Okay, since Book Two: Spirits has just premiered, I'm finally doing a blog post covering the positives and negatives of "The Legend Of Korra" Book One: Air. I'll make the pros relatively quick because we all know it's the cons you want me to talk about the most 'cause they're the subject of debate.
- The tone, setting, and style of the series is a step in the right direction for a follow-up to "Avatar." If there's one thing I hate, it's unfavorable comparisons to it's predecessor. "Avatar" was nigh perfect as it was and cannot be topped, nor should it be. That's best off not attempted. This show is not trying to be "Avatar". It's a distant sequel set in the same universe and continuity, but it's still different, better off judged as it's own thing on it's own merits. And I know some fans say "Well "Avatar" set the bar so high..." stop right there, 'cause that's the same thing people use with "The Lion King" or "Final Fantasy VII" and I don't agree with using those as measuring sticks for quality standards either. I'm going in to "Korra" to see "Korra", and I'm willing to judge and critique it as it's own thing as I enjoy it.
- The large, modern setting of Republic City. I never had any real problems with it.
- The lifestyle and culture invented for the city. Asian markets, busy streets, parks, big businesses, Satomobiles, jazz music, radio, newspapers, metal bending police, bending triad criminal gangs, the City Council, the Equalists' and their anti-bending movement, and Pro Bending matches. All of it is different from what we've seen from the Avatar world before, and it's all so engaging and interesting.
- Tenzin, son of Avatar Aang and Katara. This is a character who, to me, can do no wrong. Everything about him is just excellently written and executed, added to be a great design, splendid animation, and superb voice acting by J.K Simmons. He's got a great presence and can be so interesting, likable, and entertaining. His relationship with Korra as the mentor and father figure to this girl who is technically his father in the next life is very well portrayed and is very much the heart of this series.
- Lin Bei Fong. Sure she had her issues, but she's still the best written female character on the cast. She's tough, strict, and grouchy but also has lots of courage and compassion. And she is badass.
- Jeff Bennett as Shiro Shinobi, the Pro Bending announcer and recapper of the show. He is always entertaining to listen to no matter what he says. I look forward to hearing him open up every episode.
- When thrust into the mature, spiritual and political adult world, Korra is a very interesting protagonist to watch as she struggles to adjust to her new environment and grow as a Avatar and a person. She also has several moments of being downright adorable, funny, and likable too. And she's also hawt.
- Asami Sato, in episodes 4, 7, 8, and 12 especially, is a great character. Such an interesting life story she has, becoming a fallen princess with alot of personal drama and family drama. It helps that she's very beautiful, both inside and out. Like Korra, she too is really hawt and can kick alot of ass.
- The main villains. Amon is just a great villain. Everything about him is so well thought out, written and executed to nigh perfection. He has a fantastic backstory, an awesome design, and Steve Blum's epic voice. Plus he's styled himself to be the Anti-Avatar: a nonbender who can take away all the elements in order to restore balance. The guy's as incredible and badass a Magnificent Bastard as Azula. What's not to love here? His brother Tarrlok is also a wonderful villain and character, having
the most significant development and character arc out of anyone in the cast. His sleazy personality, unexpected role in the plot, rich story and tragic end was just as well handled as everything relating to his brother, fitting considering how connected they are. Yakone also did his part well as a pure evil posthumous villain behind the entire plot, the unnamed Lieutenant was a surprisingly interesting and sympathetic henchman, and Hiroshi Sato's greatness at villainy almost made up for his problems in characterization, which I'll get to later. Watching these bad guys was always one of THE best parts.
- The entire story behind Yakone's bloodline and how it tied into the current conflict. I mentioned this before on a previous blog entry that this was the most well written and well handled thing to come out of Book One. Bryke deserved kudos where kudos is due here. I especially love how they built up the mystery of who Amon was and how he could take away bending, and then the mystery of who this Yakone character had been, why these visions of Aang's dealing with him keep coming to Korra, and what it has to do with the conflict with Amon. Then Tarrlok reveals he can bloodbend without the full moon, and you just know there has to be a connection with Amon's ability to energybend without being the Avatar...like maybe, perhaps, it's the same power? We then learned Tarrlok was Yakone's son who learned his bloodbending abilities from him. Okay, but that still didn't explain why the visions came to Korra during times Amon was around. And why Amon can energybend. And why his hand grip when he does it is clearly different than how Aang did it. And how he's able to resiliently walk right through Tarrlok's bloodbending. And why he takes Tarrlok away while leaving his mooks to go deal with Korra. The whole thing seemed like an interesting detour but...what the Hell was the point? Then we learn there's more to the story...that Tarrlok is Amon's brother, something I had actually called! Suddenly everything comes together and it's all tied up nicely. And the solution to this great mystery was bloodbending, the creepiest concept from the first series that was never really made full use of...until now. And this sad story ending on that boat scene? Just unbelievable. Very well played.
- The social commentary that went into some of the show's themes and plot points were great. The privelages that one social class gets over another due to corrupt, biased government influence and oppression. The oppression of the weaker class by powerful criminals who are part of the stronger class, thus are let off too lightly by the council. The political and ethical issues between these two groups. The unfairness that goes in to some of the bending-based practices, including sports. Just the implications of a city run by benders that has fallen into corruption and imbalance. The old generation's effects on the new generation, and the new generation's unwillingness to leave their current comfort zone and modern conveniences to look back to the old ways. The attitudes of most young hot-shots like Korra when put into these situations. The righteous ideals that can lead people down the wrong path of terrorism if they let their emotions and actions get out off hand, becoming the oppressors and turning their oppressors into the oppressed. The psychological nature and effects of fear, and how to confront and admit to the fear before dealing with it. The idea that people fighting for "the right way" may not always be right, and the people who are right may not also go about things the right way. Just how and why people go to extremes in order to get what they want. How and why people who are close have falling outs. And what hate, prejudices, and convictions to wrong ideals can do to someone. It's all very heavy stuff. If only it was all written and executed better than it is.
- The first four episodes were a fantastic set-up for the series, the setting, the plot, and the central characters. There's very little bad things to be found or said about these episodes, and if there is, they're usually nitpicks. Mike and Bryan are really great at setting things up and hooking you in, which is demonstrated with these episodes. The quality is just great all around. After everything has been set up and the plot really gets going, that's when it all goes to Hell and back and back again...
- Production and direction for this show is superb. The animation is simply amazing, breathtaking, and beautiful to look at: it's even better than even the best animation of it's predecessor. The action sequences are top notch, some of them even phenomenal thanks to the great animation. The new character designs are great, the voice talent is great, the soundtrack is great, and the way it's all done gives me much enjoyment when I'm watching it. Mike and Bryan are great show runners (again), Joaquim Do Santos and Ki Hyun Ryu are brilliant directors, and the whole thing is just a very well produced animated series. This is something that should never be ignored or denied.
- Mike and Bryan, whom we all call Bryke, are ingenious series creators. But they're not writers, have never been writers, and should not be writers. And yet they wrote the entire story of this series thus far and wrote all twelve episodes of Book One. The series bible for "Avatar: The Last Airbender" showed that they weren't good story men on their own without Aaron Ehasz and his writing staff, and "Korra" not only reinforces that, but shows that they're not good writers for episodes either.
- The writing and characterization issues with the teenage cast members. I thought Korra would be well developed: she wasn't. I thought Asami would be fun: she wasn't. I thought Bolin would be amusing: he wasn't. And I thought Mako would be cool and interesting: boy was he not!
- Korra went from having a developing character arc in episodes 1 through 10 to having her character arc derailed in the last two episodes. The narrative also undermined her as a character and heroine way too often, having her meet with failure at every turn. This is especially infuriating because we were sold the premise that she was a strong bender who mastered three elements at an early age, and yet she lacks the skills and competence necessary to take down a bunch of Chi-blockers? What a Faux Action Girl she turned out to be!
- Bolin went from being a funny guy with his own feelings and semblance of competence to being just the comic relief. Sokka 2.0 minus the snarky charm and extra layers in his characterization. Even his own feelings get brushed off as "his comedy chops!" He got like some cool moments in the finale, but ended the story literally being silenced when he tried to insert himself into a problem. Everything having to do with this character shows how much Bryke did not care about him.
- Asami was an interesting character who had a potentially interesting story arc...that got lost amongst all the shipping drama, which is where she spent most of her screentime. And her part in the story ends with her literally losing everything - her home, her money, her father, her boyfriend, her place in the gang...everything. Even when she was a kind, sweet, intelligent, strong hearted girl who did nothing to deserve such an unpleasant fate. What a depressing character!
- Mako...do I even need to explain Mako? Just...MAKO. He's a jerk, a sleaze, a schmuck, a macho chauvinist, a potential gold digger, a clingy boyfriend, a liar, a manipulator, a cheating two-timer who cheats, a terrible brother, an enabler, a Scrappy, a Wesley, a Gary Stu, a Satellite Love Interest for
a forced romance, and pretty much a non-character. His characterization is never consistent, as he becomes what Bryke wants him to be for the sake of plot, drama, romance, or being a filibuster for their sexist asshole fantasies. A guy with as much flaws as he has would actially be a decent character if it was intentional and addressed by the narrative! As it is, he's meant to be the typical teenage boy who made mistakes, yet suffers no serious repercussions from them. Instead, everyone else suffers from what he does while he gets rewarded beyond his wildest dreams. This was a guy who went from being interesting to bland to downright despicable as the story progressed. Come Book Two and I'm left to wonder whatever happened to the character with potential that he began as?
- Tenzin's family really went from being endearing to being annoying. Pema's a presumptuous bitch who hates her children's airbending and believes herself to be Tenzin's "soulmate" while Lin Bei Fong was "the wrong woman", and she still treats Lin as such when they're forced to have close contact with each other. Meelo and Ikki were much more obnoxious than they were funny (Meelo having virtually no purpose beyond gross comic relief even in a battle sequence, and Ikki flat out ruined Korra's effort to keep the love triangle down), and Jinora, the most likable one of the bunch, was wasted, not to mention the one to say the horrible line of "Stay away from my dad's ex-girlfriend!"
- The fact that the story turned out almost the opposite of the first series'. Instead of using a rather generic fantasy premise as a way of exploring deep, heavy, even mature themes and issues, this show used deep, heavy, mature themes and issues as a way of telling a story about the nature of
a fantasy being's anatomy. Even worse is that such a story was meant to have the main character's development at it's core, and yet it failed at this spectacularly.
- The fact that all that story, flawed in it's nature as it was, got further ruined in it's execution by getting sidelined by a crappy teen romance shipping drama! A subplot in which the romantic pairing of two characters who seemed least compatible with each other ended up happening! Makorra is
a romance with no development, no chemistry, and no business being so intrusively pushed to the forefront of the plot! A Strangled By The Red String Romantic Plot Tumor if there ever was one, made even worse by all the informed statements and telling rather than showing, the claims of how the two are "soulmates" who are "meant to be together", and the way it uses this logic (and all the issues with Mako's character I discussed) to glorify cheating on your girlfriend if she doesn't satisfy!
- The fact that said shipping drama overtook the plot point of Korra learning and mastering airbending, which was supposedly the biggest point of "Book One: AIR."
- Tenzin and Lin Bei Fong's relationship, which was the most adult relationship in the story, was detracted from due to them being an ex-couple rather than old friends who drifted apart.
- Lin's relationship with Korra getting completely dropped in favor of developments in her relationship with Tenzin that carry some Unfortunate Implications.
- The Pro Bending subplot going on longer than it needed to.
- "The Spirit Of Competition." All of it.
- That "nonbenders" and "Equalists" got too synonymous, "Equalists" and "evil villains" got too synonymous and "benders" and "good guys" got too synonymous. Also the Unfortunate Implications of the Accidental Aesop: equality is bad, some people are better than others, you gotta deal with it!
- Nickelodeon fired the first shot by ordering only 12 episodes for this book, which could have been the entirety of the series. Bryke fired the second and bigger shot by devising a story that was simply not meant for a 12 episode format. From the moment Republic City "was at war", the plot got too big for it's britches and the latter half of the book was all "Plot, plot, plot, plot! No time for character development or any room to breathe! Gotta rush through and get all this out!"
- The Equalists ended up becoming exactly the sort of generic evil, faceless, heartless Storm Troopers that the Fire Nation characters avoided being in the first series. What started as a nuanced and morally ambiguous conflict became a battle of good vs evil. The legitimate concern of nonbenders and righteous ideal that the Equalists were built upon got completely ignored once their cause and movement got swept under the rug upon their leader's defeat.
- Hiroshi Sato went through the motions of his part in the story without actually being a consistently developed character in his spiral into madness and hatred. He's literally just moved from one point ("I'm sorry, Asami. I hope we can be a family again once this is all over.") to the next ("HOW DARE YOU? I KILL U!") It's a shame since the tragedy of this guy losing himself in his hatred for benders to the point where he'd be willing to off his own daughter was a solid concept, but it's hurt by how Asami is never willing to really talk to him about their issues and Hiroshi is barely willing to talk before he takes action. And considering that these two have lived together as part of each other's lives for years and were all each other had in the world after Mrs. Sato's death...that just doesn't make any sense!
- No bender ever learns to really cope with their loss of bending once Amon's taken it, (Tahno, Lin, and Korra pretty much took it as the worst thing ever and that was it) and no nonbender who's not named Asami ever stands against the Equalists and their morally askew revolution.
- "Out Of The Past" could have been the episode where Korra got in contact with Aang through meditation and learned airbending. But Bryke nixed that idea so that it could be saved for the finale. Instead the visions of Aang's ordeal with Yakone just comes to her through meditating, she gets herself out of the box through different means, and doesn't even try to put up a fight against Amon.
- "Turning The Tides" was full of big shit happening to the entire Republic City, but that might just show the warts of having something this big occur in what is still just the first season, especially since none of it really amounts to much in the end.
- That bum. That totally obnoxious I-wanna-kick-him-in-the-teeth bum who singlehandedly killed the Equalist plot by saying that bender oppression actually wasn't that big a deal and that the two groups of people could easily live in harmony all hunky dory together as long as those Equalist radicals stopped trying to oppose the balance and change things that don't need changing. Oh boy, oh boy! THAT'S not how we were seeing things before! This conflict was supposed to be ambiguous!
- The climax of "End Game." So many parts of it just didn't make sense, even the parts that worked well in execution. What made Korra and Mako think that just breaking into the rally to announce to everyone that Amon was really the bloodbender son of Yakone and brother of Tarrlok with no evidence to support that was a good idea? Why didn't Tarrlok go with them? "Amon can't know you spoke to me!" Your brother's not an idiot, Tarrlok. Where else would they have found this information out? He's going to put two and two together! "Undermining the revolution" by outing Amon as a bender and a hypocrite isn't going to make the conflict go away. Amon was the antagonist capitalizing off of a pre-existing conflict, not the cause of the conflict itself. Yet Bryke seemed to get the two confused since outing Amon after beating him into submission apparently does end the conflict and force the Equalist movement to shut down, which is bullshit! How did Amon manage to capture Tenzin and his family? Korra even says "we SAW them get away!", yet we get no answer. Why is Amon too ready and willing to use bloodbending against his foes if that's the thing he hates so much? Shouldn't it be a desperation move like it was with Tarrlok? Or is the guy just that crazy and corrupted now? Why's Korra still running and hiding scared of Amon, and then trying to physically beat down an enemy that has been established to be undefeatable by those means? Has she learned nothing? How does Mako lightning bend when he's clearly not in the right state of mind to do that? Why does he get that super special awesome moment and pleasure of making Amon feel pain? Why does he have to carry out Korra, the freaking Avatar, in his arms like a white knight? Why does Amon talk Mako up as being "impressive", "the first one to get the better of me", and "talented"? (Shilling The Wesley, yeah,I know.) Why is it that the power of love for Mako is what gets Korra to airbend Amon and win the day? Why does "Korra style airbending" of punching and kicking the elements at Amon defeat him, since that goes against everything that was being built up about Korra's mastery of airbending and how it would conquer Amon? Why do the Equalists just give up when they see Korra was telling the truth about Amon rather than, y'know, be MORE resentful towards benders 'cause a bender was stringing them along all this time? They didn't know Amon's motives were sincere: they'd assume he was an oppressive bender planning to wield power over them once the revolution was complete! Why does Mako silence Bolin when he's just trying to be helpful with "not the time, bro", and yet later display his hypocrisy yet again by trying to comfort Korra when her loss of bending is confirmed to be permanent? What was the point of Commander Bumi? And what happens to Republic City? The Equalists? The City Council? The United Forces? All of it? We just abruptly leave it and spend the final act back down at the South Pole? WHA... GAAAAAAH! *Cue Sanity Slippage*
- The ending. Oh, that goddamn ending. For all the issues I just took with the climax, it's the last third of "End Game" that I really, truly hate. It's at once very mean, very depressing, and very infuriating. Katara confirms there's nothing she can do to restore the rest of Korra's bending. Like with Tahno and Lin, it's been blocked off for good. Korra is of course devastated because bending is a core part of her life and identity more than anyone else's. Her role as the Avatar, master of all four elements, has defined her existence since an early age, giving her deep psychological issues concerning her power as well as a sense of self entitlement. With all her power gone, she's no longer capable of carrying out the Avatar's duties: no longer worthy of being the Avatar. A grief-stricken Korra leaves the tent and after shutting down Mako's above-mentioned hypocrisy, she trudges along the snow to the edge of a cliff, freezing water below her. She sits down and gazes at the view from the cliff, the animation suggesting that she is seriously contemplating suicide now. Instead, she just hangs her head and starts to sob. Now that she's letting it all out and grieving over her loss, the next thing she'll need to do is resolve to keep living her life without the other three elements, to try to spiritually be the Avatar anyway, to struggle, work, and learn to cope with her new existence, maybe learn to help more nonbenders back in Republic City so that peace and balance can come at last and the Equalist conflict never rises again. Slowly but spiritually, she can rise from this low point and become a better Avatar, then finally making a connection to her past lives which could grant her the Avatar State and her full bending power back. Korra would then have the power and the spiritual responsibility in how she uses it. This could fill maybe one extra episode or even the start of the next book. Except...that's not what happens. Instead, we see an Air Nomad who is revealed to be Avatar Aang approaching Korra in the same shot she's currently crying in. He tells her "you called me here", but Korra had no idea. She did it subconsciously by somehow tapping into her spiritual side without realizing it: it wasn't a conscious choice on her part. Aang says the line "When we hit our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change" and then proceeds to give Korra the Avatar State and all of her bending back. The moment itself is very emotional and well played, but there's a huge problem here. Not what happened, but how and why it happened. This was NOT Korra's lowest point. Being locked up in Tarrlok's box was a lower point for Korra than this: that is when she already first tapped into her spiritual side, thus when she should have met Aang and gotten her first power up. And that was through conscious meditation on her choice! Here, like Doug and Rob Walker put it, this was only the start of her lowest point! She needed to reach stage five of the Kubler-Ross model and then really struggle before it could be called her lowest point! And calling Aang to save her from her depression was not a conscious act of spirituality on Korra's part, so instead it seems like the Avatar Spirit wants to save the Avatar and give her full power out of pity. So Korra didn't have to work for this, did not have to make any effort to hoist herself back up from this low point. Aang did it for her. Also, the claim that Korra has finally connected to her spiritual side and become a more competent, spiritual adult falls flat because that does not come off on screen. Like, at all. This is a girl who still believes that she was defined by her power and what it made her, not by who she is and what she does regardless. A girl who just a while back said that if she wasn't the Avatar, she was unworthy of love, to the boy who claimed to love her for who she is! A girl who believes the opposite of what Aang demonstrated in his series' finale: that the individual is more important than the Avatar. Add this to all the previous regression she'd been showing in this finale, and Korra is still very much a child. And "open to the greatest change?" WHAT change? Not only does Aang's action prohibit Korra from changing at all, but it actually makes her worse off as a person! Now her characterization, despite all previous growth and development, is back to square one, only this time she wields absolute power that corrupts absolutely. She's been made a full-fledged Avatar prematurely and has everything she could ever want: the full power of the Avatar and a hot boyfriend. Yeah, Mako then comes along (despite Tenzin telling him NOT to follow her!) and Korra rushes into his arms, says "I love you too!" and kisses him. Ewww...on Korra's part, this is really disturbing. You rejected his love when you didn't have power, but now that you do, NOW it's okay 'cause your worthy of being loved? And also...are you high? This is the worst boyfriend EVER! He demonstrated that with Asami: he's cheating on her with you, don't you see that? Run away, Korra! Run away! You're not ready for a relationship, and least of all with a shit boyfriend like him! Even you can do much better! That she impulsively does this out of joy and "love" proves that she's not wise and has not grown up at all. The last scene shows Korra's gotten Aang's power to restore bending, which she does for Lin. So yay, Lin Bei Fong's back in action? Even though that pisses on her sacrifice even more than Tenzin's family getting captured already did? The final words from Tenzin: "I am so proud of you, Avatar Korra." ....FOR WHAT? What did she DO? What did she learn? How is she worthy of being "Avatar Korra?" 'Cause I can tell where this is headed, and it's not good! This was a definite Esoteric Happy Ending. Thank God Book Two seems to be proving it as just that by showing how despicable and obsessed with her own power Korra has become now. But man...such a huge disappointment.
- I mentioned Mako already, right? Because yeah, FUCKING MAKO.
Episode rating: "Welcome To Republic City" > "A Voice In The Night" > "A Leaf In The Wind" > "The Revelation" > "When Extremes Meet" > "And The Winner Is.." > "The Aftermath" > "Out Of The Past" > "Skeletons In The Closet"/"End Game" > "Turning The Tides" > "The Spirit Of Competition."
Final Thoughts On Book 1: The initial 12 episodes that make up the book of Air could have been it's own standalone mini-series had more episodes not been ordered. Judging it as that, then I'd say the series was definitely a disastrous failure as both it's own show and a sequel to "Avatar." There is no way this on it's own would have made a satisfying series, especially if it ended like that. In making the mistake of writing an overwrought plot that 12 episodes could not contain, by themselves without any real writers on board to flesh out and properly execute the story ideas and development of the main characters, Bryke doomed the series and wasted it's potential. However, since more episodes have been ordered for three more books and the series has become a full show rather than a short lived miniseries, I'm more lenient on judging the growing pains of Book One. Taken as it is, it has a lot of numerous, very glaring problems. But it also has a lot of strengths while not as high in number are strong enough in quality to either balance out or outweigh the bad stuff. So I give Book One a just barely made passing grade. Now supposedly Book Two will use ideas that Bryke had in mind when creating the initial series but not wanting to overstuff what could have been a miniseries, saved for this book in case of renewal. Well the series has been renewed, Book Two has been produced, and some actual writers have been brought on board. Lets see if those ideas are implemented correctly and the series gets salvaged. It's not too late, and a show improving in it's first season's second half worked wonders for "Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated." So here's hoping for improvement in Korra's future.
Current Thoughts On Book 2: I enjoyed the first episode, didn't much like the second one. And a lot of serious problems still plague the show. But guys, we're just two episodes in! We have 12 episodes left to go! It's not enough to judge the whole thing yet. Remember how blown away everyone was by the first two episodes of Book One only to be let down by what followed? Let's keep this the opposite. Keep the lowest expectations possible and be let down by the premiere without using it to judge the book. If things stay bad, then we're not too disapointed. If things get good, it'll be a welcome surprise.