The Legend of Korra – Book One: Elemental Television

After a short, but action packed twelve episodes the Avatar: The Last Airbender sequel, The Legend of Korra, has now ended it’s first season, or should I say finished book one. Below are my general thoughts on the finale and the season as a whole, along with my hopes for the second season. But before I get nitpicky and specific let me say that despite a few clunks, Korra is more than a worthy sequel to Avatar; it’s some of the best television airing today. With six months still to go, Korra already garnered a high spot in my list of top tier series this year.

Let’s start with my favorite part of not just the finale, but the whole season: Tarrlock and aka Noatak’s tragic demise. I was initially concerned that getting rid of Amon after only one season would be a mistake, but Amon’s death ended up being in my opinion one of, if not the most earned moment of the season. Before the finale I felt the reveal of Tarrlok’s real identity/his motives was a real disappointment, but when they introduced the origin story Tarrlock and Amon became the most developed and realistic characters in the show. Everyone else seems defined mostly by their most basic qualities (Korra is headstrong, Bolin is goofy, Mako is brooding, etc) but Tarrlock and Noatak feel like fully fleshed characters in my mind. Korra’s journey/character growth only resonates if you follow Emily Guendelsberger of the A.V. Club’s interpretation of Korra on cliff (in short: she contemplates jumping off due to feeling lost without her bending, but she decides that life is worth living despite her lack of powers, which allows her to unlock her spiritual side finally). Tarrlock is the only character whose arc feels earned and fully formed. Willingly killing himself and his brother is the only way he can redeem himself and finally put an end his father’s curse. While a late game origin dump (term coined by friend of the blog Noel Kirkpatrick) is usually feels unearned and comes off as a poor storytelling move, I was so engrossed in the tragic tale that I didn’t care. Zuko’s journey and Iroh’s tale may remain the most powerful stories told in this universe, but I feel comfortable placing Tarrlock/Noatak’s tragedy right behind those.

When watching the episode I completely forgot that Book One was written as a miniseries, so it was a bit of a shock initially to see everything wrapped up so neatly. While I think the ending works a lot better if it’s the finale of the series rather than the first season, I’m incredibly happy we get to spend more time in this world and get to know this characters more intimately. While many of the characters were only defined on a basic level, they all have potential to grow and deepen immensely. There’s no real bad character, but rather they all just aren’t defined enough. I’m hoping we get a slower pace in season two. I found myself for the first time in a TV series missing filler episodes. At first I was impressed by the fast pace, but towards the end it became a real detriment to the series. We need time to get to know everyone more if we’re supposed to be invested in their journey. For instance Bolin and Asami felt particularly ill-defined despite being a core part of the core team. Bolin works perfectly in his current role as pure comic relief, but it felt like something was missing. He’s clearly positioned as the Sokka character, but he’s missing that extra layer and nuance Sokka had due to the breakneck pace of the series. Asami started out good, but by the end her personality was simply “my dad is bad/my boyfriend likes another girl”.

While the romance angle wasn’t the show’s best component, it never bothered me like it did some people. I appreciate that they often kept it on the back burner, simmering behind the scenes. I am slightly annoyed that Asami’s anger towards Mako and jealousy of Korra never went anywhere. That became her defining plot throughout several episodes, yet we never her side resolved. Asami has now lost her dad emotionally and her boyfriend physically; I can’t imagine she’ll be too happy next season. And if they’re setting up Asami in place of Mako for her, I can’t exactly imagine that combination. Asami feels better fit for General Iroh. I want an actual Bolin love interest in Book Two. And I’m not talking about those fan girls Mako alluded to in the beginning of the season. “I’m talk’ bout real love Pabu.”

I’m also hoping in Book Two we get out of Republic City for a little bit to explore what’s happened to the rest of the world. Korra was held up in the South Pole only to basically be held up in Republic City. But my biggest wish for Book Two is for General Iroh to be explored more. He was positioned to be something amazing, but his [brilliant] introduction ended up being most fan service. Besides some fantastic fight scenes, he didn’t add much to Team Avatar 2.0 (I assumed he would be thrown into the love triangle) and his personality was more or less limited to “he’s overly formal”. I hope he remains a central character going further.

All in all it was a great season of TV, despite having some flaws in character development and pacing in the second half. The world of Avatar is so wonderfully defined and Korra is a worthy successor in that department. Republic City’s blend of 1920’s New York City and old world Asia is perhaps one of the coolest alternate worlds ever explored. The soundtrack was beautiful and innovative, managing to somehow one up The Track Team’s work on the previous series. I have no doubt in my mind that it’ll remain high in my top five series of the year come December, perhaps ranking only below Mad Men and Breaking Bad. The image of Tarrlock sacrificing himself and his brother for the greater good is one that’ll stick with me for many years to come. Here’s to hoping Korra Book Two makes the same leap into greatness that Avatar did with it’s own Book Two six years ago.

 

Points of Remote Interest

  • At first when Korra’s powers were restored I assumed it meant she can only bend earth, fire, and water when she is in the Avatar state, but the fact that she can give people their bending back seems to indicate that’s not the case. It’s a shame as that would have been a great plot device for Book Two.
  • Great detail in having Yakone become a loving husband/father when he got to the Northern Water Tribe, and that it’s only when he learned his sons were waterbenders he reverted back to his old cruel self. That seemingly small point shows exactly why Noatak blames bending as the root of the world’s problems. He had a perfect life, a happy family, and a caring father until bending came into the picture.
  • Who’d have thought suicide would play such a big role in an animated series that airs on Nickelodeon at 10:00am. Seriously, one character considers it (Korra on the ledge) and another actually commits it (Tarrlock).
  • Adult Aang’s voice never really worked for me. All the other characters’ voices from the previous show transitioned well, but Aang’s seemed so monotoned and plain. Adult Sokka is wonderful by the way. Never change boomerang guy.
  • Bolin is wonderful. Something about his face sticks out to me as noticbly different from almost every other character. For whatever reason in Korra everyone seems to have head shapes with shaper edges, with most chins just being points. Bolin on the other hand has a round, warmer face with larger eyes. Just stuck out as odd to me that he seems to be the only character drawn this way.
  • J.K. Simmons voice acting was phenomenal throughout the series. Tenzin is a tricky character that could have become too much of a boring wet blanket, but Simmons breathed life into the character. When he was first announced to be doing the show I was afraid his voice would be too recognizable and take away from the character, but I was clearly wrong.
  • Daniel Dae Kim’s voice acting on the other-hand was less than stellar. Hiroshi Sato could have had a wonderful arc from loving, sad industrialist to Republic City’s worst father (Yakone withstanding), but he neither gets the time nor or the vocal emotion to show it. Voice was he seemed to have little range. It’s kind of a reverse Tenzin situation.
  • The teens triangle might have been clunky at times, but the adults past love triangle was presented perfectly. Loved it’s subtle undercurrent in episode ten, “Turning The Tides”. Oh and Lin Beifong more than lives up to the awesomeness of her mother Toph.
  • Pabu is the most adorable animal of all time. More Pabu all the time please.
  • The old timey style “Previously On…” segments are a thing of brilliance. But I’ll admit I’m a sucker for those cheesy old time bits.
  • Pro-bending was a great way to introduce us to the gang’s team dynamic. It’s a real shame that fell to wayside by the end with the team splitting up. Asami’s use of her dad’s tech in place of bending was a great addition though.
  • A lot of the great ideas of the anti-bending revolution got lost in the last few episodes and replaced with non-stop action. It’s a shame as the morals discussed were intriguing and complex, but at least the action was amazing.
  • Korra is the most beautifully animated series I’ve seen. The visuals are simply stunning. I remember thinking Avatar was great looking for it’s time, but Korra puts Avatar‘s animation to shame.
  • I’ve been rewatching Avatar: The Last Airbender for the first time since the show ended and I just have to comment on what a masterpiece that series is. It’s really the best animated series I’ve ever seen. It’s pacing is also the best I’ve ever seen for a half hour series. Out of twenty episodes in the second there are only two I would consider filler that don’t deepen the characters or advance the plot. That’s incredible.
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