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Akatsuki no Yona — Analysing the big bad Su-Won

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In the debate of Story VS Characters, my position has always been one and the same: a terribly written story with good characters will still pull forwards, whereas a good story with terribly written characters will fall flat on its head. This is why I have such trouble with the the beautifully animated series Kyoukai no Kanata — I find the story sloppy and incoherent beyond belief, but the characters feel so real I can’t bring myself to hate it. Of course, sometimes we’re lucky enough to get good stories with good characters. These are the works I tend to obsess over (that kill me inside and rip out my gust,) and Akatsuki no Yona is one of such works.
Fancy introductions aside, let's get to the point: an anon asked me on tumblr to write up an analysis of Su-Won last weekend. So I did. Merry belated Christmas?


Note that this post was written when the latest chapter was chapter 116, so it is likely to contain spoilers for those not up to date with the manga.

I'd like to say I know exaaaaaaaaactly what is expected from a character analysis, but I don't... so I've just written out my thoughts and observations and hoped that counts as what this anon was looking for. In any case, I sat down this afternoon and finally had a chance to do this, so hope you enjoy!

Regicide, the art of Ruling and Justice

“A world is supported by four things: the learning of the wise, the justice of the great, the prayers of the righteous and the valor of the brave. But all of these things are as nothing without a ruler who knows the art of ruling.” — Dune, Frank Herbert.
(My dad is the biggest Dune nerd in the universe…………)

I find Su-Won to be the most fascinating and intriguing character in the entire simply because of the way he is written. If we were to describe him using the alignment system (which the internet seems to be so fond of these days,) he’d fall in the lawful evil-type category. He is one of the pivotal points in Akatsuki no Yona and the story’s antagonist, yet he is not a villain per say, and could also be a potential future ally.
His actions thus far have proven him to be a determined man who is willing to get rid of those who stand in his way, a fact particularly highlighted when he orders Yona to be executed and threatens Mundok when the legendary hero shows disapproval of his ascension to the throne. His visit to Awa, his actions during the Water Tribe arc, and his recent involvement in the current Sei arc, show an interest in the welfare of the kingdom, but his war against the Kai Empire to take back land and the emphasis placed on Yona’s anti-war speech in chapter 97 suggests that Su-Won’s allegiance is not with the innocent, but rather with the citizen of Kouka. It is possible what we’re seeing here is not his sense of justice, but rather his duty as a King. Su-Won, in fact, has yet to display any thought on rightful justice. In contrast, Yona, a lawful good-type character, has displayed this several times, both through inner monologues and through actions in aiding the weak and powerless. 
This might well be due to his secretive nature and the way his character is written in general (never displaying his real opinion and always keeping a vague smile on his face,) but my point here is that there is no proof that Su-Won cares about the defence of the innocent, unless what is harming the innocent is threatening the strength of the kingdom and its integrity. This is what makes Su-Won such a fascinating character, and what makes him hard to resent: His actions are, in fact, exactly what Kouka needs if it is to survive as an independent nation.


Regicide

I place Su-Won’s motives to commit regicide on three possible points:
  • He was aware to some extent King Il was not willing to let him marry Yona, the only legal and rightful way for him to become King. This also brings up the question whether King Il wouldn’t allow Yona to marry him because he didn’t want to burden Su-Won with the task (the reasoning he gives her,) or whether there was something else behind his decision. It’s possible there is a hidden story regarding King Il and Su-Won’s relationship, and I find it highly likely King Il wasn’t fond of Su-Won either.
  • He realised that were Kouka to keep walking down its current path it would fall, and decided to take matters into his own hands. It is shown to us in the flashback chapters of volume 11 (60&61) that Su-Won has many connections with citizens of low social status, and it is likely that it is through these acquaintanceships he came to realise (or rather, vision) the future Kouka was heading towards under King Il’s rule.
  • He was thirsty to take revenge for his father, Yu-hon, whom King Il murdered. Whether this is true or not, it is certain Su-Won believes this to be a fact. How he came to know of this and how he came to accept it so unquestionably is still a mystery to us that most likely has to do with the hidden nature of Su-Won and King Il’s relationship.

Betrayal, Guilt and Regret

I hate Su-Won. I hate him because he’s hard to hate. And I’m not saying he’s hard to hate because he’s a good king (I can still very much hate a character that has wronged the protagonist even if they are overall not a villain,) I am talking about the fact that he clearly cared about Yona and Hak.
Chapter 10, where he clutches Yona’s crimson strands of hair after receiving a report of her death, and chapter 11, where he looks up at the sky at daybreak and sadly calls up Yona’s smiling face, are the first instances in which we see this. The flashback in chapter 11 right before his coronation makes it painfully clear he is aware that, in becoming king, he will lose something precious that he will never be able to take back.
きっと私が王になる時、ヨナもハクも私の傍にはいない。
When I become king, Yona and Hak will not be by my side.
As Hak speaks to him of a perfect future where Su-Won marries Yona and becomes king, a tearful Su-Won leans on Hak’s shoulder and calls this “a beautiful dream.” He knows it will not come to be. Hak and Yona will not be with him when he ascends the throne. It’s not a question — it is a statement. This is a key remark, as is the rest of his inner monologue during the coronation, mainly because it is one of the only insights we have to what Su-Won is really thinking. It points out that even if Yona hadn’t accidentally walked in on her father’s murder (the only blunder in Su-Won’s almost perfect plan,) someway or another the truth would’ve been revealed to her, most likely through Su-Won himself. This comes to show that his betrayal to them is so great that no matter how well he may have planned it, no matter how well he may have attempted to hide the truth, he would still have lost Hak&Yona. This explains how he managed to keep a straight face when Yona caught him murdering King Il: he was prepared to face the reality of losing her from the very beginning and considered it, in fact, a natural result to his actions.
This particular flashback, other than shining light on how determined he is, proves that he genuinely cared about both of them. Had he not, he wouldn’t of assumed he’d eventually lose them — he could’ve deceived them, like he has deceived the rest of the kingdom. The inner monologue that follows confirms this:
あたたかいこんな日は少しだけ迷う。
でももう“右腕”はいない。
温もりをくれたあの少女も。
踏みつけて、切り捨てて、ここまで来た。
Warm days like today make me doubt myself a bit.
But now, my right arm is gone. As is the girl who gave me warmth.
By crushing them underfoot and casting them off, I have made it this far.
だからもう迷いはしない!
So I will not doubt myself any longer!
The only thing that ever made him doubt himself was his relationship with Hak and Yona. We are talking about a man willing to sacrifice everything he has to accomplish his life goal, and this is the one thing that made him doubt himself. Now that they are gone, there is nothing left that can make him waver. This is yet again a statement of his determination, but at the same time it is blatantly pointing out that the one and only thing that could possibly make Su-Won reconsider his actions are Yona and Hak............... surprise surprise, they're actually alive.

The final point in this three way relationship that makes Su-Won a fascinating case to study and a multi-facial character, as well as proving he cared, is his long awaited rencounter with Hak in chapter 91. When Hak loses his mind and throws himself at Su-Won with clearl murderous intent, Su-Won simply stands there frozen, staring. He lectured by Jo-Doh later, and is forced to promise the Sky Tribe’s General that he’ll fight back next time. This inability to react against Hak’s fury outburst makes me suspect that Su-Won thought to himself he deserved what was coming.
We are all well aware (Su-Won included) that Hak has the upper hand when it comes to fighting. He is far stronger and far more skilled than Su-Won, beating even General Geun-Tae at a young age and practically annihilating Jo-Doh with a single punch in chapter 91 (One puuuuuuuuuuuuunch ♬♭). There is literally no reason for Su-Won to fear killing Hak, therefore the option of him not acting on fear of hurting him is immediately ruled out.
Su-Won’s reaction can thus only be explained as guilt. Not because he has tricked an entire nation and killed its rightful king, but because he betrayed his one true “precious friend.” A friend that would’ve never thought of doing the same to him, a friend that trusted him to the ends of the earth and beyond. When faced against this friend, whom he has wronged so deeply, Su-Won forgets his life goals and everything he has been fighting for and for a moment all he sees Hak…and his sense of morality has him stand still, waiting for the punch.

A kind man, or just a skilful liar?

One of the bigger questions in the series that calls for attention the moment Su-Won commits regicide is whether the kindness he showed everyone was genuine or just a well made rabbit costume fit for a wolf. What makes it hard to decide is the fact that we've been able to see that Su-Won is a very skilful actor capable of smiling at someone only to turn their back on them and look capable of swallowing the world whole. This trait of his, that allows him to hide his feelings and cloak his true thoughts, is what kept Yona and Hak in the dark from his plans, and what hade General Geun-Tae very confused in chapters 44, 45 and 46.
So he's a skilful liar, but is he a kind man? Interestingly enough Yona has come to the conclusion that he is as of chapter 111. Whether this turns out to be true or not is something we will most likely discover with time.

Legends, Dragons and Gods

This last section isn't really a character "analysis," but rather just me opinting out one last aspect of Su-Won's beliefs.
We know that during Junam’s reign, the palace’s priesthood had greater influence than the King himself, having even deposed a king after accusing him of angering the Gods. Yu-hon, who played a major role in Kouka’s expansion during King Junam’s era, saw the priesthood as a threat to the throne and chased them out of the castle.
The the royal priesthood was likely started with Zeno when he takes on the role after Hiryuu’s death, and assuming that it was never swapped (unlike the ruling tribe, which we know did not remain the same,) then it’s quite logical to think that in 2000 years it gained enough power to surpass even that of the king.
During Su-Won’s coronation, Mundok warns him that “the gods above are watching” what he will make out of this kingdom and through what sacrifices he will accomplish it. To which Su-Won response leaves pretty clear what the veneration of gods is to him:
見ているだけの天など、私にとって何の意味もありません。欲しいのは神ではなく、人の力なのだから。私はこの高華国を先々代国王の時代のような強国と再生させる。立ち塞がるものがあれば、たとえ天でも、私はねじ伏せる。
A Heaven that only watches has no meaning for me. I want not gods but the power of people. I will restore de Kingdom of Kouka to the mighty nation it once was. Should anyone stand in my way, even if they be a god, I will crush them underfoot!
Had Akatsuki no Yona taken any other route that wasn’t the supernatural and the fantastical, this statement wouldn’t matter much — it would just be proving that Su-Won is not a fool, that he will rule this kingdom not through divinity but through human power, and that he doesn’t believe in idealised romantic stories of gods descending upon earth to save everyone. It’s almost as if he’s read that Dune quote and is agreeing to it: romantic ideals still need something practical to support them, and in this case what Kouka needs is a strong, determined leader.
But as it turns out, Akatsuki no Yona is a story that revolves heavily around gods and deities, and Su-Won’s coronation speech not only helps us understand his character, but points out that Robbin Yona’s divine Merry Dragon Circus might be a problem for Su-Won not just because they oppose him, but because they are a force from Heaven.


Conclusions

Do I have any conclusions? Hmmm...
  • Su-Won acts upon self-interest.
  • Kusanagi very rarely puts Su-Won's inner thoughts on display, which makes him a difficult character to read.
  • Though he is the antagonist of the series, he does not fall into the villain category.
  • He is hot.
  • He is hot.
  • He is hot?
  • Just kidding, he's cool and seems to have a code he follows, where only those who stand in his way get stabbed.
  • I want to see him sufferrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

© Japanese quotes taken from Kusanagi Mizuho's manga, 暁のヨナ. English translation taken from Crunchyroll's subtitles of Yona of the Dawn. All images in this post are taken from those sources.



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9 comments:

  1. I loved reading your post here, you've really paid attention to Suu-wons character. When it comes to the relationship between King IL and Suu-won, I almost feel as though the death was staged, like it was planned out to happen and for Suu-won to look like the bad guy in front of Yona. I think King IL knew that the kingdom was crumbling, but he knew simply stepping down would make him cowardice and possible mocked or humiliated for the rest of his life, same with Yona, since she is the daughter of King IL and nobody would trust her ruling, which would be why Suu-won marrying Yona would be a bad idea. So he decided to stage his death so it looked like a murder happened and it wouldnt look so bad upon the family. This is just my theory about their relationship though because Suu-won is smart and I dont think he can be deceived easily, I dont even believe that HE believes his father was murdered, that was just a way to explain why he wanted to "kill" King IL, its a cover up story for the real reason hidden from Yona. Even if King Il killed Yuu-hon, im sur eit had to be in self-defense, because I could see Yuu-hon trying to kill Yona because I bet he knew about the prophecy and knew his power would be taken from him if he didn't do something about it before Yuu-hon and King Ils father stepped down from the throne (Which would be why their father chose the younger brother King IL to rule, a man who hated weapon and wasnt strong, because the father of King IL and Yuu-hon mustve been told by the priest that a child with red hair would be born and should be the next king/queen, so giving the throne to the father of that child makes sense because he didn't, a lot of people would be upset if Yona wasn't technically in line for it).

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  2. I love Su Won, he is certainly my favourite character together with Yona. I would like to think that he really did not kill Yona´s father and that he wouldn´t have killed Yona either.....But I do think he suffered the lost of his loved ones and that he will keep on suffering, snif.




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    1. He's my favorite character too and while the author of this site claims su won acts out of self interest, I'd have to disagree. I believe he doesn't acts only on self interest however on the interest of the nation of kouka. I don't see any particular reason for him to suffer when he helped many people (though at the cost of losing Yona and Hak after killing king il which was probably inventible since the people were going to plan a rebellion sooner or later)

      Anyways, good to know someone feels the same about su won ^^

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  3. Oh, how come I didn't find this before?! And I always read your translations so faithfully! I must've been too busy drowning in feels!
    THANK YOU for this analysis! It is absolutely perfect and extemely well written. This is exactly what's been on my mind for way too long.

    I had never thought of one specific point, but I find myself agreeing with you completely: Su-Won seems to be acting more on the basis of "Kouka as an independent nation and a force to be reckoned with" rather than "protect the innocent", which establishes a very nice contrast to Yona's approach.

    As for the Regicide bit, I've been YEARNING for some more light on this! It actually reminds me a bit of Othello's Iago, as in each time there seems to be a different motive for his actions - but which is the real one? A combo of all of them? One of them? None of them?! So far, I'm betting on a combo of the 3 points you mentioned. But we def need more info on this topic.

    The thing about Su-Won not taking the gods into consideration when taking over the kingdom seems to be a parallel to how the humans treated Hiryuu in the past. Hiryuu was there to save them all and they decided to execute him, when the other four dragon gods came to the rescue. Su-Won is this generation of humans who almost executed Hiryuu (Yona), and she's got the 4 again on her side once again. Koukan History repeats itself.
    Interesting to think that while everyone has mentioned that the dragon gods rescued Hiryuu and he reigned after that - no one mentions EXACTLY what happened after that. Did the humans just accept Hiryuu's right to reign over them? How did he get to the throne? Did the four dragons fight and kill the humans who would've beheaded Hiryuu? Unlikely, since Hiryuu loved humans so much (just as Yona probably wouldn't allow for her frieds to kill Su-Won). So yeah, there's an interesting gap in that myth...

    Thank you so much for this post! ^^

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    1. Thank YOU for your comment!

      That parallelism you drew between the foundation myth (where Hiryuu was almost executed and people lost faith in Gods) and Yona's&Su-Won's current situation was really interesting, I hadn't thought of that! I'd love for Kusanagi to unveil more about Hiryuu's life and reign, but sadly it looks like we might not be getting that any time soon...

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  4. Love your analysis!
    I can't remember, but how do the citizens of Kouka accept Su-Won as their new King? Was it explained to them that he committed regicide and the citizens still accepted him? Also, how was he able to gain the loyalty of Sky Tribe's General Joo-Doh?

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  5. An interesting analysis. Soo won s main aim is to secure Kouka, but I think it is also for the people in itself (certain scenes in the novel or when he was rescuing Lily without knowing her indicate that).
    But still I agree that maintaining Kouka seems to be the main goal.

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  6. If suwon dies I will cry.

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    1. Agreed, if he dies I'd cried for days again like the last time my favorite character died T-T

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