I am a sucker for high fantasy stories that include journeys, a gathering of group members, and strong female characters. Some shows that immediately spring to mind include Juuni Kokuki, Saiunkoku Monogatari, and to a lesser extent, Fushigi Yuugi. The last two are considered reverse harems, though the latter is more so than the former. Similarly to Saiunkoku, Akatsuki no Yona has overtones of otome romance though largely avoids it in preference of a more competent female lead and a greater purpose. Princess Yona may be royalty, but her mental maturity is stunted by her sheltered upbringing and quick trust for those around her. When disaster strikes and she sets forth into the world in pursuit of a legend, we see her grow both psychically and psychologically at a rapid rate. In ignorance, she fulfills the whispering of reborn heroes from the nation’s birth. Hers is a terrifying, yet thrilling, destiny that I must witness.
Juuni Kokuki’s protagonist, Youko Nakajima, refuses from the beginning to believe in her destiny, choosing instead to cling to the world she knows and all its stifling conformity. It takes several mistakes and irreversible results to open her eyes for Youko to accept her new path. Like Youko, Yona begins her journey incapable to defending herself or protecting the people for whom she cares. Her life in the castle has blinded her from the harsh realities of poverty and war. One explanation for her innocence into puberty is that her father, King Il, has successfully maintained peace and prosperity throughout the kingdom of Kouka. Yona knows nothing of the conflicts outside the borders, nor of the rumblings of discontent among Kouka’s people wishing for war and expansion. She doesn’t even know the heart of the person she holds most dear. Her awakening to these truths is painful and heart wrenching, but the resulting resolve promises an adventure worth remembering.
Anyone familiar with Asian names and attire should recognize the Korean heritage of Akatsuki no Yona. On top of that, Kouka’s nations are reminiscent of the Three Kingdoms of Korea during the 5th century. The realistic historical framework and untouched landscapes through which our party travels breathe life into what otherwise might feel like a world carved out of any fantasy story. Then there’s the music to consider, which is wholly instrumental. Not even the opening theme features lyrics–a style I’ve become numb to in other anime. Korean composer and arranger, Yang Bang-ean (Japanese name: Kunihiko Ryou), has the phenomenal music scores of Juuni Kokuki, Eikoku Koi Monogatari Emma, and Tegami Bachi, among others, to add to his name. The sweeping orchestral pieces lend a grandeur to the journey. Silence and natural sound effects are also used appropriately to highlight tense scenes without making them melodramatic.
This still airing show doesn’t have a determined episode count just yet, but I’m hoping for a longer run to give justice to the legend. My biggest fear is that Yona’s acquisition of the four dragon clans gets rushed and the difficulty of her trek is cheapened. Thankfully from what I’ve seen this fall season, that has not been the case. Like Yona’s daily morning practice with the bow, the pinnacle of our efforts will take time and intense will.