Originally, my plan for today was to post a review of Brave, the latest film by Pixar, which released last Friday. However, upon seeing it last Friday, It turned out to be a movie far different from what I was expecting. It was still a good movie, but it derailed so much form the movie I had in my mind going into it, that I felt so out of whack, I didn’t even know where to begin the review. Fortunately, Escapist Film Critic Robert “Moviebob” Chipman wrote an Intermission article that textualized all my feelings on Brave almost perfectly, and [quite impressively] without spoilers. So for anyone who is interested on Bob’s [and coincidentally my] thoughts on the movie, click here.
I guess you all could say I’m being lazy, and making excuses so that I can review something else that happened this weekend, and I suppose there’s some truth to that. But in all seriousness, I have to he honest with myself, and honestly, the climax of another season to the greatest animated series on American television seems far more prominent. So follow me as I dive head first into the two-part finale of the first season of The Legend of Korra.
Much like my first review of Korra, the following will contain a plot synopsis and character appearances. I will keep specific details of the ending and certain reveals under wraps for those yet to see it, but just for fair warning, Marginal Spoiler Alert.
Book One Chapter 11, The Skeleton in the Closet: With each member of the council suppressed, and the Avatar in hiding, Amon’s army takes full control of Republic City. With the worlds most brilliant inventor Hiroshi Sato on his side, not even the Allied Forces of the world, lead by Zuko’s very own grandson General Iroh, can stand between him and his ideals for global equality. Meanwhile, the so called “on the run” Avatar, the brothers, and Asami Sato have found a safe haven under ground, thanks to an old friend. In fact, it could be said that he was the first friend Korra ever made when she came to the city.
This was a good intro. It tied the series back to the beginning well, and was a good reminder of just how much has happened in such short time. I also really like the hobo, whose real name is Gommu by the way, as he fits in so well within the pantheon of classic one-off minor Avatar characters, like the Cabbage Man, Chey, Chong, Old Man Ding, and Doc/Shu/Bushi.
Most of this episode’s second half was the standard preparing for final battle affair, very much in vain of The Old Masters episode from the original series, which isn’t bad. After the team secures General Iroh, and they debrief the situation, a plan is put in place. Korra, anxious to stop Amon in his tracks, sets off with Mako to infiltrate Air Temple Island (now under his control), while General Iroh sets out with Bolin and Asami to find Hiroshi Sato’s base of operations, and destroy his weapons before he unleashes them on his backup fleet.
The episode really kicks up in the final act when Korra and Mako sneak onto the island uncovered, and run into none other than Tarrlok, imprisoned all alone in the attic. There, he tells Korra, well… everything. Who Amon really is. Where his powers come from. And how he was able to resist Tarrlok’s bloodbending from Chapter 9. All of this is revealed via what is now in the running of THE most dark, disturbing, and melancholy back-story of the entire Avatar lore. Yes, even more so than Zuko’s.
Tarrlok’s tale was executed excellently, and was easily the highlight of the episode. Masashi Kishimoto, take note. THIS is how you write a compelling story about two brothers.
On the other hand, the actual “reveal” of all of Amon’s secrets (without giving anything away) was everything from predictable to outright bending the rules. I can very much see some fans being seriously frustrated with it, almost in the same way they were frustrated with the rock piercing Aang’s back being what unlocked his final chakra and reawakened his Avatar State. I myself can say that I did call this reveal to a certain point long ago, and would have appreciated a bit more clarity. But for now we have to, as Korra would say, “Deal with it,” and move on to Part Two.
Book One Chapter 12, Endgame: Simply put, it all comes down to this. Korra faces Amon, Asami faces her father, and Zuko’s grandson goes to any lengths he possibly can to
defend his honor I mean protect his fleet from ambush. You know, I was kind of skeptical about General Iroh’s character. He was only introduced to us for the first time at the end of Chapter 10, so we don’t really know much about him, (then again, there hasn’t been much time allocated for character development at all in this series) plus hearing Zuko’s voice actor Dante Basco now playing his grandson was so distracting at first. However, once the action kicked in, I pretty much forgot about all that and really got into his place in the series. It’s also worth noting that since the show already had a prominent young firebender in Mako, I was hoping Iroh would turn out to be just a badass nonbending fighter, like a combination of his Grandfather’s Dao Swordsmanship and his Grandmother’s Shuriken prowess. Though I will not fault the creators for not going that route, because if so, they wouldn’t have been able to pull off awesome stunts like this.
Asami’s battle with her father Hiroshi was nicely done as well. If anything Legend of Korra can say it accomplished, it was providing a few new candidates out to beat Ozai for the title of “Worst Father Ever.” The entire series, it was somewhat ambiguous whether or not Asami would turn out to be a double agent. Despite all the crap she had to deal with, including her clueless two-timing boyfriend, and how getting her to turn sides would have been so easy, the creators did not fall for that cliche, and in process, kept true to their code of creating strong, admirable, and respectful female characters who stick to their morals and choose their own destinies.
Speaking of which, we’re now left with Korra, who has the greatest task of all. While she may now know all of Amon’s secrets, Amon manages to bring one final card to the table, which happens to be the worst-case scenario the creators could have possibly thrown at us. With stakes so high, Korra has no choice but to charge head first toward her greatest fear.
To clarify, this is almost a polar opposite climax to Aang’s fight with Ozai. In that fight, Aang had the power in him to defeat his opponent the whole time, but chose to hold back in fear of taking his life. This time it’s completely different. Korra, at this point, knows for a fact that she CANNOT win in a strait up fight with her opponent, and if she tries, there is no chance for her to end up on top, and yet, she does it anyway because it’s the right thing to do. It is noting like the massive, flashy, and glorified bending spectacles we’ve seen all three of the other Avatar finale’s. It is grueling and brutal, and only through a loophole that both Amon and Korra (but maybe not the audience) overlooked, does the conflict finally come to a brisk end.
Amon’s character arc, while fans will undoubtedly be splintered about Mike and Bryan’s choice for some time now, was admittedly very welcome change of pace to the series, and I can say with confidence that it wasn’t a strait up rehash of any villain from The Last Airbender. His last scene of this season in particular, I felt, was a stroke of genius, and the one thing I can say I did not see coming.
Sorry if anyone considers this a spoiler, but I figured even a child as young as Meelo could assume a plot point like, “The Avatar enters the Avatar State, heals the damage done by the bad guy, and we all live happily ever after.” If people are really going to bother complaining about how this season ended, they are going to face an upward battle for a long time, especially since it will be a retread of the same arguments we had for the TLA Finale. If they do it, critics complain the ending feels cheep. If they don’t, not only are most audiences left spurned at a tragic cliffhanger, but critics will still complain that they ignored the Avatar’s great power, and in process, create a plot hole you could fly a bison through.
Though I will agree… This alternate ending would have worked really really well. (Spoiler Warning: only click on link below if you’ve watched the finale.)
If anything, Mike and Bryan should have written Legend of Korra with more confidence that it was going to be green lit for a second season (which it was), and approached Book One with a bit more hindsight in mind. Because while I personally find it impressive how they made Book One into it’s own self-contained story with a beginning, middle, and end that fully wraps up what it set out to do, it is a very tight self-contained story that had far too little breathing room for its own good. It is literally the opposite effect of shonen anime, which all move at a leisurely pace and take their time with each character moment they possibly can. This moved too fast, with the creators stuffing twelve short baskets with as much eggs as they possibly could, resulting in the introduction of a dozen characters that I initially love, but never get to truly know because they’re all too busy rushing to the next conflict. While there were a few characters that managed to shine among all the chaos, particularly Tenzin, Lin Bei Fong, and even Tarrlok, you have other characters like Korra’s main costars, Mako and Bolin, ending this season tragically underdeveloped, especially when you put them back to back with their predecessors, Katara and Sokka.
Meanwhile, if I bring up any of the technical aspects of the show, I really only have positive things to say. The animation, music, voice acting, humor, and action scenes were all spectacular as usual. And even though Book 2 could be years away, and is going to have a completely different story, with a new adventure entirely that I have no clue how much the creators have thought through, I have the highest hopes for it. It’s already confirmed to entail at least some traveling outside Republic City, which will be a much welcomed treat. And while Book One was indeed self-contained, it did manage to introduce one final character at the very end who could foreshadow adventures to come: Tenzin’s older brother. A nonbender who was the child of an airbender and a waterbender, named after an earthbender, dresses like a firebender, has had a whopping three seconds of screen time, and already has me convinced he is the most awesome man on the planet.
With that, the First Legend of Avatar Korra comes to an end. Take from it what you will, in twelve short episodes, it has managed to flesh out the future of the Avatar world insurmountably. If anything, it has given the fanbase a ton more to talk about. Is it as good as the original series? Would that have even been possible with only twelve episodes? Did the creators make the right choice with Amon’s reveal? Is “Who is Lin’s father,” the next “what happened to Zuko’s mother,” in the line of Questions fan’s will never stop asking? I don’t know, you tell me.