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.

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.