Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 18

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 Media. Translated by JN Productions, Adapted by Ysabet Reinhardt MacFarlane.

The concept of living forever, and being forced to see everyone you care about move on and pass away is not a new one, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a story worth telling again in context. In this case, the context is via Zeno, whose backstory is finally revealed in this harrowing volume of Yona of the Dawn Picking up where the last volume left off, we see Zeno seemingly killed any number of times (in graphic detail – even for a series filled with violence as Yona is, this is a blood-spattered volume, please be warned)driving off the threat for the moment, and earning a group hug from the rest of the Happy Hungry Bunch. He then goes on to reveal more of his past – both his desire to make sure that Yona “proved herself” before he joined up with her (which she has most assuredly done), and then seeing how he’s been around as a Dragon far longer than the others.

Zeno is not just a Yellow Dragon, but the first and only Yellow Dragon, and flashbacks show him with the original Crimson Dragon King and his fellow Dragons. He’s not particularly strong or skilled, but, as we discover, he can recover from any grievous wound up to and including having his head chopped off, and as the attacks go on his skin gets harder. This allows him to fight with Yona’s crew… or at least inspire a terrified retreat… but back in the past, he’s horrified that he has essentially become an undying monster. Then, as he confesses his fears to his beloved King, said king tr4ies to reassure him but almost immediately dies. The two are unrelated, but they drive home something that haunts Zeno for the rest of the volume… he can’t die, and everyone else he knows can. This book very much believes in Heaven, and Zeno can’t be with his friends in the next world.

Or his wife, as we also see Zeno befriend and fall in love with a young woman who lives by herself as she’s dying of an unnamed illness. She tries to politely drive him away, but he’s rather persistent, and their love story is very short-lived but also quite sweet. But of course, she has to die too, despite Zeno’s begging the heavens for a way to have her life on with him. (This is likely one of the reasons why he’s the only Dragon not to harbor romantic feelings for Yona.) Fortunately, we end the volume with Zeno, having essentially shown this flashback to the reader while he recovers, waking up to see the current Dragons and Yona hovering over him, and he joyfully glomps them all in a big group hug. I am happy to see that, while Zeno’s happy ditzy self is indeed a mask of sorts, that he is not secretly in constant agony or anything. He’s found joy once more with his new friends, and I hope that, if he does live past them, he is able to accept it.

A must read volume of Yona (unless you’re against a lot of blood and gore, as I noted), this was a gut-punch to read but all the more rewarding for it.

Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 17

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 Media. Translated by JN Productions, Adapted by Ysabet Reinhardt MacFarlane.

This volume of Yona of the Dawn doesn’t quite reach the absolute heights of the previous two. Of course, since that downgrades it to merely “excellent”, there’s no need to worry. We start a new arc, as it turns out that one of the latest outbreaks of war is happening right where Yona and her crew are going to next. Imagine that, huh? (Seriously, there’s a wonderful self-aware moment midway through this volume where Yona wonders what her life would have been like if Hak and Su-Won had not been at odds, and she realizes she’d be a sheltered princess in the palace, not caring about the outside. Moreover, there would be no Yona of the Dawn. And so, as a reader, we are delighted that instead Yona is out and about and doing things like “Starving child? Huh. Better shoot down a bird from the sky for him to eat!” without even batting an eye. This is the Yona I want to read about.

The starving kid is what kicks off the story – he’s from a village that is now part of the Kai Empire, but decades ago was part of the Kohka Empire. Shifting borders happen all the time when large nations are at war, and one of the points of this book is that people don’t care enough about the little villages along the border that are forced to deal with all this. For the most part the village has tried to stay out of the way of everyone, but that’s not going to work anymore, as, having suffered a humiliating defeat, decide that rather than let Kohka retake the land they lost, they’re going to burn it to the ground and kill everyone in it. Fortunately, they’ve got the Happy Hungry Bunch in town. Unfortunately, almost the entire group is down with a bad illness.

Hak is not ill, but even he can’t take on a huge group of soldiers all by himself. Yona is fine as well, but Hak knows very well this is not a fight for her no matter how much she’s improved – the numbers are too bad. And then there’s Zeno, the last of the not-ill group, who has been, for the past several volumes, “the goofy one” for the most part, who has to fly into action after all the others (including the sick guys, who try their best but are severely underpowered) are taken down and Yona is surrounded, and… well, immediately gets a sword through the chest. Ow. Fortunately, it turns out that Zeno has a few secrets of his own, though given that it’s part of the cliffhanger, it will be till the next volume before we get to see that. There’s also a short story at the end showing Jaeha’s past with his predecessor, which again reminds us of the difficulties of being a Dragon.

Yona is always exciting and fun (even in the most serious of scenes, there’s usually one or two asides that are hilarious – my favorite this volume being Yun’s “I know I’m a great catch, but I’m a boy.” Rest assured, this volume of Yona will keep you thoroughly entertained.

Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 16

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 Media. Translated by JN Productions, Adapted by Ysabet Reinhardt MacFarlane.

The actual resolution of the plot in this arc is treated as an afterthought, with Hyo, the villainous drug merchant, getting blithely killed off so that we may reach the real confrontation of the book. Because, having spent several chapters deliberately having Hak not meet Riri’s new bodyguard, when the moment arrives it takes pride of place above anything else that might be going on. It is truly an amazing setpiece, and shows off how good Kusanagi is at her craft. The rage that pours from Hak, his desire to kill Su-Won dripping off of him, is stunning to see. And you know that, at this point in time, it would be the absolute worst thing in the world for Hak to do that. Thank goodness for Jaeha, and later on Yona herself, for pointing out what’s important here: Yona is fine, she doesn’t need Hak to get revenge for her. Not like this. It’s only one chapter in this volume, but what a chapter.

I also definitely want to talk about the continued growth of Riri. Having stolen her father’s political seal as a means of showing that she has his power, she puts it to good use, getting the soldiers and merchants to unite to defend against Hyo’s fleet. What’s more, when events wrap up, she’s ready to take her punishment for what she did, even if that means being killed. That said, Riri’s political activism seems to have finally sunk in , as her father not only “punishes” her by exiling her to Sensui, where she can continue to do what she was planning to anyway. What’s more, he himself is now no longer content to be passive – which means that the tribes are now united in taking a more active role in the kingdom… even if that means war. All this from a young woman who was inspired by Yona (and is arguably in love with Yona, because their final scenes together really read like Riri wants to say something but chooses to hold back).

Riri is not the only woman in this volume who is awesome. Yona and Tetra are recovering from serious injuries, and are visibly exhausted, but are not letting that stop them from doing what needs to be done. Indeed, Tetra and Ayura have figured out Yona’s secret (such as it is), but are content to let her get on with what she needs to do. Heck, even the Sensui divers, who at first look to be introduced as a joke to show off “Jaeha is a player”, are swimming out towards enemy ships with bombs strapped to their heads. One of the best reasons to read Yona of the Dawn is that the cast is trying to effect change, and we see everyone who wants it step up and make that happen. It’s made explicit here with Riri’s father, but previous volumes also show that everyone Yona comes into contact to takes up her idealism… even if they’re cynics. It’s nothing to do with romance, though her own party does have guys who like her. It’s her sheer presence and drive.

I will end this review as I have many previous Yona reviews. This is possibly the best shoujo manga currently coming out in English. Everyone should be reading it.