Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 25

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.

Yona of the Dawn fits into a lot of genres. First, obviously, there’s shoujo manga, and the tropes of a young woman surrounded by good-looking men. There’s trying to save the kingdom fantasy stuff, with a bit of revenge fantasy mixed in, although as we see in this volume, revenge doesn’t really play into it as much as disappointment. Lately we’ve had military fantasy, with the entire plot of the last few books being “can we stop the inevitable war?”. But the last couple of chapters of this volume also bring home another genre that this series falls under: Yona is walking around with a bunch of superheroes, each of whom are using their powers to protect her and help other people. They don’t wear capes, but it otherwise checks out, and really gets hammered home in the last few pages of this book, where Yona’s “can’t we talk this out” plea is met by a bunch of arrows… that fail to hit her. Which, good, because Yona of the Dead is not a genre I want to see.

Yona’s talk with Su-won goes about how you’d expect, though I was very pleased to see Riri step in to defend her and remind everyone around them what Yona has been doing the last few years. (I admit I’ve lost track of the timeline, how long as Yona been on the run now?) The main problem here are the religious fanatics, who, as with almost all religious fanatics in manga/anime, turn out to be power-hungry villains. Killing off Kouren’s allies one by one, their goal is war by any means necessary. Fortunately, though they’re still grievously injured, the dragon warriors are able to step in and help to drive them back, even at the cost of their remaining stamina. And, as always with this series, we see whether idealism like Yona’s or Tao’s – even Tao finds herself wavering after seeing what the priests have been doing – can hold up under pressure.

There are some wonderful scenes interspersed throughout this volume, but my favorite may be Kouren pointing out, as I did, that Yona is running around with a bunch of superheroes at her command – why isn’t she simply taking out Su-Won by brute strength? Yona responds that “they aren’t tools to satisfy my personal grudges”, which is a great moment (though it also amuses me, as I’m pretty sure by now all of them would be very happy to help Yona do exactly that). As for the encounter with Su-Won, once again it’s not quite as earth-shattering as their past would expect, but she does learn that his pragmatism and her idealism are still at loggerheads, and that reconciliation is not happening anytime soon. As I said earlier, Yona could easily slide into revenge fantasy, but Yona doesn’t hate Su-Won enough for that to work.

As for the next volume, well, Yona isn’t full of arrows, so that’s good. We’ll see if she can stop the war, though. In the meantime, this is a shoujo manga, but it’s also so many other things.

Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 24

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.

It can be very hard to stop something once it’s gotten started, and when that something is “war”, it becomes ten times as hard. At the end of the last volume I thought we’d get a long section of Yona and Su-Won debating the subject, but no, Su-Won knows that now is not the time to have Yona whisper sweet words of peace in his ear. Instead we get some very clever tactical maneuvering on both sides, relying on Hak’s reputation with the Wind tribe, Yona’s ability to make Tae-Jun do anything she says (though at least there is a bit of “it’s not because I like you or anything” to the logic), and Su-Won figuring BOTH of these things out and making his own move to ensure that yes, there is going to be a war with a lot of dead people. Because sometimes that’s how you king, especially given the previous king.

The cliffhanger implies that the next volume may be different, but this volume reminded me how good the author is at maneuvering things so that expected events do not take place, or go in different directions. It’s a good skill to have, especially as the reader does not feel manipulated. Despite negotiating with Ogi, the meeting with Su-Won does not happen, and instead we get retainer Min-Su, who sympathizes heavily with Yona but also serves the King, and explains that this war can only end in a bloody battle. And yet we don’t get that battle here either, though we come close. (We also don’t get much of Kouren, and I hope that there is some focus on her soon.) As ever, Yona is trying to solve things by being an idealist who can back her ideals up, sometimes with violence, but here through negotiating attempts. It’s hard to negotiate when the other side avoids you, though…that said, more and more people are discovering she is alive.

As you would expect, there’s not really a lot of humor in this book, although the reaction to Jaeha’s leg may be the high point there. This also brings me to Mizari, who is probably the most fascinating part of this book. Let’s face it, it’s rare that ‘the guy with the slasher smile who’s clearly not all there’ gets deep character development. He’s fascinated with the dragon warrior captives (this is why we see Jaeha’s leg), and when he sees the soldiers that are going against Su-Won’s forces, he kills one just because he realizes how weak they are. His logic – he would have died immediately on the battlefield anyway – is twisted but also shows that he too is thinking about how this war is going to go for Kouren’s side. Badly. And that’s why he wants the power of the Dragon Warriors, because he wants to protect her. I don’t like Mizari as a person, but as a character he’s fantastic.

The cliffhanger implies we’ll finally be getting the confrontation that we didn’t get this time, but honestly I suspect that despite all of Yona and Hak’s maneuvering that we’re going to end up going to war anyway. In the meantime, please keep reading one of the best shoujo series out there.

Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 23

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.

After escaping from the burning building, complete with another round of “Jesus Christ, Zeno, MUST YOU?” self-sacrifice, our heroes are ready to deal with the plot. Unfortunately, the plot is forcing them to do something that’s been a long time coming. For most of the beginning and middle of this series, the goal has been to hide Yona’s identity and have her and the others function as a rogue band of do-gooders while also learning more about the country where her father was (a pretty crappy) king. But sometimes things can’t be solved by anonymous bandits, and here Yona is forced to not only reveal who she actually is, but goes off to negotiate with Su-Won as herself, something that I’m sure will go well and not be a disaster at all. Unfortunately, we have to wait till Vol. 24 for the fallout. Again, though, Yona’s “beacon of hope shining in the darkness” personality trumps all subterfuge. Well, that and the fact that 3/4 of the cast are hostages.

We also meet Princess Kouren, Tao’s older sister, in the best possible way – Yona shoots down a bird that lands directly on her face. I expect we will get more from her in the next volume, but it’s worth noting that Tao here is allowed to have the longer view of trying to save more lives of her kingdom’s people (and it’s shown here that they’re really trying to conscript EVERYONE into the army here) because she has not been traumatized by the violence of the kingdom’s enemies. If you see all of your friends brutally murdered in front of your eyes, it is absolutely valid that you are not going to want to simply barter a peace treaty with those who did it. That said, I worry that she may end up needing to be killed by the plot in order to posthumously learn to let go. Let’s hope not.

Elsewhere, as I mentioned, most of Yona’s group are either seriously injured, captured, or both, allowing us to get a good dose of their captor, who has a truly disturbing slasher smile. I hope something bad happens to him, he is not a nice man. As for Yona, she’s pushing herself so hard she almost collapses, which is a shame, as it means she misses Hak murmuring some very important words to her. (There’s also a side story showing how few real friends she had as a child – two is the correct answer – and again you marvel how how much she’s been forced to change, and how she’s blossomed as a result. and just in case you worried there was no humor in this volume, there’s a hilarious side story where Gija, Sinha, and Yona all eat a mystery candy and turn violent. Yona, of course, being the reason this is so funny.

The best volumes make you want to read the next one right away, and that’s definitely the case here. Read it now.