I’m updating my “Anime Heroines to Root For” list with two new characters from last season’s crop of anime: Kohina from Gugure! Kokkuri-san and Yona from Yona of the Dawn (Akatsuki no Yona).
I struggled with whether or not to add Kohina to the list. While she’s an awesome character, her anime, Gugure! Kokkuri-san, has some SUPER problematic stuff in it. (For example, one adult character who self-identifies as the elementary-school-age protagonist’s “stalker”. But that person is the vengeful ghost of a dead dog, so that’s … not really better.) However! Kokkuri-san also has some of the zaniest humor and best-timed jokes out there in anime-land, along with some pitch-perfect deadpan deliveries from its voice actors. And as the quirky main character Kohina herself has some surprising nuance for the lead of a gag show, in the end, Kohina made the cut. (But she comes with a warning!)
Of all the new anime that came out last season, the only ones that really caught my interest were Parasyte, Gugure! Kokkuri-san and Yona of the Dawn. Of those three, the only one I stayed current with as it came out was Yona of the Dawn.
Yona is about a sheltered princess whose life takes a dramatic turn when her cousin, childhood friend and longtime crush (yes, all one person) murders her kingly father in Episode 1. Yona goes on the run with her preternaturally strong, handsome and talented bodyguard Hak, and they go about collecting other handsome and talented men (some of whom are reincarnations of dragons, which is cool) who will help Yona on her quest to survive and/or eventually face her father’s killer, who has in the meantime crowned himself king.
I have been trying to decide exactly why I like Yona of the Dawn so much. I mean, some of it’s obvious. It has some tropes that I like in general. In general, I’m a fan of female-led “harem” anime (also known as “reverse harem” anime, which is such a common term for this particular sub-sub-genre these days that I’m seriously about to give up and start using it unironically), especially when the female lead in question ends up with power over some or all of her harem of men. And Yona of the Dawn is nothing if not a “reverse harem” show about a girl in a position of some power. (Note: I’m not making any claims that reverse-harem-with-the-girl-in-charge is a feminist thing in and of itself, just that it’s a thing that I happen to like. The heart wants what the heart wants.) So, there’s that. But Hiiro no Kakera has that trope and I find it unwatchably boring. Yes, I know Hiiro no Kakera is based on an otome game, but so is Harukanaru Toki no Naka de – Hachiyou Shou, and it’s is at least watchable.
So “reverse harem”? Check. Girl with some power over at least some of the dudes in the show? Check again. Look at me, I’m your target audience! Because I’m a big fan of pandering to the female gaze (in this case, the straight, bi, etc. female gaze), in part because it happens so rarely.
But I’m greedy. So even though I’ll openly admit that pandering will get you a surprisingly long way with me, I still want more.
And somehow, Yona does manage to offer more. More than pandering. More than bishounen. Even though it basically has one female character (with the exception of some minor roles) in a world of handsome boys and men, and (as far as I recall) has yet to pass the Bechdel Test as of its most recent episode.
More about the more after the cut: