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.

Yona of the Dawn, Vol 13

Yona of the Dawn Volume 13 by Mizuho Kusanagi

One of the many things that sets Yona of the Dawn apart from other fantasy shoujo series is Kusanagi’s great ability to portray characters with nuance, even those who are villains. This volume is a bit of a departure, as it focuses on Su-Won, who has taken control of the kingdom. Su-jin, the chief of the Fire Tribe has decided that he’s going to be the one to lead a rebellion and assume the mantle of the Crimson Dragon King. Su-jin is absolutely heedless of the suffering he’s going to cause with his actions, and he’s so committed to his vision of himself that he doesn’t realize that Su-Won is a Machivellian master of both statecraft and battle tactics until it is far to late.

As usual, Yona functions as the soul of her country. While she doesn’t engage in the battle directly, she leads her warriors in when the opportunity comes to prevent the suffering of ordinary civilians. While she confronts Su-jin with words he’s incapable of considering, her encounter with Su-Won is limited to a few searing panels as they gaze at each other across the battlefield. This is one of those scenes that can only best be done by sequential illustration, as Kusanagi cuts between their faces, showing Su-Jin’s shock and Yona’s absolute sense of resolution. Whatever someone things of Su-Won as a person, it is hard not to admire him as a leader after this volume, as he adroitly deals with the leadership vaccum for the Fire Tribe, appreciates the way Tae-Jun has changed for the better after Yona’s influence, and even takes measures to protect the rare grain that Yona secured that might actually help solve the humanitarian crisis that many people in the kingdom are suffering.

Some of my favorite moments in this series are when Yona and her warriors are able to relax a little bit, and there are a few pages that push forward her connection with Hak. This volume concludes with a triumphant scene as Hak pushes Yona to take part in an archery contest, and it is a nice way to wrap up this storyline, away from the battlefield. I’m always looking forward to the next volume with this series, which is strongly in the running for my favorite fantasy shoujo series of all time.