The Avatar is Back Baby! A Review of The Legend of Korra Premiere

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Today, I’ve got some good news and some more good news. The good news is one of my highest 2012 TMA Resolutions has already come true: Nickelodeon’s new Avatar series The Legend Korra now has an official release date. Ladies and Gents, Badgermoles of all ages, set your calendars and DVR’s for Saturday April 14th, 11:00 AM. To be perfectly honest, I was expecting a release date around September of this year at the earliest, so the sudden reveal that the show is now coming in less than a month is definitely a welcomed treat.

And even more good news, because so many fans out there were so supportive in getting the word out, the creator’s very own fansite Korra Nation reached their goal of 100,000 likes and shares across Facebook and Twitter, so as a reward the moderators have unlocked the first two episodes of The Legend of Korra, which you can all see right now.

After watching myself, words cannot describe the amount of bliss running through my veins this very instant. I once said that Avatar the Last Airbender captured my heart and imagination like nothing before. This Saturday, I was reminded just why I felt that way. That said, this is a review, and I want to be fair and honest, so I will compose myself for the next couple paragraphs to let you know what was hot, what was not as hot, and why Zutaras may finally get the chance to eat their freaking hearts out.

Legend of Korra_Aang Statue
“Avatar Aang accomplished many remarkable things in his life, but sadly, his time in this world came to an end. And like the cycle of the seasons, the cycle of the Avatar began anew.”

 

For those of you who wish to wait for the official release in 3 more weeks, I will attempt to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible. I will comment on the plot synopsis of each episode and the characters we are introduced to. Beyond that this will be a strictly technical critique. So let’s get started.

As the pilot begins, Book One: Air, Chapter One Welcome to Republic City (so yes, we finally get our Air book), we see a quick glimpse of young Korra’s origins when the Order of the White Lotus discovers that she is the Avatar, and at the age of 6 no less. From there, we fast-forward to present day where Korra, now 17, has all but mastered three of the four elements, left only to master airbending. Unfortunately, the only airbending master in existence is Tenzin, son of late Avatar Aang, which wouldn’t be a problem if he also hadn’t been a high ranking political figure of Republic City, of which he is currently busy trying to help with the rising crime rates and an anti-bender revolt, thus making the White Lotus not exactly peachy at the thought of sending young Korra to a place so dangerous. (Scoff “By Jove! Sending the spiritual savior of the world to a desperate crime filled land? Preposterous!”) Despite their warnings, Korra, by approval of Katara (the last remaining member of the original Team Avatar still kicking), and accompanied by her trusted pet polar-bear-dog Naga, takes it upon herself to board the next ship and venture to Republic City. Let the hi-jinx begin!

Chapter Two, A Leaf In the Wind: After a rough first day in Republic City involving one or two traffic accidents, a vagabond, the mob, and a run-in with the cops, Korra is picked up by Tenzin and confined to his home on Air Temple Island where she begins her airbending training. Her first exercise proves to be difficult, as the technique fails to click with her rash, assertive nature of doing things. She grows impatient, causing Tenzin to grow impatient with her impatience, causing her to run away to the Pro Bending Arena in town to catch a glimpse of a match, causing her to stumble upon a team of brothers competing in said match, causing them to half enthusiastically/half reluctantly introduce her to the sport, causing even more tension between her and her master. Can Tenzin finally win the approval of his pupil? How will Korra find balance between the physical and spiritual side of being the Avatar? But probably the most pressing question of all… will Tenzin’s three airbending kids Jinhora, Ikki, and Meelo, EVER STOP BEING CUTE!? I mean really!

Tenzin's Family
“When’s Chapter 3 coming? Is it here yet? Is it here yet? Is it here yet?”

To avoid beating around the bush like that hobo in Republic City’s central park, this pilot was just about the greatest thing I’ve seen in animation for years. All of the trademark pillars of quality I remember so well from the Avatar franchise were present and accounted for: Gorgeous animation in both characters and backgrounds, unique musical score that fits each moment perfectly, outstanding voice acting (including kids that actually sound like kids for once), fast-paced dynamic fight sequences that are choreographed by actual martial artists and animated as smooth as a dime, and of course masterful storytelling with clever writing and humor that finds the sweet spot of remaining PG without insulting your intelligence.

So yes, The Legend of Korra hits all the technical qualifications with flying colors, as I never doubted it would. What I was more concerned about was how this new, 70-years-later, Steam punk, 1920’s take on the Avatar universe would resonate within the world we have come to know so well. I have to say, at points it felt like a whole new series entirely, the world had changed that much. But then again, that’s true to life. A lot will change in 70 years, and even if I don’t expect to be running into any familiar sites from the original show like the Spirit Oasis, the Swamp, Ba-Sing-Se, or any of the Air Temples, I have already become very invested in this new world before my eyes and can’t wait to explore more of Republic City.

But if there is anything that has changed more than the Avatar world, it is the Avatar himself… or herself.

Korra
“I’m not like your pansy pacifist Aang. I’m bad freakin’ ass. I make my own rules, and you gotta deal with it.”

 

So we were all forewarned, very early on in production, that Korra was going to be a very different Avatar, with creator Mike DiMartino going so far as to call her an “Anti-Aang.” After seeing Korra in action for myself… holy **** they were not kidding! Korra may be five years older than Aang was during the events of The Last Airbender, but due to her gung-ho, impulsive, careless, fire-blast-first-don’t-bother-asking-questions-later attitude of dealing with things made her seem five years less mature. She’s not just incompetent with the spiritual aspect of her Avatar duty, she flat out ignores it. Aang was all about spirituality and inner peace. I didn’t think about it much back in the day, but that was probably what helped him trigger the Avatar State so instinctively on several occasions in the first few episodes. With Korra, I wouldn’t be surprised if she doesn’t even know what the Avatar State is.

Take this for what you will, it is a different take on the Avatar. Personally, I was a huge fan of Aang. I felt his tactile, evasive style of fighting made him a breath of fresh air when compared to all the loud-mouthed, hotheaded, fist shaking young male heroes flooding the Anime department. Korra, as of the first two episodes, feels a bit more of that same mold, with the slight exception that it’s now a young woman in the hot seat making all the rash impulsive decisions. That said, I am still curious to see how this dynamic will play into the Avatar’s progression throughout the series.

If there was one other slight thing to be critical about, it would be the pacing. While I’ve always felt Avatar’s pacing has always been a stroke of genius in the past, the first two episodes of Korra felt almost too fast. This is particularly noticeable in the second episode when Korra first meets the brothers Bolin and Mako for the first time. She just sort of stumbles into meeting Bolin at the arena, and in the span of knowing her for ONE MINUTE, he’s already confessing to his brother about how he has this “great feeling” about her. That felt pretty rushed. These guys are supposed to be the new Katara and Sokka roles of the series, so I would like to think we could have taken a little more time with their intro.

Mako
“Sup? I’m like totally pretending not to be the hottest ladies man on the planet.”

 

That said, I did believe using the Pro-Bending match and the announcer’s commentary was a very clever deploy to give us some early incite on these two guys. It’s also very easy to see the stirring of a new shipping war just in the second episode alone. Korra and Bolin right away have a fun chemistry, with Mako clearly being the more skeptical one. Given that Mako’s the firebender, and he’s got that angsty edge to him, there is a very likely chance many of the fans who pared Katara and Zuko together are going to convert to being Korra/Mako shippers, and considering how they lost last time, I would not be surprised if the creators made this pair happen in order to appease that demographic. (If Mike and Bryan have an Achilles’ Heal, it’s being waaaaaaaaaaaaay too self aware of their fan base.)

Whatever few minor hiccups the show’s premiere may have had, they pale in comparison to how happy I am to see this show return. I am honestly trying to think of all the fantasy TV series I watched after the finale in 2008, and see if any of them had as much of an impact on me as Avatar did. Let’s see…

  • Heroes: Started sucking after one season.
  • Gurren Lagann: Granted, reinvigorated my faith in Anime, still would not recommend it for the writing.
  • Samurai 7: Needed more character depth.
  • Claymore: I can accept ending with one loose end, but not several.
  • Spartacus: First season was all right. Haven’t watched anything since.
  • Dragon Ball Z Kai: Fixed one problem with the original show. The rest is still a shallow, plot hole ridden slugfest with no character development.
  • Vampire + Rosario: …Please don’t ask. My life is sad.
  • Firefly: May have actually had a chance… had it not been so unceremoniously canceled. Why Fox?! Why?!
  • One Piece: Okay, that I do love, but for completely different sensibilities that aren’t really comparable.

Thank you all for doing such a wonderful job of padding time for me, alas the reigning champion remains unscathed. Rest assured the Avatar has returned with much promise. Still to come, we will see more of how Korra’s airbending training with Tenzin intensifies, she permanently joins the Fire Ferret Brother’s Pro-Bending Team, and Amon, the masked leader of the Anti-Bender revolt, may yet reveal his plans for the city.

So stay tuned for the official release, when The Legend of Korra airs Saturday, April 14th 11:00 AM! Only on Nick!

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