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Yona of the Dawn (2014)

In the Kingdom of Kouka, the spoiled Princess Yona is next in line for the throne. She has lived her entire life wanting for nothing, with a kind father, a loyal but teasing bodyguard named Hak, and the love of her life Soo-won. However, on her 16th birthday, her life is changed forever when she witnesses her father's murder at the hands of Soo-won. Forced to flee the only home she has ever known with Hak, the two begin a journey in search of allies that are willing to help them survive. Guided by a prophecy tied to Yona's bloodline and the ancient dragons that created the kingdom, will Yona become the princess her country needs or will Soo-won take her birthright as well as her father?

Based on the shojo manga created by Mizuho Kusanagi, Yona of the Dawn (also known as Akatsuki No Yona) was created by Studio Pierrot and was initially aired on October 7th 2014. It has recently finished it's first season with, at the moment, no announcement of a second season. Funimation recently bought the rights to the show and has begun to dub and stream the episodes starting from episode 13.

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Though the summary of the series sounds like your typical shojo fare, I was honestly surprised on how much I enjoyed watching the episodes thus far. Instead of focusing on the various possible love triangles or dodecahedron, the story instead focuses on Yona's development as a character. As a person forced to come to terms with the death of her father and betrayal by a close loved one, this eventually motivates her to become a stronger person. But what makes this development seem believable is that it does not happen overnight.

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Each episode takes time to develop Yona's internal struggle as she comes to understand her weaknesses and each step she takes to finding her inner strength. It also speaks volumes of her growing maturity to show that while she begins to desire independence, Yona is smart enough to know that it would be impossible for her to survive on her own. Which is what drives her to seek out most of the show's primary cast.

The main male leads, while certainly looking like the typical shojo anime clich├ęs, are fun to watch and are being fleshed out with each episode (the slow-building romantic tension between Yona and Hak being a particular highlight). Even the show's main antagonist, Soo-won, is not played out as your typical bad guy. Taking over the kingdom not only for the sake of revenge but also it seems he, at the moment, wants to make his country a better one. Whether or not this is truly a selfless act we will have to see, but it is neat to see Yona of the Dawn take the Game of Thrones route with a cut-throat but sympathetic antagonist.

Only time will tell if fans will get a second season.

The pacing of Yona of the Dawn is fairly slow since events don't really start moving till three episodes in, but the slower pace does help with showing each step of Yona's journey and how she is supposed to change from a spoiled princess into a strong and independent woman. The animation quality is also well above average, with bright and beautiful color pallets, settings and fantastic action sequences.

That being said, the show's only major let down is how short it is. The story clearly feels like we have only just reached the end of an extended prologue or first book in a series. Now that the heroine has grown up and is ready to face the world....now what? Giving the show its due credit you care about these characters enough to want to see more, though whether or not that is something we will get remains to be seen. Also the abrupt ending of the first season doesn't give a lot of time to develop the last main character that joins the group (at least not as much time that has been allotted to the others).

Since it is still unknown if this series will be given a second season, viewers who are looking for a complete story will not enjoy ending the series on such an open-ended note. However, if you're looking for an anime with a strong but believable female heroine, you can't find any better than Yona of the Dawn.

Yona of the Dawn is available for streaming on Crunchyroll and Funimation.