My Summer in TV Part 4: The Legend of Korra

The summer is nearly over and the last couple of big name movies are rolling out. Over this summer I actually spent quite a bit of my free time watching various TV shows. In this little mini-series of posts I will be talking about the shows I spent the most time watching this summer. This will be 4-5 posts long and each post will cover a specific TV show.

Warning: There will be mild spoilers involved in each post. If you wish to remain clueless as to what the show is about then do not read.

“When we hit our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change.”

-Avatar Aang

Avatar The Last Airbender is an incredibly well done cartoon that may just be one of the greats in the history of television. Before you write me off as some crazy childish fanboy; let me say that I did not pick up Avatar The Last Airbender until my sophomore year of college and I had already seen some really great television like Breaking Bad, Lost, and Fringe. It is an incredibly creative cartoon that aired from 2005-2008 that is set in a very fantastical world where people can bend the elements of air,water, earth, or fire. The show had a surprisingly deep(as far as animated shows go) mythology and some truly interesting and lovable characters. It may not have been perfect, but it was a cartoon that did some things that most animated shows can’t even hope to aspire to. Avatar The Last Airbender wrapped up with an incredibly moving finale in 2008 that wrapped up the story it set out to tell. In April the sequel to The Last Airbender was released titled Avatar: The Legend of Korra with the story following the next Avatar in the cycle. Does Korra live up to the legend of its predecessor?

The Legend of Korra is set around 75 years after the events of The Last Airbender and Avatar Aang has passed away and the next Avatar has been born. Korra(Janet Varney) is found by the white lotus clan at a very young age and she is a natural at bending with her mastery over her own element coming very easily. The show jumps forward several years to her teenage years by which point she has mastered water, earth, and fire and is aiming to learn air. Aang’s son Tenzin(J.K. Simmons) is the only master airbender left, but unfortunately by the time Korra is ready to learn airbending, Tenzin is bogged down in the politics of Republic City and is unable to spend time with Korra in the lotus temple. Korra eventually finds a way to Republic City which has evolved into a steam punk style city that is on the brink of an industrial age.  The biggest part of the show focuses on the conflict between the benders and the anti-bending revolution led by a mysterious masked man known as Amon(the fantastic Steve Blum). Korra spends most of the season trying to learn airbending while also attempting to keep the peace in Republic City while learning to be friends with other people like her pro-bender friends Mako(David Faustino) and Bolin(P.J. Byrne) as well as her non-bending friend Asami(Seychelle Gabriel).

As a really big fan of the original show I was ecstatic to hear that there was a sequel series was coming out. I woke up every Saturday morning to watch the latest episode(yes, I did indeed feel like a 10 year old again), and every week I was treated to some outstanding animation, solid writing, and great characters. Like its predecessor, Korra manages to find a very good balance between comedy and drama. The show can be hilarious, but it also never fails to deliver dramatic punches with characters that are generally likable and relatable.  Each character is very distinct and plays into the narrative rather well. While I do not think that the characters in this show match what we saw in The Last Airbender(at least not yet), I do think that Korra has taken many steps in the right direction by establishing each of these unique characters by giving each of them very distinct personalities and roles.  The show tackles many of the same themes as something like X-men with certain groups having powers and others that do not. There is certainly themes of civil rights and prejudice that run through the heart of the show. Korra manages to tell a mature storyline that is far deeper than other cartoons currently on the air, and it does so without alienating either adults or kids.

The Legend of Korra may not have reached the heights of its predecessor, but it was recently signed on for up to four seasons so the show has plenty of time to grow. Korra did have issues that weren’t as evident in The Last Airbender. While The Last Airbender may have started off fairly slow, Korra hits the ground running. While I would say this is a good thing, the problem Korra runs into is pacing issues. The show was limited to 12 episodes which is significantly shorter than Airbender’s 20 episode seasons which leads to too many subplots being thrown into the shorter season. Korra has romance, adventure, character driven stories, and epic battles, but unfortunately there is a little too much for just 12 episodes. This show was originally supposed to be one season long tale that was changed midway through production when Nickelodeon ordered more episodes so it is possible that creators/writers Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko aren’t completely to blame for the condensed storytelling. Many of the characters aren’t entirely fleshed out either with two of the main characters Mako and Bolin receiving minimal development which leads to each of them making some decisions that don’t feel entirely realistic. Korra does manage to deliver a truly memorable villain with Amon eventually developing multiple dimensions to his character before there is an interesting reveal about him at the end of the season.The season play up the fact that Amon wears a mask with his identity being a mystery all the way to the end.

In the end The Legend of Korra still delivers some really exceptional television, especially in the realm of animation. Not only does the show deliver on character and storytelling, but it also manages to to deliver some sublime animation that looks as if it belongs in the movie theater. The animation is absolutely gorgeous which means that this show looks absolutely pristine in high definition. Everything from the setting to the character animation is flawlessly animated which does give the show a certain immersion factor that is rare these days, especially on television. The show delivers some excellent hand to hand fight scenes as well as an all out war by the end of the season. Even if you don’t agree with me on the ground of Korra’s storytelling, it is impossible to deny that this show is pushing the limits of what is possible with 2D animation on TV.

Korra is a show that I would certainly recommend to fans of the original show as it contains a great deal of what made the original work. Despite its similarities it is telling a very different story by setting the show in Republic City as opposed to having the characters travel the globe. I would also recommend Korra to fans of anime or serialized cartoons as this show is telling a very big and serialized story. I would also ask that older viewers who aren’t generally into this genre of TV give this a shot as it does do some very cool and creative things that are worth checking out. This would be a fantastic show for parents to watch with their kids as this show manages to appeal to a very wide audience in a variety of ways which should keep most parties happy. Avatar: The Legend of Korra is available on Nickelodeon’s website and will return with new episodes sometime in 2013.

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