Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 21

Yona of the Dawn Volume 21 by Mizuho Kusanagi

This is the last volume of the Sei story arc, and it has plenty of action interspersed with great quiet moments where bonds between the characters are affirmed. Everyone joins together to rescue Riri, leading to some surprising alliances. One of the highlights for me was seeing Hak’s reunion with the Wind Tribe, especially his adoptive grandfather Mundok. As Zeno and Jaeha search for Yona and find her cornered in the woods by enemy soldiers, Zeno comes to the rescue by literally dropping out of the sky to defend her. Su-Won is also inspecting the area and getting a full picture of the atrocities being committed. Riri shows her strength of character by being defiant even as the evil Lord Kushibi orders her execution. The attack begins as Su-Won’s group and Yona’s companions both stage parallel rescue missions, and the old bond between Su-Won and Hak is reactivated as they are able to wordlessly communicate across the battlefield in support of a single objective.

Kusanagi’s skills with drawing action are particularly showcased in this volume, as the dynamic paneling for the action scenes ramps up the tension of the battle, with pauses that highlight the emotional stakes for everything that Yona and her friends are fighting for. I also appreciated all the battlefield banter between enemies as Hak and Guen-Tae get snarky with each other. As Kushibi realizes the full extent of his hubris, a shadow is cast over his face that mirrors the dark tones used in portraying the body count of the fight. As everyone recovers from the battle, Zeno has a hilariously off-kilter encounter with Su-Won, and Yona and Hak have a random encounter in the middle of the night that is equal parts hilarious and touching. As always, this was an extremely satisfying volume of Yona of the Dawn. It sets such a high standard, it almost seems impossible for it to keep getting better with each volume, but it does.

Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 19

Yona of the Dawn Volume 19 by Mizuho Kusanagi

An evaluation of any volume of Yona of the Dawn boils down to the sentiment “if you are not reading this series, there might be something wrong with you.” This particular volume functioned well as bridge between story arcs, as well as including some bonding humor amidst a story of spiritual possession. As the reader can guess from seeing an unmasked Sinha on the cover, the first part of the volume delves more into the history of the Blue Dragon through his encounter with one of his predecessors. There’s plenty of group bonding time along the way as Yona and her companions tease Yun for taking on an inadvertent role as the group’s “mother,” but despite all the teasing he prepares snacks and worries with great maternal instincts.

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Sinha’s spiritual possession causes a number of issues, as he returns to the group with another Blue Dragon in control over his body. Everyone but Yun ends up in a super creepy tomb filled with spirits, as they attempt to deal with Sinha’s vengeful spirit. As always, Yona manages to overcome difficulties by simply being true to herself and overcoming obstacles through her humanity and compassion. What initially seems like a story about a vengeful spirit ends up highlighting the strength inherent in forgiveness.

The broader story arc that begins to be set up is a return to the Water Tribe. When Yona and her companions left previously it was clear that they’d affected a small part of a systemic drug trade. While Su-Won strategizes with his generals and tribal leaders in his palace, Yona reunites with Riri and joins up with her again to help with her mission to help the Water Tribe people. As always Kusanagi does an excellent job juggling character development and storylines with such an expansive cast. While Yona is shoujo, the romance elements are fairly sparing, but fortunately there’s a wonderful scene between Yona and Hak as they have trouble sleeping that shows romance progressing slowly. I always put each volume of Yona of the Dawn down feeling immensely satisfied at the amount of story Kusanagi is able to express in just five or six chapters.

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.