Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 1

By Mizuho Kusanagi. Released in Japan as “Akatsuki no Yona” by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Viz. Translated by JN Productions, Adapted by Ysabet Reinhardt MacFarlane.

The cover to this first volume features our heroine, Yona, surrounded by swords, and on the back cover we see her confidently wielding one. But on the front she’s looking at them with a look of melancholy, and I feel that this fits the tone of the volume. For although this is the story of a princess who will take up the sword and become a warrior, we’re not there yet. Instead, what we get here is a sweet, sheltered young girl with a crush on her cousin and childhood friend and an antagonistic relationship with her bodyguard and other childhood friend. In other words, were it not for the fantasy castle setting, this could easily be any other shoujo high school romantic comedy. Then… things happen.


The layout of this volume actually ends up being very odd. We start off with the love triangle setup, and then things rapidly turn serious and deadly with the murder of Yona’s father, the king. We’re told that, as a king, he wsa rather conciliatory, so it’s no great surprise that someone wishes to replace him, but it’s still a chapter of Yona avoiding also being put to death and running for her life. The second half of the book is a series of flashbacks, told as Yona and Hak (the aforementioned bodyguard) hide in the woods and deal with things like leeches and snakes, things that Yona is clearly totally unfamiliar with. The flashbacks show us more of the relationship between Yona, Hak and Su-won (said cousin she’s in love with, and again it’s really sweet and shoujo-ey, as she turns to Hak for advice on how to deal with suitors she doesn’t want, and how they all get colds as kids after a snowball fight and the King tries to make broth for them, which is ridiculously awful but makes her happy.

In other words, we are shown a tragedy, then we get to see why it was so tragic after the fact. Yona’s father does indeed seem to be a rather ineffectual king most of the time, though there’s a hint or two that this is all just a facade. There’s also some backstory that I’m sure will be developed more later, with Su-Won’s father having been killed before the book began, and various tribes (there are five, and one is the “wind tribe”, so I won’t be surprised if we see a water and fire tribe at some point down the road) all jostle for political influence. And then there’s Hak, who is apparently an incredibly strong warrior, but is also devoted to Yona, both because he was “tricked” into doing it by her father, and also because he clearly loves her, though he keeps that hidden for now.

Yona of the Dawn’s first volume is good setup, with an interesting story structure, and I look forward to seeing how its naive and sheltered heroine becomes the confident swordslinger on the back cover. Oh, and we also have a serious dark-haired good guy and a nice but secretly evil blond bad guy as rivals for Yona’s affection, for those of you who play shoujo manga bingo.

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