Yona of the Dawn
Yona is a pampered princess with a peace-loving father. She’s in love with her cousin, Su-won—but when Su-won kills her father and usurps the throne, Yona becomes a fugitive, with only a single guard, Hak, to protect her. In order to survive, she’ll need allies. So begins her quest to gather the four legendary dragon warriors.
I was hoping for something similar to the excellent 12 Kingdoms, and in that regard was disappointed. Yona is very solidly a shoujo with a dash of reverse harem, and the show focuses a lot on the string of guys she accumulates and the various semi-romantic hijinks that occur between them. That said, there’s a fair amount of action as well, and even if I didn’t like Yona, the guys tended to be a lot more interesting.
Hak, for all that he isn’t a dragon (officially, at least) can rampage just as well as any of them. He’s also in love with Yona, although his position as her servant won’t allow him to admit it (and Yona is extremely clueless). The dragons themselves are a fun lot. Each of the dragon warriors has a specific power, and generally very different relationships with that power depending on how their villages viewed it. The one major exception in the anime is the Yellow Dragon, mostly because he shows up in just the last episode, but presumably the manga digs into his character more. I like Jaeha’s power the best, and his stubborn insistence not to let dragon-blood-destiny run his life (although he ends up coming anyway, of course). Rounding out the group is Yun, whose competence with everything not fighting makes him a vital support.
(I did read the manga and once we FINALLY get Jeno/Zeno’s backstory and get to see his powers, he easily became my favorite. I like his casual, happy attitude, rumpled appearance, the moments of surprising insight or wisdom that shows he’s not an idiot, the spirit of self-sacrifice that says, “This may be all I can do, but I will do it.” He’s really not a fighter the way the other three are, and his approach to battles horrifies everyone who watches him because of how much he has to suffer to use his abilities, but he never complains, and even volunteers his own suffering to save them pain. And his powers are SO MUCH FUN. Even if, far more than the other three, his could honestly be called a curse.)
Yona, though, is almost unbearable in the beginning. I’m glad the anime beginning included a flash forward, because I don’t think I would’ve stuck around long enough to get there otherwise. Eventually she realizes the depths of her helplessness and determines to get better, but it’s a long journey to even marginal usefulness. She’s almost more of a mascot, whose job is to keep everyone else happy and willing to fight. This is starting to turn around by the end of the anime, and I can only hope the manga grows her up more.
The plot can also suffer from some bizarre moments, particularly early on. Like the snakes that show up out of nowhere, at night, and are chasing Yona and Hak through a forest. Because . . . cold blooded creatures with no legs can run as fast as two humans? Yeah. Although I ended up liking the show, especially once I read the manga and got to see some of the later ways things play out, the beginning is just hard for me to watch.
Overall whether or not you like this is going to depend on how much you like the shoujo aspects of it. It does have a good amount of action, humor, and depth of character, so there is enough to enjoy if the presence of some of the tropes doesn’t ruin it. One of the more surprising aspects, to me, is that the usurper Su-won is actually a remarkably good king—and so much better than Yona’s father that it’s arguable if it would even be a good thing for Yona and the dragons to go against him. Certainly Yona’s not ready to sit on a throne. But neither the anime nor the manga treats that question much. It’s more about Yona being able to survive in a desperate and dangerous world. I rate this series Recommended.