I’m not ashamed to admit that I can be a rapid fan-girl majority of the time and at any given moment, I can go in a lengthy discussion on whatever my current obsession may be at that time. My fellow blogger Michael Zack can back me up on this one whenever I chose to bring up my eternal love for Doctor Who. So what’s my current fandom obsession for this month?
Nickelodeon’s The Legend of Korra – a sequel to their series Avatar : The Last Airbender.
Before I begin, I want to take a moment if I may to sing the praise of the original Avatar series. Humor me here, if you will. I was a huge fan of the series back when it first aired in 2005. It was perhaps the most original and creative thing I had ever seen at the time, and the story was not only your classic tale of the hero-and-friends-save-the-world, but it was told in such a way that even the harshest of critics had to admit was inventive enough to get every member of your family watching. A very rare thing for an animated series. The greatest appeals of Avatar: The Last Airbender was the steps it took to not just tell a story fit for kids, but also at the same time, introduce a wide variety of various philosophies, religions and beliefs, cultural differences, lessons of tolerance, responsibilities and general life lessons of growing up.
Avatar: The Last Airbender ventured into sometime controversial territory of telling a story that was for kids while not trying to talk down to them at the same time by introducing dark themes that are rarely talked about in an animated series today. Characters died in the show. Horrible events happened to them that would later mold them in something completely different that what they once were. These are things that you would only see in your avenge prime time sitcom or teen drama.
Cartoons are hardly ever considered more than just colorful characters and zany situations that make us laugh like The Looney Tunes Show. At the first of sounding like a know-it-all, cartoons such as this haven’t really evolved all that much than what they were fifty years ago. Thus, the public’s general view of cartoons has stayed the same. What Avatar: The Last Airbender manage to accomplish was expand the horizons on animation and allowed it to be approached with a much more mature outlook. The comedy and zany situations remained of course, but it also refreshing to see that there was still a new level of depth of emotion.
But enough about that!
Back to the review!
The story takes place seventy years after the end of the original series and the passing of the previous Avatar, Aang. The newest avatar to be discovered is tom-boyish teenager from the Southern Water Tribe named Korra who by the time she seventeen has mastered all elements, except for air. To help her through her training, airbender master Tenzin, the previous Avatar’s son, is assigned to act as her teacher as well as her guardian. Although apprehensive at first due to concerns of her safety as well as others, Tenzin agrees to begin her training early. Korra is brought to Republic City, a vibrant metropolis that is, unlike the cities in Aang’s time which closed off from each other, is now home to mixed cultures of various bender. It is here that Korra takes her first steps into becoming the Avatar, her fascination with the sport of pro-bending, while also trying to take on a growing movement of anti-benders called The Equalists. If matters weren’t difficult enough, Korra also has to deal with her apparent block of learning air bending as well as dealing with a complicated love-triangle between her and her fire-bender team mate, Mako.
If you were a fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender, then chances are you are going to find something to like in this newest installment. What made the series great before, the clever writing, the inventive world and relate-able characters are all here. The world of Avatar has evolved greatly from how we last saw it, becoming a blend of industrialized steam-punk and Chicago-style 1910 era while maintaining the feel of old-world China. The music reflects this new world brilliantly. The score is a composed combination of traditional Chinese music and early Dixieland jazz that gives the series a whole new flavor.
The characters are very likeable at first glance. Unlike the first series where the main cast were just tweens, this time around we’re introduced to a cast of teenagers who come equipped with full experience of their bending abilities. But also their own set of problems as any teenager would. For example, majority of the story focus tends to center on the blossoming romance between Korra and Mako that only gets tense over time when the crushes of the beautiful Asami and Mako’s younger brother Bolin are added into the mix.
Because the cast is years older than the previous one, the show feels more as though it was geared towards as older audience. In some ways, it could be argued that The Legend of Korra could be considered more of a teen drama than a cartoon show for kids. Not a very interesting notion for some, but for t his show, it works! Teen dramas, as much as we hate to admit it sometimes, can be interesting to watch. It’s what makes a show all the more involving. and relate able. I mean, who doesn’t happen to remember the nostalgic yet awkward years of their teens while watching an episode of Glee?
The original protagonist, Aang was twelve was the show began and spend the majority of show learning what meant to be the Avatar as well as being in love. The show then was more told through the emotional level of a child, whereas we now have a tough, spit-fire (in the case, quite literally) seven-teen girl who wants nothing more than to figure out her place in the world, try to balance the responsibilities given to her, and maybe even managing to get a boyfriend while she’s at it.
I’ve said before that what made me respect this show so much was it’s willingness to venture into territories rarely touched in other programs and to talk about subjects that aren’t discussed as much. In this series, the subject of prejudice is made apparent through the villainous Amon and his Equalist movement of anti-benders.
In the show, there is great animosity between those who are gifted with the power of bending and those who are not. The topic was only slightly hinted on the first series and this time it is the driving force that leads to an almost civil war among the people. This sociopolitical aspect has been often compared as a social commentary to the Occupy Wall street movement. Show creator Michael Dante-DiMartino has been quoted to say that while the show was written before the Occupy Wall street took place, he agrees that the show depicts:
a large group of people who felt powerless up against a relatively small group of people of power
Whether this was intentional or not, it is certainly admirable to see a show, especially a children’s show, willing to tackle moral issue of inequality in an era I believe is in desperate need of it.
*sigh* This hurts me to say, but as much as I love The Legend of Korra, it’s far from perfect. In fact, I would even go as far as to say that when it came to down to the moment that mattered most, the show pulled one of the greatest sins of lazy writing that I hate most of all.
For all the things it got right, the show failed to tackle its central conflict in a meaning and coherent way parting in due to the show’s rapid pace and short episode list. With only twelve episodes in the first season, three of the show essential story arcs, the movement of anti-benders, Korra’s growth as the Avatar and supportive character development, were shorted and basically squeezed in with very little room to expand. This is unfortunate when considering just how much careful planning and devotion was given to Aang’s story and how rushed Korra’s was in just the first season. Issues that could’ve been spaced out over a period of season or two were sloppily crammed in and then resolved in just one episode.
Sadly, as a viewer, you come away from each episode wondering if you truly did get all the information you need or if it’s even enough to last through the rest of the season. It’s never a good thing for a show to rush through its central plot. Especially one that could’ve easily carried onto the next season. It comes off as through the writer’s had an idea in the beginning, but along the way got bored and decided to end the journey early.
Which brings me to my next complaint.
Raise your hand if you’re familiar with the term deus ex machina.
Let’s see…1, 2. 4, 8..okay good.
Deus ex machina, for those unfamiliar, is a plot device where a seemingly unresolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly fixed with the introduction of an unexpected intervention of an event, character, device or ability. Depending on how it’s used, this is usually used as a way to surprise the audience. However, it’s been my experience that this is just what happens when a writer paints himself into a corner and can’t see any way to move the story forward.
Without given too much away, the first season The Legend of Korra does exactly this when it matters the most and ultimately, cheapens the entire story to the point it comes off as lazy. Granted, events are foreshadowed enough throughout the show that when it happens, it doesn’t come off as too much as an out of nowhere moment. And in some respect, it’s not even that bad. I know when I saw it, it didn’t bother me as much as other times when a deus ex machina was used. In fact, I downright enjoyed it!
But in retrospect, the whole culmination of the show and everything that led up to this one defining moment that ended up being resolved with a magical ‘poof’, your initially reaction may just end up being, “Well, wasn’t that convenient.” As I said, there are ways to deliver a proper deus ex machina that can benefit the story without it coming off as a cheap way of ending it all. Especially when elements could’ve easily been the focus point for the next chapter.
All in all, The Legend of Korra: Book One is fine start to the newest chapter of the Avatar series. Despite its short comings, I tend to give this first season a free pass on its mistakes. Mainly because I enjoy the show immensely for what it got right and for what got me interested, but also because it is new ground for the makers of the show to experiment in. After all, this is just the first season.
As a fan, I can only hope the next season brings something equally new and just as inventive as the first.
Overall Rating: 8/10