Yona, the girl standing in the blush of dawn – or Yona of the Dawn as the English title is listed – is a fantasy anime set in the Kingdom of Kouka. The show opens with Princess Yona living the idyllic life in the castle with her pacifist father and her two closest friends Son Hak and Soo-Won. Hak is her father’s general and is a renowned fighter, known around the world as the ‘Thunder Beast’ while Soo-Won is her cousin who she has a deep love for due to his care of her while she mourned her mother’s death.
The Kingdom of Kouka is built of four tribes representing Earth, Fire, Water, and Wind. Each of these tribes’ leaders have a say in who rules the Kingdom, and have to agree to have the current line supplanted with any other. At the start of the show, Soo-Won and the Fire tribe assassinate the King, forcing the pampered Yona and Hak to flee for their lives. Hak, being the heir to the Wind tribe, is subtly given blame for the incident as Soo-Won takes over the Kingdom.
Sadly, that is where the action stops for a while. After that you get several episodes showcasing Yona’s grief and her being forced to wake up and mature. But the process takes far longer than is really necessary for any purpose other than stretching the show out. Given that introduction, you could probably pick up at episode 6 and feel as though you really hadn’t missed much. Its pacing is so slow that it makes the GGO arc of Sword Art Online feel almost overly fast. There are a few high moments during those 5 episodes, but they’re very drawn out and overly pensive.
Once you start getting past that part, and the cast starts growing beyond simply Yona and Hak, things start to get interesting. The characters in this show are quite diverse, and play off each other very well to make some amazing moments. To go into more details about the cast would be to reveal some pretty big spoilers regarding the story… but suffice to to say that watching these characters interact with the maturing Yona and the sarcastic Hak serves to create the show’s best moments. As the show has progressed, there has been a bit of a reverse harem building here with Yona having numerous manly servants desperately in love with her – but given the context of the show, it actually makes a lot of sense, and not just because she’s beautiful. There’s actually a story driven connection for many of the characters, and it is executed to great effect within the building narrative.
The tale doesn’t change much when you look at the martial arts and combat within the series. It’s quite slow, takes a while to build up to much… and there isn’t a lot of interchange between characters. It mostly seems to pit our heroes – strong enough for them to be legends within Kouka, to be fair – against masses of what are essentially extras. But in the end, it works for the show, even if it often feels one-sided. The fighting reminds me in some ways of Asian action movies, except a bit less overdramatized. When Hak swings his mighty polearm, people go flying by the dozens, for example. It’s entertaining, even if it ends up being more absurd than not a lot of the time. I do hope that as we progress forward, more of a challenge is put in front of our heroes than they’ve seen thus far, as the novelty of this may wear off before long.
As we arrive at the end of the first arc, we’re starting to see things become interesting. I have high hopes for the second arc, as the characters are starting to develop nicely and the cast is starting to round itself out. But man, it really didn’t feel like this show was going to wake up anytime soon during those first episodes… I considered putting it down for a time, fearful it’d never get any more interesting. Fortunately I didn’t, because after about half the season, it did start to show signs of life, and I’m interested to see where it goes now that it’s woken up.