Mizuho Kusanagi’s Yona of the Dawn (Akatsuki no Yona) is a Japanese fantasy manga; it has been serialized in Hakusensha’s shōjo manga magazine Hana to Yume since August 2009. Volume 1 contains the first five issues.
Fortune has smiled on Princess Yona. Her father is King Il of the kingdom of Kouka. Yona is pretty, pampered, and carefully isolated from anything that could upset her. Nonetheless, being human, she has vexations: her bodyguard Hak is disrespectful and snarky, and her dreamy cousin Su-Won sees her only as a girl and not as a woman.
King Il grants his daughter anything she wants, except weapons training. The king doesn’t want her exposed to the same violence that took her mother’s life. When Yona turns sixteen, she discovers there is a second thing her father will not give her: Su-Won. Although the marriage would make dynastic sense (tying two branches of the royal family together), the king feels the match would have regrettable consequences and forbids it.
No matter. Although marrying Yona would give Su-Won an easy route to the throne, he has a backup plan. He will kill the king and he and his loyalists will seize control of the kingdom.
Su-Won planned a quiet assassination and silent coup. Yona wanders into her father’s chambers at just the wrong moment. Su-Won and his supporters decide to kill the princess too. Hak intervenes and carries the princess to safety.
Su-Won is happy to let them flee. Two people without resources are no threat to his new regime. At first it seems that Su-Won is right. Yona is devastated and incapable of action; Hak is just one warrior. The plight of the fugitives seems hopeless.
Staging a coup when he could have tried to convince King Il to let him marry Yona may seem ill-advised, but the manga doesn’t show what happened immediately before Su-Won assassinated the king. Perhaps the king had managed to convince Su-Won that the ever-so-convenient marriage was never going to happen.
Su-Won believes that he has a justification for taking power: King Il is an ineffective king who should not have succeeded to the throne. Not only that — Su-Won believes that King Il had Su-Won’s father Yu-Hon killed1. Revenge is his filial duty.
This is just the introductory volume. It has to establish the setting and set the plot in motion. It does so in unorthodox fashion; it starts with the murder of the king and then flashes back to Yona, Su-Won, and Hak’s childhoods. Yona is reliving childhood memories rather than deal with loss and fear.
Yona spends most of this volume of the manga hysterical and delusional … or limp and ineffective as she tries to come to terms with how badly she misjudged her cousin. I found her a disappointment as a lead character. On the other hand, this means she has a lot of room to grow2.
The art in this volume didn’t thrill me but flipping ahead I see it evolves considerably.
I’m not all that enthusiastic about this specific volume, but I find myself wondering just what will happen next. The hook is set. I’ll try the next volume and see how things develop.
1: The manga gives the reader no reason to believe that the king had Su-Won’s father killed. It could be that Su-Won is wrong. He wouldn’t be the only character in this manga who holds beliefs poorly supported by the evidence. Another case in point: Yona’s infatuation with a Su-Won she imagines as her dream lover. The real Su-Won orders her killed.
2: As you will see on Friday, “how naïve can a princess be and still be able to survive despite plots and plotters?” is something of a common theme for books this week.