WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE ANIME
At the very beginning of the Yona of the Dawn anime, we’re shown an image of Yona, a confident female archer leading her band of warriors, before showing the same girl as a naive princess. The implication presented by this contrast is that this example of sheltered royalty will eventually become a great leader who does not shy away from conflict or hardship. Over the course of its early episodes, as Yona witnesses the death of her father and must escape her castle home with her bodyguard Dak, additional flash-forwards give brief glimpses as if to say, “Keep watching, she’s going to become a real badass! You’ll see!” The feeling early on is that it’ll take two, maybe three episodes to see how Yona transforms.
It actually takes 20 episodes.
Certainly Yona makes small steps towards growing stronger prior to that (such as tackling an attacker off a cliff), but much more attention is paid to a mysterious bond she has with the legendary dragons who will help her save the kingdom, all of whom are handsome men. The transformation only happens eventually in episode 20 when Yona decides to board a ship disguised as a girl trying to sell herself into sexual slavery in order to take down a corrupt government official. Here, she takes a major step towards showing sustained courage and conviction (rather than brief flashes of those qualities).
In the following episodes, Yona does something that changes her character forever. Confronted with the official they were pursuing, she shoots an arrow straight into his chest, killing him. This is significant not only because it shows her conviction towards reclaiming what she lost and righting all of the wrongs that plague her kingdom, but because her father was a staunch pacifist who went to great lengths to keep Yona from following a path of violence, and Yona ironically has betrayed her father’s wishes in order to grow. It’s her defining character moment that, again, comes almost towards the end of the series.
The issue here is that, for those who were looking for Yona to become this amazingly spirited leader, 20 episodes might be too much. While I believe the pay-off is actually very satisfying, I do think the series runs the risk of turning people off because of just how long it takes to get to that point. It also depends on who you ask, but while a show that meanders in the middle but hits a good climax is generally better regarded than a series with a strong middle that sputters out at the end, having to maintain that audience is tough. I’m also not saying that it took Yona actually fighting with a weapon to make her an interesting character. Rather, the anime itself set her up to carry that expectation.
It makes me consider the following: if Yona of the Dawn gets a second season, would I recommend, depending on the person, to just skip the first season entirely (or at least watch a select number of episodes)? I’m not entirely sure myself.
One last question, just because it’s been in the back of my mind ever since I started watching this anime. Is the setting meant to be a mix/potpourri of various Asian (and perhaps non-Asian cultures)? Characters such as Yona, her dad King Il, and Dak all have Korean-sounding names, but they come from Hiryuu Castle, which is Japanese. They meet a dragon whose name is pronounced Shinya but is spelled Sinha, which reminds me of Portuguese. Given that the Portuguese were involved in Asia because of colonialism, maybe that’s the reason. Does anyone know anything about this?
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