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From a shaky start Akatsuki no Yona[1] has rapidly improved into one of the star performers of the current season. There will be spoilers ahead, particularly for episode 1.

The Awkward Plot Structure

The early episodes of Akatsuki no Yona are a necessarily awkward mix of foreshadowing via Action Prologues, character exposition via flashbacks, and actual plot on the main timeline.

“Necessarily awkward” I hear you ask?

Unfortunately, yes.

The harsh truth of the early episodes is that the Princess Yona starts as a spoiled brat, and the foreshadowing is necessary to promise to the viewer that Yona will become a character to care for. Or at least that Yona will take a few levels in Badass.

Similarly the key event of episode 1 The Princess Yona requires the flashbacks to explain that Soo-Won isn’t a complete villain. That Soo-Won’s murder of Yona’s father may actually be motivated for the good of the beleaguered kingdom.

This is necessarily complicated by the fact that Soo-Won is Yona’s childhood crush and Yona catches him in the act of murdering her father. Oh that’s not complicated at all.

Even in The Princess Yona there was enough of a promise to catch my interest and keep me watching. In particular flashes of a Yona who genuinely cares for others over her own welfare.

The Hero’s Journey

Yona’s journey to become a hero begins after she and her other childhood friend Hak[2] escape the castle in the aftermath of the coup. Once the story settles down to this around episode 4 The Wind Clan, Yona’s character development is a joy to watch.

There is steel in this girl, it may need to be forged and tempered, but the steel is definitely there.

I can easily understand why some viewers might not make it to The Wind Clan, but from then on Akatsuki no Yona has been steadily improving. Right now it really is one of the top 3 shows of an already excellent season.

Yona’s journey is being carefully scripted with little moments of growing awareness and a rising determination to do the right thing by her kingdom, by her people, even if this means not being a princess or a queen.

As of episode 9 Shaking Resolve Yona has begun to face weapons training and the moral dilemmas of killing to survive, and Akatsuki no Yona is not sugar coating the issues either.

The will of the gods, or the will of men?

One of the subtleties of Akatsuki no Yona is whether the kingdom will be saved by the will of the gods, or by the will of men.

Side scenes have established Soo-Won as more of a cheated prince who seeks to restore a fallen kingdom to glory than as a villain[3]. However Soo-won is explicitly rejecting the gods, he seeks to restore the kingdom by his own will.

Meanwhile Yona appears to be destined hero chosen by the gods to save the kingdom, and Yona seems to be much more willing to serve the gods. Hak appears to be falling in the middle of this spectrum, but will probably come down on Yona’s side eventually.

Despite the early awkwardness of the plot structure, I suspect that Akatsuki no Yona will eventually strike a middle ground: that both Soo-won and Yona are right in a way.

That Soo-Won is needed to resolve the mundane problems of the kingdom, and Yona the mystical. I suspect that Soo-Won will even be left as King for the entirety of the series, which is a somewhat more subtle outcome than is usually seen[4].

There’s some really nice thematic work happening here, and I really want to see how it will play out over the course of the series.

The Interim Verdict

Akatsuki No Yona is definitely a show worth watching. The rewards are definitely there once you push past the awkward opening episodes. It’s certainly a show I’m looking forward to each week.

I’ll leave with the awesome opening that reminds me of Twelve Kingdoms, Moribito, and Fushigi Yuigi (and in a good way for all three of those shows).

[1] AKA Yona of the Dawn on CrunchyRoll, and “The Girl Standing In The Blush of Dawn” on the title screen of the OP.

[2] Hak is Yona’s bodyguard and eventual trainer.

[3] Some of the people working with him however are considerably dodgier.

[4] Yes, I’m indulging in Wild Mass Guessing. Again. I’ve been doing a lot of that this season.