Nov 21, 2013

[TV] The Legend of Korra - Book One: Air

I was a big fan of the original Avatar: The Last Airbender. And it's hard not to be - the show remains to be an amazing story filled with compelling characters in a world that is familiar and yet completely different. Like many others, Tobie and I followed the adventures of Avatar Aang and his friends as he learned more about his responsibilities and ultimately faced Fire Lord Ozai.

Aang's story finally resolved itself after three amazing seasons - and the ending was quite the fulfilling one indeed. But it also pretty much closed the book on telling more stories and so we all wondered if they would ever continue telling us the stories of the Avatar.

Enter The Legend of Korra, which is the follow-up to that first story. Aang's time as Avatar is over and we are introduced to the new Avatar, this being the rather free-spirited Korra of the Water Nation. And she's worlds different from Aang in so many ways - and yet they also share some similarities. The show sets up new adventures for us to explore as we find out what has happened to this world since the end of the first show.

Synopsis: The Legend of Korra is a sort of sequel series to the prior cartoon, Avatar: The Last Airbender. Where the first series was divided into a series of books (each is a season) that told one continuous story, it seems that this series involves different stories involving Korra with each season being an independent arc.
We first meet Korra (Janet Varney) is a rather rebellious and impulsive Avatar but has been able to channel that energy into quickly learning earthbending and firebending in addition to the waterbending of her tribe. But the delicate art of airbending has thus far eluded her despite the guidance of Tenzin (J.K. Simmons), the youngest son of Aang. In order to further her training, she is to travel with Tenzin to Republic City, which is the capital of the United Republic of Nations that formed thanks to Aang and Fire Lord Zuko at the end of the Hundred Year War.

The steampunk city is far more advanced than the world we knew from the previous show. But beyond the technology, there's an anti-bending movement known as the Equalists who question the role benders play in society. A series of terrorist acts by the Anti-Bending Revolution seems to perfectly coincide with Korra's arrival in the city. At first she gets drawn into a bending-related sport and thus meets the brothers Mako (David Faustino) and Bolin (P.J. Byrne) who comprise a team known as the Fire Ferrets. But it's not all fun and games as the Equalists efforts step up and they go as far as using chi blocking techniques to take other people's bending away.

Korra is not Aang. It's an obvious statement, but one that I felt really guided the writers' efforts in developing this show. There seemed to be a distinct effort to make her as different from Aang as possible. Beyond her hot-headed nature, her tendency to rebel against authority and and he general brashness. Aang's seemingly impulsive nature was born more from his being such a free spirit. But eventually he came to accept his greater responsibilities as the Avatar.

For Korra, things seemingly came easy to her in terms of how quickly she has picked up the other bending styles. She was born knowing that she was the Avatar and thus her entire life has been about becoming familiar with her abilities - again in contrast with Aang's struggle to learn bending as quickly as possible with time running out. Initially we were speculating that she was actually of the Fire Nation given how she tends to resort to fire as her default element when reacting to surprise attacks and such. It would have been an interesting twist, you have to admit. But I guess it was really more about then wanting to stress her need to find her balance within or something like that.

A lot of the Republic City stories kind of bored me, I have to admit. We all know that she was saddled with the Fire Ferrets for the sole purpose of giving her companions that could bend fire and earth to sort of balance out the team. And of course the government wanted to use her more as a figurehead or a celebrity endorser and that sort of stuff gets old pretty fast.

The best part of the season was definitely Amon (Steve Blum) and his Equalists. The concept of anti-bending backlash was a fascinating one - a story that I wish they had drawn out longer across at least another season or so. But given they had mapped out ending the story within this "book", I feel like we really lost something.

And naturally I'm a major fan of Lin Beifong (Mindy Sterling), the daughter of Toph from the first show. She's quite the hard as nails head of police with her rather wicked metalbending abilities. She's one of the more interesting characters in the show, but also suffers from lack of sufficient character development just like Amon. Instead she's mostly relegated to a caricature - but even then she's still a cool character.

The story of this first book felt rather confused. They had so many plot points that they wanted to develop including the Fire Ferrets, the Equalists and other prominent figures in Republic City. But what suffered overall was trying to flesh out the characters more - something that was really front and center in the first Avatar series.  And while it's still to revisit this same universe, at the same time it just wasn't as fulfilling.

The first season of The Legend of Korra is still a good adventure and maybe better geared towards kids than adults. But saying that almost cheapens the legacy of the first show and it's wide appeal across audiences. Still, the season still gets 3.5 animal moments with Naga the polar bear dog and Pabu the fire ferret out of 5.

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