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Posts Tagged ‘review’

Image from Crunchyroll

Image from Crunchyroll

If you’ve been reading manga or watching anime for a period of time now, you have probably watched, read, or at least heard of some kind of reverse harem anime/manga centered on a chosen teenage girl’s journey to gather a band of handsome young men. Perhaps most famous of this fantasy/harem genre is Fushigi Yugi, infamous for its helpless (and rather unlikeable) heroine, Miaka, who is made the victim of multiple attempted rapes for the sake of drama. Whereas other heroines in this genre have ultimately been limited to playing the kind girl who touches the hearts of her warriors while relying on them to provide her with physical protection, Yona of the Dawn offers viewers a refreshing twist to this well-worn path. As if to respond to these frustratingly helpless heroines both in and out of reverse harem manga/anime, Yona of the Dawn presents viewers with a tale about a heroine who does not accept her own helplessness as inevitable.

Yona, the heroine of this story, certainly starts out as a heroine you might expect to see in a reverse harem manga-turned-anime. When we first meet her, she’s a typical pampered princess with no political knowledge nor useful skills. Her only two interests seem to be her appearance and her beloved Soo-won, the sweet cousin who she has loved since childhood and dreams of marrying. Her other handsome childhood friend, a young general with a rough demeanor named Hak, guards her from physical harm while her father, the emperor, spoils her and shields her from harsh realities. In this environment, Yona turns to worrying about her romance, such as what Soo-won thinks about her hair. Helpless girl who’s greatest aspiration is romance? Check. Handsome men who give viewers both a sweet guy and a guy with a rough exterior? Check. Throw in the fact that Hak clearly harbors feelings for the oblivious Yona and that Soo-won obviously doesn’t understand Yona’s feelings for him, and you have the cliche love triangle at the foundation of the harem that is to be built.

This highly standard set up is subverted, however, when Yona witnesses Soo-won kill her father in a coup d’etat. The superficiality of the first episode shatters along with Yona’s sheltered world, revealing a much more complex one behind it as characters emerge from behind their simplistic roles. Relationships, too, take on more depth at the same time revelations and betrayal tear apart Soo-won, Yona, and Hak. Initially, the shock of losing her father and Soo-won leaves Yona a husk, and Hak must coax along and protect her as they escape to safety. Hak gets multiple chances to act as the helpless Yona’s protector, but rather than rely on its heroine’s weakness to provide Hak permanent knight-in-shining-armor status, Soo-won’s betrayal becomes Yona’s turning point. She snaps herself out of her depression, opens her eyes to the troubled reality of her country, and begins her journey to find her purpose in life. Furthermore, while many a heroine has feared losing loved ones, Yona actually does something to combat that fear, picking up the bow and arrow in order to gain the power needed to protect them even as she steadily gains more able-bodied men capable of protecting her.

Is her change a reaction to Soo-won, suggesting Yona to be yet another female character whose development rides on her relationship with men? Clearly, Soo-won’s actions spurred Yona into territory she would never have otherwise tread, and thoughts of Soo-won creep up on occasions, revealing that his betrayal is definitely on Yona’s mind. Nevertheless, the story thus far has done a good job of depicting Yona’s transformation as one that expands beyond Soo-won. Her transformation becomes a personal journey as her loss and sense of powerlessness turns into frustration over her helplessness and ignorance, and determination to change herself.

Of course, Yona still must largely rely on the men’s strength at this point in the story, but that doesn’t mean her determination to become stronger is an empty promise never to be realized. Some viewers may be impatient to see the steely Yona previewed in the opening and in the flashforwards shown in the first few episodes, but in this case, I think a slower paced change will prove more effective. If Yona just woke up one day a strong-willed woman, the change wouldn’t be as satisfying or as believable as watching her experience situations that cause gradual change. Granted, it’s a fine line between showing a character gradually change and pushing the viewer to frustration, but when executed right, seeing Yona’s struggle to change becomes one of her character’s strengths.

Speaking of building character, I appreciate that Yona wasn’t made into some magical prodigy who’s able to master the bow and arrow on the first try. Instead, the show depicts Yona’s struggle to wield her weapon, not only physically but also mentally. She can’t hit anything at first, but practices every night while her comrades sleep in order to improve her skill and strength, and she must mentally prepare herself to kill if she wants to use her weapon to protect her friends. The emphasis on Yona’s training shows the viewers Yona’s determination, and depicts her strength in a way that expands beyond the superficial example of strength as purely physical. (I also enjoyed that one of the male characters related to Yona’s struggle to become strong in the most recent episode! This kind of character development doesn’t just apply to female characters, after all.) If Yona of the Dawn keeps up this kind of crafting of its heroine, she’ll easily be one of my favorite heroines!

Lastly, the way the show has handled its male characters has been pretty satisfying so far as well. Obviously, the show offers a smorgasbord of good-looking guys, but it develops them beyond cardboard cutouts of various types of attractive men. Two perfect examples are Hak and Soo-won. With them, the story takes the staple male love interest types and complicates them, making the caring Soo-won into an antagonist with a logical motive yet controversial methods and Hak neither a mindless bodyguard hunk nor a lovable jerk, but a colorful childhood friend who has grown to love the princess. With any luck, the good characterization and relationships won’t get bogged down as more characters are introduced. Handsome boys are nice to look at, but a lot more enjoyable and interesting when they have actual personality. Of course, it’s also pretty amusing when the series acknowledges itself as part of, and pokes fun at, the reverse harem genre, inserting humor into the plot with characters who display awareness of their bit to play in the harem.

While the characters may seem stereotypical at first, the show seems determined to overturn those expectations. Watching the group come together, and the characters flesh out and evolve–particularly its determined princess–has become my weekly treat. With any luck, this series will keep up its excellence. Anyone who likes fantasies with character-focused journeys spiced up with a blast of breathtaking action and/or a heroine who won’t take her fate lying down should check out Yona of the Dawn. Watch it on CrunchyrollFunimation, or Hulu.

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images-85What do you get when you mix a multiple layered cat-and-mouse chase, one motorcycle, and a girl and an outlaw with nothing in common but the quest to find one man and nothing to lose? You get one stylish anime called Michiko & Hatchin. Hana, a.k.a. Hatchin, is a ten-year-old girl with no mother, no father, and a foster family who is more concerned about the money brought in by volunteering to take care of Hatchin than they are about her. Now, Hatchin is a practical girl, but after suffering the bullying and abuse of her foster family day after day, even she can’t help but daydream that maybe her long-lost father will show up some day and sweep her out of that crummy little house. No father shows up, but a certain outlaw named Michiko does come literally crashing in. Michiko knows Hatchin’s father and she’s come to get Hatchin with the hopes that the girl will be able to help her find him. A reckless criminal on the run isn’t what she’s imagined as the person who would come to get her, but Hatchin takes a chance, marking the start of one of the craziest rides of her life. 

Much like Michiko herself, the show is bold and, at times, brutal. Full of cops both dirty and devoted, gangsters, honest workers and criminals alike, there’s more than a fair share of shoot outs and close calls. While Michiko searches for Hatchin’s father, Hiroshi, a childhood friend-turned-detective is hot on Michiko’s heels, driven by more than just the job description to catch her. On top of that, poking around for Hiroshi inevitably means poking the hornets’ nest since Hiroshi was involved in a violent gang and made some pretty nasty enemies as a result. In their search, the two make their way through rough areas in what appears to be South America, viewers are shown a dark world where kids no older than Hatchin tote guns for gangs and steal to make a living, revenge is common and merciless, gangs kill without mercy, and the powerful abuse their status.

But while there is plenty of action, the characters are what truly shine in Michiko & Hatchin. On their wayward journey, Michiko and Hatchin images-87encounter a myriad of people, from Hiroshi’s childhood friend, Satoshi, who survived the streets as a kid by becoming a ruthless gang leader, a young woman willing to work at a strip club and steal for her sister’s sake, a girl abandoned by her family and adopted by the circus, in love with the young man who taught her, and many more. Just as Michiko and Hatchin struggle to reach their goal, so to do the various characters along the way, each trying to reach different goals in different ways.

At the center of this bright cast are Michiko and Hatchin. The two appear completely mismatched and get off to a rough start; where Michiko is forceful and underhanded, reckless, and confident to a point of naivety at times, Hatchin is more honest, careful, and skeptical. Michiko is the first person in Hatchin’s life who is there to protect her, but Hatchin is filled with doubt about Michiko’s motivation and dislikes her dishonest ways of making a living. Likewise, Michiko wants to take care of Hatchin, but is unused to it and unsure of Hatchin’s reactions to her actions, making Michiko extremely awkward. Neither are particularly honest with their feelings to each other and both get themselves into trouble as a result, but they slowly learn to understand one another. The relationship that grows between these two different, but equally strong and independent ladies over the course of the 22 episodes is the true star underlying the action. It was nice seeing a series focus on the relationship between two female characters in a positive light for a change; yes, there’s the search for the guy and yes, there is bickering and headbutting, but none of those typical aspects takes over.         hatchin-animestocks[com]-11

Now, Michiko and a good number of the other young female characters to appear in the show are repeatedly portrayed as sexy, the worst of which can been seen in the show’s opening, which reduces Michiko to a nude figure over and over. This made me worried initially, but while I never warmed to the opening, I felt the depth of the female characters behind the sexy masquerade more than balanced it. The sexiness was over the top at times and having a couple of more young female characters who weren’t sexy would have been nice, but it didn’t ruin it. The show is full of interesting female characters with realistic problems that include but also range beyond men, which made up for it. In fact, the diverse and strong cast of female characters in Michiko & Hatchin are one of the most striking things to me about the series.

It’s not perfect, but Michiko & Hatchin has a lot of excellent things going for it. There’s plenty action and drama to be had for those who want it, but its strength lies in the relationships and characters, both male and female. And focusing on the relationship between two female characters gave the series an almost “girl power” vibe without feeling forced or cheesy. If you don’t mind realistic violence and some brutal reality, give it a try; it’s streaming on Hulu.com for free.

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