The Hooting (I’m so Sorry) Good Time of Owl House Season One

Despite being someone who watches far more varied types of media I have fallen out of the know when it comes to moder cable animated series. I have cursory knowledge about things like Steven Universe and the like but haven’t taken the time to really watch them. As I have said and must continue to say: there is just so much new television that it’s impossible to keep up. But, in the haze of being vaguely aware of shows one caught my eye. A new Disney show focused on magic: The Owl House!

Following Luz, a quirky nerd (who is not all that nerdy when you know anything about teenagers but that’s not here or there), as she is accidentally whisked away to magical world of the Boiling Isles. Once there she befriends the cernudgeonly witch Eda, her pet The King of Demons, and her talking house hooty. After saving Eda and a group of misfits from jail Luz decides to stay on the Boiling Isles, make friend and learn magic. Of course ailing yourself with the outcasts means she will have to work harder than ever.

The series has major Gravity Falls vibes in kind of the best way. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the creator of Gravity Falls is the voice of one of the characters and that the creator of the series worked on that show. But they have so much in common. A fantasy world that focuses just enough on the gross and strange to feel unique but not off putting. A braggadocious trickster as a main mentor, a desire to twist well worn tropes in a way that feels like they’re telling a story and not just trying to be clever, and finally a deceptively deep art style.

The art and animation in this season is actually far better than in Gravity Falls. Which, for all its greatness, does show its age in places (just like Avatar. I mean that two-part opener is rough to go back to). Owl House goes harder on big set pieces that all look great and move super fluidly. They’re a treat.

But that action is a treat in the actual meaning of the word. The season is not one giant epic. It’s not a Shonen battle series in disguise or even a more serialized mystery like Gravity Falls. Instead, The Owl Houses focuses on self contained episodes and stories that work to build the characters. These episodes don’t come from nowhere. Sometimes a villain will reappear but the story is often focused on a character centered stories. Luz trying to learn magic or her friends healing past pains.

They’re not flashy stories, usually. But, when it times to get epic the team does it right by keeping Luz in perspective. She is never the strongest in the room so when she gets to do something epic it feel momentous. Similarly, the strongest in the room get to show off their great power without it looking like they’re over powered.

With the episodes being more character focused it is kind of a shame that the wider cast doesn’t feel as fleshed out. Luz, Eda, and King are well explored and textured characters. But Luz’s friends Willow (sick Buffy reference), Gus, and Amity all feel a little shallow. Not to say that they don’t get their moments. Gus being hyper-confident is great. Amity being stoic just long enough for Luz to show up and become a bumbling wreck, and Willow being nice but having a backbone (I guess) also works. But that is the most I can really pull. They don’t feel totally distinct or as memorable as they could be.

As neat as this all is the series has become notable for its LGBTQ representation. A push for less-gendered pronouns in romantic quips. Characters dressing outside of what they’re usually coded. Luz literally wearing a gay pride outfit as her school uniform. A gay dance sequence where they tango and beat monster (obviously my favorite moment. I mean it’s not like I put a first dance between two love interest framed as a fight or anything… please read Dieous, it’s good), and some gay relationships in the background. Like Willow having two dads. It is all a net positive to be sure, but I’m also dubious of some it.

None of it is bad to be clear, but when you put characters in “wacky” outfits or push for a message of friendship while also having a romantic relationship not being developed and played for laughs it’s strange. I can only think of the reverse. An example is Eda dressing up in a tuxedo. Is a good image. But then I imagine someone like Spongebob wearing a dress in a similar context and it being framed as a joke. It still pushes the idea of dressing for what you feel fits you, but also playing it as a possible joke feels off. It would be like saying just two guys kissing is funny. Even if you’re supporting the position it is still framing the act as a joke.

The series is primarily a comedy despite me not mentioning much of the jokes. They are funny. Very quip heavy like Gravity Falls. Some surrealist jokes, and general gags. But one punching bag it makes fun of is Harry Potter. It saying how sorting hats make no sense or that Quidditch is a dumb sport for the Golden Sntich. This is all funny, and now in context of JK Rowling totally losing her status to people with any social taste, feels like a call out. The series is saying that you can be different while still being good. You don’t need some white kid with glasses to beat a dark lord, it can be a nerdy Latino girl (or is it Latina? You get my point) with a her diverse friend group, no prophecy, and no conformity. It’s a season that says being who you are and working hard is good enough. Standing up for those society doesn’t like good enough. You don’t have to win that fight, but not standing down is a good start.

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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Evil Season One: Every Vision is Lemons (a Review)

There is so much television. Outside the big steaming services and premium channels we still have classic networks pumping out shows for your parents or grandparents depending on how old you are. One that’s gotten a lot of attention comes from the NCIS dispensary CBS… Evil staring Mike Colter of Luke Cage fame. And since it is spooky season finally might as well look at what mainstream TV is up to.

Evil doesn’t follow Mike Colter’s character directly but instead Kristen Bouchard, played by Kathy Herbes, a criminal psychologist who comes head to head with Mike Colter’s David Acosta, an assessor for the Catholic Church, when a criminal defendant is said to be possessed. David and Kristen then must team up with their resident skeptic and handyman Ben to find out if the monsters and miracles of the world are the work of everyday life or preternatural. Their work often puts them at odds with Michael Emerson’s Dr. Townsend, a rival psychologist looking to push his hateful agenda on the world, but might also have some supernatural connections of his own.

It’s odd watching a series that feels made to be watched weekly try and be Netflix-lite. A comparison to the Netflix Defenders series is apt since they look so similar. Being they are both set primarily in New York during late fall into early spring (so Mike Colter can wear jackets just small enough to show how jacked he is), with lots of heavy atmosphere.

The season also uses a lot of great physical looking props and effects. It would be so easy to lean on digital and computer work to make some of the monsters seen in the series, but instead they go for real effects and they work. Seeing people in these amazing suits is impressive and surprising.

What sets the series apart, however, is how interesting the premise. A supernatural horror series where the reveal doesn’t always have to be a demonic presence or is more complicated than first appears is really interesting. It allows for so many didfeeent kinds of episodes and storylines to appear. They are able to do pastiches of different horror and supernatural stories all while trying to find real world psychological reasons they might be happening. They run the gamut of effectiveness. Some, like being trapped in the basement by a killer works in its subdued nature and easy to grasp emotions. Others, like the effectiveness of exorcisms on people who need psychological help… that’s a little more complicated and feels easy.

It feels easy in the moment at least. The show has a really interesting approach to pacing. Every episode has both a standalone story they have to solve along with a collection of usually two or three events. A personal drama or unrelated horror story taking place in the background. Usually all three reach some kind of endpoint by the credits. Some are left suitably vague or uneasy on purpose while others come back. The season has a sense of continuity that’s surprises me. The status quo doesn’t reset every case. It keeps some events and builds on them or goes back to old cases and forces the characters to face the mistakes or errors in their decision. It happens once early on when someone sues for the harshness of their exorcism, but when the first case of the series comes back as a side plot in an episode I was shocked and impressed. This goes for reincorporating past cases in new ways that don’t feel forced. Vague symbols, leitmotifs, and ideas coming back around. It’s honestly surprising how climactic the series is despite how stop and start the overall pacing feels.

The strong characters help. Kristen is more than a Scully-type. She isn’t close minded and is there just to be negative, but instead seeks to find truth. David is clearly tortured but means well and has a strong conviction. Ben, the best character, plays great as a skeptic and audience standin moreso than Kristen when it comes to the religious issues. Finally, Michael Emerson’s Leland is wonderful. Suitably punchable, while being intimidating in his own right. A great representative of what a internet troll would be like in real life. That makes his goal of radicalizing others into being incels all the more fascinating. He works as a great villain.

I make a lot about this series running on CBS. I mean NCIS lives there and that is as safe as you can get. Most CBS programming seems that way (as someone who doesn’t watch cable I can only go off the times I visit family and am forced to watched TV commercials). So it continues to shock just how progressive the series is most of the time. Focus on social issues, morally questionable endings, and a minority cast. Ben is Muslim, David black, Kristen a functionally single mom who is religiously lapsed, is refreshing. It doesn’t even criticize the use of drugs recreationally and supports no traditional marriages. Unfortunately not all is great. This is technically a religious series so even as it does poke jabs at religion and the Catholic Church it still has them be overall good-if questionable-people. But where it really gets problematic is making a women’s clinic the villains.

This will get into spoilers and talk of the story, but it’s revealed that the evil being down is to corrupt fetuses while getting in vitro fertilization. The reveal works great in practice and also thematically, but can be read as women’s clinics literally being run by the Devil. That is one of those impossible (for me) debates. I understand the artist merit in the show, but it is not without context in the wider world. I drive by a Planned Parenthood regularly and always see people protesting outside. People believe it is already evil (yes I know fertility clinics are not the same, but I can see people reading it that way. I also assume there are dozens of videos about how planned parenthood was started by satanists or something), so a show supporting that can be problematic. Also it takes about the Rwandan genocide which I know nothing about.

Outside of that one reveal and some support of a very corrupt religious body it is a good show. The setup and scares are unique. Has great cinematography and production values, strong characters, but some weak plotting in places. It’s a good horror watch. I mean they have an episode about a haunted Christmas song that gets stuck in your head. That’s so cool.

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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The Strange (de)Evolution of Halloweentown

Halloweentown is a very unique series with such a simple and genius premise. What if Nightmare before Christmas was also Sabrina the Teenage Witch. A kid friendly take on all the monsters that go bump in the night along with a celebration of the spoopiest time of the year. It was also one of the few Disney Channel Original Movies to get continuous airplay on their channel around this time of year. It has engrained itself nicely into millennial public consciousness, but seems oddly under discussed. The sequels even less so, maybe it’s time to change that.

The first film, Halloweentown, is kind of perfect for what it wants to be. 13 year old Marnie Piper loves Halloween but cannot participate in it because of her mom. When Marnie’s grandmother, Aggie, turns up she ends up hearing about how she’s a witch and that there is a threat to Halloweentown. Marnie, with the help of her younger brother and sister, stow away with Aggie on her bus ride home only to find out themselves in the mystical of Halloweentown. Goblins, skeletons, and ghouls galore follow.

As an individual film it succeeds really well. Marnie working to learn her magic and uncovering this whole other world is great. She has a strong dynamic with Ethan, her brainy and skeptical younger brother, that is funny without going on too long. The acting from everyone is strong. Debbie Reynolds of well this series fame in Aggie, and being the mom to Carrie Fisher, stands out as the best grandmother ever. A Mary Poppins type that is clearly wise and deadly, but is so effervescent and charming.

The production values, though clearly dated, still give a sense of life to the town. It’s small Main Street America dipped in a fall fair aesthetic is strong. The costumes, though hit or miss, do help sell the town as real. It’s not deep. The politics of how the city works doesn’t matter, but all the diverse costumes and playing the only monstrous on the outside shtick gives it a Gravity Falls vibe.

The biggest weakness the film has is its pacing and plot. Though it gets through a lot quickly, not enough of the stakes are setup. Halloweentown is changing and there is a mastermind with a goal that’s never made tangible. It also ends a little too easily.

What really, I think, helped it standout aside from the aesthetic is the theme of not sepersting sides of the family and personhood. Not having to hide what makes you special because it could also be weird. It’s very whimsical about that, but the struggle to be human and be more than human is real. The cutaways to the mom watching informercials that’s their products is magic and her simply scoffing at that is proof enough.

Halloweentown was a success which meant there were sequels to come. The issue is that Halloweentown is such a simple movie that trying to expand the series is not as easy as expected and they each go in a different direction.

Halloweentown 2: Kalabar’s Revenge, is a very classic sequel idea. On Halloween someone tries to sabotage Halloweentown and make mischief in the mortal world, so Marnie and the Piper family must stop it. This time the machinations are being done by the son of the villain in the first film.

The film is more ambitious but less impressive. This is because it focuses on a couple different ideas that are good but also don’t totally work. One is that Halloweentown is being turned into a generic “Human World.” The whole Main Street and people are grayed out in an amazing practical effect. This is fun in concept, but the whole point of the series is to see this fun magical world. Now you get less of it. Marnie and Aggie have to save it, but that also means being stuck with comically dower characters.

The second focus is on the magic. The film goes into a lot more detail about how magic works. Spells are no longer just wishes but have meanings to be solved. It fun to make Marnie have to solve a puzzle to save the day instead of just wishing, but that is what ends up happening anyway so all that work is pointless.

The film is more ambitious with its effects and stunt work. The whole grayed out city looks amazing considering its all practical. Along with that, the new sets and costumes when they finally appear are defiantly impressive. It’s unfortunate that it feels like it is just all waiting makes the film more dull than intended.

Halloweentown High, the threequel, dives more into the Sabrina the Teenage Witch aspect to the series. It’s closer to a teen drama with supernatural elements than a Halloween movie. It also makes the title a let down.

Set a couple years after the previous film it finds Marnie taking on a group of exchange students from Halloweentown and letting them spend time in the human world at the cost of her family’s magic. Unfortunately a group called the Knights try to stop the progression of magic in the human world.

The idea of the monsters from Halloweentown coming to our world feels uninteresting. Again, the whole point of the series is to see that world and the costumes. The costumes that we see are great. A pink troll, cat girl, werewolf, and giant, are way more expressive and tangible than the past films, but you don’t see a lot of them. Instead they are stuck in human suits in order to push a pretty forward thinking message about tolerance for different people and to not give in to stereotypeing others.

The other big issue with the film is just how much it goes into the Sabrina the Teenage Witch feel. That show was incredibly punny, cheesy, and mushy. Those aren’t bad qualities. That was a great show, but that wasn’t what Halloweentown was about. It takes the fantastical and processes it down for us and then wants to say we need to treat others as people. We already did in the first two films and did that on their terf. It isn’t made better by doing it the other way around. This is also the one I saw the most and have the most nostalgia for. So even though I am harsh on it I think it’s still a fun watch. Just not the direction I would have gone. Also the mid 2000s look is strong with this one.

The final film, Return to Halloweentown, also feels like a misnomer. Not because the title is a lie. It’s true, Marnie and brother Dylan do go back to Halloweentown as college students while their mom is an empty nester and tries to do hijinx to sell a house. The misnomer comes from how this is much more of a classic portal fantasy like Harry Potter (even comes with a prophecy that makes the Cromwell line Marnie comes from ex-royalty and keeper of magical power and Magical Mean Girls). It’s less fall festival and more Ren Fair.

With that said the film is still incredibly charming even with the change from Kimberly J Brown to Sara Paxton. The dialogue feels sharper for one. The expanded costume for background characters is great, and expanding the ideas from the previous film, saying that getting to know others as people is important, but having powers that make you different doesn’t make you better is an important lesson. It’s just unfortunate that it ends with such a flop. The film seeming to want to set up another sequel or mini series to explore and never getting the chance to do so.

The fourth film has a negative reputation and has even less of that Halloween feeling, but taken as a whole series that was on the decline. Just so odd that as the series got better at writing characters and having better budgets they lost more and more focus on what made the first film so good and what they failed to carry over. They are still great watches for younger ones and I think that’s all that really matters

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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The Idhun Chronicles: The Most Anime of Anime that Ever Animed (a Review)

Netflix has had an incredibly diverse track record when it comes to the anime they either distributed and/or produced. They have really ranged the gamut. From incredible shows like Beastars and Devilman Cry Baby to the uneven B the Beginning, to the congealed mess of traits that made up the energetic Cannonbuster and parody Neo Yokio. However, none seem to compare to the barest or bare bones, the recently released Idhun Chronicles.

The series, a Spanish production based on a trilogy of Spanish novels called The Idhún’s Memories, follows Jack. When he comes home one night to find his parents dead and himself about to be killed by the intruders he’s saved by a seperate factions of magic users and taken to a space between worlds. There, Jack finds out about a world of magic called Idhun, and a group of assassins sent from that world to earth in order to kill all magical refugees. Jack takes up arms to protect himself and avenge his parents.

The series is rough, clearly done on a tight budget, and poorly written. If I was someone who cared more about concise speaking than anything I could end it there. No additional words could describe the mind numbing process of watching the poorly animated and stiff looking production. The art direction and characters design for the whole series is barebones at best, and inconsistent at worst. For example, when one shot will have a piece of jewelry in one location but cut and it’ll be in a different location on the person and it does that constantly, that’s a minor problem when compared to what the show does.

All storytelling regardless of story, medium, and theme is all about a give and take. Anime, and anime inspired series like this one, are a prime example. They leverage consistent art and often limited animation for bigger payoffs in more key scenes. This series seems to have all the limitations with none of the payoffs or rewards. The animation and art doesn’t suck in some scenes but get good during fights. It is just always of low quality. Same with the dreary and lifeless voice casting.

I always watch in English if I have the option. Similar to the animation trade offs, in aware that I am getting the convenience of understanding at the cost of the translation not being accurate and the acting being lesser from time to time. However, based on posts by the author of the original book series and one of the head writers, the voice acting was a problem in the original cast as well. The only good proof is that the series has Johnny Young Bosch and Erika Halacher in key roles and they both are muted, boring, and stiff. Which seems impossible when they, JYB specifically, have more expressive lines and deliveries with less dialogue in Persona 5 than this series. It’s almost impressive they could tune them down to nothing.

It should be impressive, but they also don’t have anything to work with in terms of characters. Jack is the only character with a personality. Saying that being impulsive is a personality is woefully overstating him as a character. He wants revenge and to generically help, but that is it. Everyone is more flat than that 2D world they live in. This goes for the villains as well. The team might think that they are just posturing and menacing. Villains of few words and mostly actions. Instead they have no personality. They just appear, kill whoever and then disappear with I’ll defined magic.

Shocking, I know, the magic system and mythical world is at once over explained and needlessly complicated while also not being explained well enough, coming off as vague instead of anything concrete. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the incredibly fairy tale world the characters come from, but other than a bad case of the Dark Lords and magical oppression there isn’t anything unique. Something, after doing base reading on Wikipedia shows it’s an adaptational issue over a source material one. The world of Idhun seems kind of neat and has interesting lore that is dropped on us instead of being the story we are watching (a problem lots of fantasy stories have).

This is to say nothing of the story we are watching. It is bargain basement portal fantasy. That’s not bad alone, but it’s executed with all the skills of person finding out about portal fantasy for the first time. Every episode is a slog. The show has no energy, and the dialogue boarders on being a parody. Two characters jump from a high wall and one says that it felt like they are flying… I mean, have they never been on a trampoline before? So awkward, and not even purposefully so. Completely by accident. That makes it almost endearing if that wasn’t the high point of that episode. Because, overall, it’s a lifeless story.

To give one positive, I enjoy that this ostensible kids show does have a lot of blood and death used incredibly casually. Cuts and stabs produce blood and that was surprisingly mature.

This is a series who I don’t know the audience for it that couldn’t watch a better version of this story on the same platform. Its not told well enough to be a good starting point, not creative enough to be for veterans, not epic enough for those wanting a big fantasy story, and not well drawn and animated well enough for starving anime fan in need of new content. It’s cheap, not well told, and dull. All the worst things a show can be.

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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It’s Official: The Good Place is One of my Favorite Shows Ever

Since season one I saw the Good Place as something special. A series with an almost perfect concept to let wacky hijinx, fun characters, heartfelt scenes, and strong thought provoking ideas come up and play out naturally. All of this taken to the next logical extreme with the now famous season one twist. A twist so obvious but well constructed that it changes the game in a fresh way. However it also caused the very first feeling of FOGO (see that post for more details). Every season and season finale kept pushing that feeling of FOGO.

In retrospect, season one feels too safe. In other words it keeps up the facade of the bad things happening in paradise for too long to be effective. Playing off the audience’s knowledge of sitcom formula and structure to hide it is genius, even using Friends as the example to build off of is strong association, but considering how the other seasons go it lasts too long.

Season two is broken into really three sections… actually I’ll say every season after the first is. The first section (or last in season four’s case) is setting up the new status quo. Michael constantly failing and joining the Cockroaches starts season two and Michael making sure the gang gets back together in the real world in season three set up what happens later. Following that, each season has its own focus but has a similar end goal. They try to find the truth and become better only to realize they must travel somewhere else and outsmart the Bad Place in order to do it. Season two takes them to The Judge and Season three takes them to accounting. In both they find out the problem they’re seeking to solve is beyond the problem in front of them, but is instead, systemic.

Season four is different. Season four has the same three sections but broken up so that the ending is more of an epilogue and final statement about people instead of setting up a new status quo. This ends up being a double edged sword. On one hand it makes for a really strong ending. On the other is makes the first half of the season kind of uneven. To be fair they set up a hard scenario. It’s like season seven Buffy. The experiment must take place to see if people can get better, but we also can’t cut away from our original group and their growth as people either. In the end I think they pick the better option of focusing on Eleanor and the Soul Squad, but it does lead me to having questions of how much better did the four participants get in the experiment. For even as it is a weaker season overall it is still good because the show is more than its plot.

A show is made up of characters and there have been few so well drawn, written, and realized as Elanor Shellstrop, Chidi Anagonye, Michael, Janet, Jason Mendoza, and Tahani Al-Jamil. These six characters are easily some of the best TV has to offer. Part of it comes from how most sitcom characters have to be well defined in order for the comedy to happen. The comedic duo or trio is an archetype for a reason. This show goes beyond that, though, by having to constantly restart the characters, right them from different perspectives in their own lives and growths and still make them sound like them. Having to balance writing a character who learns about the afterlife, grows, goes back to the land of the living, must grow again, get her memories from past lives she forgot back, and then still keep working to be fully enlightened is no easy task for any writer. Yet, this show has to do it for a minimum of six people. Add onto that how everyone around them reacts to the changes and keep those consistent to the characters while being funny. It’s masterful work all by itself.

It goes further than good character writing. The team knows those characters so well that even in death they still find really honest ways for them to grow and change. By the end the team knows what each one of them wants to get out of life and when they’re satisfied. It just feels like the team really studied and thought about what those six would want while being honest with who they were.

Being honest about who the characters are is great, but the fact it is always so funny makes it better. A show like this could be, and is, very thoughtful about the concepts of being a good person, but it’s also a very good comedy. The use of the afterlife is a perfect setting for letting every kind of joke run wild. Subtle banter paired with sights gags, more developed skits, and absurdism allows for any number of jokes. All of which they succeed at hitting. The show’s setting is on a cosmic scale and they do everything they can with that. Of course with such a broad swathe of comedy not every joke lands. The Judge and Derek specifically feel like good ideas that don’t fully work. They still follow those characters wants and needs to comedic effect, but the performances never help fully sell them. But every show has weaknesses, comedy most of all.

The show also does way more than their budget seems to allow. I more respect the attempt than anything else, but the use of CGI in places does look really tacky when compared to the amazing sets they do build. The sets and how, even with the spotty CG, the show constantly looks amazing astounds me. The subtle muting and contract of the afterlife with the real world always works. Even the changes that come when the real world is changed by the new afterlife it all works and is well thought out.

But, aside from the comedy, great acting and characters, and great sets and presentation the reason I love the show is because it’s honest about what it wants and goes to the best, most logical places in that search. The show is about the quest to be a good person. It says that a journey like that is incredibly hard, but not impossible. It says that flawed systems that used to work need to be updated and changed to reflect the new world and needs we have. The show says that the world is hard and complicated. We face impossible solutions we can never hope to fully grasp. We are not all given a fair hand in life but that doesn’t mean we don’t have the possibility to grow. We do. Other might just need more time and practice.

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

If you enjoyed this: like, comment, and follow us here, and on Facebook & Twitter at Tower City Media! Subscribe to our YouTube Channel, Tower City Media and Submit to the suggestion box:!

Ratchet is a Horny Show (a Review)

Ryan Murphy is one of those creators that everyone seems to know, and is hyper-successful despite his mostly hit and miss nature. I assume all this based on reputation, looking over everything he has done I haven’t actually seen any of his series (I saw Nip/Tuck when I was too young, and I can’t say much more without utterly embracing myself and giving far too much TMI). He seems to be incredibly versatile which allows him to tackle multiple genres. Makes it surprising Netflix hasn’t gone to him early for a series (he also did that Hollywood show that came out this year). Odder still that they give him is a “slow-burn” prequel series about one character in a well known movie/book from decades ago.

Following the titular Nurse Mildred Ratchet, the story finds her years before whatever she’s doing in One Flew Over the Cucuoos Nest, inserting herself into a progressive mental health facility when she finds her brother sentenced their for evaluation after having killed four priests. Once inside she seeks to manipulate, undermine, and play everyone in order to save her brother, Edmund Tolleson, from the electric chair. All the while politicians, rich debutants, and private eyes all seek their own goals from within and outside the facility.

We will get to the title of this post later. For, even as that isn’t an obvious description of the show, it is obvious the amount of production and style the series has. It oozes that 1940s aesthetic its living in. It also goes further than just set design, but to have scenes and shots reminiscent of the crime stories that it’s pulling from for inspiration. This gives it a unique and incredibly colorful style that does often stumble accidentally into either absolute cartoonishness or flat melodrama.

The stumble into melodrama and cartoonish logic pervades every other aspect of that series in ways that are impossible to tell if they were done purposefully or not. A great example is the acting. Most of the acting is solid enough. Heck it is even moving from time to time. Other moments, even whole scenes, feel to be from a totally different show. Even some characters, like a drunken motel owner, the revenge filled countess with a limbless son, said limbless son, or Vincent D’Onofrio as the mayor of California don’t seem to line up with what so much of the show is trying to do. They feel far too exaggerated for the often grounded feel the show is going for. It is totally uneven.

That uneven feel goes into the story and pacing. On one hand the closer to episodic story that drives a large narrative feels refreshing. Every episode is able to feel both distinct while telling a story. It’s the execution that’s lacking. That lacking coming from an abrupt change in story halfway through that shakes up the planned status quo, but the writers then seem to be unsure of where to go. Ratchet’s plan goes out the window (or front door), but then seems to change in a way that I am not sure the season realizes. This goes for many characters. The head doctor at the hospital, head nurse, aid to the governor, and more all seem to change motivation and ideas without that being conveyed well. It leads to arguments where I am unsure whose side I’m supposed to be on or what the point is. This also leads to characters writing off others intentions with ease for no real well described reason. This works better for some than other. The dutchess and son, work for create comedic comeuppance, but for the head doctor… it’s complicated.

Most of the series takes place and centers around a cutting edge psychiatric facility. This gives the writers time to show how old times cures were obviously ineffective. Like boiling lesbians (I’m sure there is a joke in there), or ice-pick lobotomies. It seems to be setting up that the doctor is incompetent and a blatant fraud, and to an extent the show is kind of right. The issue is how they also paint him as an altruistic, but flawed figure. On one hand noble, but other is greatly, greatly misinformed. An apt comparison to the handling of mental illness. I am not a mental health expert or played one on TV but even I can see the harm this show does. Though not all or even most patients are shown to be monsters, the two main antagonists end up being psychiatric people who need help. The series plays into that idea of damaged people being crazy and violent. It makes the end of the season really off putting.

That isn’t the only thing that makes it off putting. I am not familiar with the story this is a prequel to, I would even say most people watching this won’t be, that makes the seasons ending all the stranger. It ends with Mildred Ratchet on a mission. Maybe that mission is the One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest. I don’t know, but the way the show ends it doesn’t feel like it. Instead it makes her a vigilante going after a criminal hunting her. A move to clearly get more seasons than tell a story.

That story… Yeah, we’re finally circling back to that title. I am a sex positive person (my autocorrect completed that to police person which is weird and I hope doesn’t say anything about me). Sex is a good thing to explore and not keep in the bedroom (just be mindful of others). This is why I love Sex Education as a show so much. But when I say this show is horny… it’s horny. So much of the plotting would work if the world was populated by 20 somethings playing teenagers because they all seem to focus around sex. Who is having it, who isn’t, and who is having it with who are all the driving factors for the first half or more of the season. It is honestly shocking just how sexual it is. That might be why the show is so lopsided, all the story blood is rushing to the wrong muscles. I almost respect it for this if it wasn’t also trying to have a commentary on how psychiatric patients and criminal justice system is treated.

Much of this shows debate is on if it is good or not. I am not one to get into said debate because I honestly don’t care. I think it is too cartoonishly weird to be called simply bad. That might not be what someone wants in a show that’s marketed as a deep psychological thriller, and I don’t want that either to be clear; but for the one half noir story, one half heightened cartoonish drug trip, and (looking up average penis length) sized high school sex story it is kind of everything someone could want. Maybe. Possibly. It’s just so weird.

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Yeah, but is The Legend of Korra good, Though?

I just finished my season-by-seaon look at The Legend of Korra, and overall I find it a facinating series (6,000 words of fascination later).

The most fascinating, and my favorite thing about this series is the complicated and diverse discourse the show has. This might be because I relish argument as pure sport (read my piece on Smash Bros for further understanding— it’s good). You might believe what you say, but it’s just a debate. It doesn’t matter (can you tell I spend no time on message boards— Discord Servers, God I’m old). That makes how this show can have articles and videos decrying it as a failure while other praise it as sophisticated story telling. It’s why, as much as I hated early DCEU (and really all dc movies after Dark Knight), I find the debate around them to be so interesting because it’s the same kind of thing. To that end I watched so many analysis and editorials on Korra, as well as read articles to really gauge all the talking points people have, and to help measure where I fall.

One phrase I kept coming back to in my head was, “I hate to criticize this show because I love looking at it,” and that sentiment holds true no matter how many editorials or video essays I watched. I think it stands as one of the best looking animated series even after the animation slump between season one and two when the switches from Studio Mir to Pierrot and then in season four. This does sound back handed, but it goes deeper. The visuals are only a part of it. I think the character designs are striking. Each one oozes with personality some of the people embodying them don’t have. Korra in particular is one of my favorite characters for the look alone. Some of the complaints that her design is busy feels mixed. I like her season four outfit a lot, but it also feels like an evolution of the brash nature she once had (also I’m shocked she’s not more of a female icon. Not because she is swoll as Hell but because she gets away with wearing sweats for the whole show, and of the little I know about women, comfort is key).

But even designs as simple as Kuvira and Zaheer all give them some concrete personality. There is also no accounting for how much I care for the world of Avatar that just spending more time in it feels good, and giving it a full HD upgrade helps it come live. Though I also love the tone and atmosphere of the series. It balances the line of being mature and goofy better than Avatar did even as the writing is lesser. This made the multiple times I watched through footage during the video essays that much more enjoyable.

Even as a shallow compliment, me liking visuals, that should tell you enough of my opinion, but I have more thoughts. Some of them are not so subtle responses and expansions of points I heard and read during my deep dive. All of them center around the changes, not necessarily evolutions but some times evolutions, made from one series to another.

Not all changes are bad, and neither are all differences. Two objects are able to exist as opposites without one being better (why do you think Mean Girls is my favorite movie while Avengers Age of Ultron is my favorite superhero film). I might like one more than another but I wouldn’t quantify them the same. Many elements between Avatar and Korra are felt in that way. The biggest being a comparison between Appa and Naga.

Appa was an essential part of Avatar. Not just because he was Team Avatar’s transportation, but because he was one of the last remnants of the Air Nomand civilization, and crucial comic relief and empathy. There is a reason it is a big deal he is stolen and forced to flee his numerou captures all to get kidnapped by the Di Lei and eventually freed. It made us care for this big loveable creature. He clearly had emotions and obviously meant a lot to Aang and the rest of the team. Naga, Korra’s spiritual animal, less so. Naga plays a role only in season one as Korra’s city transport before they get a satomobile. After that she is abandoned to being background dressing and occasional cute animal comic relief with Pabu. That means Naga holds far less emotional weight to the series. If she got kidnapped I would fear the situation but would not be nearly as affected. This might sound like a negative, but it’s just a difference.

Naga and animal side kicks are not as important to Korra the series, and the characters that have them are used to show they are immature in some way (similar to say Kristoff and Sven in Frozen). Heck, they are used as a parody of animal side kicks in the movers Bolin films in season two with Verick. Basically, there is a reason Bolin becomes more himself in season four when he reunites with Pabu after fleeing Kuvira’s army.

The other example of problems that aren’t problems are harder to quantify because though they are not problems conceptually, they are never handled great in the series to hold them up. The first of these is Korra being so sheltered growing up and training. As pointed out in Avatar, the reason an Avatar must go on a journey is to learn the world and find masters who will help them understand themselves and the world they must protect. Korra, for plot reasons, did not have this. In universe that makes sense. By the time Korra is born the Avatar is a key positon right for exploitation like kidnapping. Of course this lack of seeing the world has unforseen consequences on Korra. Without having seen the world her brash attitude causes her to make situations worse. A key character flaw like that is perfect for great writing, unfortunately it seems like the team doesn’t realize that’s a problem, or figured it out too late and tried to adjust course by humbling her. They just never stuck to it.

I hate to rewrite stories. It’s my least favorite form of critique (also why I dispise theory talk or speculationcasts. Wait for the thing to come out and then discuss what it does. Don’t try to predict and get your hopes up when it doesn’t reach that goal). But the team had many good points in the story to do this and never did. When Korra loses her bending against Amon they could have done a season on her regaining them. When Korra loses Raava they could have done something with her gaining that back, and when she is crippled by Zaheer they do something with her then, but by then it’s the end of the series and feels like they’re finally getting around to telling the story they were trying to tell. Unfortunately by that time the series is over and any future is only possible in comics, not in the animated series proper.

Another one that isn’t bad is one the show deals with quickly but feels ever present even as the team moves past it. That being the stationary nature of the series. Instead of a world spanning trip across mystical lands, constantly searching and being hunted like in Avatar, Korra seeks for a more stationary cast and setting. This is most true in season one as New Team Avatar tries to deal with the unrest in Republic City, but even afterwards, in the later seasons, the locations they go to are all reused and feel more like limited TV sets than a full on world.

Now saying you should discount a show because it reuses sets would seek to discount most all television, good and bad. Instead I mean that Korra seeks to be more focused on having a consistent setting. This works for the most part. Despite decrying the Americanization (which I would push back against some as, seeing pictures of streets in Hong Kong and Beijing they look similar to that as well) and steam punkery of Republic City, it is a place brimming with life. Same with the Southern Water Tribe, Zaofou, and the Spirit World, they are all places interesting enough in design, tone, or culture to make spending time there enjoyable. It also gives more time to get to know the groups and people living there. In theory at least, it doesn’t always execute on that.

A great example is Zaofou. We spend a good chunk of season three and four in the city, but it feels unclear how it operates, how it was founded, and its function in the larger society. Instead time is focused just on Su and Lin. This is good in theory, but when we have to care about it later it’s hard because we know so little about it or what it stands for. This also means sometimes time is spent too long in one location to be enjoyable and feels like a slog. Hence the lack of energy in places like the Bending Arena, police stations, air temples, and Kuvira’s camps. It might also be why the final fight feels so lackluster. Though it is in Republic City, the city is never displayed or conveyed well, making the fight seem smaller and less substantial than it should.

One issue this focus on staying in the same places leads to a lack of world building outside the set locations. Normally this wouldn’t bug me except for one little nibble… we don’t know what’s going on with the Fire Nation.

This seems like a strange oversight borne from a good place. The last series spent a lot of time with the Fire Nation, so gooing back to it would be odd and might feel like a rehash of what’s come before. Unfortunately not touching it at all leads to questions I have about it (in the same way I question what the rest of the world is like in stories like The Hunger Games or Divergent). The most we are given is that Zuko was leader until his daughter took over. They are also in some way connected to the World Army that General Iroh is connected to, but other than that it’s a giant mystery, and it shouldn’t be. The Fire Nation should be a hotbed (no pun intended) of possible stories. It’s now a nation having to recover its image after going full totalitarian. It must be ripe with debate, intrigue, and drama over how to recover their tarnished image. Instead we get a couple scenes with Zuko and one scene with his daughter and after that it is abandoned.

Yet, that might not be as true as I once thought (to bury the lead a little, it is true what I said before, I’m just focusing on something else). An idea that is often overlooked in the first half of the show but made a strong focus in the latter seasons is Republic City as a part of the Earth Kingdom. Land stolen by Avatar Aang, Zuko, and the Earth King. Some call this colonization and feel like the show doesn’t address that enough or paints it as a good thing that the Earth Kingdom was taken over by an invading or previously invaded power. That is a compelling thought. There is some logic in it, but feels like an argument the show would make about a political ideology. It wants to be an allusion or allegory for a real life problem but has too many in-universe issues getting in the way.

Just like how Amon says that non-benders are oppressed but chooses to use only a sport to illustrate that, Republic City was not something taken by Fire Lord Zuko and Avatar Aang. Granted we don’t see how it transpired, just given an explanation, but the explanation seems to be one of unity and experience. To create a place not tied to any of the nations. It also doesn’t seem to have been taken by force, but instead compromise. Whether that’s true or not is hard to say, but the fact both the Earth Queen and Kuvira want to take it back by force are ways to illustrate that they’re villainous in some way. They want to take a place of independence and force it back under the rule of one nation. That doesn’t mean there is no discussion to be had. The decision of the Earth King from 60 years ago shouldn’t take precedent over future goals, but there is no discussion had in the show or reasons to think its meant to be villainous in their own right other than what they represent.

The final change between the shows is its use of multiple villains on the same level instead of a consistent overarching antagonist with minor minions as the day-to-day foes.

This change is nothing new for semi-serialized and fully serialized TV shows. Clearly an influence on the team was Buffy, which did that consistently (kind of) for seven seasons, along with most superhero and crime shows. They give fresh threats for the characters to face instead of just one insurmountable threat they’re training for. It’s a tried and true method that flexes writing and planning skills, especially when you try to make them more relatable and sympathetic.

In my 5 Things I Would Change with Avatar (It’s good, you should read it), one of them was to give Lord Ozai more refined goals and motivation. Not necessarily make him sympathetic, but at least have definition other than being a crazy fire monster voiced by Mark Hamill. Korra attempts to do that for multiple villains to mixed results. Both Amon and Unalaq were the roughest of them and share the most in common. Both are villains that are supposed to be foils for Korra, a person who has mastered a skill she has not and thinks that they are the better for it. Of course where they break down is in their motivations. They are both far more self serving than once thought, and devolve into villains as cliché as Ozai, but with rhetoric to make them sound smart.

Zaheer and Kuvira fare far better then Amon and Unalaq, but suffer from different problems. Zaheer’s ultimate freedom, anarchy-chaos as natural order shtick works better than I think people give it credit for. The idea air bending is total freedom and he gets that through a major change as if I’m he was chosen to enact that freedom onto the world would be great if it was explored more. Yet. much is put on him for being idiotic, unthoughtful, and more selfish than he thinks. Criticism of him killing the Earth Queen and hoping for the Earth Kingdom to sort itself out only to lead Kuvira into power is seen as a negative trait, but could also have been done on purpose. That’s one of this outcomes where it’s hard to tell if it’s a happy accident or planned. Either way, the fact he is a villain should automatically rule out anything he says… except for the fact the team tried and failed to make their past villains have a point and support that with how society changed to better address their grievances. Meaning it’s hard to tell if Zaheer’s ideals are supposed to be taken seriously or just his actions.

Kuvira on the other hand is supposed to be taken utterly seriously. She left to mend the broken Earth Kingdom and instead instituted a fascist government. The problem with her is that so little is really shown of a normal life under her. I’m not sure what she’s really protecting them against. There are bandits and raiders shown in the first episode, but they seem more displaced and turning to crime by her intervention than helped. Interestingly though, being she is the closest one to Ozai’s ideals, she’s given some backstory. Unfortunately that doesn’t make everything she do make sense. Most of it feels constructed to make her Nazi-lite (all the totalitarianism, none of the death camps), and also want to her to be sympathetic but not go into detail why she makes some of the choices. One of the biggest examples is throwing other element benders into prison camps. In fact, much of what Kuvira does feels like all posturing and threats (which she’s good at. Now I know what Baatar was into cause I’d want her to step on me too), but doesn’t go far enough. Even if they wanted her sympathetic they could make it feel more out of anger than an actual, honest threat. I think she needs just one line about not wanting to lose power to someone who could replace her, or threaten the other nations if they interfere with her land reclamation. But even as I want her to be more in-depth she serves her narrative purpose well enough.

Even as the villains make no political sense, as much as they want them to, that’s not their main role. With each villain they were foes to help Korra grow, but also to learn from. Now despite the fact Toph just explains what the viewers and Korra were supposed to take from the past villains, Korra does learn. The believablity, understanding, and “too easiness,” aside, of course, she grows even if she doesn’t realize it. Amon, by taking her bending, forced her to believe in the forces inside her, thus helping her throw her first air-punch. Though Amon lied about his origins he still taught Korra the importance of belief even if that wasn’t his goal. Unalaq built on that further by forcing her to come face-to-face with the spirit world and how the Avatar neglected them. Zaheer forced Korra to her lowest point in order to help her build up, and Kuvira is the culmination of everything she learned rolled into one final conversation at the end of the series. It’s far more reminiscent of classic TV writing. She needed one lesson to deal with the other. Execution of these ideas might be wanting but they drove their point home.

Every change above is a lateral move. In concept none are better or worse, just different. Of course, not all differences are positive. Some of the changes in course were not for the worse. Most talked about and agreed upon is the change in bending.

Bending was both a martial art and an artform. There is not end to the amount of times I watched the behind the scenes on Avatsr just to see where they got the inspiration for each style of bending, and what that bending said about the person using it. That last point was so crucial there was a whole episode with Zuko trying to get his bending back. All to say that style was important. Korra the Series change to make it all generic MMA combat (granted I’ve watched enough Joe “Welcome to the Show… Friend of the Show… Hey good buddy… probably true” Rogan to know MMA isn’t generic). Even if it isn’t, they have simplified it all down to a base set of moves and styles every character used.

There are a number of reasons this happened or could have happened even if they didn’t mean for it to. Some of it comes from an honest and impossible place to advance the world. The most obvious examples being electricity and metal bending. Those two styles and moves of bending were big hits and important parts of the worldbuilding. If they didn’t advance those styles of bending people would have called foul on more people not learning, but since they did advance it the world feels less deep. People have to work at metal bending, and some can’t do it at all, but they make electric bending just a normal skill fire benders can do (though to compare it back to the lack of exploration with the Fire Nation, maybe they do have to learn but it isn’t explained at all). The second, less obvious, is how benders are no longer suppressed like they were under the Fire Nation, meaning more benders are around. This would logically mean not all of them would be properly trained to bend elements, hence getting the street fighting/boxing styles of combat most benders use. That makes sense why the Equalists could take them. They actually had to train to fight them on an equal level.

Of course that isn’t the whole change because the biggest culprit/chicken and the egg scenario is pro bending. Pro bending did not have to exist. That was one element of the show no one wanted or clamored for. However, once you hear those words in your head it does get possible ideas spinning. The direction, a three v three boxing-alike, makes sense if you think of it as a 20s era sport. Boxing is huge and very American, which this series is pushing. That decision is also where the change in bending is shown. All bending can no longer be this whole art form because now it needs to be quick, high impact moves. Basic jabs, kicks, etc. what makes it kind of worse is how there is seemingly no strategy to the sport. Just hit hard and fast. The only time it feels classic or like it’s a new spin is when Korra uses that to figure out air bending stuff with the dodging, and the one on one fights. That brings me to the discussion of why it had to be that way in the first place. There are plenty of other sports to copy. An automatically better and more interesting idea is a ball control game where you scores points by throwing a ball into a goal with only bending. Have two field players and a goalie. That would expand bending by seeing how each element uses its power in new ways, and get Korra on a team so she has instant access to bending friends. And if it has to be fighting, make it a team of one on one fights and add other game elements to it. This too would expand bending by maybe having a water bender who can cut rocks, or a fire bender who is good at fighting water. Just so many options, none of which would have caused the portrayal of bending in the series to change.

None of this is to say that pro bending on its face is bad, just could be better. The show kind of agrees with me and realized it was a good world building idea at best by sidelining it in season two, and then having Su’s sons in Zhaoufu make a way better bending sport with a metal disk that can bounce around. Basically, pro bending isn’t the problem, it’s the symptom.

The most aggravating thing about the series can be seen in microcosm with bending. Bending changes and there is some talk about it, but other than that it is left as it is with no sense of how others really feel about it. Something like that should play as a big question to the audience who came in right after the past series, but it’s not. It would be like if they changed The Force in Star Wars (people argue the sequels did). But not just giving everyone the ability to force push or force kick or whatever, but said you could fly and throw rocks like an earth bender. Stuff people would question why it changed and if it’s supposed to mean something. But, it is only slightly addressed, maybe up to be a problem that isn’t. Problem, then forgotten about in the way lots of things are where I don’t know if they forgot about it or I was just supposed to stop caring, or if they wanted to go in another direction and didn’t mind just dropping it.

Of course this is compounded by how pretty the show is and how fluid the fights are. I just love watching them so much that it almost gets me and makes me not care so much… until I see some of the most basic Aang/Zuko fights of season one and see far more strategy and care going into every movement. Zuko and Aang trying to strike each other, or avoid hitting, on top of the well in front of the scent shop has far more going on than just cool punches and kicks.

Though what makes many of those even smaller, less important, fights work is all of strong ground work laid by the story in Avatar. No matter how seemingly pointless an episode is, or divergent from the path, they do work in one way. They fill in the space between big moments. They might not progress larger narrative, but they move the story forward. Something Korra the Series, doesn’t have or get.

Filler gets a less than stellar rep in story telling. Horrid memories of Naruto and DBZ stories that just seem to waste the viewers time are all associated with that word. Some of that is valid. More of it is not. The defining difference is how that time and those episodes are used. An example outside of this franchise would be Gravity Falls. Gravity Falls is a great series that has a first season which consists of mostly stand alone stories and a second season with a mix of stand alone and plot-building. However, instead of relegating the stand alone episodes to a seperate world that doesn’t affect anything, they are used to setup the characters and build on them while also being reincorporated back into the main plot. Turns out none of that was filler, it was doing work the whole time.

Avatar had this similar structure. Each episode, whether big or small, helped build on some aspect of the world, characters, or story. Every episode, even in book one, is meaningful. The one exception is The Great Divide (even the show makes a joke of it), but that makes up for it by being the most intellectually interesting episode of the whole show (I have a whole other editorial on that, but don’t want to bog people down in constant Avatar content). Though, the fact The Great Divide was reused in some way proves it wasn’t filler. It still added something to the series. Korra the show, contrastly, doesn’t seem to see its story in that way.

Some of the problems with the show is production kerfuffles we’ll get into later, but the show misinterprets filler and is the worse for it. Every episode, aside from the clip show (which was budgetary) has to contribute directly to the main story and progress the plot in a single direction. They find ways for some b-plot digressions, but that single drive and limited episode count per season leaves little room of characters to just hang out. Sure, that happens in the show, but instead of talking about character stuff it is instead just about the plot. Any time New Team Avatar is together it has to connect back in someway to the villain plot (or love triangle). There is no space for an Ember Island— Breakfast Club style hangout movie or a revenge story, or just a goofy episode where Aang can’t sleep and the gang has to help him find some peace while also highlighting the seriousnesss of the possible encounters ahead.

Korra the Series, does give some of these introspective moments to its characters. The episode of Tenzin learning to train the air benders, Korra Alone, or Korra dealing that trauma of Amon, and the digression with Tenzin and company in Civil War two-parter. But it’s never spread evenly. It’s lathered to only a couple character. Hence why a solid B-Rank side-character like Kya is granted more depth… heck, even Meelo gets more character than essential New Team Avatar members like Asami and Mako. When they’re together they can only talk about the plot or their generic romance banter, not anything about who they are beyond their character bio (woman in STEM and angsty Batman-alike).

Laid out like that, it feels like everything that characterizes The Legend of Korra is the drive not to be Avatar the Last Airbender. That, again, is a tough spot to be in. It makes a sort of sense to try and go in a totally different direction with the same franchise. Try to break any possible comparisons you can. Unfortunately, kind of like the series, they don’t go far enough one way or the other leaving them in this strange middle ground. It tries to take the series in many different directions but doesn’t or can’t commit to most of them. It tries to be more serious but has characters who use the exact same comedic sense as the past series. That similar sense of humor paints them as lite versions of past characters, and someone to write off. The villains want to have more depth and interest in ideals but aren’t given the time and space to flesh those ideas out, or just lie about the ideals making them no better than the main antagonist of the first series. The action is changed, but isn’t substantial different enough. It’s the same as before but watered down.

It is a noble thing to try and go in a new direction. Just look at how Himoru Arakawa went from the neigh-perfect epic of FMA to the slice of life drama, Silver Spoon. Not saying the team should have done a completely different kind of story and genre all together, but structural shifts and looking at this world in new ways makes sense (though maybe a totally different show all together would be better liked, ultimately, no one will know until if/when that happens). It is, in fact,the only solution the team really had, they just are also following up a classic series, beloved by millions, and iconic to boot. It’s an unenviable position that is made worse by the tumultuous production.

When looking into the show for any amount of time though, it’s clear the path the series took to being completed was less straightforward than its predecessor. From near the very beginning the show was myriad in production woes and would be for the rest of the series run. Starting with Nickelodeon’s trepidation at having a female lead in a show aimed at an older demographic, to constant changes in how many seasons they go, budgetary changes, and an unstable release location and schedule. It must not have been an easy show. The fact the team was working on, at one point, 30 episodes at once; with each being in a different stage of development. Post-production on one, production on a second, and pre-production on a third set of episodes. It’s no wonder so much of the show feels off, there seemed to be no time to collect your thoughts and plan. It had to be a full steam ahead type of adventure. With that being so common knowledge, it feels almost impossible to try and review the series without stating how much of their vision was compromised not by studio meddling, but by time constraints. There is no way this series was this team’s full vision when pressed like that. All questions of if the team thought through this story or plot point goes right out the window when you realize they were put into such an unsure place that it would be impossible to know what to plan out fully and what just need to be worked out in the edit.

That is not to say the series is blameless. This is the story Michael DiMartino and Brian Konietzko along with the rest of the team made. All productions have their issues. This one may have had far more or not, but in the end this is the story they chose to tell and how they chose to tell it. It is not fair to the act of criticism to just write all art off as not being given enough time. Time doesn’t fix a story that is misguided or mishandled in the first place.

This part is something I wasn’t able to put anywhere is just how good the casting is. I said in the very beginning how the cast isn’t as great as Avatar. While some of the actors in Avatar are transcended and star making, they are using two different styles of acting. Avatar, to be more on brand as a cartoon, kept more cartoonish voice acting. They used that to subvert expectations in places for serious moments, but on the whole was exaggerated. Korra the Series, is far more understated when it comes to voice acting. That sounds like this should go up with the lateral changes, but the difference is in the quality of the actors they got.

Neither of these show strike me as having a star studded cast, but when you look over the cast list, it is clearly star studded. Steve Blum as Amon isn’t star studded other than he’s a popular actor, but getting Lance Henriksen as his partner with the goggles is baffling. Adding to that is season two’s additions. I already mentioned Aubrey Plaza, but you get James Remar (last seen as Dexter’s dad Harry) as Unalaq in a completely inspired performance. Knowing who that is now makes me like him a whole lot more. But you also get Cutty from House as Kya. But it keeps coming, Bruce Davidson is the voice of Zuko and was Senator Kelly in the X-Men movies. Grey DeLisle returns as one of the members of the Red Lotus. People who know who Henry Rollins is, does Zaheer, and finally you get Zelda Williams – daughter of Robin Williams- is Kuvira. It’s almost no wonder why every character is given both so much and so little with a cast that strong. Everyone has to have lines to say and stuff to do because you have some major people in the booth. It’s another one of those impossible situations the team was placed in.

Yeah, all of this is interesting, but it doesn’t lay out if the show is good or not. The answer is that it’s not that simple. People come to different shows for different reasons. Whether they care about story, animation, meme moments, to cringe, or genuine enjoyment, it’s all valid reasons to watch something. In my research of the discourse I have found people who love the show but see it’s flaws, think it’s a flawed show with good qualities, those that think it’s a problematic show that can help other grow from its mistakes, and those who find it utterly insufferable, irritating, and just straight garbage. I fall in a strange place on that list.

A part of my enjoyment of things I like are also the things that make me hate it. I love shows and movies that are terrible or have bad things in them because they are just so bad. Nothing comes to mind immediately, but often when people say something about a show or movie I like is bad I will agree and say it’s great. I think maybe Rise of Skywalker is the best, most well known, current example. That’s an insane movie that makes no sense and totally contradicts or changes stuff in the previous movies and I love every second of the ride. Korra is like that for me. I would say it’s, on balance, better than Rise of Skywalker, but has those same kind a of moments. The whole (rightfully molined) kaiju battle between Ultra-Korra (who could also step on me) and Unavaatu is utterly dumb and only makes sense as a move for spectacle, but is also so enjoyable to watch. Same with most of the pointless pro bending matches, whatever nonsense Bolin is up to, and the times characters actually take any of the villains politics seriously (yes take the man who forces bending away seriously in any government). It makes minimal sense but has such an energy that I can’t stop watching.

It almost doesn’t matter if the series is good or not. The mere fact there is this much to say about just one TV show is admirable in its own right. It may not live on in my brain as a series that made storytelling feel effortless like it’s predecessor, but it’s many manhandled political ideas, characters, stories, and themes will live on forever in this virtual space and in my brain as something I couldn’t stop thinking about… and that is good.

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That Moment When you Wait for Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan to Show Up (a Review of Cobra Kai Season 1&2)

Karate Kid is one of those nearly perfect 80s movies. A movie so precise in its focus and execution that the fact it didn’t always exist seems odd. Even after follow two more movies of varying quality and a host of spin-offs and reboots the original persistent as a classic. Cobra Kai, originally a YouTube Original (cause that’s the best way to get a TV show out there) seeks to ask the question of what would those characters be like as grown up adults now that they moved past the pressures forced upon them.

One of the jokes and ideas from How I Met Your Mother that will always stay with me is how Billy Zabka was always the original Karate Kid and this show seeks to answer what would a series be like if that were true. Not to make him a literal Karate Kid, but to make him the secondary protagonist he always could have been.

That’s not to say there isn’t a new Karate Kid. In fact there are pointedly two who would be two more protagonists to round out the ensemble. These two newbies are Miguel, a new teneant who moves into the same apartment as Johnny Lawrence and gets him to train him and restart the dojo. On the other side is Robby, Johnny’s son he’s never spent time with. When John is forced back into his life or tries to renter it, Robby decides to work for Daniel at his fancy auto shop and start learning karate from him in the same way Daniel learned from Mr. Miyagi.

The first season is best explained as a remake or reboot (even as it is a continuation) of the first film but with more steps and drama injected into the proceedings. Normally that would feel utterly tedious and banking on nostalgia, and it kind of is, but it is done with the goal to humanize characters new and old and focused on a goal. That goal being to fix some of the problems with the original film, along with add more depth. The best example being how even as the main character wins he doesn’t, in fact, get the girl or come out on top. Instead it seeks to examine some of the toxic nature the show sought to try and break down. The original movie did this as well but wants to make it perfectly clear on its goal.

The second season is far more complicated. It’s hard to tell if it is better or worse for it. The first season was a tight story with Miguel being a default protagonist. Most of the show follows his journey. But going into season two Daniel has a dojo with his daughter and Johnny’s son. Kreese, the stable genius, is back, and the drama just continually escalates while trying to balance all the characters and plot points they want to get. On balance it is more successful than not, and digs in deeper at the toxic culture. Why toxic culture can spread, and how it ultimately doesn’t work. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t miss too. Too much of the drama is built around people not listening or not saying something. For the teenagers it works better and by the final episode is clearly the point of the season. For the adult characters it’s much harder to believe, but does make up for it by showing how it is clearly the old guys trying to relive their glory days and endluging in boneheaded drama than the writing for the show. The season does end on many strong gut punches that make you want more and to see the characters grow.

That has been the most surprising part of the show, the characters. Daniel and Johnny were never amazing characters. Arch-types at best. This digs into them and makes them balance out. Their rivalry reminds me of something Chris Sabat said in a DBZ behind the scenes interview. In that he says how fans want Goku and Vegeta to get along but are often so wrapped up in their own drama that it’s difficult. That same dynamic is at play, and the writers know it by showing they can be friends. Unfortunately they are both too strong willed and dismissive to see the good the other one has. Kreese, being the only other returning character, at least back for more than one episode, plays a good contrast. He never changed and is shown to be the worse for it.

As great as it is to have the original characters portrayed well it is the new cast that makes it amazing. Everyone has a certain flare, personality, energy, or well delivered arc with great dialogue, to help pull through some of the worse drama. They all feel pretty well drawn and have good stances that show the best and worst in everyone. It is easy to both have a favorite while also copping to how dumb they can be, which is often the point when it comes to kids. They can act dumb and it be just a blip they learn from. By the end, though, you want them to be better and see the error of their ways.

Something that did improve and make the show just stellar is the action. The original films were fine. Good for the time but bad in the ways the original trilogy in Star Wars is bad. They did the best with what they had and is impressive to appreciate, but are outclassed by what can be done now. Usually that is for CGI and effects, but I mean cinematography and choreography. All the fights are so well planned, feel built up to, and look great. This is best shown in the utter awesome final fight in the last episode. Everything keeps building with characters getting payoffs left and right, and the action is crazy if a little too Hollywood for a show that was better than that… until the end anyway. By the time that fight rolls around it feels like the whole team is showing off and they earned it. Then they end with a gut punch that just gets you and makes you feel devastated.

The reason it is so devestating is how it contrasts with the comedy. The show can be uproariously funny at times. Some jokes like Johnny being a guy trapped in 80s, or just how done Daniel’s wife is with all the silly Karate drama, and the nerdy kid Demitrie. It has such a good sense of comedy and how to balance that with the rest of drama and themes they want to tackle.

It’s almost like the show was able to find its own sense of balance. No one is a real hero or villain. The show is not just one kind of story or another. It doesn’t just wallow in the nostalgia of the past, but doesn’t try to move past it and deal with only the new character.

I am gushing about the show because it is an amazing show. Maybe one of my all time favorites (for now… see FOGO for more details), which is odd cause I don’t care about the Karate Kid. I don’t think it’s bad by any means, but it felt so standard and of its time that it never hit me in the right way. I respected it but didn’t care. I care now. I want to see these characters grow, change, and find balance even if Jaden Smith doesn’t show up at some point (I think that might be in an alternate universe since they name check Jackie Chan and it would be weird for him to show up after being mentioned).

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Avatar: the Impossible Followup – A look at The Legend of Korra Seaon 4

We have come to the end of this journey. A look at a series that I have more to say on an upcoming editorial, but seasonally has reached its end. I don’t have a whole lot of preamble. After season three ended I didn’t keep track of season four cause I wanted to wait and watch it when it was over, and I heard no one talk about it except for one specific element I’ll get to (it’s Korrasami, duh), but other than that it seemed to have been forgotten.

Forgotten just like the shows pacing. Instead of only a few months or weeks, the series jumps three years – about the length of the shows run – into the future to see how the world changed since Zaheer’s attack on the Earth Kingdom, and crippling of Korra. In that time the Earth Kingdom has been brought back together under Kuvira, a minor character we only caught a glimpse of near the end of season three helping care for the wounded men after their failed attempt to stop Zaheer’s Red Lotus and save the airbenders. In the meantime she worked to restore order with the help of Varrick, one of Su’s kids we did not see last season, and Bolin. Meanwhile the Air Nation is doing their best to keep the peace with their limited numbers, a new Earth King is about to be crowned, and Korra has gone missing. Everything goes wrong when Kuvira takes total control and Korra is shown to be majorly off her game. She must work to restore balance to herself before Kuvira can force balance onto the Earth Kingdom.

This is a strange season. Not strictly in terms of content, but there is some of that we’ll get to, but instead in terms of energy and passion. Last season felt like the series they always wanted to make. This season feels like they have to deal with consequences, but don’t have the passion to do that. Like the team got all their ideas out and now have to follow through, stuck in the rut they made.

This might stem from their idea for a villain this season. In order to make sure they get all the elements down they made the final villain an earth bender who seeks to unite the Earth Kingdom under her rule in a not to subtle nod to classic fascist and totalitarian imagery. Unfortunately for the team it is going backward and copying some of what the Fire Nation was in the previous series, a bland evil-faceless empire and its not as good because it is not nearly as developed. It starts in a strong place. When a state is overrun by bandits and Kuvira shows up offering help in exchange for control of the town that all works. It shows why people might flock to her, but doesn’t show the aftermath of that choice. They talk of re-education camps and forced labor but only the remnants of that are shown.

The real problem might be Kuvira herself. She is plenty terrifying as a villain. Menacing and clearly capable, even if they have to weaken Korra for most of the season to make this plot work, she is definitely a force to be reckoned with. But the failure is in showing how she grew so powerful or what led to being a full dictator. The finale tries to give her some sympathy of being scared and pushing a nationalistic idealology to feel safe. As true as that may be not enough of it is in the show. It doesn’t tap into how clearly ruthless she is either. She nearly annihilated her fiancée in order to keep her power. I’m shocked there was never a point she said she would kill Korra and scour the Earth Empire in search of the next Avatar in order to control them. But that might have been to far, and they wanted her sympathetic.

If Kuvira was all control then Prince Wu, rightful Earth Kingdom heir, is her opposite the season is paralleling. To be totally contrary, Wu is a cowardly wimp who would rather have fun than rule. Focused fully on womanizing and partying over the crown, or rather only wants the crown for that. However it is seen over the season that he clearly does have a way with the public. He can make people follow him through sheer charism and exuberant energy. He also would never give up his people just for a chance at freedom. That makes it all the stranger when he steps down to allow a democracy to come in. Which, despite how poorly monarchies were used in the history of the show, could clearly not be an issue if the right leader is in charge. The best example being the Fire Lord, Zuko’s daughter whose name we get but I forgot. She is still in charge and they don’t seem to have any issues (actually it’s odd how the series was so focused on every place but the Fire Nation. I’m aware they did a whole show about it, but it would be interesting to see how life has changed since the Hundred Year War-and I’m saving that for the editorial).

For returning characters, Toph finally makes her appearance and she is about as perfect a return as you can get. She is wise and helpful without being around purely for fan service or exposition. She plays well with the theme of unity and forgiveness, and still sounds like herself in the writing even if no one else has been. Also it is fun to watch her call out people who would think Katara should have joined and helped in the Civil War… as a fighter. She defiantly should have been someone advisor at least but that’s not here or there.

When it comes to the main cast it is a mixed bag. Mako, poor Mako, gets nothing to do this season. He’s bodyguard to Prince Wu, and just sort of around. In fact, I bet if he was cut from the season it would have made no difference. Except for how he plays into the relationship with Asami and Bolin. Asami, similarly doesn’t get a lot to do, but is more important overall than Mako in terms of plot and theme. When it comes to plot she is around to make amends with her father, who has been in prison since his working with Amon, and working with Verick to help build defenses for Republic City when Kuvira plans to invade. In both instances she must work with men who have betrayed her in order to prove her strength of will. For Verick it makes sense. He’s always been a complete cheeseball looking for a thrill, but her father. While I see the logic in giving him a chance to prove he is better than the revenge that overtook him, it being introduced so late into the series and season feels off. A build where he learns to respect benders like Korra and why his daughter turned to them over him would help build his case. He does get to die a noble enough death whether he deserved it or not. Asami, sweet Asami, is also part of a romance I will get to later.

Following her is Bolin, my hunky marshmallow. After his journey last season he started working with Kuvira to bring peace and help people. All of that is in character for him. He’s a stand up guy who wants a nice life and do the right thing, while being dim enough not to ask follow up questions. This changes when he finds out the truth of what she is doing, and how crazy she can get and teams up with Verick to escape and help save Republic City. He too is shown to be a very empathetic leader, and is an interesting parallel to Prince Wu in those terms. Well meaning, but not that bright people who honestly want to help are shown to be the best leaders. Well them and the Avatar.

Korra’s arc feels like the only one truly thought out, and gave the writers an out by making her underpowered for most of the fights she gets into. Following last season, Korra was physically crippled by the mercury-like poison coursing through her body. Turns out it was more than just physical. She was haunted by the events that led her to that moment, and the trauma of near death. On top of that her friends of New Team Avatar all were able to move up and do great things in their life. They saw it as just keeping her informed, but to her it made her feel like she was just standing still as everyone passed her by, making her feel useless and unnecessary. That is strong groundwork laid in one of this series better episodes, Korra Alone. It is also handled well after that. She trains with Toph who gets her to help see she needs help and was literally holding onto the past by still holding pieces of the metal in her body. Then, forcing Korra to remove it on her own and teach her how to see using sprite vines is all wonderful growth that tracks. Where it fails in her needing to see Zaheer, the person who traumatized her and almost killed her. Though I have never been nearly killed by someone, I can imagine forcing to confront them is a painful experience, let alone going to them for help. I do not follow message boards (God I’m old… Discord Servers or Subredits), but I gather there was some backlash to that decision. The team played it well by not redeeming him but rather had it be a tenuous alliance at best, but it still felt rather tone deaf to force Korra to go to her abuser, make her relive the moment the abuser tried to kill her, and give that same person the speech that she had to go through that. And for what?

One of Korra’s best moments is near the end of the season when she is able to reason with Kuvira after her plan goes breast-plate up. She realizes that Kuvira was just a scared girl using her power, just like Korra was. Only she grew from that. She then relays that to Tenzin near the finale when she says that nearly dying and going through that trauma made her more compassionate to even the most haneous of people. That all works in the abstracts. However I would posit it was not, in fact, the poison, and crippling trauma that drove this. It was her finally going out, seeing the world, and working to become her own woman with no baggage. This came with consequences she had to deal with. That would make her using those skills to finally talk Kuvira down all more impactful. Unfortunately the team did not see it that way… or the character but with it being one of the final exchanges it’s impossible to know and doesn’t matter. But her saying she had to go through that that trauma in order to be as compassionate doesn’t track anyway. It was shown last season that she was able to empathize with the new airbenders, except the basement dweller (so maybe they had a point), so it doesn’t seem like she needed that lesson.

Maybe part of the reason it feels off is how they use the time to advance her and Asami’s relationship, which again, is coming.

Another piece that feels off and contributes to this whole wonky tone is the lack of action this season. Sure there are fights and chases and a city siege, but it feels all so tame. This has always been, or wanted to be, a more talkie show. It wants to have big ideas, themes, and characters. It has a less then stellar track record at achieving that, but that was always its goal. The previous seasons had this too, but when it was action time it was always strong, dynamic, and punchy. This season it feels all so drab. The best example is the final fight with Kuvira. In theory it should be great. A giant mech attacks the city and they must stop it as a group. It builds the theme of teamwork to stop a common goal, and is totally original. The issue is that the mech is a lunky CG, and the plans they come up with don’t match the epic scale. It all feels too easy, even if having one direct force works better than branching ones like Avatar’s finale had. It just all feels so subdued, which is fine. Trying to constantly top yourself each season can lead to problems. But the ending doesn’t feel as satisfying because of it.

To really throw a curve ball, this season has a clip show, something the rest of the show could avoid. It could be argued Avatar had a clip show episode in the Fire Island play, but that was a creative retelling of the series. This is a bland recap with additional banter thrown on top for comedic effect. It slows the seasons overall good pacing to a screeching halt to not advance much story other than small character moments. These moments don’t feel important enough to be substantial or important enough to build an episode around and filled in with show clips.

All of this has really been staving off the inevitable conversation about Korrasami. Korrasami, the romantic pairing of Korra and Asami the show leaves us with, is underwhelming. I fully support them as a couple, and actually want to read the comics about them to see if they get development because, as it stands now, it doesn’t work. It’s arguable how much the team tried to get them together or were allowed with getting away with by Nickelodeon, but the source goes deeper than that. Korra and Asami have no chemistry. I don’t want to blame anyone, but it feels like it’s Asami’s problem because she is such a nothing character. She is in the first season to be a strict romantic rival and provide support for New Team Avatar, but once that concludes she seems to just be around with no point. The show failed her. She’s a women in STE(A)M after all. She should be the one coming up with plans and strategy. She’s both a nerd and an empath. There is just so much potential never touched by the writers. I don’t know how much was planned based from the start of the season to the final scene, but if they wanted her and Korra to get together then more of the arc should have been around that instead of… or maybe both, around her rekindling some feelings for her father and caring for Korra in a new light.

There are some subtle attempts to pair them in our mind. The fact Korra can really only write to Asami after her crippling. The use unreasonable arguments to help build that Korra and Asami act as couple similar Korra and Mako, and the fact, and this is from the creators, they mirrored the shots of the wedding scene with them to show a romantic interest. Also this:

As frustrating as it is that they got such little growth as a couple it bothers me more that Nickelodeon tries to push Korra as LGBT (and all the wonderful letters after) representation even as they did not let them go into a full relationship, and removed Korra from their channel, but then want to act like they had representations all along. That truly maddens me. It would be like saying Spongebob is asexual… oh wait no!

As the series draws to a close Korra and Tenzin remark on how much Korra changed the world. It should feel epic. Governments are changing, the spirits and humans are flowing, there is no evil spirits. All massive stuff, yet, it feels so small. It doesn’t feel like anything changes from the first episode despite so much happening. Compared to Avatar, which felt suitably epic all the way to the end. It’s the same feeling some people get after watch The Last Jedi. So much happened yet it feels like filler. I think the reason is because as much as stuff happened there was no journey. There was never a clear endpoint. I don’t get why Korra ended with season four and not with whatever is going on in the comics. It reached and end, but hardly a conclusion.

Though this is the end of The Legend of Korra but that’s not the end of Avatar: The Impossible Followup (but this is defiantly a break from it. I need to watch some other stuff). If you study the credits as I do, then eagle-eyes viewers know many members: Lauren Montgomery, Joaquim Dos Santos, Joshua Hamilton, Tim Hedrick and more go on to create Voltron: The Legendary Defender. Meanwhile Aaron Ehaz, the story editor and lead writer for Avatar along with other co-writers have gone on to make Dragon Prince. Both series try and fail to live up to the path Avatar made, because, truly, it is impossible to follow up.

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Avatar: The Impossible Followup – A look at The Legend of Korra Season 3

As alluded to at the end of my season 2 look, Korra was removed from Nickelodeon and put onto the web for streaming. Though I cannot remember an exact day or episode, I do recall that it was at the start of this season. This is strange and doesn’t truly effect the series other than maybe one scene they probably couldn’t have aired.

It’s removal from the network is a bothersome topic for much later, either my look at season four or an my post watch editorial, but it is not the most interesting thing about this season. Instead this season decides to shake everything up, and feels like a full embrace of what the team wanted to do, but had to work to achieve.

Getting ahead of myself again, this season takes place only a few weeks after Korra bear Unalaq and opened the portals to balance the spirit and human worlds. This decision has come with a lot of push back by Republic City and it’s citizens as they want a normal life back, and Korra tries and fails to help. Everything comes to a head when new Airbenders start appearing all over the world. Korra, exiled from Republic City due to her disposition of causing more probalmes then she solves, goes with Tenzin and the rest of Team Avatar to help rebuild the Air Nation. This will be harder than first thought as a dangerous criminal, Zaheer, also awakened to his Airbending and plans to use it to free his band of criminals called the Red Lotus and write the world in their image. That includes kill the Avatar.

This season feels like what Korra, the show and character to an extent, was what the show wanted to be all long. All while using the previous season as a building block to tell a story they really wanted to tell. There is very little padding or unclear narrative. An example would be how much time is spent with Bolin or Jinora setting up their arcs when most of the time was not necessary and used more to extend the story. Same with the excised boring relationship drama. There is some lip-service paid to it, but it is mostly dropped, except for comedy. Whether that part, the lack of mentioning past relationships at all, makes sense can be argued, but it’s exclusion doesn’t make the show worse. In fact it is by far the most cohesive season. It’s themes are explored in multiple ways and the villains feel like proper foils even if they have less of a point than Amon or Unalaq.

Zaheer is only an interesting villain insofar as he contrasts Korra in every possible way. A naturally spiritual person who seemed to be able to adapt to his Airbending powers quickly and sees him seek total disorder as a way to unlock humanities true balance. He’s a complete foil the Korra and much closer to a “Dark Avatar” than Unalaq was. In fact, Zaheer’s whole Red Lotus team feels like they are supposed to be analogous to the past team. They have a skilled water bender, an earth bender who uses a new type of bending, and a fire bender with a close relationship to the air bender. Sure, Aang and Zuko were in no way romantic (except in all my fan fics. God, it sucks using these as both jokes and extenuating points to express free thought cause now no one knows if I’m joking), but did have a deep friendship and respect that defined them. They also have names the show wants to ram into our heads, but I forgot.

Zaheer’s anarchistic beliefs work only on a thematic level. I won’t go over how it’s okay to have a character, especially a villain, have the wrong idea and no “point,” but I guess I just did. His idea of letting nature run its course and being loyal to only one’s self is blatantly wrong. The fact it’s a group who holds that belief is proof enough, but he stands in opposition to Korra’s challenge of trying to find a balance in the disorder of a post-convergence world. Though that is not really solved, the importance of leaders, leadership, and what constitutes a good leader are all thrown into question through in-text/character examples. The Earth Queen, Su (who we’ll get to later), Tenzin and Jinora, and even bit characters like an airship captain are all examples of the importance of leadership and where they can go astray. That’s also part of the whole setup with Korra’s argument with the President of Republic City. His gut reaction to look good for his people helped spur all of this on. It’s clear what happened in that scenario was wrong, but was caused more by societal pressures on the government than the government existing.

With Amon and Unalaq they were both wrong on many fronts of their ideals. Though we do find out Unalaq was a member of the Red Lotus and wanted her even as far back as childhood, which was why she was held in a protective area most of her life (that makes sense, but then Tonraq and Tenzin should have said they did it cause terrorists were trying to abuduct her and not just sulk about being restrictive, but I digress). In both cases they were wrong. I cannot decide if Zaheer’s ideals are just wrong, if they’re presented wrong, or if their is a piece missing. A whole part of Zaheer is the will to remove all earthly possessions in order to fly. He achieves this once his girlfriend dies, so it would seem clear that he would want everyone to be free of earthly possessions like him. He wants them to have total freedom, which is kind of the same thing, but this also values individuality which makes him having a group a thematic problem, but not a story one because he also adds friends into his individualist ideals (I wonder if that includes the Steven Blum guard. I only mention him cause Amon comes back in a hallucinogenic sequence and then cut to a guard who uses a similar voice to speak. So weird).

The villains are not all that makes up this season. In addition some new characters are introduced. One is Su, Lin’s sister and Toph’s second daughter. She is the leader of a Metal-Bending city that is cool looking, but are also sealed at night which seems weird. Almost fascistic, but I’m getting ahead of myself. She and Lin have a tense history of when Su was a much freer spirit, a lost child trying to find herself and the stress it caused Lin and Toph. It is interesting she is a half-sister. I like the idea that Toph did not marry her first love. Feels subtly mature, and I can imagine she isn’t the easiest person to live with. Along with her comes her family who are all quirky in specific ways. The only standout is Opal who is in love with Bolin, and is a new air bender.

That takes us to the air benders. Which, even though they are all different people, like Kai and Otaku, function as a group. The idea of balancing the world spiritually also corrected the imbalance of benders is great and makes sense. Korra also working to recruit and train some of the members pays off her training in season one. However it also gives Jinora a chance to become a master by taking over training and leading the group when Tenzin goes down during the end of the season. It does go further, though. Above, I said Kai functions with the group, but that’s also not true. He’s also part of that theme of being part of something and having guidance from a leader is important as he goes from street rat to hero, helping save the air benders at the end. Outside of him the rest are just a group that has to learn and grow into their newly given powers and accept the responsibility with it.

This season shows the return of Zuko. Though it’s harder to see him as him because Zuko only gets one scene to really be himself, and is relegated to sounding board and exposition. His learning of Iroh’s existence in the spirit world is good, but doesn’t get a chance to linger long enough

Outside of Jinora and Lin, no one on Team Avatar changes too much. Mako is just kind of awkward, which gives him some character. That and being a studious cop (ACAB, sorry bud), but that’s really it. Asami continues to be more of an emotional sounding board and rock for the group, but is relegated to the background, except when they remember she can fight. Korra is still the headstrong, direct person she has always been. She has learned to be more empathic, which helps when she sacrifices herself to save the Air Nation. I’m not sure if that’s her being headstrong and direct again. She knew something bad was bound to happen if Zaheer took her, but leaving her totally drained as a result is incredibly interesting. Despite restoring to messing with the Avatar State, again, leaving her crippled is much more complicated than just killing her. It gives her places to grow.

The exception to all of that is Bolin. What Bolin goes through is my only video essay idea, that being how to properly setup a twist. Bolin, in this season has been struggling with learning metal bending. He tries and fails constantly only to figure out he can lava-bend. Considering he’s been fitting an opponent who can do it, it doesn’t come out of nowhere, and he makes a big sacrifice. After stopping lava he says how he just learned, meaning he was ready to die in order to help save Mako and Tenzin. That’s big stuff, and a great, built-up reveal.

The lava-bending is evidence of how this season really plays with, and expands, the fights in the series. This season has, by far, the best and most intricate fight scenes by far. That comes from the new bending and revising bending like octopus arms, and combustion-bending, but also figuring out ways to make air bending far more acrobatic. This leads to so many fights wher everyone has to move, counter, and react quickly. No combat scenario stays the same for too long. The balance constantly shifts. The standout is when Tenzin fights Zaheer with Kya and Bumi holding their own again the other Red Lotus members. The constant shifts in power and viceral hits matched with relatively low stakes (yes it’s for the Air Nation, but it’s not on a big scale) makes the ending so hard. The same can be said when Korra fights Zaheer with her dad when she is chained up. That has the team playing with more inventive moves and strategies that keep the fight constantly engaging. It’s all good stuff.

This is the only season to setup for the next. It’s not clear that’s what’s being done, but it sets up the next threat. This is also the first season to have the villain not die at the end. That, along the Air Nation being a group of worldly peace keepers, and Korra being crippled leaves it in a far more complicated place than before. Unfortunately it still didn’t solve the inciting incident of spirit/human cohabitation means and what can be done. It’s just left to sit there, making it feel all less interesting and giving the story less places to go.

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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