Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Yona of the Dawn
BD+DVD - Part 2
Now that she's found the Blue Dragon Warrior, Yona only needs to find two more in order to begin her mission for real. But what is it that she truly wants to do? A visit to the seaport of Awa, where the local lord is ravaging the population (and the Green Dragon waits) makes things clear to her – like Su-Won, Yona wants the kingdom to be prosperous and happy. Joining with a band of pirates, Yona enters the fray. But what has her murderous cousin been doing all this time? Can there be any reconciliation between them – and would she want there to be?
If part one of Yona of the Dawn's anime adaptation was about Yona's journey from pampered princess to a young woman who could survive in the world, part two is about her realization of what she wants to do in that world as she gathers her dragon warriors. Not that either Gija nor the Blue Dragon (soon named Sinha by Yona) care what she's up to – both just want to be with her, albeit for slightly different reasons. (It's interesting to note that Hak only appears to see Gija as a romantic rival.) But Yona herself needs to have a purpose. As she begins to realize that her father, kind as he was, was not actually a good king, she begins to feel more and more that it's her duty to right the wrongs of his reign.
This urge sets up one of the most interesting parallels – and undeveloped plotlines – in the series: the motivations of Yona and Su-Won. In part one, Su-Won murdered his uncle out of a desire to repair a kingdom that had suffered under his too-kind rule. His decision to run King Il through himself rather than use a less direct method of murder indicated the complete difference in philosophy between the two, although we can see traces of the old Su-Won underneath, particularly in episode sixteen, when Su-Won stages a “pretend war” to make his point to the Earth Clan. His brief reunion with Yona in episode twenty-three also indicates that he's very skilled at deception and leaves us wondering which, if either, is the “real” Su-Won. This brings up the question of why King Il didn't want Yona to marry him in the first place, as well as why his father, the elder prince, was not named heir. Did Il know something that we're not privy to? In either case, these two sides of the new king highlight the inherent tragedy of his character. Had he not chosen to kill the king and instead allied himself with Yona (not necessarily through marriage), he wouldn't find himself becoming a conflicted villain. It's a classic case of the road not taken, and in Yona herself, we see alliance with the common people forming a very different kind of unity. Unfortunately, this anime doesn't get into which one will be stronger.
Most of this set is taken up with the Awa arc, when Yona, Yun, Hak, Sinha, and Gija arrive in a port town in search of Jeaha, the Green Dragon Warrior, only to find that not only is he totally uninterested in helping them, but he's also busy trying to stop the depredations of the local lord, who's terrorizing the town and selling women off to neighboring kingdoms. It's important in the grand scheme of things not just because it sets up the meeting between Yona and Jeaha, but also because it marks Yona's first meeting with a strong female leader, someone she can use as a role model. That would be Gi-Gang, the elderly leader of the pirates who are fighting Lord Keum-Ji's reign of terror. While Yona did already meet Granny, the matriarch of the White Dragon Village, that's a more traditional female role, while Gi-Gang is engaged in the kind of rebellious martial leadership Yona will need to undertake. Gi-Gang makes Yona stand up and prove herself, not just to Gi-Gang, but also to herself and the men she's traveling with. If they could, both Hak and Gija would wrap Yona in cotton and stick her safely out of the way, but that's not what Yona wants or needs. Gi-Gang gives her the chance to show them that she can handle herself when things get difficult, which culminates in her actions towards Keum-Ji, witnessed by both Yun and Jeaha. This is really the moment when Jeaha accepts that he wants to go with her, seeing her as a person rather than "just a girl” or even the fabled “red dragon.” Since his issue was whether the pull he felt towards Yona was merely a product of his dragon blood or his genuine emotions, seeing her in action helps him to come to terms with himself as well. It also shows Yona's complete refutation of her father's anti-violence principles, although for her it is a last resort, once again drawing a comparison between her and Su-Won, who began his rebellion against King Il with blood.
In terms of other characters, poor Hak is still stuck pining for a Yona who is utterly oblivious to his feelings. He is, however, beginning to be more open about those feelings with everyone else, although whether or not he understands the importance of her wanting only him to call her “Princess” seems debatable. It's clear that Yun occupies the “best friend” slot, while Hak means something more to the princess, although she doesn't appear to be able to put a name on that something else herself. Yun, like Yona, is going through a similar realization of his own strengths, and it can't be easy being constantly surrounded by amazing fighters when your strengths are intellectual. This is part of what makes Yun's and Yona's friendship so rewarding – they're the only two “normal” people in the group, both trying to figure out their places in the world. Poor Sinha, on the other hand, is mostly used for comedic effect; he basically stops talking after episode thirteen. (In fact, Josh Grelle, who plays Jeon the Yellow Dragon Warrior, jokes that he has more lines than Eric Vale, who plays Sinha, despite his single appearance in the series.) It's a shame, because he does have potential as a character, and his reasons for joining Yona are drastically different from both Gija's, Jeaha's, and Jeon's, at least as much as we get to know them.
As a big fan of the original Japanese voice cast, I was concerned about the English dub, but it turned out fine. While I still prefer Nobuhiko Okamoto's slightly sweeter Sinha, the dub cast is excellent, with Ian Sinclair's Gija being a particular stand-out. Monica Rial's Yona is also very impressive – if you've always thought of her as “the squeaky one,” this show should change your mind. Gi-Gang's dub voice is perhaps the most likely to cause dissent, as the southern accent she's given makes her sound more like an old rancher than a pirate. The animation continues to be very nice, and while the driving new opening theme (appearing somewhat oddly in episode fifteen) takes some getting used to, it does suit the new direction of the story. More amusingly, there are some distinct parallels between the new ending theme's lyrics and the song “Let it Go” from Frozen, particularly in the idea of the rising dawn. Extras are the Funimation usuals, with two episode commentaries, one with Su-Won and Geun-Tae's actors and one with the White, Green, and Yellow Dragon Warriors', both of which are interesting. The latter gets points for being the only one on both sets not to open with a tale of horror about the broadcast dub schedule.
Fishermen have a saying about a red sky at dawn – it's not a good portent. Yona, whose hair was dubbed dawn-colored by Su-Won, may just be that warning for Su-Won and his cronies as she continues to find her purpose in life. Although they are working towards the same ends, their separate paths will take them in very different directions. While we don't have that part of the story in the anime, we do know that Yona is not going to back down. We'll just have to read the manga to see what kind of dawn these two groups will eventually bring about for the Koga Kingdom.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A-
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Continued evolution of most characters, all the dragon warriors have very different reasons for joining Yona, some good fight scenes, strong vocal cast in each version
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