I’ve always been a sucker for stories about warrior princesses, so when I heard that there was an anime about a princess with short, red hair like me, I had to check it out. Yona of the Dawn is the story of a sheltered young princess named Yona whose life is suddenly thrown into disarray when her father is murdered. Yona is forced to flee the palace with her bodyguard Hak as her only ally. In order to stay alive, Yona begins a quest to find the four dragons of legend who have sworn to protect the red dragon king, her ancient ancestor.
Yona was a delight to watch from start to finish. I finished it in a matter of days because I couldn’t get enough of the endearing characters. I simply needed to know what would happen to them next. While this anime would be classified as shojo, aimed primarily at a teenage female audience, the series has enough action and adventure elements to keep anyone interested. The series’ protagonists are constantly in danger, so there is sure to be some sort of fight scene in almost every episode, and the mythic nature of the story makes those fights pretty epic. Yona’s bodyguard Hak is insanely overpowered, and each of the four dragons which they meet has a different fighting ability which ranges from a giant dragon claw hand to eyes that paralyze whomever looks at them.
While her protectors are professional warriors, Yona herself had never touched a weapon while growing up in the palace. Her transition from helpless young girl to capable warrior is well-paced and believable, spanning the entirety of the season. As with any new skill, learning to use a bow is a long and arduous process for Yona. She practices for hours every night, but you only see her shoot an arrow in combat about three times in the entire season. It’s enjoyable to see a heroine progress in strength at a believable rate like a regular human would, rather than gaining some sort of magic power or instant boost to skip the time needed to become a seasoned expert.
Another enjoyable aspect of Yona’s development is her changing motivations throughout the show. As a 16 year old princess, all Yona wants at the start of the show is to marry the man of her dreams and continue her decadent life. When all hopes of this happy ending are torn from her, Yona does not immediately change her tune to one of righteous vengeance as many heroes do. She is broken from the betrayal and loss she has experienced and is of little use for the next few episodes. When she does find a cause to get behind, her motives are simple: she wants to keep herself alive and protect her bodyguard Hak from dying at the hands of her pursuers. Thus she takes more of a defensive than offensive stance throughout the season. The main villain of the series is ambiguous in his intent, appearing to be a quite competent and virtuous ruler once taking the throne, so it is refreshing to have the first season focus on the heroine’s growth rather than a premature confrontation with her father’s killer.
The anime displays a particularly good knack for transitioning between drama and humor, with one moment being full of tension and emotion while the next leaves you laughing out loud. The humor is inventive and helps keep the show lighthearted when need be. Another category Yona falls into is that of a reverse harem. This simply means that the main character is female while all of the supporting cast is male. Many “harems” within anime suffer from being full of clichés and fan service. Yona avoids the usual pitfalls because Yona has significant relationships with all of the male characters which go beyond romance. Her relationship with each of the dragons is multi-layered, having aspects of a servant-master arrangement, but being primarily about friendship. Each of the dragons has had quite a different experience with his heritage and the way people have treated him, ranging from eminence to hatred. Yona seeks to understand each of the dragons as an individual and calls them to join her not out of duty, but because it is something they want to do.
Yona of the Dawn is a story which pulls you in and makes you want more. As soon as I finished the anime, I ordered the first volume of the manga off of Amazon to read the original story myself. The charming characters, well-paced plot and vibrant magical themes of this anime make it an enjoyable show for anyone of any age to watch. I would give it a PG-13 rating due to the violent nature of some of the narrative, but overall this is a show that can be watched and enjoyed together as a family. This is not a story told for mere entertainment, but one which gives us lessons we can live by. Yona is an inspiring yet relatable heroine who leads the viewer to believe that if they were put in her shoes, they too could be brave and grow strong enough to protect the ones they love. After all, that’s what being a hero is really about.
Yona of the Dawn can be watched with subtitles on Crunchyroll for free. It is also available on Hulu.