Fantasy, Love and Betrayal. Yona of the Dawn lacks none of it.
Princess Yona lives an ideal life as the only princess of Kouka Kingdom. Spoiled and sheltered by her father the “Cowardly King”, Yona has it all, the finest cloths and cosmetics and most divine confections. Yona’s life would be perfect if not for her childhood friend and bodyguard Son Hak who is the most annoying person on this earth and the fact that she can’t be with her cousin and love interest Soo Won.
Yona’s life is almost perfect and there is almost nothing she would ask for aside from her father’s permission to be with Soo Won. Her life is almost perfect until her sixteenth birthday when she she witnesses the murder of her father and only narrowly escapes with her own life thanks to Hak.
With her world turned upside down, Yona is now forced to see the world for what it truly is. All the politics, betrayal and suffering of which she was shielded all her life. Yona must find a way to overcome her trauma and take back Kouka Kingdom with the help of Hak, the one person who has and will always be at her side.
Yona is and isn’t your average spoiled princess. The volume introduces the young princess as the spoiled child which she is, worried about her appearance and oblivious to how important certain matters are but it also shows how considerate she can be as well as how much she cares about her father and those around her, even the kingdom as a whole.
She is young and naive with slightly skewed priorities and a bit overly self invested, however, she is seen to be kind in her interactions with others, wise through the manner in which she interprets and copes with the loss of her mother and the effect it has had on her father. She is seen to cherish bonds and relationships as even though he teases and taunts her mercilessly she cares a great deal for Hak as one of her oldest friends and even holds a certain level of respect and courtesy for the palace staff.
While cliche, Yona’s love for Soo-Won is genuine and adorable. Spawning from her childhood and maturing with her. Yona’s gushing emotions for Soo-Won don’t feel embellished or forced in the least and despite the fact that he is her cousin (which is sort of normal for royalty of this era), you can’t help but smile when she thinks of him and feel a bit down yourself when faced with her struggle to accept that they should not and probably will not be. You most definitely get wrapped up in her feelings and can’t help but cheer her on as she rushes off to demand of her father that he allow them to be together and isn’t that what makes what comes next just work.
The manga opens as a feudal era shojo with a girl in love and her best friend who may or may not love her. It tells Yona’s story and explores her feelings and her desire to be with Soo-Won but from the start you can tell that there is more.
On Yona’s sixteenth birthday she makes up her mind that she needs to be with Soo-Won and must tell her father. Upon entering her father’s chambers she finds him dead at the hands of the man she has loved for years and who she believed loved her. The twist was not completely unexpected, maybe a bit too predictable for some but even still it demanded to be felt simply because of the manner in which we’ve come to know Yona.
Things escalate from there with Soo-Won taking control of the kingdom, casting doubt on the King and the life Yona had believed in. Hak saves her and they escape but Yona’s pain and struggle can still be felt.
The story is told beautifully, injecting just enough backstory into the volume to give the emotional moments impact even though things move at a rather brisk pace. The characters are brought to life and it becomes even easier to be drawn into this feudal era fantasy with the verbal mannerisms and visual settings. While there is nothing particular standout about the art style it serves its purpose of setting the scene and drawing you in, enough so for the story and emotions to hold you.
Waiting for Volume 2
I didn’t expect to like this as much as I did. I felt like the romance would have been cliche and that the plot was too predictable. While I haven’t been persuaded that these things aren’t true, I am now convinced that its worth it. Volume 1 sets the scene for an epic fantasy adventure and introduces intriguing characters who have the potential to become so much more than they are.
Mizuho Kusanagi does a great job in creating this alluring fantasy world of political hardships and heartache and still manages to blend in strong moments of comedy and joy. I can’t stop asking myself how things will go across in the country after the coup and how will Yona herself rise to the challenge of reclaiming what is rightfully hers. The fact that I can’t get it out of my mind, isn’t that the mark of something great? Yona of the Dawn: Volume 1 is now available in stores and I honestly believe its worth taking a look at.
I’m patiently waiting the release of Volume 2 in the coming weeks.