Now that I’m finally caught up on Avatar: The Last Airbender and its sequel series, The Legend of Korra, I feel that I ought to review Korra now that I’ve reviewed Last Airbender. But I feel like there’s so much tied into the last series that I can’t do the new series justice unless I draw some comparisons between the two. So let’s see how they compare on the usual four points of storytelling.
First Category: The Story
Both series, despite having a similar cast of characters, take place in different times and settings, so they’re bound to have different stories. Avatar is a wuxia story that ties martial arts styles to the power of “bending” the elements of nature, with a cast of wandering heroes seeking to help the weak and protect the innocent wherever they go. By contrast, Legend of Korra is the Roaring Twenties with magic powers, featuring the rise professional sports and automobiles, and the signs of a conflict between the Establishment and a dangerous radical movement that threatens to upset a long era of peace.
On a narrative level, I think there’s a larger and deeper story in Avatar than there is in Legend of Korra, but that’s mostly due to the difference in scale. Avatar involves more exploration of the world and an equally large threat in the form of the Fire Nation. Legend of Korra is much more personal, focusing on Avatar Korra and her role in the middle of a crisis in Republic City.
Second Category: The Cast
Suffice it to say that both shows have a fantastic supporting cast, so I won’t analyze them as much except to say that Sokka is the most hilarious character of both series, period.
As far as protagonists go, it’s interesting to note that Avatar actually has two in the form of Aang and Zuko, whereas Legend of Korra has just Korra. Again, this seems to fit the scale of the two shows. We have Aang to show us the world from the perspective of those suffering from the war and Zuko to show us the inner workings of the Fire Nation. The two also complement each other, with Aang being an optimistic savior of the world and Zuko as the brooding and sympathetic antagonist with the most issues to overcome.
I have to admit that I like Korra a little more as the singular protagonist for her own series. She definitely has Aang’s enthusiasm and raw potential, but she also shares Zuko’s frustrations and trouble with self-control. It’s also worth noting that she’s a brilliant step forward as the female lead for a Nickelodeon show, being both a strong fighter and a compassionate soul.
Third Category: The Style
I could compare the animation of both shows, but honestly, there’s nothing to really say other than the animation is great all around. There’s a lot more detail and realistic human features in Legend of Korra, but I’d attribute that to better a more recent production (the same thing can be said if you compare Young Justice to Justice League and Justice League Unlimited).
Going back to the core stories for each show, both settings are fitting. Avatar‘s wuxia tale takes place in a large world of grand landscapes and magnificent ancient cities like Ba Sing Se, capturing the ethos of ancient Chinese legends. Legend of Korra, on the other hand, takes place in one city, which feels a lot like a cross between 1920s New York and Hong Kong. There’s certainly a lot more energy in Korra because everything’s contained in one city and things move at a faster pace than they do at the flying bison’s speed of Avatar.
If nothing else, the pro-bending matches in Korra are alone worth the wait, showcasing characterization and bending styles in a brilliantly animated form of athletics.
Fourth Category: The Theme
In a word, Avatar is about destiny. Whether it’s Aang living up to the legend and the mission of the Avatar or Zuko trying to decide his own path or the various tribes and nations seeking a destiny beyond the rule of the Fire Nation, the entire show is focused on how people, cultures, and nations change over time and whether or not they have the power to decide the course of history. One of the recurring motifs is the unconquerable might and brutality of the Fire Nation’s armies, often contrasted with the small band of heroes surrounding the Avatar on his desperate journey to master the elements and maybe save the world.
In another word, Korra is about relationships. On the one hand, there’s a lot more focus on Korra’s relationships to her master Tenzin and her friends Mako and Bolin, but on the other hand, there’s the relationship between benders and non-benders, as the Equalist movement under Amon tries to separate the two populations. Republic City is a social experiment, bringing together all kinds of benders and non-benders to create a wondrous environment, so there’s a lot more tension and color in a single episode of Korra than there was for Avatar.
Final Verdict: Avatar Knows How To Reach Us From Start To Finish
I really like both shows. Avatar speaks to the kid in me who wants to see a group of young heroes fly around the world and have awesome adventures, while Korra speaks to the adult in me who wants to see the implications of such a world broken down and more focus on a protagonist and her personal life. However, since there haven’t been as many episodes of Korra airing as of late, I have to go with the original Avatar series as being the better story. Korra may have a lot more energy and action, but Avatar has a lot more room to breathe and grow.
Bibliography: Avatar: The Last Airbender. Created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Brian Konietzko. Written by Michael Dante DiMartino, Brian Konietzko, Aaron Ehasz, Tim Hedrick, John O’Bryan, Elizabeth Welch Ehasz, and Joshua Hamilton. Directed by Lauren MacMullan, Dave Filoni, Giancarlo Volpe, Ethan Spaulding, and Joaquim Dos Santos. Produced by Michael Dante DiMartino, Brian Konietzko, and Aaron Ehasz. Nickelodeon Animation Studios. February 21, 2005 – July 19, 2008.
The Legend of Korra. Created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Brian Konietzko. Written by Michael Dante DiMartino and Brian Konietzko. Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos and Ki Hyun Ryu. Produced by Michael Dante DiMartino, Brian Konietzko, and Joaquim Dos Santos. Nickelodeon Animation Studios. April 14, 2012 – present.