'll drag the love triangle out forever, while pursuing the collection of ancient relics or destined (bishounen) warriors or both, before Yona inevitably ends up with Son Hak and either regains the throne or becomes a warrior vigilante second only in renown to her husband, The End. This is so inside the lines of paint-by-numbers, it's more like "point and click in MS Paint."

The thing is, these are all the oldest stereotypes in this genre because they do have some eternal worth. Sweeping fairytale romances filled with intrigue, magic, forbidden love, and mortal danger are technically timeless. They've just evolved over time in more unusual directions, such as the refreshing-yet-comfortable "The World Is Still Beautiful" from a few seasons back. Even ardent fans of reverse harem fantasy are sick of the repetition Akatsuki no Yona is unironically built on and have long since moved on to fresher ideas and concepts. The show's animation is serviceable for the low production standard of its genre, but that's about it, so it can't be recommended for spectacle either. Akatsuki no Yona is a perfectly acceptable good time for fangirls in 1997, but until someone invents a time machine to deliver it to them, it's little more than a curiosity in 2014.

Akatsuki no Yona is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Theron Martin

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review: My, stories about fallen 16-year-old princess who have to remake themselves from being privileged and simple-minded into being warriors when they are deposed by a relative seem to be in vogue this season! While Akatsuki no Yona certainly bears some plot similarities to Cross Ange, though (including dragons eventually being involved), the approaches are quite different. Whereas the latter was a tale dripping with irony and brimming with male-oriented fan service, this one is a shojo manga adaptation loaded with bishonen and apparently focusing on a trio of childhood friends torn apart by the bloody betrayal by one of them.

Titular character Yona is the princess and sole heir of Kouka, a small kingdom lodged between much larger, constantly-warring neighbors. She really only has three things on her mind: how to tame her unruly red hair, how much childhood friend/current bodyguard Hak annoys her, and how much she loves Soon-Won, her cousin and other childhood friend. For unexplained reasons her otherwise-doting father, the king, puts his foot down about her ever marrying Soon-Won. Either he had good reason for that or that contributes to seemingly gentle Soon-Won turning traitor, killing the king, and seeking to do away with Yona as well, until Hak intervenes.

From the prologue and the opener and closer we know that Yona is eventually going to escape with Hak, cut that unruly hair short, and become an archer, something she casually admits to being interested in during one scene even though she isn't allowed to even touch weapons, so presumably this tale will be about her having to quickly grow up and learn to be world-wise as she does something or another to restore herself to her throne and come to terms with Soon-Won's betrayal. (At least she is going to have someone by her side to help her, unlike poor Ange.) The first episode certainly firmly-establishes her starting point while also indulging in occasional bouts of silliness somewhat reminiscent of The World Is Still Beautiful, but only when the episode plays straight, serious, and dramatic does it feel like the content is hitting its stride and doing anything to overcome its generic base story. Design motifs and musical themes lend a distinct Chinese flavor to the setting, though the actions and activities going on here could take place in any fantasy setting.

If you didn't find Cross Ange palatable because of its uglier side and/or fan service then Akatsuki no Yona may be more to your tastes. It may run shallower in the themes it aims for and does less to stand out (for better or worse), but it is also a more savory and approachable version of the “fallen princess” story.

Akatsuki no Yona is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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