Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Tragedy Of Korra


A post about Book 3 and all the incredible things it's done for this show will go here once it's finished. But for right now, I have this to say - fuck you, Nickelodeon. First you order only 12 episodes for Book One. Then you greedily order 14 episodes for Book Two while Book One is still in production, contributing equally with Bryke themselves to the clumsy ending for the otherwise decent Book One and all the bumps in the hellish production of the mostly lackluster Book Two. You finally ordered another season with two 13 episode books to finish the show. But because of the disastrous ratings flop that was Book Two, which happened partially because viewers tuned out due to the drop in quality and partially because viewers didn't tune in at all due to the crappy Friday evening time slot you gave it, you withhold on making any announcements or even any plans for the airing of Book Three even when production of the show already wrapped up! You just don't have that much faith in the show, do you? You'd rather focus on similarly problematic but solid shows like "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" or "Kung Fu Panda: Legends Of Awesomeness", or total bile like new "Spongebob" and  "Fairly Odd Parents". Then when four episodes get leaked on one of your Latin sites, what do you do? You FINALLY announce that Book Three will finally be airing, and the announcement comes on the week before you set it to air! That meant little promotion, little hype, little fanfare whatsoever for the show's return. And you again put it on the Friday evening time slot, showing two episodes back-to-back: three in the case of the season premiere night! THREE! Then when it SHOCKINGLY began to bomb in the ratings just like Book Two, what do you do to it? You pull it off the air after just the eighth episode, running more f**king "Spongebob" in place of a second episode, and then hastily announce that the series will now only be seen online and on Digital TV. The show's not cancelled and we'll still get the rest of Book Three and then Book Four, but still, you screwed up. FUCK. YOU.

And while I'm on the subject, fuck you too, Mike and Bryan! (Especially you, Bryan!) You had one job: to make your sequel series into a worthy successor to it's original. And that seemed to be happening in the first four episodes of Book One, but then you kept sidetracking the story with crap in the next four, and then even more in the last four until you completely killed that ending! By the time you got around to ending that story arc, which could have been a full mini-series had Nick not ordered more episodes, you KNEW that you had another story arc green-lit and yet you chose to end this one with a bullshit happy ending that was probably even worse than what you had planned to end it with before the renewal! This led to you and your writer henchmen writing six episodes of Book Two even worse than anything that came before, turning the show into a badly written, badly executed mess so far removed from it's roots. It took a two-part story in the middle to get everything back on course, and even then there was trash left over from the first half that had to get thoroughly cleaned up. So then you finally started freaking listening to complaints and criticisms, and making the rest of the series the best and most brilliantly handled it could possibly be. Too bad it was too little too late, since most once-loyal fans had walked away from the show due to the disasters of Books One and Two that you caused! You two got done in by your own hubris here, and your show payed for it! Shame. on. YOU!

This show promised so much only to flush it down the crapper and then get tossed aside due to all it's failings, ironically once it finally got it's act together. It lost potential, audiences, and it's way.

All that said, I'm still a fan. So now, on to all the good things about Book Three!

- The setup, the plot, and the execution of it all is just PERFECT. Both Books 3 and 4 realize their potential way better than Books 1 and 2 did, but I feel only Book 3 made the absolute most of what it had in the amount of episodes it had. Unlike the 12 episode Book 1, which notoriously did not have it's priorities straightened out in terms of focus, development, and resoultion of plot and character (aside from the bloodbenders' story arc), and the 14 episode Book 2, which spent half of it making a big mess and half of it cleaning up, this 13 episode saga stuck to it's guns, gave all major characters involved time to shine without shafting or derailing any of them, told a well paced story and finished it spectacularly. This is exactly what I was hoping to see from an Avatar sequel series from the start!

- To elaborate on how the story was paced, I'll cover the episodes this way:

BEGGINING:
 "A Breath Of Fresh Air" & "Rebirth" - The crew leaves Republic City to go look for new airbenders, while Zaheer escapes from prison and starts breaking out his old criminal comrades for a mission.
"The Earth Queen" & "In Harm's Way" - The crew has an adventure in Ba Sing Se that gains them more airbenders and pits them against the Earth Queen. Meanwhile, Zaheer's gang is fully reunited.

MIDDLE:
"The Metal Clan" & "Old Wounds" - The crew comes to Zaofu, Lin and her sister Su Yin have an intense reunion, Opal is trained in airbending while also starts dating Bolin, and Zaheer infiltrates the Air Temple Island to swipe Guru Laghima's pendant, after which he and his gang flee Republic City.
" The Original Airbenders" - Tenzin and Bumi train the airbender force in working together as a team, foreshadowing of Jinora's future role is given, and the Earth Queen is confirmed to still be a factor.
"The Terror Within" & "The Stakeout" - Zaheer's gang attack the crew at Zaofu, which leads to Korra learning about the Red Lotus and what they're trying to accomplish, but still not why they need her.

END:
"Long Live The Queen" & "The Ultimatum" - Korra and Asami are captured by the Earth Queen's forces while Mako and Bolin are the Red Lotus' captives. Zaheer kills the Earth Queen and ignites a revolution, then claims he will wipe out the newly formed Air Nation if Korra doesn't surrender herself.
"Enter The Void" & "Venom Of The Red Lotus" - The final battle with Zaheer and the Red Lotus gang occurs, and Korra learns what they have in store for her. The airbenders unite to bring down Zaheer, but though Korra's life is saved, the experience has left her traumatized, paralyzed, and broken.

- Of course what good is a great plot without great characters, and this book ended up getting the entire main cast, even those who were weak links before, to at last grow stronger as characters.

- Korra is totally back to her hotheaded, aggressive, yet well meaning and lovable self from Book 1, but she KEEPS her character development from Book 2 this time! In the series premiere alone we see her acknowledging her failing popularity with the masses of the city but trying to deal with it maturely (only snapping when President Raiko verbally attacks her out of the blue), bonding very closely with Asami and apologizing for past actions towards her, trying to remove intrusive spirit vines and rescuing every civilian from a collapsing building, mediating to find a solution to her current problems even though she hates meditating, talking a nervous man out of suicide on top of a bridge, and immediately accepting her exile from the city, knowing she has a greater responsibility to the world and the Air Nation she needs to fulfill. And she just gets better from there - treating all of her team members equally as friends, standing up for people being imprisoned and suppressed by the Earth Queen, trying to help the broken Beifong family and Opal in particular, actually willing to sit down and talk with Zaheer and hear him out on his ideology and motives for his actions (at one point actually acknowledging his potential and asking him to abandon his evil path and join them!), and being ready to lay down her life for the new Air Nation shows how much more selfless, thoughtful, and compassionate she's become.  She's a great heroine and a worthy Avatar now, which makes the way she ends the story that much more heartbreaking. She did everything right, yet still got screwed.

- One of Book 2's few great parts was the character arc it gave Tenzin, my favorite character, and after that I was almost sure they might have run out of interesting material for him. But no - they give him more interesting things to do and deal with here! We see just how overjoyed he is to see his father's dream of the Air Nation's rebirth finally coming true only to see it contrasted by his confusion and disappointment when most of the new airbenders do NOT want to give up the previous lives just to join a culture that's been extinct for so long. Tenzin, like Korra, comes to accept how change can effects things, for good or bad. Rather than restore the old ways, he adapts to newer ways and alters the ways of airbender life. So it's goodbye temple-dwelling nomad monks, hello worldwide Air Force!

- Remember what I said about Asami in Book 2? "Bryke and the writers still have no clue how to use her 'cause they've yet to give her an effective, satisfying role." And "They still haven't quite cracked the way to write and handle this character, but we're steadily getting there"? Well this Book, they finally did it. Asami was used very effectively as a true member of the team who provides the airship transportation, the technical know-how, and the fighting skills with her zappy glove in all the right situations, and is now Korra's closest companion. Her character is engaging too: highlights being her and Korra's little driving lesson in the opener, her game of Pai Sho with Bolin in the ninth episode in which she continuously "destroys" him through strategic playing, and her entire role in the following episode, in which she helps Korra and an Earth Kingdom crew get out of the desert and escape a ravenous sand shark. And she actually gets some stuff to do in the finale this time! Yay for Asami!

- Here's the biggest shock to me - Bolin and Mako. Yes, BOLIN and MAKO are good characters this time around. Bolin finally FINALLY gets things he was lacking for a long time. Some serious moments like when he talks some sense into his brother when the latter doesn't feel like re-joining the team. A romance with a girl that isn't shafted (like him and Korra), abusive (like him and Eska) or shallow (like him and Ginger) - it's a legit budding romance between two parties that are attracted to each other and want to respect one another. A character arc in which he strives to be tougher and more useful by learning to metalbend, only for his developing skills to lead him to learning and mastering lavabending instead (which, given Bolin's genetics, is a brilliant twist BTW). And, get this, some actually funny jokes! Yeah he still has some groaners, but other times he seems to be taking a page from Sokka's book of humor - my favorites being in the eleventh episode, with his sarcastic line about crossing the desert and the priceless "Some people have no respect for things that aren't their's - now let's STEAL US AN AIRSHIP!" Meanwhile Mako, my most hated main character for two books, actually becomes a likable character again for a number or reasons. One is that Bryke finally got the memo that fans hated seeing him as both a love interest and a Gary Stu, so this time around he has no romances and rather than glorify him, the show constantly shoves the downsides of his character and lifestyle at us, poking fun at his past antics and making him the butt of jokes whenever it can. His dorky side comes back in full force, but it doesn't take away from the moments he IS legitimately badass and competent as both a bender and a cop. His interactions with others are great - we see him remorseful for how he handled things with Korra and Asami throughout the whole thing, only finally getting over the awkwardness and accepting his friend zone status towards the end, he and Bolin play off each other greatly and actually act like freaking brothers again, and he has a neat dynamic with Kai, who's much like himself when he was at that age. And early on, we actually get a serious emotional moment out of him between him and his grandmother, which has his growth as a person and as a character symbolized in giving up his father's cherished scarf. It's just an incredible turnaround for both brothers, especially Mako. They're still the weakest links, but not bad anymore.

- Lin was back in character this time around, and though a touch less likable than she was in Book 1, she gets a lot more interesting when we delve into her past and background that involves her family rather than just her failed romance with Tenzin. She and her half-sister Su Yin were estranged for years before now deciding to bury the hatchet and come to terms with each other again, but even after that it takes a while for them to fully rebond as siblings until the end, where they takes out P'li together and save the lives of people they care about. More Beifong focus is definitely welcome.

- Two of my favorite characters from Book 2, Kaya and Bumi, received a boost in my favor here. We finally got to see Kaya really kick ass with her waterbending skills and motherly ferocity, something her mother Katara is sadly lacking in these days. And we got to see Bumi being a competent militant commander to a group of airbenders rather than be largely comic relief. Such moments were needed.

- All the other notable characters - Pema, Ikki, Meelo, President Raiko, Tonraq, Eska and Desna, Varrick and Zhu Li, and especially Jinora were all in top form as well in their appearances.

- I liked the new characters we met. Kai is divisive - some liked him as a little shit and didn't care for his development out of it, while others felt the opposite. Personally, I liked him just fine the whole way. He was enjoyable as a lying, stealing, scheming little street urchin who still does genuinely want to learn better through airbending and eventually does so, while falling for Jinora too. He got to shine as a hero in the last episodes, but not so much so that he stole the spotlight from the other characters, which makes him nowhere near the complete Wesley Crusher that was Mako in Book 2. Opal Beifong was just as good, being sweet, adorable, thoughtful, positive, and even bold when she had to be with her relationships with Korra, Bolin, and her aunt Lin. Alison Stoner did a really great job with her voice, too. I liked shady Su Yin and her ridiculously large family, I liked the stuffy but secretly sinister Aiwei, I even liked that hook-handed Earth Kingdom captain. And as for the villains:

- The Red Lotus. A secret society designed to be what the White Lotus used to be but standing for opposite goals - they too seek a balanced world, but they believe it must be brought through chaos and anarchy, since disorder is the natural order of the Earth. To do this, they plan on taking out all world leaders, sparking anarchy revolutions all over the world until civilizations crumble, the nations are dissolved, and humans and spirits have perfect freedom to roam the world carving their own paths the way it was in the age before Avatar Wan. This concept was brilliant, and the War of the Roses imagery given off by "Red Lotus" vs "White Lotus" (plus how it makes sense given Raava and Vaatu's colors) makes them extra compelling. Even better is that their goal is not unagreeable and in many ways it's the same as the good guys - they want the world and all life in it to be in perfect balance and harmony again. It's their methods and beliefs that make them differ, and their actions that make them bad guys who need to be stopped. Actions like bringing about the end of the Avatar.

- The four members of the Red Lotus gang are kickass awesome antagonists. Remember how weak, dreadfully dull, and poorly thought out and executed Unalaq was? These guys were the opposite. Zaheer, the new Big Bad, is just epic and can give Amon a run for his money in cool and compelling villainy. All things considered, he's an even better character than Amon and has a better executed villainous role. Not only does he have the great base concept of being an evil airbender, complete with many of the air nomad's beliefs and spirituality, but he's the closest thing in the entire franchise to a flat out Anti Villain - a villain who's not out for himself, does not want power or domination, possesses many noble and moral qualities, acts altruistically towards others, and has well meaning intentions that he sticks true to from start to finish. His character is developed and layered, his interactions with friends and foe alike are intriguing to watch, his voice is wonderfully done by Henry Rollins, and he even has his own romance with P'li, a giantess who manifests firebending as flaming combustion that fire from her mind, out of a tattoo of a third eye. Sound familiar? Actually, what's interesting about these bad guys is that they're all unusual - they're all freaks of nature. Zaheer's a nonbender turned airbender, P'li's a combustion lady, Ming Hua is disabled but uses water for arms, and Ghazan is a lavabender of mixed genes. All have great powers, great designs, great voices, great writing and great handling. Oh, and an awesome theme music that doesn't leave your head.

- The Earth Queen was also an effectively used villain. Partially comedic and partially despicable, she's characterized as a born psychopath who felt her father, the late Earth King Kuei, did a sloppy job of running the monarchy, so she's fallen back on Long Feng's ways of using the Dai Li to carry out corruption and ensuring that Ba Sing Se, unlike the rest of the world, has NOT changed - it's still the worst city ever! In terms of motivation and behavior, she was actually more evil than our primary antagonists in the Red Lotus gang! Though we only see her in person three times, what really sells her is her vocal performance, which is splendidly vile and unsettling, yet also authoritative and funny at just the right points. But the most memorable thing about her, of course, is how she dies. We've seen characters die on-screen before (Yue, Zhao, Jet, Combustion Man, Tarrlok and Noatak, Wan, Raava, and Unavaatu) but this was something else altogether! Zaheer actually uses his airbending to bend the air out of the Queen's lungs and suffocate her to death! GEEZUS, GUY! That was dark!

- Animation, fight scenes, locations, musical score -all that usual stuff is as flawless as it ever was.

- The feel and the quality of this Book - oh thank Raava for this quality! Not only does it feel far more recognizably like "Avatar: The Last Airbender" than anything in this series that came before (except the Avatar Wan two-parter), but there is not a single dud to be found here. Book 1 had about five episodes that were really weak, Book 2 was weak in most of it's episodes, and even Book 4 has two weak ones (the fourth episode and the could've-been-better clip show). This Book is great all around!

- The Book 3 finale, while not as epic and impactful as the Book 2 finale, was still a very great, very intense, and very fulfilling finale (again making the Book 1 finale, which I'll always defend as not being *bad*, stand out all the more as the weakest of finales in all of Avatar). We got Korra and Tonraq fighting Zaheer on the clifftops, Su Yin killing P'li by shoving a metal helm on her face just as she's combustion bending, meaning she blows her freaking face off (offscreen of course, but that split second you see of it starting to happen is more than enough), Zaheer using the pendant and his abandonment of earthly attachments to "enter the void" and learn to fly, the Red Lotus attempting to poison Korra so that her Avatar State could come out and they could kill her then ensuring the Avatar cycle dies for good, the hallucination cameos by Amon, Unalaq, and Vaatu, Bolin learning how to lavabend, Asami rescuing the captive airbenders, Mako and Bolin fighting Ming Hu and Ghazan, which ends in the apparent death of the two Red Lotus members, and Korra VS Zaheer in an epic battle that ends with Jinora leading the airbender team into creating a whirlwind to bring Zaheer down to earth. But the most chilling part in all of it? "You may call me...Kuvira." Why? Just wait 'til Book 4.

- That ending. Oh, that ending. It is literally the EXACT OPPOSITE of the ending to the Book 1 finale. Korra is left in a broken state and has lost something of herself as the aftermath of what her enemy did to her. But this time, there's no past life to come save her since she lost that connection in Book 2. There's no magical spiritual solution to her problem either. There's no reward for her in spite of all her efforts to do good for the world. Korra has been left paralyzed and in a wheelchair, and is sad, mostly unresponsive, and suffering from heavy post-traumatic stress. Asami's there to take care of her, but until she's recovered, the task of keeping balance in the world and stopping the Red Lotus' revolution falls in the hands of the newly anointed Master Jinora and her airbender team. In the moment, there's reason to believe that maybe all the villains have been right this whole time - the world may no longer need an Avatar. The world is changing and evolving past the point of needing an Avatar, and Korra is changing past her need to be the Avatar. The closing shot? Korra's silent tears. Just...damn.

- Nickelodeon refers to Books 1 and 2 as one whole season, and Books 3 and 4 as another season. If this is the case, than this season is byfar superior to the last. Book 1 was constructed and written as it's own mini-series before more episodes were ordered. Since the show was renewed just as the production of Book 1 was finishing, Book 2 was constructed, written, and produced at a different time, a different pace, and under different circumstances than Book 1, explaining why the two Books had little to no connection with each other, and how the story told in one did not flow into the other, and why ideas got discarded rather than built upon, and why Book 2 was such a clusterfuck of a failure overall. 12 episodes that did one thing and 14 episodes that did another just did not mesh well as a narrative. With the second season, however, 26 episodes were ordered at the same time, and the production began by the time Bryke and the writers got reception and feedback on what went right and wrong with this show, so they'd know what to fix. Even better is that this means Books 3 and 4's plots were constructed, planned out, and written at the same time rather than apart, meaning that this was to be a much tighter season with more common recurring themes, stronger continuity, better character development, and an overall narrative that flowed much, much better than before! So far this is indeed looking to be the case, and I'm so glad to see the quality and potential get realized.

- If I were to cite any flaws, it would probably be things involved with Lord Zuko. I mean, it was nice to see him at last and Bruce Davison did a perfect job as his voice, but he didn't really DO much of anything important for the plot. You could probably cut him out and nothing would change. Toph in Book 4 plays a way more important role in that story than Zuko did here, so what's his excuse? Also, bringing back Uncle Iroh in the Spirit World just so Korra could tell Zuko that she met him was tacky.

- I'll close this by saying that aside from everything about the top notch quality in all areas that Book 3 displayed, the reason it's my personal favorite Book in the entire show is what it means to me on a personal level. When it premiered at the end of June and start of July, I was going through some big changes in my life, the main one being coming to terms with the death of my beloved grandfather for 25 years and carrying on without him alive and in the family anymore. During this time, I was in need of something to brighten my spirits and entertain me, but also to help me in dealing with the nature of changes in life and inspire me to move on. Book 3, appropriately titled "Change", did that for me. That's why watching it this Summer was such an engrossing experience for me. It made me happy, sad, excited, afraid, inspired, and alive. By the time I got to it's bittersweet ending, my value of life and acceptance of change was firm. We can all recover from stressful tragedies. And so can Korra.

8 comments:

  1. Someone out there really doesn't like Avatar... between James Cameron and M Night's stuff (as you mentioned before, can't remember where), and now...this, it just hasn't been good for the series.

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    1. The Avatar franchise jumped the shark after the series proper ended. Even "Korra" getting better can't change that. I hope 2015 is it's last year and it dies out after Book 4 and the inevitable graphic novel trilogy that ties up all loose ends on the Gaang's side of things.

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  2. Yeah, I never really understand why network heads don't seem to grasp that Friday nights isn't the best time for a show that at best does well.

    I don't know, are there any known cases of shows that actually excel on Friday evenings?

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    1. Tell me about it.

      On the plus side, Book 3 finished and you can expect this entry to contain a detailed opinion report on it. Short version: it was AWESOME and absolutely everything I wanted from the series since the beginning, and being an almost direct lead in to Book 4 ensures the quality will last for the ongoing story arc of Korra.

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    2. What are your opinions on books 3 and 4, in short? And hwere's those entries/reports you promised us?

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    3. My opinion on Book 3 was already added to this very entry some time ago. In short, I love it and think it was nigh flawless for what it was and it's my favorite Book in "Legend of Korra."

      Book 4 will probably get mentioned in a 2014 lookback entry I'll be making soon, but in short, I also loved that one despite some more noticeable problematic aspects and it's my second favorite after Book 3 So for the series as a whole I think Book 3 > Book 4 > Book 1 > Book 2.

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  3. Thank god I'm not the only one. Finally I find someone besides those people in TVTropes (I found a handful who agree with me) who refuse to believe that there is anything wrong with their precious Korra.

    Yes, and fuck Nickelodeon.

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    1. Don't get me wrong: I really enjoy the show and love it a lot now, but it should not ever be said that it's flawless. The original Avatar show is still better and not even it was flawless. TV Tropes is notorious for the Korra stans there, sort of opposite of Tumblr, that has the opposite extreme of many rabid Korra haters.

      Nickelodeon never deserved the Avatar franchise, TBH.

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