Tag Archives: dragons

Further Thoughts – Yona of the Dawn

I wanted to jot down a few further thoughts on Yona, since I had a chance to review the dub, and I wanted to mention a few things in a bit more depth about the manga.

The dub is serviceable, but most of the characters didn’t feel great in their roles. Gija is a major exception, as his voice actor absolutely nails his bug-related freakouts, but others like Jaeha don’t have any transition between their comedy portions and their regular voices, which made Jaeha sound more monotone than his Japanese voice. Or there are odd moments like Yun using his obviously male voice when talking to Yona during a period when he’s disguising himself as a girl—and none of the other girls figure this out until so much later it feels really stupid. In addition his attempts to sound feminine are still gravelly.

As an added annoyance, this disk is the first anime I’ve watched that didn’t allow me to put subtitles on when I was watching the English, which is how I prefer to view dubs. That allows me to more easily evaluate where the dub changed the script, or catch lines that might be muttered or in the background.

Jeno/Zeno is still my favorite. (Looks like he’s officially Jeno, but it sounds like Zeno in the Japanese, and we already have Jaeha, so I prefer Zeno.) His little “we can totally storm the castle” speech in the last ep is the first big hint that he’s more than he appears—why the massive amount of confidence when he’s previously described himself as basically powerless?

And when the manga finally shows his ability in chapters 99-100, Zeno demonstrates he could probably storm the entire castle by himself. And win.

**MANGA SPOILERS**

I love how Zeno’s backstory is basically: the other three dragons never let him fight because he was weak, and then when they got old and retired, he went out and did everything by himself. He’s unkillable but not invincible, as Shin-Ah demonstrates by tying him up. So despite having massive powers, he doesn’t unbalance the plot because his personality isn’t suited for fighting, and because in order to trigger those powers he’s first got to take deadly levels of injury.

I adore his initial battle, as his ineffectual resistance slowly transforms into complete invincibility. And all his friends are shell-shocked from the moment he first gets stabbed through the heart . . . and he’ll take way more damage than that before he’s done. One of my favorite frames is the panel after he’s been stabbed multiple times, dismembered, and beheaded, and is standing there with ruined clothes but a whole body and taunting the enemy: “What will you do? Unlike you, I have no limits. I can go on fighting for hundreds of years. Come at me. I have all the time in the world.”

And then they find out that he’s not only unkillable, but after a certain point he can’t even take injuries anymore, and they’re now fighting a dragon just as ferocious as Gija and Jaeha combined.

It really is a shame it’s going to take so long to get volumes 17-18 in English.

I like how the dragons are becoming more and more a group of friends. Zeno admits the original four never really meshed that well, as the thread of competitiveness disrupted the sense of being a team. But the current group demonstrates again and again their willingness to support each other, which is perhaps a reflection of Yona being weak where King Hiryuu was strong. Yona can’t pull her own weight in fights the way he did. And Zeno isn’t volunteering to hurt himself as long as the other three canĀ  handle things without his help, but if the situation calls for it, he’ll cheerfully offer to undergo hideous pain because he knows he can take it.

I also like how the manga has generally moved towards longer plot arcs. Su-won turns his attention to the surrounding kingdoms, and Yona for one reason or another is in the middle of things, which means plenty of time to explore the other nations. It raises some interesting questions about Su-won’s ultimate goal, as his short-term aspirations are building up Kouka and reducing his neighbors so they won’t face external threats. He doesn’t seem like he wants to invade, so I do wonder what he’ll get up to once the last neighbor has either submitted or lost a war with him.

At any rate, it’s a shame that the anime doesn’t look likely to go any farther. The plot continues to improve, the characters have a lot of interesting revelations, and the surprises keep on coming.

Yona of the Dawn (anime)

Yona of the Dawn

Episodes 1-24

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.

Tales of Berseria (PS4/Steam)

Title: Tales of Berseria

Platforms: PS4, Steam

Demons roam the land, spreading terror and death in their wake. Even Velvet Crowe, who lives in the small village of Aball, has lost family to their attacks. But her brother-in-law Arthur is an exorcist, and he’s protected them . . . until the Scarlet Night when everything she thought she knew is torn apart. Now Velvet herself is a demon, out for revenge against Arthur, the man who stole everything she had left.

This is a much more solid Tales entry than the last several. It’s connected to Zestiria, but as a distant prequel, so no knowledge of Zestiria is necessary to enjoy this game (although certain nods are often given). However, playing both games does help expand the world.

The plot stays compelling throughout. Tales games have a tendency to lose focus along the way, surviving more on the character interactions than the main plot, but this one stays strong. And the cast is generally very good too. I was fairly sure going in that Eizen would be a favorite, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed everything he’s in—he’s even more fun to play than Velvet against trash mobs, where he can go into full shadow-dragon fury. And his dour outlook, Reaper’s Curse (basically Murphy hates him), and nerdy interests kept him fun from a story perspective too. Pretty much every favorite skit I have involves Eizen in some major way. (See the skit Two Headed Coin for a great example).

Gameplay was generally solid, but the new Souls system led to a rather unbalanced feel overall for me. This is the only Tales game I played the majority on Hard from the beginning (moving up to Chaos by the final dungeon) because the enemies died too fast otherwise. On the other hand, especially with bosses, getting stunned/statused down to one soul means a really not-fun time trying to get it back when you can only do one attack at a time. I liked the equipment mastering system, but overall I preferred Zestiria’s system. I got the 30 hour menu achievement NORMALLY playing through this game because I was micromanaging my equipment so much. At least with Zestiria it was possible to both create a build, and feel no need to upgrade it until you had a better one in mind.

The game also contains a number of minigames (the card one is especially fun), a decent number of in-game costumes, some optional areas, and the usual postgame dungeon. So there’s a lot of content, and what isn’t fun is usually skippable.

The New Game+ option unfortunately doesn’t let you carry forward some of the more useful items, like the geoboard, which doesn’t come in until late in the story, or any of your equipment (although you can choose to carry forward mastered skills). But you can carry over various gameplay features, and the usual bonuses to grade/exp/gald.

Overall, I enjoyed my time with this game. I beat the main story in about 112 hours, but mostly because I’m slow, I micromanage equipment, I let the card game distract me for way too long, and I had to keep redoing sections of the final dungeon. It does make me sad that Zestiria couldn’t get the same attention to detail as this game. Despite being set in the same world, Berseria got the depth it feels like Zestiria failed to reach—little things like how Eizen will talk about Edna here, but Edna basically never mentioned Eizen in Zestiria. On a personal level I think I enjoyed Zestiria more, because I like happy-go-lucky stories better than the grimness of a revenge-focused narrative, but objectively Berseria does a lot of things better. I rate this game Highly Recommended.

The Shadow of Black Wings (The Year of the Dragon #1)

Title: The Shadow of Black Wings

Author: James Calbraith

Series: The Year of the Dragon #1

Bran is a young dragon rider eager to graduate from the Academy and go on with the rest of his life—even if he’s not too sure what he wants to do. A journey taken with his father on a ship bound for places he’s never heard of sounds like a good start. But destiny has some marked him for something else . . .

The land of Yamato is more isolated than the Qin behind their barrier. An island unreachable by most sailors, it nonetheless contains a civilization to rival the rest of the world. But strange divinations foretell great changes. A shrine maiden and her best friend, a female samurai, are more involved than they suspect in the turmoil to come.

I really liked this, but the book suffers greatly from a lack of cohesion. The worldbuilding is excellent, picturing an alternate-history where Bran, who is from either Scotland or Wales (I never looked up what the new names referred to), finds himself on a sea voyage that takes him all the way to China and Japan. Along the way we see various kinds of dragons and magic, and the ways different cultures approach them both. The majority of the beginning and middle is devoted to this, with the greater plot only picking up at the end.

The biggest flaw is that the narrative doesn’t flow well at all. The initial scenes put a great deal of emphasis on Bran’s time at school and the bully that torments him. Both of these things drop out of the story after he graduates (hopefully they’ll surface in a future book so the time spent developing them wasn’t wasted). Then the sea voyage is less of a journey and more of a series of vignettes about various places Bran sees along the way (and the frequent switches from Bran’s point of view to his father’s don’t help much). Then we switch to Yamato and spend a good amount of time setting things up there before the story ever circles back around and connects the two threads. And the story cuts off in the middle of rising action, with nothing resembling a climax, even a minor one.

The ending may be less of a problem if you read the bundle, since I presume the second book will pick up immediately after this one left off. But whether or not you enjoy the book is probably going to come down to how much you like exploring the world, as the rest of the story feels like it needed another draft. I would have preferred alternating chapters between Bran and the girls, as it would have allowed the moment their stories merge to come much closer to the event that caused it.

Overall, I suspect I’ll keep going with this, because I do like it, but you’re probably better off getting the first book while it’s free and sampling it that way. I rate this book Neutral.

The Red Winter (The Tapestry #5)

Title: The Red Winter

Author: Henry H. Neff

Series: The Tapestry #5

Having successfully defended Rowan from Prusias, the alliance is now ready to go on the offensive. Prusias, the seven-headed dragon/demon who claims rule of the world, must be defeated. Worse, the victory must come at the place that is the seat of his power. And always, in addition to Prusais’s menace, David, Max, and Mina must grapple with the mysterious Astaroth before his plans can come to fruition.

I can’t think of a more perfect cap to this startling and excellent series. Max, the Hound of Rowan, the son of the Celtic sun-god Lugh, is still discovering what his heritage means. Pursued by ruthless assassins that are actually his own clones, discovering new aspects to his power, and faced with impossible decisions, he may be Rowan’s great savior . . . or its destruction. David and Mia similarly uncover new depths of character, but my favorite has always been Max. Demigods that actually portray some fragment of the vastness and horror that an actual god might possess are rare in fiction, and Max has the unique challenge of integrating his humanity into his divinity, lest he become something worse than Prusias. “Never summon a god into the world,” he’s warned. And that warning is accurate.

I do wish I had reread the previous books before this one, because the story is both vast and sweeping as well as close, tying up a lot of the little hints and threads from previous books, allowing most everyone who survived this far to have their own little piece of the story (Bob and Mum are particularly touching). Connor surprised me, more than once. So did the vyes. The emotional highs and lows struck all the right notes, and there’s plenty of action and intrigue to move things along.

This has been a long journey that changed drastically along the way. From the humble beginnings of a boy attending a magical school, to the world-altering disaster that followed, to the covert rebellions, then open war, then beyond, this has been an absolutely amazing ride and cemented its place among the best of the best. Read them all in order (preferably in a row) to better appreciate the little clues and subtle details. I can’t wait to see what Henry H. Neff writes in the future. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Dragon Trials (Return of the Darkening #1)

Title: Dragon Trials

Author: Ava Richardson

Series: Return of the Darkening #1

Agathea Flamme (Thea) is a noble who dreams of being chosen to be a dragon’s rider. She’d rather be like her brothers in the Dragon Riders than married off to help carry on the family name through her children. Sebastian is the son of a drunken blacksmith who never even thought he’d qualify for such an honor. But when the same dragon chooses both of them, they’ll need to learn to work together. Because a greater danger is stirring . . .

I’ll say up front these do not read like 17 year olds. I read them about twelve. I enjoy middle-grade fiction as well as YA, so I still enjoyed the story, but I do want to note that the way the characters think and act in no way speaks “teenager” to me. Thea’s blind hatred of Sebastian for being a commoner is a grade-school level grudge.

Sebastian is easily the best part of the book (well, him and the dragons). He’s insecure due to his background but is willing to do what he can not only for himself but to help those around him. He’s thrilled with his dragon, and his interactions with her are sweet and a lot of fun.

Thea is also insecure, but unlike Sebastian, the story doesn’t flesh out her family beyond the extreme sense of duty she feels to live up to what she believes is their high expectations for her. So she comes off as an insensitive jerk for most of the book. I would actually have less of a problem with this if the story had included a few scenes showing her interacting with her parents, losing arguments, being weak, or otherwise humiliated, and then taking that pain out on Sebastian as a way to cope. As it is she’s going to be the make-or-break part of the book, because she’s mostly needlessly cruel. If you can’t stomach reading about her until she softens up, then you might as well just put the book down and go do something else.

Overall, though, I liked the dragons, and since Thea does get better by the end, that leaves me feeling more positively about the sequel. I just hope it takes more time to flesh out the characters and motivations through scene. I rate this book Neutral.

The Masked City (Invisible Library #2)

Title: The Masked City

Author: Genevieve Cogman

Series: Invisible Library #2

Irene is enjoying her post as Librarian-in-Residence. She’s been able to collect books for the Library, heal, and–if not take it easy, exactly, then at least settle down to one place. But then Kai, her dragon apprentice, is kidnapped by the Fae. In the interests of preventing a war between the dragons and the Fae, she has to get him back. Even if it means traveling deep within chaos-controlled realms . . .

Like the first book, this is full of crazy twists and a lot of fun action sequences. Irene, who struggles to be competent and professional and above all, grounded, finds herself in a place where story is more important than reality. Stories are reality to the Fae. The question, as Irene continually asks herself, is which kind of story has she stumbled into? One where the prince is rescued and everybody goes home more or less okay? Or one where the clever Fae stumble across the antagonist out to ruin their grand plan and do away with her?

I liked the chance to dig deeper into both the dragons and the Fae. Irene’s starting to pick up on the fact that the Library is probably playing some game of its own, but that takes more of a backseat to fleshing out the various sides outside the Library. Irene herself is for humanity, but it’s Vale who is the actual human involved in this mess. Vale takes Kai’s kidnapping personally, not in the least because of what the Fae do to try to distance him from solving the case. I did wonder towards the end why Vale did better than Irene in a certain area. It would be interesting to know if the reason was merely personality and experience on his side, or if something else was going on.

Once again I wasn’t all that fond of the sexual tones of certain parts. Pretty much every powerful male except the adult dragons tries to seduce Irene, or at least would like to sleep with her (though Vale would probably prefer marriage, and I like him best just because he’s the only one who isn’t PUSHY). This is personal preference, but is one reason I like reading books for kids more; I find the constant repetition of that theme really boring. Although once again Irene actually says no to all of them (and her point about Silver in particular was illustrating… he literally can’t stop himself, even if his life is at stake).

All in all, this was an interesting follow up to a strong first book. Given the hints about some of the deeper games in play, there’s plenty more material to fuel an ongoing series. You could technically start here, but it would spoil some good twists from the first book, so I’d encourage reading them in order. I rate this book Recommended.