By Andrew Osmond.
Funimation has released the second half of Yona of the Dawn, the fantasy adventure from a girls’ manga by Mizuho Kusanagi, about a bold red-haired princess-in-exile and the handsome male protectors that she gathers around herself. It’s been a while since the first anime volume (it came out last July), so if you need a reminder of how the story started, there’s a write-up here.
The first volume broke off mid-adventure, with Yona having gathered a trio of companions. Firstly there’s Hak, her inseparable bodyguard, who rescued Yona when their childhood playmate, Su-Won, triggered a coup d’etat, slew Yona’s royal father and took control of her kingdom.
The second companion is the boy Yun, a former monk’s apprentice. He’s not so much of a fighter, but he’s blessed with common sense and a practical knowledge of medicine. Also, there’s the handy fact that Yun can easily pass as a girl – it’s not much of a spoiler to say he’ll have to dress in a dress at a crucial part of the adventure. He’s voiced in Japanese by actress Junko Minagawa, who was the lethal Princess Cornelia in Code Geass, though he’s dubbed in English by the male Clifford Chapin.
Along with Hak and Yun, Yona’s third companion is Kija, one of the four Dragon Warriors who carry the blood of the real dragons who united Yona’s kingdom long ago. Kija is the White Dragon, with a scaly hand, an oily manner, and a monster-sized ego – all of which are fuel for his ever-running rivalry with Hak. When we left them in volume one, the characters were searching for the second warrior, the Blue Dragon, who’s been concealed deep in mountains by a cave-dwelling tribe.
The idea in Yona is that each dragon’s essence is passed down through generations of humans. However, the series is canny enough to question if that’s necessarily a good thing. While Kija was lucky – he grew up in a village which happily honoured the Dragon tradition – the Blue Dragon’s people see it as a ghastly curse, and live in terror of the Dragon’s power. As a prisoner of masks and traditions, his identity forcibly erased, the Blue Dragon’s story has echoes of The Tombs of Atuan, the second Earthsea novel by Ursula LeGuin.
Much of this volume, however, deals with the characters’ search for the third dragon, the Green one. He represents another reaction to the “destiny from the dawn of time” scenario – namely, to shove it. This dragon has built up his own life, and swears to have nothing to do with Yona. But will he be able to keep his vows when the two finally meet.
The Green Dragon turns up in a marine adventure, with trials on steep cliffs and an old-fashioned sea battle – though it stacks the odds when the Green Dragon can bound huge distances from deck to deck, clobbering the enemy as he goes! But even he respects his commander, a matriarchal pirate queen, who turns out to be far gentler than she first appears. She’s possibly inspired by historic figures like the astonishing (and very ungentle) Chinese pirate Ching Shih, but the character may be also influenced by the air bandit Ma Dola in Laputa.
For all the men protecting her, Yona still must face much of the darkness in this volume by herself. In particular, she must come to terms with the fact that the kingdom under her father was not a happy place for many of its citizens, some of whom actually welcomed his overthrow. Interestingly, a couple of episodes are given over to the usurper Su-Won, who’s clearly no simple villain. The series implicitly parallels Yona and Su-Won as they each seek to prove themselves to the people they meet.
Meanwhile there are the troubles of Hak. What a poor man… he’s Yona’s oldest friend, bonded to her by a devotion that surpasses even dragons’ blood, and now he’s horribly confused by his feelings for the princess. Of course, this supplies a lot of shojo manga comedy as Yona remains blissfully oblivious to all of Hak’s torments. It’s the price of being a heroic warriror guardian to a determined, courageous but sometimes really quite thick teenage girl…
Yona of the Dawn 2 is released in the UK by Funimation.