Yona of the Dawn, Vol 18

Yona of the Dawn Volume 18 by Mizuho Kusanagi

At long last, a Zeno volume! I’m going to attempt to talk around some major spoilers, but I found this volume both immensely satisfying and surprising. Zeno, as the smiling and enigmatic Yellow Dragon has always been a bit apart from Yona and the rest of her companions. He just pops up one day without much backstory, and his power of regeneration as a shield in battle was hidden for many volumes. Now the reader finally sees his power unleashed, and I wasn’t expecting Kusanagi to take a detour into action-centric body horror, but she certainly did. As Zeno is hurt and regenerates, he is able to tap into powers of strength that were previously undemonstrated but he does so at a great personal cost. In the hands of a lesser artist, his stand on the battlefield would be much more difficult to execute.

Most of this volume ends up being an extended flashback where we see the original four dragons and the Crimson Dragon King. Kusanagi is so clever with character designs, body language, and expressions, we can see how traces of the original dragon warriors remain in their reincarnated versions in Yona’s present day. In the end, the reader is left feeling like Zeno is fully integrated into the group, knowing the hidden meaning behind his smiles that initially seemed too easy. The depth of story that Kusanagi has built up over 18 volumes is considerable, I’m always putting each volume of Yona of the Dawn wondering how it is going to get even better, and it never fails to deliver.

Yona of the Dawn, Vol 17.

Yona of the Dawn Volume 17 by Mizuho Kusanagi

I’m always curious when a new arc of Yona of the Dawn starts, because Kusanagi manages to create situations and plot elements that seem new and fresh in the context of a long-running series. At the same time she continues to explore themes that are present throughout the series with more depth, like Yona grappling with the legacy of her father’s lack of consideration and thought for the people who he used to rule.

Yona and her companions head towards the border of Kai, where they meet a young boy named Kalgan who proposes marriage to Yona after she shoots a bird to provide him with with some money. Kalgan wandered over from the Kai empire and is stranded, so Yona decides to escort him back to his village, a border town that has been fought over between Kai and Kohka for years. Yona’s Dragon Warriors begin to fall ill, and they need to recuperate for a time in the village where most of the residents are deeply suspicious of them. War is drawing near as well, as Su-Won and his army start to attack the Kai empire.

So far, most of the Dragon Warriors have gotten some solid character development and backstory in Yona of the Dawn, but Zeno has largely been an enigma. This volume finally showcases his unique abilities and role as Yona’s protector. For the Hak fans (and who isn’t a Hak fan!?) there are some great scenes of him taking on a wayward army, determined to take out their anger at losing a battle on innocent civilians. As Yona learns more and more about the dark side of human nature, she becomes more resolute about helping people. I’m curious to see how she manages to resolve the current crisis, I’m not sure if even she can pull of pacifying an angry army. This series is consistently rewarding to read, and one of the best fantasy shoujo series that Shojo Beat has published.

Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 16

Yona of the Dawn Volume 16 by Mizuho Kusanagi

I often put down a new volume of Yona of the Dawn thinking “this was my favorite volume”, which is a testament to Kuanagi’s storytelling abilities. I’m willing to go on the record now and forever (or at least until volume 17) that 16 is my favorite volume of Yona of the Dawn. I had high hopes when I saw that the cover featured an extremely angry looking Hak.

This is the concluding volume of the Water Tribe story arc, and things have been headed towards a major confrontation, what with all the terrible drugrunning, Riri’s seizing her father’s power of hereditary rule, Su-Won and his minions appearing and hanging out near Riri, Yona getting herself injured, and people in general being repressed. As the story opens, Yona and her companions are determined to attack the fleet of the enemy and crush the drug traffickers. Jaeha has managed to secure a mini-army of attractive female divers due to his habitual flirtatious charm to aid in the attack.

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Even though it is painfully obvious from the beginning of the series that Hak and Yona are in love, there’s so much going against their romance that Hak is an incredibly sympathetic character and somewhat in the position of the underdog. He’s not acting very much on his feelings for Yona since he’s in the position of being her protector and he’s not nobility. While Hak has some great martial arts abilities, he’s not supernaturally gifted like the Dragon Warriors, and he doesn’t share the emotional/psychic bond that binds Yona and the Dragons together. All along Kusanagi shows Hak and Yona sharing a quiet moment here or there set against the backdrop of the great adventure that they’re on, but the reader hasn’t seen multiple panels showing what Hak is actually feeling before.

Most of the action external to Hak’s journey is handled fairly quickly. Riri has found her strength thanks to Yona’s friendship, and it feels like this series has to feature a pirate ship battle every seven volumes or so. As Yona, Riri, Su-Won, and their companions are standing in town and about to be pinned down by archers sniping at them, Su-Won stands in front of Yona to protect her and cautions her not to reinjure her back by firing arrows at her would-be assassins. Yona doesn’t back down from a fight though, and she has a brief reunion with Ju-Do that causes him to reflect on his own choices in staying to support Su-Won. As the local drug kingpen tries to do away with Yona once and for all, Hak comes out of nowhere to protect her from a dagger strike. He then turns incandescent with rage when he sees Su-Won.

What follows are several nearly wordless panels that dramatically portray Hak’s rage and desire for vengeance. Hak’s pupils contract, and Kusanagi switches over to using dramatic black tone and cross-hatching as Hak goes after Su-won. Hak has to go through Ju-Do first, and Jaeha tries to stop him from continuing to fight. As expected, Hak only stops when Yona steps in front of him. The rest of the volume deals with the fall-out of the incident, as Yona’s companions heal their wounds and Su-Won returns to his palace. Kusanagi has paced the story of Yona of the Dawn so well, every few volumes an event will happen that will dial up the emotional intensity and affect the relationships between the main characters even more. Seeing the rage that Hak has masked inside for so long makes the reader contemplate how controlled he’s been up to this point. Yona of the Dawn is embarking on a new story arc as Yona and her companions say farewell to the Water Tribe and I’m eager to see what happens next.

Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 15

Yona of the Dawn, Volume 15 by Mizuho Kusanagi

This story arc of Yona of the Dawn examines issues of geopolitics and addiction, along with Yona’s growth into someone who inspires others to do their their best. Yona gets injured defending her new friend Riri. Sinha appears just in time to rescue her, and as she recuperates Hak is constantly by her side. Yona being Yona, as soon as she is slightly mobile she decides to continue her mission to track down the source of the drug trade that is decimating the Water Tribe. Seeing Yona’s determination, Riri challenges herself to do what she can as well, stealing her father’s seal of authority and traveling to the coastal city of Sensui. Riri’s overtures of friendship to Yona as they part ways are adorably awkward, as she shoves a box of sweets at Yona and attempts to help her with her sash.

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One of the reasons why I like Yona of the Dawn so much is the way Kusanagi builds in short character development moments into a larger, more complex story. Seeing Riri on her own standing up for what she believes in shows the depth of Yona’s influence. Jaeha has a few quiet moments with Yona that show how much of his breezy womanizing persona is actually an act. The larger conflict between Yona and Su-Won appears again, as their paths continue to intersect as Yona’s actions on behalf of the people intersect with his travels through his kingdom. Kusanagi is building up to a dramatic confrontation, and while I have no doubt that Yona and her companions will eventually leave the country of the Water Tribe in better shape than it was when they arrived, seeing the pathway to fixing the problems of the people is what makes this series so consistently interesting.

Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 14

Yona of the Dawn Volume 14 by Mizuho Kusanagi

I always put down each volume of Yona of the Dawn feeling like Kusanagi has just served up a master class in plot and character development, but I felt that way even more in this volume, which shows Yona traveling to visit the Water Tribe and confronting some very serious issues along the way. As soon as they arrive on Water Tribe land, Jaeha takes the opportunity to invite Hak along to visit the Red Light District, because the women of the Water Tribe are legendary for their beauty. Yona’s cloaked reactions as this conversation unfolds underscores how much she cares. Hak turns Jaeha down, and Jaeha heads out to explore the city solo, sensing that something is very wrong with the town. He meets up with a couple ladies, who burn some suspicious incense and offer him some of the special local rice wine. Jaeha goes along with everything, as he suspects that someone is watching both him and the girls.

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Yona and her crew rescue Jaeha and go out to investigate, learning that the Kai empire is flooding the town with a drug called Nadai. Yona is determined to stay and fight the drug traffickers, even though Jaeha urges her to leave. The leadership and confidence Yona has developed over the course of 14 volumes has me confident that she’ll leave the Water Tribe lands in a better state than when she arrived. Yona’s group also attracts the attention of some local dignitaries, Ladi Riri and her two companions Ayura and Tetra. Riri first thinks that Yona is suspicious, but eventually realizes that the groups have similar goals. Seeing Riri’s assessment of Yona shifting as she learns more about her just serves to underscore Yona’s strength. There’s time for a little bit of situational comedy as Riri is horrified that Yona routinely sleeps outside, surrounded by men.

After some army battles in the last volume, there’s a return to close action sequences featuring Yona’s determination as well as the unique abilities of her protectors. This volume ends on a cliffhanger, but I’m very curious to see how Yona and her companions change and grow after being challenged by the situation in the Water Tribe kingdom. I’m also happy to see Yona getting some more female friends as she continues her travels.