I really, really, really don’t want this show to be over. If you take out the slower early stages of the Awa arc and the less-than-inspired feel of Su-won’s Earth Tribe tour, Akatsuki no Yona has basically been consistently excellent—and so the return to form in the last few episodes, but this episode specifically, has been glorious and joyful to watch. Last week’s episode was a quality offering in terms of an epic climax, but this week’s sort of cool down episode was emblematic of the elements of Akatsuki no Yona that made it my favorite show through most of Fall 2014.
It all starts with the brilliantly executed follow-up to last week’s absurd cliffhanger. Yona, coming off what was the greatest triumph of journey thus far, is forced to face down her betrayer. And the whole sequence was far more layered than a simple meeting between two enemies. Yona’s flashbacks make immediately apparent that her feelings about Su-won are still incredibly conflicted, as memories of him killing her father mingle with recollections of childhood promises of companionship. And, moving into the present, that incredible uncertainty is muddled further by the way Su-won treats her, wrapping her in his robe to protect her from his servants.
What a humiliating moment for Yona, to go from the hero of the Port Awa battle, from a character-defining moment as a person with the power to cause change, to yet another situation in which she needs to be protect and, worse still, have her protector be both her former lover and her enemy. It’s a gut-wrenching scene despite the levity interspersed between, made even more complex by the way Su-won is framed at the end of their encounter. Besides the obvious shoujo-like shot of him dramatically uncovering her, we see doves—symbols of peace—fluttering through the sky and sending a single white feather drifting past his face.
If you were waiting for a definitive statement from Akatsuki no Yona that Su-won is more than a simple murderer seeking the power of the throne, I don’t think things could have been made anymore clear than that, especially considering that these visuals (including the cascading soft morning light) are accompanied by his declaration: “But I cannot die yet. There’s something I must do.” This sequence of shots, moving from a medium close-up of Su-won to the dove talking flight to a shaky camera close-up of Su-won’s face to the shot of the white dove flying out over Port Awa (Su-won is also dressed in white) to the match-on-action cut of the feather fluttering by his face equates Su-won with the start of the flight of peace—he is the ruler who will cover the country with his wings, just as he’s done with Yona. It’s incredibly evocative filmmaking that brilliantly captures Su-won’s confidence in his purpose, a certainty Yona definitely lacks (I love that she’s almost drawn off-model in the shot capturing her reaction to Su-won’s statement of intent).
It’s thus no surprise at all that Yona collapses in wailing tears after Su-won strides off. How could she possibly not, faced with the multiplicity of emotions crushing her: the failure to avenge her father, her past love for Su-won, the shock of his absolute self-confidence, the humiliation of having to be protected by him, the confusion of being protected by him…even the exhaustion of the night-long battle (whose effects on Yona we’re constantly reminded of throughout the episode thanks to the fact that her scrapes and bruises are still on her face). And then Hak shows up. Hak, who knows her better than anyone, who instinctively knows why she’s crying by the way she’s crying. Before the two of them stretches out a long journey, down a road Su-won has already begun to travel.
EDIT: Couldn’t handle how good the cinematography in the Su-won sequence was, made another post just about that on tumblr: read it here.
So, yeah, that’s the first six and half minutes of this episode. Incredibly well-executed, amazing stuff. Phenomenal work on all fronts—voice acting, cinematography, writing. Definitely one of the best scenes of the entire season.
It’s clear the meeting has an impact on both of them. Despite Su-won’s seeming confidence, his reflection that Yona is “unforgettable” indicates she’s still on his mind and Yona, well…is clearly still in a state of shock as she goes through a pretty heart-wrenching display of faked happiness, chirping out “genki, genki~” with such an obviously affected smile that Yun, Jaeha, and Hak (despite his statements to the contrary) notice she’s out of sorts. And Hak, in turn, is looking far away from Port Awa with bloodlust Jaeha can sense without effort. Of course it would be so. Su-won didn’t only betray Yona, but Hak, as well.
From here, we turn into a new piece of the story: the conclusion of Jaeha’s arc. For an arc that’s stretched out a bit longer than I’ve thought necessary, all the pieces are drawn together beautifully here—starting off his half of the episode playing music with Yona on the cliff bookends (along with his reappearance as he joins the party) bookends two incredibly important scenes for the dragon who can barely admit he loves his friends out loud. It’s pretty touching on its own to see the fishermen struggling to stay awake, knowing that sleeps means the end of their dream as pirates and as friends with Jaeha. Junichi Sawabe’s smooth tones gliding into an affectionate whisper—”I really do love you guys.“—is a peaceful, beautiful moment for the sweet-talking Jaeha and leads nicely into his final scene with Captain Gigan, whom (it appears) is a mother to more people than just Yona and the fishermen.
Their terse, playful exchanges, it seems, go back to the moment they met and there’s a nice symmetry between their meeting and parting words. And, just like Yona’s farewell to the villagers, it’s filtered through a warm, comfortable sort of lens. Which, I think, is pretty important in making Jaeha’s final decision to join Yona seem realistic and organic after all his protests. It also helps that Yona essentially lays out the entirety of the conflict—”You didn’t want to be bound by your destiny.“—which allows Jaeha to respond. He maybe be following his destined path, but he’s doing it out of his own free will. Which is, of course, the answer I’ve been campaigning for all along.