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Yona of the Dawn Part 1 Blu-ray Anime Review

10 min read

Yona of the Dawn Part 1 DVD-BD CoverDark (misunderstood?) deeds of the past upend a princess’ life.

What They Say:
From the studio behind Tokyo Ghoul and Fushigi Yugi comes the story of Yona of the Dawn, a typical teen – easily excitable, spoiled by her adoring father… and the sitting princess of the Kohka Kingdom. On her sixteenth birthday she plans to tell her father, the kind King Il, about her hidden love for her childhood friend, Su-won. But before she can confess her feelings, she stumbles upon her father being brutally murdered by none other than Su-won himself for the purpose of ruling the kingdom with a firmer hand. After the tragic discovery, Yona and her bodyguard Son Hak must flee the kingdom and escape the wrath of Su-won’s henchman.

Now, in order to reunite the fallen kingdom, Yona and Son Hak are on the hunt for the four legendary dragons of Kohka. Along the way, Yona must shed her royal air and learn to live by the sword and bow.

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo along with the new English language dub. The series is one that works a largely dialogue oriented design but it has some good bits of action throughout that are well utilized. Most of this comes with the archery aspects of it as I liked the sound of the arrows and how they traversed the forward soundstage and the thunk of the targets. There are a few good swordplay moments and a bit more than that and it comes across well, though not exceptionally. Dialogue is similar in that there are good bits here and there but it largely works a familiar and standard approach without any problems in its design. The result is a clean and clear mix for both language tracks that serves the material well and is free of problems.

Video:
Originally airing in the fall of 2014 into the winter of 2015, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes of this set are spread across two discs with eight on the first and four on the second. Animated by Pierrot, the show has a very good visual design about it, especially with the color palette as it’s nicely rich without being oversaturated and problematic. There’s a good bit of detail built into the show in general and that comes across really well throughout as it gives it a richer and more lived in feeling for a lot of it. A lot of the focus is on our lead character and her hair, which stands out amid everything else, but it doesn’t feel out of place compared to everyone else either. The transfer brings the source material to life in a very good way here with clean and solid color fields and no problems with line noise or other issues, resulting in a very appealing looking show.

Packaging:
The packaging for this release is a solid one overall as we get a slightly thicker than normal Blu-ray case that holds the four discs from the two formats inside on hinges as well as getting an o-card with it. This replicates the case artwork but with a bit more color to it, which isn’t saying much with this release. The Japanese releases are all very artsy character pieces so Funimation opted for a more subdued piece here that has yona in the foreground in full color, looking all serious, while behind her we get the cast in full, some of which we don’t meet within this set quite yet, at least in full. The color tone is appropriate but it doesn’t stand out all that much and feels more subdued than it should be considering the actual look of the show. The back cover works things simple with a small strip of shots from the show along the right as the only artwork. The bulk of it is given over to the premise being covered on top of some light background material with a maroon filter that makes it impossible to really see. The discs extras and episode counts are clearly listed and the technical grid is a big plus in readability with the white text over the maroon as it breaks down both formats in a clear and accurate way. The reverse side is definitely more appealing to me with the right side featuring a good full color image of Yona with Hak and Su-Won to her sides looking away while the other panel breaks down the episodes by number and title. The artwork here is just much better.

Menu:
The menu design for this series is one that keeps things simple but works it effectively. The majority of it is naturally just clips playing from the show, but there are some good landscape shots mixed in that gives it a distinctive feeling and some good and almost fun character bits along the way. The logo is kept the center top section without being too big but pulling in some good colors while the navigation strip along the bottom goes for a shade of Yona’s hair with the text being done in a simple white font. It’s not a menu that will stand out or be memorably, but it sets the tone right and functions smoothly and easily without any problems to be had during regular playback as a pop-up menu or as the top level menu.

Extras:
Funimation has produced some good original material here with a couple of English language audio commentaries for fans of the dub to dig into. They’ve also mined some of the extras from the Japanese release with a bunch of promos and TV spots that cover the pre-premiere advertising as well as the home video releases. Add in the clean opening and closing sequences and it’s all good here.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga Akatsuki no Yona as created by Mizuho Kusanagi, Yona of the Dawn is a twenty-four episode TV series that aired in the fall of 2014 into the winter 2015 season. Directed by Ryo Kunihiko at Pierrot, and simulcast by Funimation, the show developed a solidly vocal following as there are few shows like this produced these days. The manga has been running since 2009 and as of this writing has twenty volumes to its name, so obviously the anime here is incomplete, though with the second set I hope for some kind of minor closure so that we’re not left completely hanging. I usually don’t do comparisons when looking at a particular show but I was amused in looking at it on a retailer site as the “You May Also Like” really does place this show well. It’s a good blend of things like Fushigi Yuki and Moribito without the drawbacks of some of those shows. Okay, without the drawbacks of Fushigi Yugi and the time in which it was created. Throw in a good helping of Saiunkoku and I think the target audience will definitely find this show.

The series takes place largely in the kingdom of Kohka where we get a princess on the run storyline that unfolds. The introduction of Yona makes it clear that she’s a solidly strong lead who even though she’s been largely spoiled all her life has kept herself grounded. Her father has given her all that she wants though he holds back on what she truly wants, which is to be able to learn to use weapons as she’s drawn to them. She’s also kept from pursuing a suitor named Su-Won that she’s known since childhood, who is actually a cousin of hers. Yona’s father as king is in an awkward position because we learn that he was the second son who was given the the throne over the first as his older brother really had no desire to rule and instead preferred to be out on the field of battle defending the kingdom. This was something that Su-Won could appreciate as he learned from his father, but when said father is apparently murdered by Yona’s father, well, you can see why the seed for revenge are in place as Su-Won orchestrates early in the show a hostile takeover of Kohka. With Yona on the run and only her other childhood friend and bodyguard Hak to protect her, the basis of the series is born.

Fans of this genre will see all the hallmarks there and understand what the show is about and likely can even game out most of this season. And in a way, yes, you’re right. Yona ends up going on a journey in which to find her true way so that she can try down the line to reclaim the kingdom and find out what really happened so she can deal with Su-Won. And to do so, she has to gain allies and win over the trust of people and clans all while trying to avoid Su-Won’s control of the clans and soldiers out to find her and either capture or kill her, since she was there when Su-Won killed her father. The show even goes for a bit of the obvious in that she meets with an oracle early on, who fills us in kindly on the past of how oracles operated in the realm, that informs her about the Four Dragons that are spread across the land in some reincarnation of sorts that can assist her in this as they previously helped to unify the kingdom. Solid pieces, familiar pieces, and yes, predictable pieces.

It’s the execution that works for me here in allowing it stand out and become more engaging. First, once we get things underway with the journey, we get a nod to the past and to the future that introduces us to who will join the show but some of which don’t arrive in this set. The key for me with the show is that it takes its time to breathe. A lot of shows of this nature, thinking back on the OVA days, would bang out a new addition every episode from the first through the sixth so that they’d get the group and then dig into things. Here, it takes the first two episodes to deal with the core trio before Yona and Hak head off and then a slower introduction with the oracle serving as a guide to bringing the young genius Yun into the group and then toward the end of the set introducing us to the White Dragon. That, in turn, gives way to an episode focusing on the Blue Dragon character which is actually almost all flashback material as opposed to material in the present, allowing them and their history to be fleshed out since there’s some uniqueness in their abilities here.

That all of this is spread out over the first twelve episodes here really does the show a good service because it’s not rushed and on a hyper pace in order to hit all the characters and get the bigger storyline running. It’s interested in establishing foundations and taking the time to engage and connect us with the characters. A character like Yun would drive me nuts because it’s a smart know it all young character. But with time fleshed out in seeing his life with the oracle and how he came into his service and then having time with just him traveling with Yona and Hak for a bit, it allows us to get to know him before it shifts to adding the White Dragon character. This makes the series far more engaging as it progresses and each character simply feels more fleshed out and interesting, all while expanding on Hak and Yona with their journey and spending some time back in the kingdom to show the machinations of Su-Won as he works to consolidate power.

In Summary:
Having not seen the show during simulcast but knowing the love it generated from those watching it, I was definitely curious to see what this show would be like. It’s one that is utterly familiar to be sure but it’s so wonderfully executed so that it feels like it’s fresh and original even while walking through things we’ve seen many times before. The show has a great look and design to it that gives it a certain richness that allows it to step above some other shows while still feeling very much a part of the genre that fans will like about it. The story is solid, the characters are engaging and fun with more of a fleshed out feeling than I expected, and the journey looks to be really fun and interesting as we expand and understand the world at hand. I’m definitely looking forward to the second half to see what else it has in store for us.

Features:
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Episode Commentaries, Promotional Videos & TV Spots, Textless Opening – ”Akatsukino Yona”, Textless Closing Song – ”Yoru”

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B

Released By: Funimation
Release Date: June 7th, 2016
MSRP: $64.98
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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