Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 12

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.

One of the many things that the author of Yona of the Dawn is very good at is showing that the world keeps moving even as Yona and company are gallivanting around saving villages, gathering more hot guys, and hiding her true status from prying eyes, other parts of the Kingdom still have events move forward. Indeed, it’s doubly true here, as we see that Su-Jin, the leader of the Fire Tribe, has been plotting to overthrow the King for some time now, and is not going to let a little detail like Su-Won actually killing the previous King and taking over stop him. After all, what good are plans if they don’t end with you in a position of absolute authority? And so a lot of this volume is warfare and tactics, which is good. Fans of Yona’s slow-burning relationship with Hak may not get a lot to see here, but it doesn’t matter, as Kusanagi commands the reader’s attention no matter what she writes.

One of the things I like best anout this series is that it shows Yona’s decisions, which usually involve impulsively trying to protect those being attacked even when it would be far more sensible to stay hidden and keep doing reconnaissance, as being the right thing to do. Yes, Yun occasionally chimes in with how stupid this actually is, but the reason that everyone follows Yona is because she is wearing a nametag that says “Have you hugged your idealist today?”. Yes, the narrative shows that she made the right decision every time, but that’s the point. This is a manga that began with Yona’s crush and childhood friend betraying her and killing her father, and yet it refuses to get bitter and cynical, even when events conspire against it. Every time Yona looks determined and asks everyone to fight to save the oppressed, my heart grows a little bigger.

There is a bit of humor and romantic tease in this volume, mostly confined to the start, which sees all the guys squeezed into one small tent, or the wonderful shot of Jaeha with Sinha in his arms – not exactly what he’d planned. Presumably so the cliffhangers work out, we also get a couple pf side stories to round out the volume, the longer of which deals with Gija and the scars on his back. I’ll be honest, as the “harem” around Yona has grown, I feel that Gija has slipped into the background more than the others, so this was a nice way to remind readers of his past – which was sad, but not quite as sad as others were assuming. That said, I suspect readers will be focused more on the outcome of the battle between Su-Jin and Su-Won, and how the Happy Hungry Bunch are going to interfere even though they’re up against a ridiculous number of troops.

To sum up, Yona of the Dawn is still one of Viz’s best titles. Everyone should be reading it.

Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 11

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.

This volume of Yona of the Dawn is a return to the beginning in many ways. It opens with an extended flashback showing the trio of Yona, Hak and Su-Won as children, sneaking out against orders to see what the town looks like, which ends up turning into a disaster after Yona is kidnapped almost immediately. It’s a terrific sequence, showing off the strong friendship that the three had, as well as showing that Hak and Su-Won each are jealous of the qualities they see in each other. And of course it’s tragic because of what came later, something that is still affecting both Yona and Hak deeply, as we see later on. He has nightmares about Yona, both in regards to Su-Won’s betrayal and also her becoming a warrior rather than a princess. And Yona is feeling the same thing, only she knows what side she’s going to choose going forward.

Yona and company are moving north, arriving in a village that is much the same as the fire tribe one they left, but is much better off due to developments in their grain. This excites Yun so much that he’s willing to do a festival dance in order to get more information about it – or at least have Yona do it, as Yun can’t dance at all. Hak notes that Yona has danced in the past, but it’s been rather awkward and amusing more than anything else. That changes here when Yona uses the dance to show what she’s become and where she’s headed, in a performance that makes everyone’s jaw drop, including Hak’s. For shippers, there’s a giant pile of Hak being in love with Yona here, but he’s fighting back against too many things, including Yona being mostly oblivious, for it to go anywhere. But man, the burning unsaid passion in this book is amazing.

Rest assured the book is also filled with humor – one two-page section had me laughing out loud just from the use of ‘pondering’ and ‘lounge’ as comedic weapons. A lot of this comes from Jaeha, who has become my favorite non-Yona character (those who recall my I Hate You More Than Anyone reviews may guess why – he’s basically Honjo as a superhero. He also knows that Hak/Yona is the endgame, which grates on him a bit – but not enough to stop him giving Hak some good, if needling, advice. That said, I don’t think anything more is going to be happening anytime soon. I do wonder if we’ll be seeing another female cast member soon – this volume has them go to a village with a lot of young women who remind us that Yona is walking around with a bunch of hunky guys, and some female friendships would, I think, do her good and make her a bit less serious.

To sum up, this remains one of the best Shojo Beat titles being released by now, and an essential purchase. Buy it, you’ll love it.

Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 10

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.

Character development is something that you want to see in a good story. It’s something we’ve seen throughout Yona of the Dawn. For all that people were chanting “badass sword princess!” when the series was originally licensed, it’s taken a while for Yona to get from her sheltered princess to that point, and she still has a long way to go. And that means that character development happens even with the villains, provided they aren’t meant to be the standard “I am so evil I have to die” sorts. That’s why this volume is devoted almost entirely to Tae-Jun, the arrogant Fire Prince who has been dealing (badly) with thinking that he killed Yona back at the beginning of the series. He’s always been played for comic relief, and there’s certainly still some of that here – his puppyish devotion to Yona makes us uncomfortable but also makes us laugh. But there’s a larger story to be found here, which is the suffering that the kingdom has been going through.

Yona has slowly been realizing what she wants to do for this kingdom, but it’s not something that she’s really able to fully achieve as a bandit. Tae-Jun could really make more of a difference, though it’s worth noting that even he has to disguise it as “searching for the bandits and making the towns better as a result”. The peasant towns we’ve seen the last few volumes are really struggling, as every able young man is now gone to the army, leaving almost no one left to keep everyone eating and surviving. There’s a heartwarming moment with an old woman who bitches and moans about how bad Tae-Jun is at backrubs and everything else he tries to do, but Yona notes that it’s mostly just bluster. But later on, we hear that the old woman has died. This isn’t a magical cure, where Yona or Tae-Jun start to do the right thing and everyone magically gets better. People still die. People still suffer.

Tae-Jun’s soldiers are also seen throughout, and don’t have quite as much of a leap, as they go from “we are devoted to our lord even if he’s like this” to “we are devoted to our lord and oh look, he’s doing things now”. That said, they seem perfectly content to help the villagers as part of finding the bandits, once they get over their initial “if we come near them, we will get sick and die” phase. (Which, truth in manga, does actually turn out to be somewhat true – one of the soldiers seems to pick up a bad case of “con crud” fairly quickly.) As for Yona and the others, they realize that they need things that aren’t in the Fire lands, so are off to find them, and presumably to start a new arc. In the meantime, everyone who’s been reading Yona of the Dawn will enjoy this, and appreciate a more nuanced look at a former goofy villain.