Who’s ready for some controversial opinioooooooons?~
This series is bad.
Just kidding… sort of.
I started watching this during my last Summer of Anime block, but after about four episodes, I didn’t want to deal with 24 episodes of this all at one time—as a survival method; you understand. However, had I really enjoyed it, I would’ve put up with it. I didn’t—but not so much that I felt like dropping it forever. Indeed, I saw it through to wrap up this series, half because I wanted to and half because this anime is hyped around the ani-community. Irina from I Drink and Watch Anime™ just wrote a post on it last week gushing about how great it is! I chuckled when it came out right in the middle of my watching it… and shuddered slightly knowing I was on the opposite side.
So without beating around the bush much longer, I’ll come out and say I was pretty lukewarm on this series, and a lot of that came from its writing. In fact, the writing to this anime is probably the primary reason I had so many eyes-rolling-to-the-back-of-my-skull moments with this. What irked me most about it is that it was very resolute in its decision to stick to its target demographic: Young women. And apparently this means that there has to be silly dialogues intermixed with serious situations, cutesy animal sidekicks that happen to be omniscient, a female lead with an all-male cast of pretty boys (it’s no less blatant when the genders are swapped), and heavily relying on totally evil people because corruption to face against (though in limited situations).
Before I completely lose my audience with my overwhelming negativity, let me go over the things that I liked about this series, as despite how the tone of this may have sounded up until now, I enjoyed this series more than I didn’t. The primary reason for this are the characters… eventually. At first, I thought “White Snake” and Hak would constantly be petty-fighting for Yona’s attention, which would have made me drop this rather than finishing it. Thankfully, this was a short phase near the beginning and it ended up feeling much more like Inuyasha than Infinite Stratos. The group that consists of Yona, Hak, Yun, “White Snake” (I just like that name), and Sin-ha have great chemistry, especially near the end. Their personalities bounce off of each other very well and provide a really nice atmosphere of camaraderie that I wish was showcased a little more than it ended up doing.
At the same time, there’s a nice attempt at supplementing some progressive messaging, as well as turning the “antagonists” a more gray color. There’s some complexity to the morality of these characters, evidenced by the actions they take and what they feel they’re accomplishing versus what they’re actually accomplishing. Kind of a kiddie version of learning about how even in the best intentions, things won’t always go about in a similar fashion. Some pro-female messaging, as well, though there are parts where I feel it’s forced into situations that just aren’t realistic.
What’s more disappointing than enjoyable when it comes to the main group’s charming interactions is how abruptly it comes to an end. Despite feeling the final two episodes of this series are fairly good due to the degree of emotional impact, there is a very noticeable rushing to them that rings through with one decision: having the yellow dragon just fucking show up. No build-up, no long backstory, he just shows up like “Hey, what’s up, guys?” That doesn’t seem like a cop-out… at all. It’s great that each “Dragon” character got their own story arcs and what-not, as aside from White Snake, who had little hesitation to join the group, Sin-ha and Jae-ha had good progression as to why they were in the situations they were in and how it shaped them as characters. This last one kind of rolls in without a fuck given. I don’t give a shit about him at the end, because he literally shows up in the last episode, and it feels like they were too lazy to think up a story for him. That, or the budget was constricted and they couldn’t afford more than 24 episodes. Understandable, but I’m critiquing what it gives me.
What’s also pretty irritating is the amount of lazy writing tropes this series uses to resolve various situations. Deus ex machinas, major characters talking to one another in the middle of a battlefield with the antagonists just standing around not attacking them, filler dialogue and unnecessary inner monologues that people can comprehend just by looking at the situation/one’s behavior, Yona being super dense towards Hak’s feelings for her (She mistakes him attempting to kiss her for wanting to check her forehead for a fever!!!), etc. There are scenes in this anime that are legitimately powerful—not just good or enjoyable, but powerful—that are followed up by juvenile antics involving a lot of expository vomiting or characters going “haha i r stupid” in the same episode, and it is very frustrating. Can we just remove the Shoujo tendencies and make this a genuine, all-encompassing fantasy-drama? That would be lovely.
[SPOILERS AHEAD AGAIN]
With how well the characters’ backstories and situations were handled, it would be nice to see them used more after their time in the sun. White Snake, Sin-ha, and I’m sure if he had time to join their journeys, Jae-ha, all have a sort of JRPG-esque “They joined your party!” moniker to them where once you’ve gotten through the “hard part” of recruiting them, there’s no longer any intrigue to them. Sin-ha had a traumatic childhood where basically everyone told him he’s a cursed being and no one would like him. This makes him quiet and self-doubting, so once all that’s been established, he’s just the guy who stands around and reacts with a straight face to everything. Haha? White Snake had less going for him, though even he seems more like just another one of the party, complaining about protecting the princess and what-have-you. Nothing’s really going on with him and nothing ever will, ’cause who has time for that? He’s here. Why worry about it?
I also would’ve liked to have seen more progression on Hak and Yona’s romantic chemistry. C’mon, they’re totally into each other, right? The whole childhood friend thing and how she’s always relying on him is certainly indicative of something, yeah? Or would that seem too much like it would clash with her desire to become more independent? Hard to say.
[END SPOILERS AGAIN]
Speaking of Yona, she’s an interesting character, isn’t she? She gets oodles of development and ends up becoming one of the more fleshed out characters in the entire series, with steady, continuous amounts of things with which she urges herself to improve upon. On paper, she sounds like a really good, strong character—and to an extent she is… but… There’s something about her, maybe in the way her dialogue is written or how she’s constantly fighting the urge to panic or revert back to her weak state feels a little… cliché to me. Though that may play some part in it, I think her dialogue rings a little too closely to those leading within the “Reverse” harem genre. Those moments where she says things that are genuinely sweet and inviting, unaware of the impact it has on the men around her and her own obliviousness towards it makes me squint my eyes a bit. It’s like a basic, bland female lead with some bite to her due to some spirited development by the author. That’s how I see her. I didn’t mind her, so there’s that.
Okay, I will say one thing about the sound surrounding this anime: The second OP for this anime is really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really unfitting, and it is hilarious. Really adds to that whole “Juvenile antics” thing with the writing.
For the most part, this anime looks fairly good, though I think there were definitely times where accuracy and clarity were sacrificed for the sake of self-preservation. Fight scenes weren’t always super flashy, but enough to make it seem tensile. It is, however, victim to those static scenes where a character is talking and every person who happens to be in the background just sits there, frozen in time. Sometimes it’s super noticeable, too, such as the farewell scene in the second-to-last episode. Character designs are really easy to distinguish and also fairly nice on the eyes. The whole “The color of the dragon depends on their hair color” is kind of dumb, but I really do like the look of the dragon characters, particularly Sin-ha, whose attire also goes along with his reclusive personality. Even Hak, who looks like a generic prettyboy dressed in fantasy garbs, has a nice sheen to him.
Akatsuki no Yona is a pretty popular series, and while I have numerous problems with it, I can understand why it is so acclaimed. It has that great adventure vibe and the characters are all generally likable, if not lovable together. The plot isn’t entirely point blank and there are oodles of development waiting for not just supporting characters, but the main character, who acts as the catalyst for everything that occurs—and with actual weight! It’s just that for me, personally, there are a large number of personal irks with how this is all presented, whether consistently or not, that I see as unnecessary or shallow embellishments to pander to a certain demographic. That, and the final episode, outside of small moments, is completely rushed garbage. I’m glad I finished this, but now I wonder if I’ll ever want to actually finish it, in manga form.
The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.