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.

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: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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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 2

The real struggle I, and many fans, of Korra had about is its wasting of what could be interesting stories. It is no longer the epic tale of a century long war. Instead it is what the Avatar was always supposed to do— help create the peace and balance of the rather mystical world they inhabit. Season two tries to get the series there.

Season two, right off the bat, and even as the story goes on, feels like it was responding to some of the criticism of the first season. It is thanks to its segmented nature that allowed it to turn around and address some important moments and character growth that it needed without being tied down to a set quest. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Korra book two sees The New Team Avatar unsure of their future. Bolin is lost with a new Pro-Bending team, Asami’s company is in the pits, Mako is working as a police officer, and Korra feels ready as Avatar, but on a trip back to the Southern Water Tribe for a spirit festival she realizes she’s far from ready when rampaging spirits attack. She goes to her uncle, Unalaq, to learn the truth of spiritual balance only to find out his plans seek war between the tribes. It is not New Team Avatar’s job to stop it, but that will be harder than thought as Varrick, an eccentric inventor and producer, has his own plans at work. To win Korra must truly be one with the Avatar’s of yor in order to bring balance.

This season follows in the footsteps of the previous season by focusing on a different aspect of the world in order to find fresh conflict for the main cast. In this case it is diving deeper into the spiritual elements that Avatar only teased at. This does come at the cost of introducing new information we should have known about by now. The biggest element, the history of the first Avatar, will get its own segment, but that’s not all. The biggest is the deeply spiritual nature of the Water Tribes, especially the Southern Water Tribe.

The fact the Southern Water Tribe has festivals to celebrate the spirits but was never shown makes sense because the whole tribe was reduced to one village, and we don’t spend time there to get the know the culture. That’s fine. It just seems odd that Katara or Bato never mentioned it. This is doubly worse when they reach the Northern Water Tribe. They, too, don’t seem all that spiritual. They have a single spiritual place that seems more religious than an actual realm to celebrate spirits, but again we saw it during a war so that can slide. Just the fact it’s never mentioned seems odd.

It’s also odd that Spirit Bending – for lack of another word – wasn’t mentioned. Unalaq says that the spirits are mad. Part of that is him playing his game, but it is shown that spirits can do physical harm and become enraged, so learning that style of bending seems important and is odd that it never came up.

None of those break the season, and the enraged spirits can be related to the villain plot, but it’s systemic of much else in the season. The closest comparison is how a president is electect to a city (which makes no sense mostly because it’s not clear if Republic City is the capital of the World Government, or just a metropolitan city like New York) and democracy just exists despite that not seeming to exist in the world at all until now. Maybe if part of the plot related to the election and why it is important, just like how finding balance with spirits is important, that could work.

Speaking of the story. It’s better overall than last season. It still plays for time a little too much, but ultimately feels more focused on its main theme and Korra’s arc. It’s still not perfect, or Avatar level quality though. But, backing up, it starts far better than season one. The first four episodes in fact feel incredibly tight, refreshing, and like a strong direction for the series. They make quick work of setting up the new status quo, threat, and stakes easily. Unfortunately the story hinges on New Team Avatar not being together for most of the season and does everything it can to break them up for their own arcs of varying quality. Mako’s feels the weakest. He’s an officer trying to investigate terrorist attacks done by Northern Water Tribe members but is dismissed for no good reason, and ultimately proven right. Asami is just there to worry about her company and be a sounding board to everyone else. Bolin’s is probably the best. He’s unsure of what to do in his life, meets Varrick who gives him a chance to star in movers, their version of movies, to gain support for the Southern Water Tribe. This has him touch fame and arrgoantness only to realize he’s closer to the actor he plays than anyone else. He manages to keep his charm despite having to be a jerk thanks fo his general simple-mindedness. Korra’s arc is a little more complicated. For one it’s an extension of season one’s. In that she felt no connection to her past lives and duty as Avatar. Now that she’s unlocked that part of her life she does what she’s always done, jump headlong into the first problem she sees. In this case it is overcompensating for her lack of spirituality by learning everything she can about bending them and bringing balance. There is also a similar focus on how she overuses her Avatar-state powers to save the day and must learn how to use her other skills. This does create the reoccurring problem that the only way this season can create tension is by taking away her Avatar-ness.

There is also more on the love triangle beteeen Korra, Mako, and Asami. It’s not really development, it more just focuses on Korra and Mako’s relationship with Asami being a total champ about the whole thing. Not being catty, mean, or disruptive, just patient. Instead, the real meat is saying how Mako and Korra don’t work. It just says that in the worst way possible: by making Korra unreasonable. I think she’s supposed to be seen as unreasonable. Like she doesn’t know what she wants and takes it out on Mako, but that is communicated. Instead they bicker about work, break up, Korra forgets cause of Avatar shenanigans and it only comes up at the end when she remembers. There is no tension to it. Instead it feels like the team didn’t actually want them together and tried to find a way to break them up. The odd thing is that they’re right. They shouldn’t be together because they have no chemistry. In other words, they’re a boring couple.

Disappointingly much of this story is let down by Unalaq, his plan, and the framing the show used to express that plan. The writers learned from the first season and decided to give Unalaq validity. His idea, that modernization has cut people off from the spirts so the spirits should be with the humans, is one that is supported throughout the season. Not so much the use of technology, but ability to coexist. They are both seen as aggressors and helpers who needed someone to guide them into unison, not seperate them. The reason he is ultimately proven wrong and made a villain is that he sides himself with the literal source of chaos and evil to do it, because now Avatar has physical representations of good and evil… in a series that tries to give its villains more fleshed our motivations.

Breaking this down, we find out about the Raava and Vaatu (is it odd that I think they need apostrophes in their name after the first “a.” I usually hate those, but those names would benefit from the broken vowel sound). Raava being the spirit of good and Vaatu being a spirit of chaos and darkness, both battle each other for a nonexistent dominance. The first Avatar seperated them through an acccident and sealed Vaatu away during a harmonic convergence of the spirit and human world (shown through the planets aligning cause this was written in the 90s apparently). Now he seeks freedom to cast his darkness over the world, totally abolishing any point Unalaq had. Just like Amon, it didn’t have to be that way. This time it’s not a misreading of the economic and political situation of a city, but in framing of the spiritual battle.

Raava and Vaatu are framed as a God and Devil of their world (I would say only real, but I mean in the physical sense of that word). I am not a religious studies major, but it seems like the divide between the two is always that the Devil tempts with self-interest while God is focused on the interest of others, and that divide is what should have carried over. Avatar Wan, Aang, and Korra were all selected because of their selfless nature. Meanwhile, Vaatu’s precense often brought out the self-interest in the spirits it was around. That would mean that they were not corrupt, but instead shown the ways of only helping themselves. Carrying that forward to the Unalaq. Instead of bringing darkness (which is not always evil-Dark Magician from Yugioh is an obvious example). Unalaq would bring about selfishness. He would bring about the drive to look only after yourself and no one else. Actually, that sounds like anarchy so I guess I’m getting ahead of myself. The point, if Unalaq was to be taken seriously he needed a motivation that wasn’t trumped by Vaatu. That is unless he was tricked but that doesn’t seem to be in the show, just a theory. Instead it should be selfishness that leads to spirits taking over, a total over correction. But it’s still a kids show so it has to be generic evil, leaving the villains only useful ideas at the beginning.

Again, maybe the team considered that but lost time because season the series is now serialized and needs to create a fuller supporting cast, most of which are great new editions. Tenzin’s brother and sister, Bumi and Kya, are a very interesting trio Bumi, Aang’s first born, is benderless and lives up to his namesake by being utterly ridiculous in a fun way. Eccentric but has great luck and thinks on his feet. Kya is both the flower child and clear leader when they were kids. She’s the only levelheaded one, is perceptive, and clearly written to be the cool aunt who used to be a vagabond of some kind. They have a great dynamic that is reminiscent of the original trio from Avatar, the fact they meet Zhou in the Spirit World and he freaks out supports this (yeah he sees Tenzin as old Aang, but then you see a water bender and a benderless tactican and it all comes together).

The next is Varrick. Varrick, the most eccentric and wacky character ever made is a highlight of the show. He’s bold, whimsical, and a ruthless capitalist. The fact that ones his plans are foiled and he says all the good he did by being bad, that spells out my argument from last season. All true power in a society is based on money. He manipulated New Team Avatar, the Southern Water Tribe, and the intergangs of Republic City while having only quick wits and money. He also has a personal assistant that is reminds me of Mercy, Lex Luthor’s assisstant, in the shows.

The final duo I don’t need to spend as much time on. Unalaq has twins. Both of them are moody pragmatists. The only reason they stand out is Eska, the female, falls in love with Bolin and is voiced by Aubrey Plaza, the only person who could do that roll without coming off as edgy.

Except that’s not all. Tenzin’s daughter Jinora has an expanded roll in the story. Jinora, the (actually i don’t know where she falls in the age of the children. I think middle. She says Ikki is bossy so that would make sense, but she’s taller so i don’t know) possibly middle child of Tenzin, is revealed to be spiritually aware unlike many others. This leads her to take an affinity to the world we she and Korra visit to try and stop Unalaq. She also has the ability to, I guess, help Korra stop the big bad at the end. It’s not clear how she does this. The writer reasoning is probably to make Team Avatar Jr’s hunt for her matter more. They find her so she can help Korra, but the helping isn’t given. The idea, might be, that she is pure of spirit like Raava that she can help reignite her, but that’s speculation

This season also brings back characters from the past series into the fold. This is probably the most contentious because, even more than anything else, if someone thinks it works for them, then it does. For instance, I like that Zhou is still around somewhere. I thought we saw a different fate for him in Avatar, but decades have passed so it’s easy enough to believe he ended up in the most prison. Then we get the Ghibli Owl, Wan Shi Tong, he too makes sense to be in the world, and supports the idea that Unalaq’s real goal would be spiritual dominance over humans. But his appearance is so brief that it’s easy to also skip over. Then you get the big one, Uncle Iroh. Now, it makes total sense that the chillest man in the whole world would peace out to the Spirit World over dying. Him making a house and living pretty much totally normally feels right. However, bringing him back to play mentor to Korra and Team Avatar Jr, feels too easy. They could have introduced a new character, but instead reused him as an audience short cut.

Finally, the animation has gone down hill since the last season. This might be the most controversial bit of whole piece, but it’s true. If you watch season one the show is incredibly expressive. Everyone moves their hands, and changes facial expressions a dozen times over. It just has a deep energy. Season two, though does look pretty, is more stilted. There’s far more closeups than last season, and static shots. The piece of evidence I’ll go to his when characters cover their mouth. Characters doing that is easy shorthand to not animate the mouth. Last season they did it, only you could still see the mouth and jaw move. This time you cannot. They cover their mouth and it’s normal anime nonsense. That’s not saying it’s bad, just pointing out the changes.

This season, unlike the previous had the best episodes of the whole series. The rug I’m pulling out from under you (Shane, totally not dead co-king) is that it’s not the Beginnings two-parter, but the Civil War two-parter. Beginnings, despite being pretty and an interesting if morally simple explanation for the Avatar and spirits, doesn’t have a strong theme to it. It’s just information Korra needs for the finale. Maybe part of it is supposed to be that Wan, despite being well meaning, made mistakes (there is a lot to like about Wan that I didn’t have a place to put in this, but he’s what I imagine a young Superman would be. All that power and right heart but no idea of how to be useful), that-like so much- wasn’t communicated well. Yet, Civil War was. Civil War, the two parter where Unalaq reveals his plan to forcibly unite the Water Trubes under a more spiritually focused bent, and abused his own family to do it is paired with Tenzin, Kya, and Bumi looking for Jinora and bickering. That subplot comes to the conclusion that you can’t pick your family, but they mean well. That is contrasted with Unalaq showing no regard to that and warring with his family. See, the Civil War is not (just) the war between tribes, but the war between their family. That is what Korra can be at its best. A series with focus on what it wants to say and can say it well. It could make some of the best television… if it got to stay on television.

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The Best Way to Revive Avatar the Last Airbender

Avatar has been getting a lot of buzz since the announcement of a live action revival in the work. That buzz exploded when it came out that the creators of Avatar left the project (which doesn’t mean it’ll be bad or like the writers will miss the point of the series. I mean the same creators made Korra and that’s not as good, so it doesn’t mean anything). But the question plaguing me is why they are decided to go in a live action direction. They tired that before with a movie and everyone knows how successful that was.

Though I have not watched it, I am aware that the live action Last Airbender movie had a lot of problems, not least of which was pacing. Pacing being one of the elements Avatar handled perfectly the first time with its balance of goofier episodes to the more serious or contemplative episodes. A live action series has the ability to have the same kind of pacing but will lose some of the goofier elements because of the change in medium, animation to live action. It would still, at the end of the day, be an adaption of a series, not a revival.

There is a way to revive the series however, and it’s simple. What it seems like the reason people want a new version is because what they have feels outdated, and it does. The first episodes look really rough. Due to how it was animated it also cannot be upscaled to match the best possible visual quality. It’s trapped, but doesn’t have to be. If you see where I’m going, good but hold off a second, because…

Make an updated version of the series using the Legend of Korra team!

Korra, for all its flaws and victories is exceedingly pretty, and looks good on just about every video quality I have watched it on. Not even getting into the fight scenes, but the regular character animation is far more fluid and expressive than Avatar was.

The advantage of remaking the series frame by frame in this way also keeps the quality writing, characters, and pacing the show already had. Everything would remain as it was, but it would just get a HD remake like many classic video games get. This is also not a new thing, maybe for a whole animated series, but many of the classic Disney movies have been converted into HD, and many old TV shows from Star Trek TOS to X-Files all had scenes touched up and crisped up to look good on modern displays. It can even be argued that the elements FMA and FMA Brotherhood have in common, about the first 15 episodes in total, are the same thing. There is a history of this being done so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

Also, it being on Netflix would also give it an extra draw because, as Netflix makes perfectly clear time and time again, shows they don’t own often leave or rotate in and out of circulation for no reason. Having this updated version of the show always available is great because it would keep that series always alive, and looking better, but would also allow people who are nostalgic for the old look to go back and watch the original run if it’s available.

There are certainly fallbacks to this. Dialogue and some sound effects might be restricted to staying the same. Not least of which being that some actors aged out of being able to voice characters, Aang’s Zachary Taylor being a prime example, but you also have actors who already had to be replaced like with Iroh and his original voice actor Mako. Also, it is easy to say that a frame by frame remake would keep the pacing, but any change in art style and timing does ultimately have a larger impact than assumed. Make Aang’s face a little more or less expressive could change the whole tone of a scene.

It baffles me that people, even now, still think live action is the pinnacle of TV. Cartoons, when first created, were for people of all ages. They were true family entertainment. Think about why series like The Flinstones or Jetsons were just prime time sitcoms of the era. It was mass market entertainment, not just kiddie stuff. Avatar, the original, already proved that if you make a good thing in any medium people will watch it. Therefore, seeing them chasing after the live action bandwagon feels like the people already missed the point of the series the first time. It’s great the way it was, but it’s look can defiantly be upgraded for modern audiences.

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: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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Avatar: The Impossible Followup – A look at Legend of Korra Season 1

Avatar is kind of a perfect series. Not every episode is great, and not every character moment works, but once you roll credits on the final episode it feels like a fully completed, well structured epic. It didn’t need any additional seasons or episodes (just a slew of graphic novels) to tell the story and explore the themes they wanted to explore. That makes it an impossible task to try and head any continuation, spiritual or otherwise, and there have been many attempts. The first was a direct sequel, The Legend of Korra.

In the wake of it all coming out it is easy to forgot it was just going to be a 12 episode mini-series that was pushed into being a full series later in development. That will cause interesting complications as we’ll get to later on, but we’re not there yet. No, we are at the very first attempt to succeed Avatar with Book One: Air for The Legend of Korra.

The Legend of Korra – Book One: Air, if you need a refresher or just didn’t know, follows the next Avatar after Aang, Korra, a hyper-talented bender who must travel to Republic City to master air bending from Tenzin, Aang’s son. Unfortunately a movement against benders is building and lead by Amon, someone who can remove bending. In order to stop him Korra must team up with siblings, and pro-bending players, Mako and Bolin to help save the city and restore peace.

The element that makes Avatar something impossible to follow up is how complete of an epic it is. This season, and all of to a degree or another, tries to do something different. However this is the most different, a crime thriller set in a booming metropolis and dealing with on the ground problems that city faces. As a way to go in it’s own direction, it’s the best possible option it could have chosen, unfortunately the details of the season do end up weakening the whole.

It’s hard to peg down all that does not work because overall it is a lot of fun. There is just so much energy poured into every beautiful frame of the season that it makes it a great experience to just watch gorgeous action and character models do stuff. There is some hit-or-miss CG that brings the whole experience down. Also, the more slick anime style, though expressive as hell, is often off putting when the team tries the over exaggerated expressions. Asami getting sick when she finds out a soup is made from dumpster food being the easiest example to point out.

The voice cast is also amazingly robust. Janet Varney and JK Simmons being absolute standouts, but everyone gives a very well fleshed out performance. Avatar did as well, but it felt like it took those actors longer to get into character than these actors did. Unfortunately no one comes quite to the level of Mako the actor in terms of wholey embodying someone so well. Steve Blum and JK Simmons get close, but hold no candle.

The characters, on balance, are also really fun and don’t feel like direct analogs to the previous series. Korra is no where close to Aang in personality. She’s closest to Toph, but that’s a stretch. Tenzin is a type-a neurotic who really internalized his father’s ideas to a fault. Bolin, often and easily seen as a Sokka-lite (same taste, only 90 calories), is doughier than he was (despite being ripped). He is more emotional, empathetic, and simple compared to Sokka’s over-confident bravado and obsession with facts. And Asami and Mako have no character (que rim-job, no not that one). Okay, that’s not fair. Asami has the arc of going from pampered father’s girl to a jaded realist. She’s spunky but enjoys feminine things, and probably the most technically minded. Mako is cool. I mean that’s the one character trait he has… be cool. He’s kind of dull, but is earnest and means well. Unfortunately him being dull makes it hard when the show does romance (we’ll get to it). Then there is Amon.

Amon, the leader of the Equalist party, was designed to be the coolest, most intimidating villain possible. He has a great look, amazing voice done by Steve Blum, and great idea for a villain. It sucks that the details are where he goes off the rails. See, Amon’s equalist ideas center around seeing Benders as evil tyrants controlling the lay person and decides to make everyone the same. It’s a compelling thought. But a thought none the less. In practice his idealogy doesn’t work, and was disproven since the previous series. Amon sees the Benders as having a measurable advantage over people, but history doesn’t support that. The best characters of the previous season were not Bender. Sokka, Suki, Mei, and Tai Lee where all great and proved how Bending did not equal strength. Amon even proves this by teaching his followers the same chi-block skills Tai Lee (I know I’m spelling that wrong) used. On top of that, aside from some gangsters, none of the Benders lord their power over regular people. Sure, some are idealized thanks to Pro-Bending, but then it would be like hating basketball players cause they’re tall.

But wait, there’s more. To make it all more complicated we find out that Amon lied about his backstory. He is, in fact, a blood bender who can use that power to remove others Bending. He does hate bending, but for ironically the right and wrong reasons. He sees bending as a scourge that needs to be wiped out because it made his father a criminal, but he doesn’t see how hypocritical that is. That would be and interesting idea to explore if the series didn’t stop at a dictionary readings of communism and how governments misused it to institute dictatorships.

It’s disappoint really considering he is right, not about benders vs non-benders, but that there is a disparity going on in Republic City. Unfortunately it’s the disparity and abuse of power we see in our world. It’s that the rich control everything. It’s that political power and governmental authority can manipulate people’s lives. There are terrible people on both sides of the benders and non-benders, but that’s not who is really keeping them down. No, it’s the landlord/pro bending mafia don who controlled Mako and Bolin’s life. Its in the bender gangs fighting for territory and money and using the citizens as chips in that game. It’s Tarrlok and his sense of abusing power for his own gain (same as his father before him), and it’s Sato with his quest for revenge and doing anythung, even plant evidence to get the law on his side and take financial control and team up with someone dangerous to help. That’s the real disparity Amon would fight if he believed what he said.

Maybe the creators didn’t realize this true disparity or maybe they did but did not know how to tap into that, but I can tell you that what they did was not the solution. Not to say everything was bad, but the team did not allocate their time wisely. For one, the focus on a love triangle, something everyone loves and is always received well, of all things was not the way to go. I don’t comment much when I watch things, but I did exclaim my utter boredom of it by saying how I wanted to kill myself. There is just nothing to the romances, and none of the characters have chemistry… scratch that, Bolin and Korra do. They have a real honest bond over being straightforward people. That’s fun, and the fact their feelings grow into a platonic affection is nice.

The other reason what the team did wasn’t the best solution was to focus on pro-bending. Pro-bending, a 3v3 combat sport, is a fun idea. It makes sense in the way boxing and MMA makes sense (I also can’t wait for the second sequel series where we find out it gives people CTE). It also works in its debut to give Korra quick access to a team, and learn to open her mind to new ways of fighting and moving, but aside from that it feels like quidditch, something to pad the story with low stakes tension as we wait for the plot to show up. That’s not to say the episodes with it aren’t fun, but it it feels like that time could have been spent with Korra actually training and reaching her spiritual side naturally instead of artificially saying that she reached it once she hit her lowest point, or maybe flesh out the world and show how Amon was right and that there are systemic ways benders rule over people, or show how he is obviously wrong. Bolin tries to say Pro-Bending is that, a melting pot for everyone to enjoy, but that feels like the writers coming up with a reason to keep doing it over moving on.

All I’ll say is that when we meet Toph she’s a wrestler in a whole wrestling program. After that’s introduced we don’t spend another episode and a half watching Aang compete in the competition. They move on to have him face new challenges and learn about the world.

Korra season one is the season with the most unused potential. The fact it is a pet project all written by the same two creators help boost that, and show how much of a passion project it is. It has great ideas and built in a reason to explore them, but chooses to use its time unwisely. What set Aang apart from his friends was his open mindedness and ability to look at situations from multiple angles. As he learns when working with Toph, that makes him an air bender. If Korra was really working on being an air bender then she should have been working on that skill. They explore that some, as stated above, with her going into pro-bending and learning how to be flexible. But it’s not fleshed out enough. Korra is not given the arc she really deserves and there clearly is one. She’s set up as someone with a weak spiritual connection, and when she first meets Amon he says he does have that connection. If they did not want to rewrite the whole series, just focusing on how Amon, though terribly wrong, fights for a cuse while Korra does not would be good enough to show a sign of spirituality she could learn. Instead she starts as a hard-headed, very direct person, and ends kind of the same way.

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: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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