It is often mentioned that in general the Winter anime season is the “slowest” and contains new series of lower quality than other seasons, and while this did not hold true for me last year this year it has. As the saying goes, though: “The darker the night, the brighter the stars.” And this season has had it’s share of good series, but for me the carryovers from the Fall 2014 have been among the strongest, and the one that has stood out the most amongst them all for me has undoubtedly been Akatsuki no Yona.

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 In fact, when the Fall 2014 began airing Akatsuki no Yona was the series premier I was most looking forward to – I had followed the manga (and still do, actually) and liked it very, very much; I was hopeful it would get a good adaptation by the studio. After the first few episodes aired I was delighted, and ever since then I have been happily confirmed on a weekly basis that my hopes for an excellent adaptation had not been in vain.

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After a while, though, I began to notice that some people were not even giving the series a chance for reasons that seemed to me then to be very strange (and which still feels so even now), most commonly the series was labelled simply as a “reverse harem” who’s main character was not “kawai”. I cannot convey to you have hard I facepalmed on hearing things like this…. One should definitely not dismiss it as “just a reverse harem”. Nothing of the sort. Also, Yona is not necessarily meant to be “kawaii”.

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This is a series that is of the ilk that was made some 5-10 years ago. Of especial interest to me, though, is the setting: the setting is closest to Korea, but it has Chinese, Mongolian and Japanese elements mixed in as well. So it is kind of a mish-mash, though the naming system is obviously Korean.It is a slow moving, carefully told story that has painstaking world building, mythology, and very good character development. It consistently does not spell everything out for the viewer from the beginning and every ep matters. It could be compared to series like Saiunkoku Monogatari, Seirei no Moribito, Twelve Kingdoms or Kemono no Souja Erin, and if that is not high praise I do not know what is. However, if those sorts of carefully told, sprawling, slowly woven tales are not your thing, then neither will Akatsuki no Yona be your thing.

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The basic premise of the series is a coming of age tale centering around the main character – a somewhat spoiled, somewhat childish princess of a small kingdom named Yona who has grown up in a rather sheltered environment under the watchful eye of her father, the king – her mother was assassinated when Yona was a young girl. In the very first episode Yona’s father is also assassinated before Yona’s very eyes by someone who was extremely dear to her, and she barely escapes the palace thanks to the help of a good hearted and faithful servant (who is sacrifices himself) and a childhood friend who is not only assigned to be her bodyguard but is also one of the important leaders of one of the tribes that govern parts the kingdom. From there on, bereft of all family, of home, her life turned completely upside down and in a state of extreme shock and pain, Yona begins to slowly rebuild her life and finds that it leads her to very unexpected places.

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While the visuals are in my opinion generally good, with moments of beauty and brilliance (especially in the combat or landscape style scenes) and moments of silliness (especially when it opts into chiibi character mode to help drive the humor home) one thing it definitely is is consistent throughout. Yet visuals aside, I feel special mention should be made of the music – and to take a slightly different angle of  speaking about the anime and attempting to recommend it to others I think I will illustrate and comment of the openings and endings. There have been two openings thus far and the first one is an instrumental only piece that is nothing short of action packed and even scratches the outside of majestic in my opinion. Here it is:

The first ending was definitely a different kind of creature, though. While I did not like it anywhere near as much as the first opening in terms of the music and singing itself, it still has a homespun and earthy simplicity to it that “commented”, or even “harmonized” on the “epic grandeur” evoked by the first opening. Here it is:

The second opening, which only just recently started airing is similar in visuals, but the music is a start contrast to the first opening, smacking more of a contemporary rock’ish style. It is not bad, mind you – for me the contrast was more of a shock at first. But the change in style is deliberate, and possibly asked for (I think) because as of episode 15 or so the story was going to take a different turn, I think. In any event, here it is:

The second ending in my opinion is much better than the first in terms of personal taste, but also in terms of theme. In some ways I feel that just as the first ending was a comment of contrast and harmony to the “melody” of the first opening, the second ending reflects more what is actually going on in parts of Yona’s heart while the second opening reflects that in terms of the external actions she and the comrades she has gathered around her at that point in the story are beginning to undertake. It succeeds much better in my opinion, if you see it not as a song about gentleness or subtle feelings but a cry of determination after experiencing suffering made with steely eyes. It perfectly fits the last few seconds of Yona in the OP where she is pointing her bow directly at the screen with focused gaze and a dirt smudged face. Anyway here it is:

What more could I say? This series is soooo good. Just plain … excellent material. The adaptation itself is extraordinarily faithful to the source material. It is so well done, it has been so careful, so delicately skillful throughout the eps thus far to develop the characters, and the rewards it gives us are the same. You feel satisfied somehow, like the feeling when you eat a meal you and others have spent a long time in preparing, or when you see a painting stage by stage coming step by step closer to it’s completion. This adaptation has really been masterfully done thus far…. Such a pity we cannot have more of it’s like nowadays.

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Currently the “oji-san” of the staff members age wise (in his mid 40’s) yet the most recent addition, he is also a Japanophile from his teen years while not quite an “otaku” who lives in the United States. Came to actively following anime late in life (in 2008), but in general loves the traditional arts, history and culture of Japan as a whole, both ancient and modern.

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