Well, maybe we won’t actually get to the final dragon before the end of the series. This episode stretched on a bit longer than I expected and, while I generally enjoyed it, Akatsuki no Yona‘s best moments don’t come from high stakes, life-threatening situations, but from the interpersonal relationships of its characters and their respective ways of seeing the world—and nowhere was this more evident than in the final scene between Hak and Yona.
As far as dragon recruiting goes, Yona’s apparent helplessness on the cliffs appears to have done some important work in continuing to deconstruct Jaeha’s perceptions of what the reincarnated King Hiryuu would be like. Hearing the majority of the scene through Jaeha’s perspective also lent a certain power to Yona’s determination through his unceasing internal arguments. “It’s okay,” Yona says. It’s not okay! “I have to do this simple job.” It’s not simple! You’re only a powerless girl!
But what is power? Akatsuki no Yona has been rubbing up against this question almost since the beginning of the show, contacting with it every time Yun is on screen, and always probing the nature of Yona’s strength. As Jaeha watches Yona move forward on shaking legs, he wonders how she can do it despite her lack of power. But that’s just it! The ability to move forward in spite of fear and in spite of a body that wants to turn back is the core of Yona’s strength: bravery. Physically, she might not be able to fight on the level of Hak or the dragons, but there are other kinds of strengths.
It’s also interesting to watch Jaeha struggle with his pride and desire to remain free in the face of a competing impulse to be with Yona. It’s pretty obvious by this point that there’s more than just his dragon blood pushing him to join Yona, and the more he seeks to attribute that motivation to an external locus of control, the more it becomes apparent that no, it is Jaeha himself who wants to follow Yona, to follow someone who’s strength lies somewhere beyond physical and military prowess. Like Hak, his constant teasing of Yona seems to belie an emotional reality he’d rather not face.
And, really, that’s all there was to the generally insubstantial half of the episode focused on Yona’s cliffside task. Once again, it’s Yun who runs to her in tears after her return, and both Sinha and Ki-ja stick quite close to her after she hands over the healing herbs to Gigan (who has an amazing laugh courtesy of Yoshiko Sakakibara). Whether she or they realize it, Yona’s the heart of their party—even apart from her status as Hiryuu’s reincarnation and master of the dragons. It is, once again, just another demonstration of Yona’s non-traditional methods of power. Understanding, tenacity, authenticity, bravery, purity of spirit. Captain Gigan’s acceptance of Yona on the basis of Yona’s honesty about the events on the cliff—loyalty, not strength, is what she was evaluating—are just another validation of Yona’s strength.
But then there’s Hak, standing quietly as he watches Ki-ja’s hilarious lecturing of the pirates. His anxiety is communicated almost exclusively through his facial expressions and body language, non-verbal cues Jaeha appears able to read like a book. For us in the audience, who have been watching Hak and Yona for even longer, it’s clear Hak is nearing a breaking point—one he very nearly reaches by the end of the episode.
Jaeha’s not the only one suffering from the internal tension of competing impulses. The justification most often given by Hak for protecting Yona—King Il’s orders—may very well be a true one, and a reason he thinks of often, but…Hak is very, very human (a fact highlighted by the fact that he’s surrounded by other men in possession of supernatural powers). Can Hak be expected to deny his own desires forever?
But, by the same token, can he really expect anything more from Yona at this point in her life? Sure, he’s given up everything to protect her, a fact Yona herself recognizes, but she is still a princess with a murdered father on the run from a kingdom and former lover who want her dead. Does she have room for romance in her life right now? I don’t think so, and it seems Hak realizes that as well. “She can live free,” he tells himself. “Be satisfied with that, idiot.” But Hak has spent the last 19 episodes giving and giving and giving to Yona, ignoring his own feelings and his own desires to ensure that his princess is enabled to follow the path she chooses. Somewhere along the line he will have to figure this out, or it might very well destroy him or cause him to destroy himself.
It’s not as if Hak feels he deserves anything from Yona—this isn’t a man whining about being in the friendzone—he makes that explicitly clear. But he is still a man, one who can’t help caring about the girl he loves and one who can’t help but want more from his relationship with her than what he has. I loved that the whole honey scene was colored in the warm yellow tones of the sunset. The moment when Hak pours the honey over Yona’s hands is an incredibly intimate and tender one—sweet, one might even say. But it’s also quite primal and instinctive, and the use of honey as a medium for that aspect of the scene (Hak’s a Thunder Beast, remember) serves to highlight the tension between Hak’s noble intellectual motivations and his physical-emotional ones. Heh, look at that. It took most of the episode to get there, but we got another fantastic dualism cropping up in Yona this episode after all!