The Start of a Long Journey: Yona of the Dawn Manga Volumes 1-3 || First Impressions

First impressions and loose thoughts on volumes 1-3 of Mizuho Kusanagi’s manga series “Yona of the Dawn,” initially published in 2016 by VIZ Media. Spoilers will be present.


A Terrible, Terrible Birthday

I’m no stranger to the beautiful and cruel world of Yona of the Dawn. I followed the anime when it first aired many years ago. Loved it. Since then, I decided to pick up the first NINE volumes of the manga to hopefully quench my thirst for a sequel we’ll probably never get. Wellll, you know how I do these things—the manga sat on my shelf for a good couple years, untouched, and the dust started to collect.

Until now! My rekindled love for manga has motivated me to tackle my shelves before buying new titles, which naturally placed volume one of this long-awaited read in my hands. And guys, what can I say that hasn’t been said already? Yona is a wonderful shoujo fantasy series with a compelling cast of characters living in an interesting Asian-inspired world. BANG. What more could you want?

But in case you know nothing about Yona, the shoujo manga follows the titular Princess Yona, whose bright red hair makes her the crown jewel of the Kohka Kingdom. After her doting father, the king, is murdered in cold blood by her childhood friend and lover, Su-won, Yona flees for her life with her faithful guard Hak. Now, Yona sets out on a journey to reclaim her country with hak, which includes tracking down the four dragon warriors of ancient lore.

Out on the Run

Right off the bat, I think the most striking thing about Yona’s world is the choice to use Korean-inspired names instead of the typical Japanese names. In fact, the series draws more inspiration from Korean culture than it does Japanese, making it an intriguing blend of both cultures. The series carries with it a heavy traditional feel, but also contains a surprising amount of fun and comedic moments despite the tragic start.

Following their flee, Hak seeks out his home village of Fuuga to avoid further pursuit from Su-won’s soldiers. The village’s chief (and Hak’s foster grandfather), Mundeok, is an admirable figure who I’m sure could’ve taken in Yona and raised her very well—but that wouldn’t be much of a story then, would it?

No, instead, Yona puts her foot down and decides to leave the village herself, demanding Hak continue to stay at her side. (The audacity, I know!!) Shortly after, Yona and Hak confront their pursers, and we get the powerful scene where Yona slashes her own hair—which she is adored for—to free herself from Kang Tae-Jun’s captivity. If that’s not symbolic of a woman choosing strength and independence over frailty and vanity, I’m not sure what is. The passing of Yona’s cut lock to Su-won leads him to believing that Yona has truly perished, which deeply hits him, interestingly enough. Like, Su-won isn’t a good guy, but, is he truly bad . . . ?

She with the Crimson Hair

Volume 3 is where we finally start to get a glimpse of the overall plot Yona is about to take up. Now that we’ve become acquainted with Yona’s rare fiery side as well as Hak’s reliability and loyalty on and off the battlefield, we are introduced to Ik-su, a lackadaisical priest who fled the capital when the regime changed years ago, and Yun, a haughty young pretty boy whose talents in cooking, fashion, and herbal remedies will prove incredibly useful on their journey going forward.

Ik-su tells Yona (and the reader) a great deal about the world, the legend of the dragon warriors, and Yona’s role in all of it. He prophesizes the assembly of the four dragon warriors, and how their coming together will awaken the monarch and resurrect the red dragon of dawn. The spirit of the dragons is passed down through four individual bloodlines, each of which still bear fealty to their beloved crimson dragon even to this day.

After a sad parting, we leave behind Ik-su, and Yun joins us in traveling to the White Dragon Village. There, in the land of the wind, we meet the first dragon warrior, a beautiful young man named Gija who possesses the “arm of a dragon,” scales and all. Although Gija bumps heads with Hak, the pain in Gija’s arm makes him realize that joining Yona is his life’s calling—and the destiny that has been passed down his family for generations. Another bittersweet parting between Gija and his grandmother sets us on the long quest to finding the other dragon warriors.

A Fantastic Historical Fiction Drama

Mizuho Kusanagi’s art style is the stuff of legends. Almost flawlessly, she recreates an era in time that dates back to the Three Kingdoms period of Korea. Mind you, it’s all historical fiction, so none of the setting is real, but Kusanagi reimagines this period from architecture and fashion style to customs traditional of this period. It’s such, SUCH, a gorgeous manga.

All of Kusanagi’s characters are beautiful (as one might expect in a shoujo manga), but also brazen and fierce. There’s a fire in Yona’s eyes that is unmatched; in Hak’s, a gaze of strength and familiarity; and in Su-won, a dark, melancholic sadness. Each cover piece alone is a work of art, as the coloring is so pretty and vibrant, much like Yona’s captivating red hair.

So, will I be reading more Yona of the Dawn in the future? Well, duh—I already bought the first nine volumes, or did you already forget? Haha! Seriously though, if I didn’t already have them, I would’ve placed an order immediately following the second volume. Yona has a lot of promise, which comes as little surprise given how highly talked about this series is. I’m excited to embark on this long journey with Yona, and I do hope you’ll be tagging along for the ride.


If it were a person . . . if this were a battlefield . . . I’d need my arrow to fly true. Drawing your bow means taking a life—or letting someone take yours.Yona


Afterword

I could talk on end for how much I love Hak, how much I love Yun, and how endearing of a protagonist I find Yona to be growing into. But, I’ll save that for future manga write-ups. After all, this is only the first three volumes, and there are well over 20 volumes available in English! I do hope you’ll continue with my reading of Yona of the Dawn. What are your thoughts on this highly beloved series? Let me know down in the comments! ‘Till next time!

– Takuto

That Blue Sky Feeling: Preciously Queer & Wholeheartedly Delightful || Review

A brief review of the 3-volume manga series “That Blue Sky Feeling,” story by Okura, art by Coma Hashii,, and licensed in English by Viz Media. MINOR SPOILERS for Volume 1 will be present.


Have You Heard the Rumors?

High school transfer student Noshiro may seem like a cool and outgoing guy to his new classmates, but Noshiro’s big, bumbling heart is his best feature. Although he’s inexperienced in love, he finds himself drawn to Sanada, the school outcast, who is rumored to be gay. While most would get squeamish at the thought, the rumor only further fuels Noshiro’s interest and determination to get close to Sanada. Set in motion is a bittersweet tale of self-discovery, friendship, and first love.

Marketed under the shounen demographic, this school romance drew a lot of its appeal from the relatable character drama presented and Coma Hashii’s soft and cute character designs. With only three volumes, the story reads quickly, but methodically guides us through Noshiro and Sanada’s entire first year together as classmates. Showcased are the attempts made by Noshiro to become friends with Sanada, all of the ups and downs of this rocky relationship, the misunderstandings, and the persistent efforts to grow closer.

From the start, this seemingly simple story of exploring a rumor opens up to much larger contexts, including social pressures and the meaning of “being gay” itself. Using Noshiro’s naivete as a lens for self-questioning, Okura has carefully crafted a cast of characters that investigate the notions of sexuality, attraction, and “liking”—and largely without even being aware of it! This is the kind of title that doesn’t break boundaries so much as explore how these boundaries form, why they do, and how people are affected by them.

noshiro and sanada

Straight, Gay, and Curious

Dai Noshiro is the open-book kind of character. He’s silly, easily approachable, and loud, which (often to Sanada’s dismay) attracts a huge crowd wherever he goes. It’s refreshing to have a lead character in this type of story who isn’t some tall and skinny bishounen. If anything, being built and a little on the round side (or as Sanada calls him, a “country potato”) is celebrated in That Blue Sky Feeling as a body type that characters like Sanada and energetic underclassman Morinaga actually hold as a preference. This definitely met my approval!

Having a guy like Noshiro who knows virtually nothing about the LGBT community (or relationships for that matter) makes him the perfect voice for Okura’s discussion on what it means to be a closeted gay kid—or being gay in general. Noshiro is new to this kind of thing. He straight . . . or, at least, he thinks so—he hasn’t ever given relationships much thought. But we know he’s uneasy, curious even, and I can’t blame him. This really is a smart move on Okura’s part, as now Noshiro functions both as a likable MC and a subtle proxy for self-exploration. Nothing in That Blue Sky Feeling is forced. Like clouds, these musings come and go, occasionally bringing a little rain or blocking out the sun.

Then there’s Kou Sanada. As the quiet closeted kid, Sanada strays away from anything that would draw attention: sports, clubs, even leisurely activities like swimming. He’s standoffish, dismissive, and get’s irritated easily. Sounds like no one would like him, right? Well, that’s where I was wrong, too. Sanada is just misunderstood. He doesn’t fit in with the other boys because he often can’t relate to any of them without fearing they’d leave him for thinking he’s weird. I mean, how regularly do you see gay people hanging out alone with their straight friends of the same gender? I suppose it’s different for everybody, but I get why Sanada distances himself. (I JUST WANT MY SLEEPY BOY TO BE HAPPY.)

If any part of Sanada will be a mixed bag, it’s his past relationship . . . with a 26-year-old man named Hide. I don’t think Okura is trying to condone pedophilia, but Sanada and Hide really did go out, and Hide’s not afraid to poke fun at their past together. Now, hear me when I say that Hide is genuinely a good guy. He serves as a mentor of sorts to Noshiro when it comes to gay stuff, and he only aims to help, not harm. I was uneasy about Hide at first, but—thankfully—I ended up being wrong about him.

dai pushing chair

Subtlety is Blue Sky‘s Greatest Strength

Okura’s story is wonderful, truly, but the biggest draw to That Blue Sky Feeling would easily be Coma Hashii’s art. The series has this wondrously soft aura to it, which is in no surprise thanks to Hashii’s character designs. Fun fact: The Blue Sky I am able to enjoy now is actually a remake of Okura’s original web comic series. When a book publication was announced, Okura brought on Hashii to redraw the entire series with greater quality art and the gentle touch Blue Sky is now beloved for.

Sanada and his dear childhood friend and classmate, a girl named Ayumi Yamamoto, are drawn with a slimmer build and bigger eyes. (Sanada’s cat-like design really accentuates his sleepy aura.) Other characters like Noshiro and Hide are noticably more rotund but still very cute. Like the story itself, the character expressions are never overdone, and that subtlety works to Okura’s writing immensely. I mean, a character turning away from someone—only to reveal bright blush marks on their cheeks—can speak where words wouldn’t quite do those feelings justice.

kou blushing

Unexpectedly Falling in Love

What does it mean to be normal? What does it mean to be weird? Navigating through the complexities of making friends as a young homosexual in a heteronormative world, That Blue Sky Feeling handles first love and the notion of “inexperience” with surprising delicacy and innocence. Even when things get heated, the characters try to better themselves by digging deep within and honestly asking what it is they want, and how they can present their truest self to others.

Everyone in That Blue Sky Feeling has an unbelievably pure heart. Just as prominent as the exploration into friendship, liking, and being gay is the theme of unrequited feelings. For a series to have such a tangled web of complex feelings, Blue Sky‘s characters hold their heads high and continue to remain friends despite all odds. This kind of content is the exact opposite of “toxic,” and is the reason I fell in love with Noshiro, Sanada, Ayumi, and everyone else.

As the gap between Noshiro and Sanada slowly shrinks, we come to see how two very different high school boys can find themselves unexpectedly falling for one another. Noshiro quickly finds that, perhaps, labels aren’t suited for everything, especially people and relationships. Wishing only for the happiness of these kids, That Blue Sky Feeling is preciously queer and wholeheartedly delightful.

sanada whisper


What does it mean to like someone? Going out. Boyfriends. Girlfriends. I never thought about it, never worried about it. Until I met Kou Sanada — Dai Noshiro


Afterword

Guys, I love this manga with all my heart. ALL MY HEART. If you couldn’t already tell, that means That Blue Sky Feeling is another certified “Cafe Mocha” for me! I can see why people may find Hide and the age gap to be a turn-off, but that kind of stuff happens in real life, too, and we eventually have to move past it. I love Noshiro’s loudness, Ayumi’s sweetness, and grew quite fond of Sanada’s character. (He really is charming when you get to know him!) Viz’s releases of this series are also pretty in pastel colors, I’m so thankful to them for such pleasant publications!

But I’ve talked enough, what did you think of That Blue Sky Feeling? Let me know in the comments. To shake things up, my next Pride Month post will be over the anime Love Stage!!, so please look forward to it! Thanks for reading, and until next time!

– Takuto