Yona of the Dawn Volumes 11 and 12 by Mizuho Kusanagi
It is an indication of how busy I am that I read two volumes of Yona of the Dawn together, because usually a volume of Yona of the Dawn does not linger unread for very long in my house. Reading volumes 11 and 12 back to back enabled me to appreciate Kusanagi’s storytelling skills even more as she shifts into a new storyline for Yona and her now complete band of mystical dragon protectors. Volume 11 was a little more light-hearted and character-driven, with the opening chapter flashing back to when Yona, Hak, and Su-Won were children, with Yona reacting against the restrictions of her role as a princess and the older boys watching over her as protectors.
A very important moment occurs in the next chapter, when Hak declares his undying devotion to Yona by…kissing her on the forehead. Yona spends most of her time being perplexed. Jaeha turns into a bit of an odd cheerleader for the relationship, by acting continuing to act obnoxious and needling Hak at any opportunity. The team heads into the Kai empire in search of more sustainable food for Yona’s people, and some hilarious scenes ensure as the village maidens who are starved for the sight of handsome men swarm Yona’s companions. Yona has a key moment where she wins over the villagers, demonstrating that she has the unique diplomatic skills of a potential queen. Kusanagi handles moments of Hak’s internal turmoil, Yona’s perplexed emotions, and over the top fangirl squeeing with ease, and I’m always intrigued to see how she chooses to illustrate these important emotional moments.
In contrast, volume 12 shifts into exploring geopolitical issues as generals and lords hatch an elaborate plot to start a rebellion in Kohka. One of my favorite things in this series is seeing Yona become more self-assured and confident with each volume. Once she realizes what is happening she’s determined to return, not for any military or personal ambition of her own, but because she wants to do something to help out the people who might be crushed in a confrontation of opposing armies. At twelve volumes in, one of the great things about this series is that Kusanagi has built up the characters so much that an abrupt shift to multiple scenes of old general dudes hatching evil plots while discussing tea is not alarming at all, because the reader has full confidence that it will all come together in the end, and it totally does. I thoroughly enjoy the pacing of Yona of the Dawn, as the characters and the challenges they face continue to evolve in fascinating ways. Overall, as someone who has read a ton of shoujo fantasy, I think this series is one of the best examples of the genre.