Akatsuki no Yona, Episode 23

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.

Akatsuki no Yona

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.

Akatsuki no Yona

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.

Akatsuki no Yona

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.

But it seems the pain is only temporary for both of them. Su-won’s appearance seems not to have thrown Yona into despair; rather, it’s as if his appearance gave her a new purpose.

Akatsuki no Yona

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.

Akatsuki no Yona

17 thoughts on “Akatsuki no Yona, Episode 23

  1. What a warm and relaxing episode. The Yona and Su-won meeting didn’t hit me as anxious as expected. I liked your Su-won and doves analysis.

    The Yona and Hak moment in the sunset was beautiful.

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    • Oh, really? Man, I thought the Yona and Su-won scene was incredibly tense, besides being executed almost to perfection. There’s just so much stuff swirling around in that relationship; it’s crazy.

      And I really loved Crunchyroll’s translation of Hak’s response to Yona: “You got it.” Such a perfect fit for his voice.

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      • Maybe because it played out really well. Or maybe the farewell and party scenes just smoothed the episode for me.

        If it is about the relationship between Yona and Su-won, it’s tense alright, and a mix of confusion, hostility, stress, and leftover feelings. It also leave things uncertain. What will they do when they meet again?

        There are anticipations, but no anxiety. The journey is far from over and I think that also makes me feel that this is a calming checkpoints episode (Awa conflict finished, Jaeha joined the party, current Yona and Su-won status known, new adventure started), despite the tenseness of the Yona and Su-won scene.

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  2. I remember laughing bak in October when I saw people saying “oh I bet Yona just falls back into Soo-Won’s arms when they meet again.” Nah guys she tries to stab him, with his own sword, while he’s wearing it, she is never going to fully get over that betrayal even if there was some falling into arms/hugging stuff by accident.

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    • I worried about this a bit myself, but it didn’t take long for me to rid myself of that delusion. And yeah, she tried to stab him wit his own sword, while he was wearing it, AND while three of his soldiers were right there with him! Girl’s got some guts.

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      • Girl’s got some steel balls, you mean.

        That whole interaction without any words… Soo-Won covers her, she reaches for the word while the servants are being distracted away by Soo-Won, he grabs her hand before she can try anything, then states his resolve and lets her go. What an exchange.

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  3. I loved this episode and it shows why this arc is a fan favorite for most manga readers. Really your analysis pretty much explains why the interaction between Su-Won and Yona was SOOO tense. I also liked that this showed the beginnings of Hak bloodlust towards Su-Won. The guy has always kept his emotions inside and so that now that his hurt and anger is starting to show its only a matter of time before he explodes. I think its unhealthy for him to keep his feelings inside the way that he does its only going to harm him later.

    Overall the purpose of this arc was not only to show Yona amazing character development but also to display the conflict between the dragons and their beliefs on the whole destiny thing. Plus it also showed that Yona still has a long way to go in terms of confronting Su-Won head on in the future. So it makes sense to me why it was long. You have no idea how much the fandom is going to want to talk about Zeno (the yellow dragon) next week but we can’t because spoilers!! What sucks even if another season is announced we still cant talk about him because the current manga arc is focusing on him and wow there is alot to discuss!!!

    Great review as always!!!

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    • Yeah, it’s kind of scary to see how much Hak has bottled up when little bits of his emotions start to leak out. It’s certain that he harbors a ton of mixed feelings towards Su-won, but I think we say the negative emotions start to take over a bit here with his discovery of Yona crying because of Su-won. Of course, he probably won’t have the chance to release those feelings for quite a while yet…

      I’m glad to see that the final dragon will show up next week; very interested to see how much hope for a second season we get. Crossing my fingers!

      & thanks! It’s been really great having you in the comments every week!

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  4. I see on the forums quite a few people thought the episode was meh! For myself they deserved the cooling down / aftermath party!

    My take on SOO- WON even if he didnt take Yona prinsoner / and was checking pn Kumija illicit trade Yona should have killed him! Afterall wasnt there a better way to take King 2 down I despise Soo-Won. No sugarcoating can convince me although he know he may be doomed he is on a mission!

    The celebration was good with Yona getting drunk!

    But the some hard decisions to leave !

    Now it is in fierce competition with other animes to be my number one for the Winter Season ! Right now I have a 6-way tie ! Life is good. XD

    My concern / complaint. The anime jumped around from the manga.This looks CHps 40 -45?? Even if the last EP gets up to CHP 50 there is a 100 of them!! I mean a break is probaly good but hopefully not long!

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    • A meh episode? Heck no! This episode was fantastic—as I’ve said, I think I even liked it better than last week’s.

      Heh, 6-way tie for best of the season? You sure aren’t doing too bad, are you? 😛

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  5. This episode was so fantastic! The whole thing really, although that first few minutes especially… wow. It was tense and gripping and weirdly intimate, and probably the best single scene of the show to date.

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    • Totally agree! I don’t usually write two posts for one episode, but that scene really called for it. Great point on the weirdness of the intimacy—Yona’s past relationship is definitely recalled in the way he protectively wraps her up, but the changes in their situation make the whole thing incredibly confused.

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      • I found it really interesting that Soo-won’s first instinct was to wrap Yona up like that. By necessity, she’s pressed up right against his body beneath his cloak, and when she grabs his sword, his hand comes on top of hers and holds it there rather than pushing it away. They basically can’t get any closer to each other than they are… and both would like to see the other dead. This scene just nailed that creepily intimate atmosphere so perfectly, yet somehow managed to keep the whole thing non-sexual in nature. I honestly can’t praise it enough!

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        • Well said, because there is more to intimacy than physical. It really was a eerily intimate scene because of their past familiarity and current situation. It was like a game of emotional chess was going on under that cloak, holy cow!

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  6. What a great writeup for this episode! Your extra post about the opening scene was fantastic as well—that whole interaction left such an impression on me (I’ve been buying the Japanese manga and no matter how many times I reread the scene, it’s heart-wrenching and beautiful), and I appreciate how you outlined several of the techniques that made it so effective. I truly admire the author’s (and anime staff’s) ability to depict with such honesty and sensitivity all the complicated feelings whirling around in the minds of the three characters. It makes them all so real, and dear to me.

    Thanks for reminding me how great that hilltop scene is too. Sigh…!!

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    • Thanks for your kind words! Yeah, that first scene was something else. All the poor people who follow me on Twitter were subjected to a whole lot of incoherent spazzing out about how much I loved it. It really was beautifully crafted and I’m really glad I had the chance to specifically analyze how well done it was.

      I didn’t even write as much as I thought about the hilltop scene, which really was something special on its own. Yona and Hak’s understated conversation was a thing of beauty, especially Hak’s, “You got it.” And the departure, with Yun and Ki-ja crying along with Yona…man, it was a good, good episode.

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  7. well done, very well written!!!! You truly captured the beauty in Soo Won and Yona’s scene! It pains me so much to know that he killed her father! Hak is that dude we see in all soujo animes and who gets the girl. He is freaking awesome don’t get me wrong and I can’t help but love how he protects Yona but I can’t help but ship So Won and Yona even though it can’t happen anymore. Hak is the safe bet, the typical savior and protective character we are used to and quite frankly, I am a bit tired of. Every time Soo Won enters, I feel like the excitement is back as well as chemistry. Many say that Hak loved Yona since childhood but I feel like Soo Won was robbed as he “never let himself” go there in terms of falling in love with Yona due to his mission always knew will take place. I am not sure what his reason are but I fill like he sacrificed everything, himself included, the feelings for Yona he refuses to acknowledge for the sake of “the mission”. Hak is the safe and logical choice at this point. I don’t agree with it, but it is the logical one. I feel like the author sacrificed Soo Won as he never had the chance to develop his feelings for Yona and vice versa. Why Soo Won, why?

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