Well, not my favorite episode of the show, following up an episode I also didn’t think was all that great. Akatsuki no Yona‘s had slow pacing throughout the show, but these recent episodes have slowed down the progression of events to a pace that is starting to work against my enjoyment of the show. I think I said this last week, but Yona‘s never been as good at externally motivated conflicts as it’s been at character-driven conflicts. We’re kind of in full plot mode right now, and the action is driving our characters, rather than the other way around.
The most obvious indication of how much the pacing has slowed down can be found in the simple exercise of looking at where we were at the beginning of the episode and where we ended up at the end. At the episode’s start, we had Captain Gigan establishing that the pirates needed more information before their attack, but by the end of the episode Yona and Yun had just barely started their infiltration operation. Now, this is slow pacing no matter how you look at it, but in prior episodes such slowness was often augmented with the little bits of characterization that made Akatsuki no Yona such a standout show early on.
We aren’t really getting those moments anymore, at least not in the depth that we used to be. Right before the break into the OP, Yona reflects that she’d like to see Port Awa after it’s healed from the scar Kumuji has left on it, but such reflections are a far cry from the more insightful and compassionate desires that drove the young princess to seek out change in the first place.
But, we have what we have and it’s good to see Yona jumping at a chance to help as soon as she sees one. It’s actually kind of a cool moment for her character beyond just the offer to infiltrate and make herself useful—it’s a plan she, some details aside, constructs on her own, with herself taking the bulk of the risk. In other words, not only is she taking action, but she’s created the opportunity for herself to do so. The initial protests of the others on the ship indicate pretty clearly that no one else would have suggested this plan, so it’s Yona’s plan and Yona’s plan alone—one she compels the others to accept, despite their reluctance.
As always, it’s interesting to see the way the other characters react to Yona. Yun, as expected, opposes the plan with expected logic (he’s the first to point out practical flaws in her scheme) and more than just hint of emotion. Hak initially states that he wouldn’t “recommend” it, thereafter lapsing into a brooding silence and calm until his later confrontation with Yona. Ki-ja worries about the danger. And Gigan listens, understands that Yona won’t be dissuaded, acquiesces, and then does everything in her power to ensure that the operation will be successful.
If anyone got good character work this episode, though, it was Yun. Although the core of his character was sketched out long ago for us, with the spotlight falling on him a little more this episode, we got some lines from him that went past his normal talking up of his skills or use of his various abilities. It’s been clear for a while, but Yun really cares about Yona a lot and, despite his reluctance to give his approval to the plan, his self-confidence (and, perhaps, desire to support Yona) causes him to utter one of his best lines, “I don’t fight losing battles.” Coming from a professed pacifist, the use of militaristic language is quite telling—battles of wits and skills and intelligence are the place where Yun belongs in this world. It also foreshadows his later conversation with Hak.
“I’ve lived more carefully and wretchedly than anyone else. That’s what makes me the best choice.” Yes, Yun has lived a life of being careful and being safe, and he knows it. And, for once, his lack of physical strength is not a barrier, but an empowering state.
Although Yona’s converastion with Captain Gigan is touching (her manifesto to Yona is compelling for framing Yona as a protector, rather than the protected) and beautifully accompanied by an alternate arrangement of the first OP, it did feel a bit out of place to me. After all, we’ve not really ever heard Yona or anyone talk about her mother before. It’s the beginning of a new relationship more than it is a reflection of the past, so to reference a melancholic past of emotion we’ve never seen before feels a bit odd.
Furthermore, that particular scene is followed up by what is easily the most emotionally charged scene of the episode—Hak’s confrontation with Yona. Between the shadows and moonlight and the intensity with which Hak is drawn, there’s a sense of uncomfortable distance (to say nothing of the yandere vibes) that seems to have arisen between Hak and Yona, a distance that Hak eventually puzzles out after she’s left. There’s some nice, if indefinite, growth displayed by both of them in this scene, as Yona verbalizes for the first time her uncertainty about her father’s rule, and Hak finds himself further torn between his romantic desires/bodyguard duties and his wish to see what Yona can do without him.
So, yeah, that’s that. I still think the episode was a bit lacking as far as engagement goes, but as I’ve come to expect with Yona, writing about the episode pulled out a lot more good stuff than I originally saw in the episode. But it’s really all about that character work. That’s where Yona excels, so I hope we continue to get more of that, even in the midst of the plot-heavy events of the current arc.