Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 13

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.

As we watch Yona and her bunch wandering through the nations doing good and saving people, it would be all too easy to cut back to the usurpers back at the palace and make them simple, cookie-cutter antagonists. But one reason that Yona of the Dawn is so strong is that Su-Won is not a cookie-cutter antagonist. In fact, the reader might occasionally be thinking to themselves, “You know, Su-Won being king may actually be a very good thing?” Yona is dealing with the world at the lowest level, going from small village to small village for the most part, while Su-Won takes on major threats to his kingdom and also tries to get the leaders of the various tribes to think better and learn more. It’s micro vs. macro, and neither choice is bad. And it also means that when Su-Won and Yona see each other towards the start of this volume, the tension involved is absolute dynamite – and it can only last a few seconds before being taken away.

If you do want a more typical evil antagonist, there’s always General Su-Jin, who cannot conceive of a situation where he loses to this upstart new king. But lose he does, as right from the very start we see horses dressed up as tigers (some nice historical research from Kusanagi-san there) and it just goes downhill from there. Su-Jin is the classic example of the obsessive who cannot let something go, and I felt sad that he did not have a moment where he threw up his hands and screamed “THIS CANNOT BEEEEE!”. The best part of his attack on Su-Won was actually when Yona confronted him, as her concern is not only t stop the violence but also to tell him how far Tae-Jun has come. Sadly, it’s all for nought, but it does lead to that beautiful shot of her and Su-Won seeing each other (there is some absolutely gorgeous art in general in this volume. I may not mention it all the time, but Yona of the Dawn is extremely pretty).

There’s also a bit of reverse harem here, but honestly, every single time that one of the other guys (usually Jaeha) shows that they’re in love with Yona, it’s there to underscore how obvious Yona/Hak is as the OTP. Here we see Yona getting a bit jealous when Hak uses his natural charm to get customers at a bazaar, and also tamping it down because she knows one day he’s going to leave her and go with someone else. That will never, ever happen, but hey, this is why you don’t hook up the main couple in the first book. Hak and Yona are perfect for each other. That said, the other guys all have their charms, and I am certainly content for things to simmer a bit as they are now. This is a bit of a transitional book, as we see that Tae-Jun, much as being a nurse is something he’s awesome at, having to return to the Fire Tribe to be temporary leader while his brother studies. As for Yona and friends, I’m sure we’ll be starting a new arc next time. I can’t wait.

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.