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Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Legend of Korra, Book One: What Worked

**Note: this article assumes that you have either seen or know what happens in Season One of The Legend of Korra.  If you have not seen the show yet and don’t want it spoiled, turn back now.  You have been warned.**

            Finally!  At long last, Nickelodeon has given us a release date for the official start of Book Two of Legend of Korra, their follow-up to the cult hit Avatar: The Last Airbender, which, in the interest of full disclosure, is my favorite television show of all time.  Plus, there is a trailer, and IT LOOKS AMAZING.  As you can imagine, I am about as excited as any kid at Christmas could possibly be without needing to run the laundry.  So, in honor of this occasion, probably the only time this year anything TV-related will excite me, I am going to revisit the first season of Korra (I just finished rewatching every episode) and discuss what, in my opinion, worked and/or did not work and what my hopes for this new season are.

            I will be frank, I harbored a lot of disappointments after I first saw Legend of Korra.  After the first two episodes were released online, I posted a video response on my Youtube account where I expressed how those episodes had me thinking the show would delve into the more social/political aspects of being the Avatar- what is the purpose of the Avatar in a more modern world, and how should Korra balance her duties to the world of bending with her duties to the world of non-benders (a topic that pretty rarely came up in The Last Airbender).  In the actual season, however, it was given the barest of lip-service in a single episode, and was then dropped.  It bothered me then and it bothers me now, but I’ve been able to get over that as a case of the show simply not doing what I personally would have done, and if I’m going to be that petty, I could do that with literally everything ever.  So this time around, I was able to put aside my earlier expectations and enjoy the show for what it was a lot more. 

            That said, there are other problems with the first season that I can’t chalk up to unmet expectations.  Therefore, in this post, I will try to breakdown as best I can what I felt worked and didn’t work about the first season, and about where I hope the show goes from here.  As a certain young airbender once said, “Let us begin.” 

First off, what worked:  

The Animation-

            Boy, does this show look good.  I hesitate to say it’s “better” than The Last Airbender, since all animation styles boil down to personal taste, but it is undoubtedly more detailed in its designs and backgrounds, which, in this world, have never been anything less than fascinating.  The detailed and dark animation matches the tone the first season tries to set- that of a once-great city starting to decay from the inside out.  And, judging by the trailer, the next season is going to be even more beautiful. 

The Music-

            There are no words that can do justice to how brilliant the music of both Korra and The Last Airbender is.  Korra jumps back and forth between Last Airbender-esque strings and more 20th-century jazz tunes.  It’s the sort of dichotomy most people wouldn’t think of, but here, it just….works.  And the music used in the new trailer?  I still can’t get it out of my head.    

The Story/Plot/Pacing-

            My personal issues with it aside (and a few we’ll get to in a bit), this is a great plot, and although I felt it was a bit rushed at times, the show paces itself very well.  Each major twist or reveal builds the stakes and raises the bar higher and higher.  The last few episodes are especially potent, creating the kind of rush that only truly great action stories like The Dark Knight and The Avengers are able to bring to the table. 

The Villian-

            Amon was a great, great villain, although I still harbor doubts as to how feasible his plan to literally eliminate ALL bending in the entire world really was.  Nonetheless, for an immediate threat to not only Korra’s friends, but to Korra herself as well, he works just fine.  Good design, great voice acting (as always), and the twists concerning both his powers and his true identity made for solid dramatic tension.  It’ll be interesting to see who (or what?  The trailer gives no real indication) the primary threat/danger in this next season is. 

Asami (and Bolin/Tenzin)-

            Honestly, nearly all of the characters in the show are great (I like Korra plenty- she’s not yet as great a main as Aang was, but that could change).  The standout for me, though, is this trio.  Asami is hands-down my favorite character in the entire show.  She has to put up with so much crap, and so much heartbreak, and in lesser hands, that would have been cause for her to whine, and mope, and do nothing, or worse, betray her friends to Amon.  But no- she acknowledges her pain, but she ALSO has the maturity and wisdom to know that there are bigger things going on.  She accepts her pain and deals with it.  And that makes her more mature, more adult, and more interesting than, well, ANY of the other adults in the show.  If she gets stiffed in Book Two, I will be one pissed off man-child. 

            Bolin and Tenzin round out my trio of favorite characters in the show.  Bolin, at first, irked me, because he initially came across as a cheap Sokka-knockoff, the goofball who just makes silly jokes.  After watching him a second time, however, I realized that my first impression was wrong.  He IS like Sokka insofar that he’s the primary comic relief guy, but he’s comic relief in his own unique ways.  Also, seeing his heart get broken nearly had me crying, and I NEVER cry watching a television show.  In fact, you know what?  I’m calling it now- I want Asami and Bolin to get together.  They’re sweet, they’re awesome, and they’re great characters that deserve better than Korra and Mako. 

            There’s not much I can say about Tenzin that others haven’t.  I like him partially out of the fascination of watching offspring of Aang and Katara, but I also identify with his self-serious (and sometimes too self-serious) attitude, and how they it's both a strength and a weakness.  He and Korra have a great dynamic, he's quick to acknowledge when he makes mistakes, and he even gets some of the show's funnier lines ("Lin and I had started to grow apart, and.....and WHY I am I telling you any of this???").  Plus, Airbending is just plain awesome.    

The Ending (most of it)-

            We’ll get to the “actual” ending presently.  For now, something happy.  The finale of Book One, titled “Endgame,” is, on the whole, one of my favorite finales for a TV show (although it can never touch “Crossroads of Destiny”).  Great buildup, genuine threats, fantastic action scenes and animation, I could go on.  The fate of Tarrlok and Amon?  Genius.  Korra losing all her other bending but unlocking air?  Great.  Her despair and pain causing her to contact Aang?  Awesome.  If only they’d stopped there….if only Nickelodeon knew what they had….

            But I shall leave it at that for now, and save my disappointments for my next post, where I look at what didn't work as well in Book One.  Until then!  

-Noah Franc 

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