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Yona of the Dawn Part 1 UK Blu-ray Anime Review

13 min read

Akatsuki no Yona Header 3-18When the show sets you up for something but immediately changes it, you know this is gonna be a good one…

What They Say:
Upon her sixteenth birthday, the cheerful Princess Yona intended to tell her doting father of her love for Su-Won, but her life was turned upside down after witnessing the man she loves cruelly assassinating her father. Heartbroken by this painful betrayal, Princess Yona fled the palace with her loyal servant Hak. Now, she will take up the sword and the bow on a quest to gain new allies and protect her beloved people.

Contains the complete part 1 on Blu-Ray and DVD with both the English dub and the original Japanese track with English subtitles.

The Review:
For the Blu-Ray release, we have a trademark 5.1 English release and a 2.0 Japanese release – a standard set up with no real issues throughout the track in terms of synching with the video, and the general settings didn’t need to be changed. There were no issues with the synching, or with the audio quality as no adjustments has to be made on my stand settings even with the Japanese 2.0 set up – very general and acceptable.

Similar with the audio, the video is set in 1080p AVC widescreen via NTSC transfer to PAL format but the combination of how gorgeous the show is with the CGI and more standard designs, with the adventure style nature of the show coming across very well but also good at the subtle shadows of treachery, politics and intrigue – the movement of the animation flows very well and was no slowdown in any of the episodes on the test release.

There was no packing for this test release.

The menu consists on both discs clips from the show – on the bottom there are your selections of Play All, Episodes, Set Up and Extras. All are easily selectable and like most Blu-Ray releases have no time delay when selecting a new menu – and again like most Blu-Rays they have a popup menu that you access during your watching (though you can’t select extras) – overall easily accessible and beautiful to look at.

There are a few extras for the Yona experience – the first disc contains two episode dub commentaries on episodes 4 and 8 – episode 4 has Clifford Chapin (ADR Director/voice of Yun), Kent Williams(Son Mundok) and Michaela Crentz (Tae-Yean) – with the voice actors basically not the main (and in Michaela’s case this is just one of two episodes she is in) it is more of the impact of the episode and how it affects the main characters which is the focus. It is also a fun way to realise how voice acting goes behind the scenes between Kent and Michaela met for the first time properly in the commentary booth ^^ There is lots of explanation of how the show was dub due to broadcast release, some of the previous roles (Kent being a veteran since Dr. Gero of DBZ), how actors meet or don’t meet, how to play with certain emotions and compassion, fun vs. serious moments and how actors can work with directors. A lot was crammed into this commentary.

This means now we have Monica Rial (Yona) to spoil it…in a good way. ^^ Monica + commentary always equals insanity, but she does have Clifford and also Jerry Jewell (director and voice of Ik-su) to join her in the madness – again, with Jerry’s character not being a major part of the show for the foreseeable future his role is explained how it becomes important to Monica’s future episodes – though they wonder how alike they are to their characters. Not as information heavy here, more a lot of fun with little facts (Monica being a hair stylist was something I didn’t know) but they do talk about how Yona is changing, and how the broadcast effect made changes (the latter half of the series actually dubbed first with a different director and Clifford did the first 12 episodes) so there is definitely stuff there, but it’s a Monica commentary so expect a lot of fun.

Outside of that we get the standard extras – promotional videos, TV Spots, Blue Ray/DVD promos, the clean opening and ending, the US Trailer, and trailers for other shows (Rage of Bahamut: Genesis, Samurai Warriors, The Boy & The Beast, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Selector Spread Wixoss, Seraph Of The End: Vampire Reign and Tokyo Ghoul V A).

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Yona of the Dawn is one of those series I had known a little about due to other reviews and friends reactions to the series. I had heard comparable things to Fushigi Yuugi, one of my favourite series of all time in a very similar style of show – good vs. evil, finding super powerful warriors, intrigue, politics, mystique, it seems like it might be my type of show.

On the first half, it actually might be even better….

It starts off quite traditionally – set in an ancient China like setting in the kingdom of Kouka, we are introduced quite quickly to our main character Yona, a pampered princess who whilst not spoilt per say, is pretty much sheltered in her life thanks to her pacifist father who forbids weapons, but is a kindly old man waiting for his daughter to turn 16 for marriage purposes. However Yona falls into the Princess Jasmine school of wanting to fall in love with who she wants to, and that person is the handsome childhood friend of hers Soo-won. He, along with her bodyguard Hak, her other childhood friend, form the core trio of this series but for very different reasons as is quickly discovered…

Yona is a bit naïve and spoiled but otherwise a nice girl, yet her father seems to not want her to get involved with Soon-won. This is strange as the guy is quite nice, charming to her (he loved her red hair which she despises), giving her a hair pin for her birthday, but seems to be avoiding when she tries to confess to him. At this point, you are unsure what the problem is…

…then cut to the end of the episode, and Soon-won has just killed her father.

To say that came out of nowhere was an understatement, but this is the beginning of what hopefully is setting up a really good villain in Soon-won, because you discover that there is more sympathy to him than this apparent evil deed is and the fact Yona’s father may not have been as good as he appeared really screws with Yona’s head (even worse as she still loves Soon-won), this brings Hak into the equation and saves Yona from death, but they are outnumbered and manage to escape…

The core of the story begins here, as Yona now has to live on the outside and understand what was going on under her nose that she wasn’t privy to. At the start of the series, there is a clip or two of Yona with some other warriors, but she looks far different – short haired, armed with a bow and arrow, determined – it is the story of how she gets to that which is the key thing – which actually may give it an advantage over Fushigi Yuugi simply because the lead female there wasn’t as much of a growing badass…

Initially, Yona is a bit of a burden, dazed over what has happened (her father murdered and her love doing the deed) with Hak basically having to help her at all times – you can tell from his character he has bits of frustration but knows what she is going through (flashbacks to the three when they were kids are prevalent and you can tell he too is betrayed) so when he returns to his home town, he plans with his elder Mun-deok to acknowledge Soon-Won as the new king (so they don’t acknowledge Hak’s home town as potentially an enemy) and to go on the run to avoid his village suffering.

Yet Soon-won doesn’t seem to indicate he would – whilst others around him do, we see the politics and the fact that Yona’s father’s pacifist ways have actually made people suffer around him – he wishes to change that and whilst his role is lower than the others in this first half, you can tell there is plenty setting him up for doing something to try and save the kingdom, albeit clashing with Yona due to what he did. This is why I think the ‘villain’ of the piece is going to be incredibly interesting because he is very sympathetic both with his past and what the kingdom has become and he genuinely wishes to save it…just the methods to do that were not the ones the ‘heroes’ wanted.

Hak and Yona are directed to a priest, and this is where I feel Yona improves compared to Fushigi Yuugi’s lead female Miaka, as she slowly snaps out of it and smells the coffee – seeing sick people in the village, and a former potential lover in Tae-jun after them, Hak is poisoned despite still fighting them off (Hak as one of the generals is an immensely skilled fighter with his spear) and Yona actually gets involved with the fighting, stealing a sword and whilst not skilled, manages to save Hak from an archer (she cuts her hair when it is grabbed, the first sign of her changes) and when they apparently fall to their death (and Soo-won finds out thinking she is dead), it turns out they are saved by the priest Ik-su who can predict the future, and his assistant, and new third member of the team Yun, a rather pessimistic young man who seems off-put by the gang, but also his role in helping the rather clumsy Ik-su…

With the story set in Soo-won as king and Hak/Yona on the road, the real crux begins. Ik-su tells Yona her future is to bring forth the four dragons who bestowed their power upon four humans to protect King Hiryuu, the scarlet haired human dragon – Yona’s crimson hair is similar to the legend and that the dragon warriors bringing together can bring the kingdom back together…but also if she doesn’t Hak will be on the path of death. She agrees, and asks Hak to teach her how to use weaponry so she won’t be a burden, and Yun reluctantly joins them on Ik-su’s words. There is a nice flashback sequence of Yun’s background and how he met Ik-su, establishing him not as a flat character and why joining the two is good.

So the series now has a quest to find the dragon warriors whilst Soo-won focuses on reforming the country. The three have to avoid guards whilst searching for the first dragon, and manage to find one thanks to Ik-su’s instructions, the white dragon whose tribesmen spot Yona’s red hair as the sign. The warrior, Ki-ja does recognise her as a master and goes with her – which is a tad rushed I won’t lie but it is made up for it with comedy gold with Hak (by this time Hak definitely has feelings for Yona, and as the main bodyguard Ki-ja is annoyed by him, leading to some fun arguments) but also a badass with powers allowing his arm to waste anyone that gets close. He also is able to sense other dragons and in combination with Yun finds the area of the second warrior, the blue dragon. Unlike the white dragon tribe who welcomed them (after a little trouble) and were quite fun, the blue dragon tribe seem to deny the existence of the blue dragon, and are put off by them. Yona actually gets separated and nearly abducted, but is rescued by the blue dragon warrior in a mask. At this point, the series ends but we learn of the blue dragon warrior’s history, which is one of solitude and misery bar his mentor, the previous blue dragon warrior…and a few tears were shed…

Yona Of The Dawn as I said gives a big Fushigi Yuugi vibe – ancient China, a princess rather than a priestess searching for warriors (albeit wasn’t brought here from modern Japan in a book ^^) and quite a few have feelings for her. I think the fact Yona is well liked by most of the men in the show is the show’s one weak point as it does feel quite predictable, but to be fair, it isn’t a huge focus in the series (that and Yona is quite dense towards matters of the heart) and the fact Yona still has some feelings for Soo-won is probably going to be a big thing once they inevitably reunite. Ki-ja and Hak’s rivalry seems to stem from that as well as Ki-ja wanting to be the princess’ main bodyguard, so it does lead to some comic moments.

The strength of the series is pretty much everything else. The fact Yona has to realise quite quickly that a) she cannot be a burden and b) realised how sheltered she was in the palace is done quickly but not without character development. It is brought on her quite hard, but thanks to Hak, she manages to recover and learn – she still has a lot to learn but shots show she is determined (her late night archery training definitely shows this as Hak explains to Ki-ja that she doesn’t need to do this but she wants to because she doesn’t want to be the burden she is or thinks she is) and the fact she still has a degree of innocence and naivety actually helps her as it doesn’t cause any romantic subplots to drag into the story and gives her room to improve further. She starts off as fairly annoying but not to Mary Sue levels of everyone must love her yet she isn’t that good –she does listen and learn, and the burdens of the world are there to strengthen her along with her new partners.

The other characters are also interesting – the two main ones of course being Hak and Soo-won. Hak is a childhood friend who definitely seems to have some feelings for Yona but it isn’t at the forefront – what IS is the fact he is a total warrior – his skills with a spear and able to basically cause mini tornados make you wonder if he is a dragon – nope, he’s just that skilled. He has a snark to him, which many people always comment on his disrespect of the princess despite the fact he is a commoner, but of course Yona doesn’t care about that as he is her childhood friend, even more so after what happened with her father. He is comical, but also not to be messed with – his dynamic with Ki-Ja as well adds even more amusement/respect to him and see if this continues when the dragons get introduced.

Soo-won is definitely the most interesting – his deed in the 1st episode comes out of nowhere but even there you can sense there is something in his head and he has this major plan – it isn’t clear if he agreed that he wanted Yona dead in the 2nd episode and when he thinks she is dead, it is clear he is very upset but hides it well because his focus is on rebuilding the nation. This is what makes Soo-won interesting, it is hard to see he is the villain – of course he killed Yona’s father, but the fact as it becomes established is that his ways were considered weak and unconfrontational – causing distress, poverty, hunger, etc in the capital because he wouldn’t sort out bandit problems and the like. Soo-won is very different – his own background (and why he did kill Yona’s father) makes you realise he is sympathetic and that his path is a different one to Yona’s, and you wonder when they clash, what will happen? Will the words about her father’s killer be positive ones, and how will she feel about it because she clearly still has a torch for him? Whilst the majority of the arc is Yona’s journey, you return to Soo-won occasionally to see his progress, as people wonder if his youth is a problem, or if he can actually help everyone.

The dragons are only part of the story briefly but with Ki-Ja at least there is definitely development to be had. Sheltered and wanted to leave for his cause, his story is a bit short and hopefully he will get better from there as he feels he doesn’t have the bond Hak and Yona do. The blue dragon definitely seems very interested as he actually got more back-story in his one episode than Ki-Ja has – the best comes from the priest Ik-su and Yun – Ik-su is the catalyst to the story and giving Yona a purpose, whilst Yun feels like the tagalong kid, but he is very useful, smart and his back-story shows that he is surprisingly similar to Yona, being sheltered but in different ways. They give an interesting dynamic and I hope it continues to develop as the series goes along.

Combine this with a great soundtrack, flowing animation and a decent dub (some may say Rial and Sabat are pigeonholed in their roles considering their veteran status but it works for the characters so I’m not complaining), I feel at the moment this could be superior to Fushigi Yuugi, mainly due to the female lead being much more interesting and useful, the villain being very complex, and the cast a good all round amusement. Granted, the darkness isn’t quite FY levels and there isn’t really a true villain to fight, but the establishment of the dragons is due and am sure the inevitable reunion will be interesting….

…and awesome.

In Summary:
Yona Of The Dawn starts off typically, and then immediately throws in a major twist and then goes from there. You have the development of the princess, from sheltered to learning of the world, her bodyguard from betrayal to snark to developed feelings, to the villain – unsure why he has done but then realise why and unsure whether to find him sympathetic – this is a show where the journey is the discovery, and so far there is a lot that has been discovered and enjoyed. Yona is starting off really good, and hopefully continues to do so – aside from a few rushed moments, this is one of the must series for this year so far.

Episode Commentaries, Promotional Videos & TV Spots, Textless Opening – Akatsukino Yona”, Textless Closing Song – ”Yoru”, Trailers

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

Released By: Funimation via Anime Limited
Release Date: July 25th, 2016
MSRP: £42.99
Running Time: 300 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Playstation 4, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.

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