Yona of the Dawn Vols 11 and 12

Yona of the Dawn Volumes 11 and 12 by Mizuho Kusanagi

It is an indication of how busy I am that I read two volumes of Yona of the Dawn together, because usually a volume of Yona of the Dawn does not linger unread for very long in my house. Reading volumes 11 and 12 back to back enabled me to appreciate Kusanagi’s storytelling skills even more as she shifts into a new storyline for Yona and her now complete band of mystical dragon protectors. Volume 11 was a little more light-hearted and character-driven, with the opening chapter flashing back to when Yona, Hak, and Su-Won were children, with Yona reacting against the restrictions of her role as a princess and the older boys watching over her as protectors.

A very important moment occurs in the next chapter, when Hak declares his undying devotion to Yona by…kissing her on the forehead. Yona spends most of her time being perplexed. Jaeha turns into a bit of an odd cheerleader for the relationship, by acting continuing to act obnoxious and needling Hak at any opportunity. The team heads into the Kai empire in search of more sustainable food for Yona’s people, and some hilarious scenes ensure as the village maidens who are starved for the sight of handsome men swarm Yona’s companions. Yona has a key moment where she wins over the villagers, demonstrating that she has the unique diplomatic skills of a potential queen. Kusanagi handles moments of Hak’s internal turmoil, Yona’s perplexed emotions, and over the top fangirl squeeing with ease, and I’m always intrigued to see how she chooses to illustrate these important emotional moments.

In contrast, volume 12 shifts into exploring geopolitical issues as generals and lords hatch an elaborate plot to start a rebellion in Kohka. One of my favorite things in this series is seeing Yona become more self-assured and confident with each volume. Once she realizes what is happening she’s determined to return, not for any military or personal ambition of her own, but because she wants to do something to help out the people who might be crushed in a confrontation of opposing armies. At twelve volumes in, one of the great things about this series is that Kusanagi has built up the characters so much that an abrupt shift to multiple scenes of old general dudes hatching evil plots while discussing tea is not alarming at all, because the reader has full confidence that it will all come together in the end, and it totally does. I thoroughly enjoy the pacing of Yona of the Dawn, as the characters and the challenges they face continue to evolve in fascinating ways. Overall, as someone who has read a ton of shoujo fantasy, I think this series is one of the best examples of the genre.

Yona of the Dawn Vol. 10

Yona of the Dawn Volume 10 by Mizuho Kusanagi

It is a sign of a good long-running fantasy series, when at 10 volumes in I feel like the story is barely getting started and I just want it to go on forever! Part of the reason why I’m finding this manga so compelling to read is the inherent niceness of the characters. It might be cheesy, but this manga helps me maintain some hope for humanity. Yona’s ability to spread compassion throughout her immediate surroundings by demonstrating her own compassion gets featured often in Yona of the Dawn, but each time it is with a special twist that has me immediately captivated.

In this case, the target of Yona’s transformation through compassion is Kang Tae-Jun, second son of the fire chief and all around unpleasant person, as shown in his actions in earlier volumes when he thought he killed Yona by throwing her off a cliff. His obsession has continued, and he’s consumed with guilt when he realizes that Yona might be in the company of the fearsome bandits that are occupying a village. Tae-Jun’s trauma is played for laughs at first, as he lingers in bed and plots to return to Katan village where he thought he heard Yona’s voice. He declares that he finally has a reason for living and his men are bewildered, but supportive. Tae-Jun’s undercover attempts involve an inept disguise as a commoner. When he encounters members of Yona’s band, he assumes that they are evil, but they scoop him up and take him for medical treatment.

Tae-Jun learns that conditions in the town for the citizens are terrible, and the things he’s been told about the lands of the Fire Tribe were lies. Tae-Jun’s encounter with an enigmatic Hak is hilarious, as Hak maintains an enigmatic expression while Tae-Jun is inwardly dying as he realizes that he’s sharing a fire with the dreaded “Thunder Beast”. Kusanagi could teach a master class in drawing overwrought facial expressions as Tae-Jun goes through such an extreme of emotions in this volume. When Tae-Jun finally encounters Yona, she forgives him, and he then decides on a covert campaign to improve the lives of the Katan villagers, while leveraging the resources of the military under his command. Tae Jun keeps helping more and more, until he’s been transformed in his outlook and abilities by the end of the volume. This was a satisfying, more self-contained volume of Yona of the Dawn, but it seems clear that another adventure is about to begin. I’m excited to see what happens next for Yona and her band of mystical warriors.

Yona of the Dawn, Vol 9

Yona of the Dawn Volume 9 by Mizuho Kusanagi

Excellent manga continues to be excellent isn’t the most earth shattering reaction to the latest volume of Yona of the Dawn, but it is absolutely true. This latest episode swings between pathos and humor with the ease that I expect from Kusanagi. After meeting up with the Yellow Dragon, all of Yona’s guardians are assembled. What’s going to happen next? They wander into a village that Yun had adopted in the past only to find out that their food stores are low. Yona’s group immediately starts competeting to see who can deny that they are hungry the longest as they help to fix up the village, despite plenty of evidence of rumbling stomachs. Yona wants to see how the people are living as a manifestation of the poor choices her father made when he was king. The villagers are being preyed upon by a local gang of bandits, and Yona promptly proclaims that she’s the head of a rival gang called “The Dark Dragon and the Happy Hungry Bunch” in order to banish the bandits.

This is all pretty hilarious, especially the way the new gang starts threatening the villagers by forcing them to take extra portions of supplies and candy. But the local bandits once driven off come back in force, and things get serious. Sinha ends up confronting his terrible destructive power with Yona’s help. He’s drawn in shadow, with the focus on his eyes that allow his powers to manifest, seeming almost monstrous until Yona prevents him from using his powers in a way that he might later regret. As always with this series, while Yona has been training to build her capacity to fight, it is her insight into human nature and her genuine support of her companions that allow them to get through difficult moments.

This is such a pleasure to read, and I’m happy that Viz decided to all in on a multi-volume fantasy manga series. Seeing how the characters evolve in a series where there’s time for the mangaka to do slow and deliberate character development is extremely rewarding.

Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 8

Yona of the Dawn Volume 8 by Mizuho Kusanagi

If I had to come up with a brief phrase to describe this volume of Yona of the Dawn, it would be “clever subverted expectations”. Kusanagi explores this theme in a couple ways, first with a brief introductory story focusing on the Yellow Dragon, and then followed by a closer look at King Su-Won.

I was fully expecting another detailed quest storyline as Yona and her companions sit around debating how to search for the Yellow Dragon, but then a mysterious man shows up at their campsite, announcing himself due to his intense stomach gurgling. It is Zeno, the Yellow Dragon, and he is hungry! What follows is one of the comedic interludes that livens up the series as everyone attempts to adjust to the new stranger in their midst and try to figure out what to do next once all the guardian dragons are gathered together. While Zeno initially acts goofy and mysterious, as Yona is trying to figure out what to do next he switches over to serious mode and is incredibly insightful. As one naturally expects from this series Yona’s next direction is not to take back the throne in a grab for power, she wants to help her people who are currently repressed.

The first part of the manga played with the reader’s expectations by subverting the quest narrative that they have come to expect. The second half focuses on king Su-Won and his relationship with his greatest general, Yi Guen-Tae. The general isn’t sure what sort of king Su-Won is, and he’s initially not impressed, as Su-Won appears to be cheerful and ineffectual, without the emphasis on force as a means to an end that Yi Guen-Tae would expect. Reports keep arriving of little problems within the kingdom, and Su-Won appears to be unconcerned. Su-Won ends up proposing an elaborate war game to give the general the action he craves, and Yi Guen-Tae gradually realizes that he’s severely underestimated his king. In this story particularly Kusanagi’s ability to shift between different moods from panel to panel and her facility with facial expressions showcases the real Su-Won as opposed to the mask that usually hides his emotions.

I always put down each volume of Yona of the Dawn feeling a little in awe of Kusanagi’s storytelling abilities. She’s always able to pack so much character development into a single volume, while still giving the reader the feeling that the plot is unfolding in an unhurried, natural way. This is quite tricky to pull off successfully, and one of the reasons why Yona of the Dawn always ends up at the top of my to-read pile as soon as it comes out.

Yona of the Dawn Vol. 7

Yona of the Dawn Volume 7 by Mizuho Kusanagi

I knew when I first picked up Yona of the Dawn that the reader would eventually be getting awesome archery moments, but it has been quite a road getting there. Yona has been evolving into an action heroine for the previous six volumes and this is finally where all her practice sessions pay off, as Yona’s team along with benevolent pirates manages to stop some horrible human trafficking.

Yona and Yun manage to break away from the other captives and signal for help, but not before Yona endures some intense and scary moments. But when she finally gets a bow in her hands she assumes an intimidating power, suddenly her captors find themselves frightened by a girl they were dismissing casually just a few minutes before. The first chapter of this volume had some wonderful action moments, like when the Green Dragon swoops in to answer Yona’s summons at just the right moment. But one of the things that sets this manga apart from typical shoujo fare is that Yona ends up with the most heroic moments of the whole battle instead of her male companions. She comes into her own in a dramatic fashion, assuming a power and authority that the reader hasn’t seen before. It isn’t any of her companions who end up taking out Kum-Ji who is terrorizing the seaside town, it is Yona herself. I was struck by Kusanagi’s facility with facial expressions in this volume especially, as Yona shifts from righteous anger to resignation at having to take a human life.

I love the way this series focuses on the emotional connections between the characters as well. Yona has a chance encounter with Su-Won, and Hak is there to deal with the aftermath. Saying goodbye to the Pirate Captain is emotional both for the Green Dragon and Yona, and I have a feeling as the companions embark on their next adventure, they’ll be able to deal with whatever crisis they may encounter due to the strong bonds between them and Yona’s leadership. This is one of my favorite current series, Kusanagi always manages to pack in a ton of story and character development in each volume in a way that never seems forced.