The makings of an antagonist.
This is my first journey through the “100 Days of Anime” Challenge, an ambitious project that I’ll be taking. For the full list of prompts, click here.
“Favorite Shoujo Anime?”
I feel like I’ve talked about this way too many times throughout the challenge. Instead of going on another rant of why, lets take a look at the what. What turns Yona of the Dawn from a simple tale of adventure into a full-fledged drama, despite having the heart of your typical harem; something that introduces a conflict that goes beyond Yona’s gradual change from pampered princess to strong-willed warrior.
Something that changes the themes entirely.
Yona is a young princess living a sheltered life among the royal family. That all changes when on the night of her sixteenth birthday, a coup erupts and her father is killed before her very eyes. With the help of her childhood friend Haku, Yona escapes with her trusted bodyguard and eventually learns the harsh realities of the outside world. All while gathering a band of hot dragon warriors in an attempt to return to the home that was stolen from her. A decent adventure synopsis, sure. But a compelling one? Not at all (though admittedly, I’d still watch it). I do have a confession to make, however. I took out the one element that makes this show great.
Prince Soo-won and his role as an antagonist
Political gain, corruption, war, the Prince juggles all of these skillfully without ever directly getting into Yona’s affairs. Rather we watch him influence the country miles away from our group in brief shots; pondering Yona’s fate with seemingly little remorse. Yes, he’s the antagonist, but the story doesn’t paint him into someone we should hate; rather we see him as a logical thinker and a competent leader, despite the atrocities committed. This two-sided element works hand in hand with the show’s themes.
Can you hate someone you love? Can you forget about them? And can you destroy them?
We see these questions come up time and time again. What Soo-won introduces into the story isn’t just conflict. It’s an entire subplot that runs in the back as we follow Yona on her journey. Yona isn’t just trying to survive in exile, nor is her only goal to gather all the dragons under her banner. She’s struggling with the element that gives Yona of the Dawn its depth: understanding the prince’s motives, understanding Yona’s own feelings, and deciding what role she wants to take in shaping the country’s fate.
So really, I should change the prompt to “Favorite Shoujo Antagonist”. Because an antagonist shouldn’t simply be a roadblock for our protagonist to overcome. The story could’ve easily introduce the big bad evil guy as creepy, sadistic, and generally a person you should hate; a common obstacle for many shoujos. Or maybe have the conflict settle around complex love triangles (also common, and the worst option). Instead, YotD chooses to take its main villain and craft a riveting drama that’s easy to follow. A great antagonist is one that poses a threat without ever getting directly involved, and is a constant as the show carries on. Prince Soo-won may not have spoken to Yona in months, but his influence on her is greater than any other character in the show.
A story about a sheltered girl, her hardships, and her coming of age.