Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 5

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.

In general, I’m always a bit wary of ‘chosen one’ narratives, which Yona of the Dawn is shaping up into being. The difficulty is striking a balance between following the chosen one because you know they will be a good person who can change the world, and following the chosen one out of a literal compulsion you can’t control that draws you to them. Yona of the Dawn tries to have this both ways, and I like that the new Dragon, Jaeha, is reluctant to follow his supposed destiny, being very happy being what he is, which is a showboating, girl-loving pirate with the classic Hana to Yume “sleepy eyes”. Of course, this is still a shoujo manga, and thus the cliffhanger has him running into Yona and immediately his heart skips a beat, because of course it does – if you’re going to write romance cliches, do them properly.

Meanwhile, as predicted, the Blue Dragon decides to come with them, and even gets named by Yona, who is, of course, still the Chosen One but balances this out by being caring and loving and sweet and nice, etc. Names turn out to be pretty important in this book, as the male cast who aren’t Hak gradually start to call Yona by her first name. Hak is an exception, though, and this is the best scene in the volume, as Yona tells him the reasons that she wants him to still call her “your highness” and treat her as royalty. It’s so that they don’t forget her father or what he did. This is immediately followed up with the heartbreaking revelation that most people in the country seem to regard the late King with contempt as a terrible King, much to Yona’s distress. (In reality, putting the distance between her and Hak may be authorial fiat – let’s face it, this is a reverse harem manga with an obvious endgame, and it’s best to delay it as much as possible.)

Most of this volume is, of course, the standard quest, as Yona and company continue wandering the land hunting for Dragon Warriors. This means that they have to stop and fight injustice whenever they can, of course, even if they’re supposed to keep a low profile (Yona’s red hair really does not help with stealth missions). The humor in this book is fairly predictable, mostly revolving around Hak’s inability to practice what he preaches, and everyone (including Yona) seeming to think that he spent time in a brothel, much to his frustration. Jaeha looks like an excellent addition to the cast, balancing nicely with the other guys’ personalities. This of course assumes that he does join the main cast, and I suspect the next volume will show us Yona trying to convince him of the righteousness of her cause.

In the end, this is another top-notch volume of Yona of the Dawn, which continues to be one of Shojo Beat’s best series.

Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 4

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.

Yona of the Dawn started off pretty serious, given the nature of its plot. It always had some humor, but in the midst of regicide and fleeing from a murderous former trusted friend, you can understand why things were a bit edgy for a while. But now Yona is collecting allies, and learning to shoot a bow, and things are looking up even if she is occasionally still attacked by bandits or led into deathtraps by terrified villagers. This allows the author to bring in a lot more humor – the third volume already had a lot of this, but this one finds almost the perfect balance between action fantasy, tragic backstory, and hilarious shenanigans.

the hilarity tends to come from three different places. First we have Yun, the resident tsukkomi of the group, who keeps them from dying in the middle of the woods and tries to provide actual common sense among a group that sorely needs it. His line in snark is good, but it’s his offhand introduction of himself as “genius pretty boy” that made me giggle most. (And he’s not wrong – this is a very attractive cast in general.) Hak and Gija, meanwhile, are both attracted to Yona, though they either won’t admit it or aren’t aware of it, so this naturally puts them at each other’s throats. Luckily it’s in a comedic way, and I was reminded a couple of times of the dynamic between Legolas and Ginli – particularly with counting the number of dead bandits. And there’s also Yona, whose humor comes when she steps away from her princess and savior mode in order to, say, beat her would-be lovers across the head, or insult a squirrel’s name. This is a very amusing book.

This does not take away from its other qualities, though. We meet another Dragon Warrior here, and his past is tragic and filled with violence, and I suspect meeting Yona will be the best thing that ever happens to him – though you may need to convince him a little more first. It’s easy to be terrified of someone who’s different from you, especially if they have a mysterious power that can seemingly kill people. Luckily, nameless Blue Dragon (he was too unloved to be given a name!) is found by Yona and company. There are also lots of fights interspersed through the volume, which Yona does not take part in, though she is getting better with a bow. I like the scene where Hak admits he hates the idea of her learning to fight but loves the idea of her learning to be stronger – it strikes a nice balance between the patriarchal “women shouldn’t be doing this” and his growing respect for Yona as a young woman.

I’m not sure how long it will take to convince the Blue Dragon to come with them – not long, I expect, it’s not like he has much tying him down – but I eagerly await things being resolved in the next book. Must-read shoujo fantasy.

Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 3

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.

Yona of the Dawn has clearly been a fantasy series from the get go, but with this volume we also see it starting to take on the quality of myth. Or rather, of creating a myth, as it turns out that Yona’s red hair (something she’s always disliked) is part of a prophecy that has been bandied about. Not to mention that the priest we meet at the end of Vol. 2 turns out to be able to literally communicate with God, and also mentions a “red dragon” who will unite the land. So good thing Yona is the protagonist, then, as she certainly has her work cut out for her. Luckily, she manages to gain a few more allies than just Hak in this book.

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First off, we have Yun, who I suspect was brought in by the author to fill the ‘tsukkomi’ role, but in non-meta terms, he’s got a destiny that’s bigger than just taking care of an absent-minded priest, and Yona is where he can find it. His backstory once again reminds us that this land is filled with strife, politics, and suffering, something that Yona too is gradually discovering as she realizes how much she really wasn’t aware of as the pretty princess. The other new ally is Gija (please, no romanization arguments, Japan asked for the G), who is one of the Four Dragon Warriors who wield tremendous power (as seen by his reptilian right arm), and whose ancestors have been waiting an awfully long time for Yona to show up. Being a blond second love interest sort, he and Hak naturally don’t get along, and I suspect this will be a source of amusement in the future.

This is Yona’s volume, though, and she’s really fantastic in it. She’s determined to not be useless if they get attacked by enemies again, but saying you want to learn to use a sword and bow and actually having the nerve to take a life are too very different things. Yona clearly has some skill (used, in best romantic comedy fashion, when Hak provokes her), but she’s a princess who was raised by a pacifist. Hak explicitly says that by teaching her to fight, he’s defying her late father’s order to never let her touch a weapon. Violence and strife will come to Yona, but facing them head on will not be easy. Something that she realizes as we move on.

Note that this story is not all serious murmurs about fighting and destiny. Yona and Hak may or may not be the main “will they get together” couple, but they are hilarious together, with Yona’s faces when she’s aggravated with him being particularly funny. (The start of Chapter 15 verges on magical.) And Yun, as I noted before, has a nice ability to be a grumpy snarker, having absolutely no time for Hak and Gija trying to figure out who is the best man to protect Yona. No doubt all of them will try, but I’m hoping that as the series goes on, Yona will learn more and more to protect herself. Can’t wait for the next volume.