Series Finale: The Legend of Korra: Book Four: Balance

Last week was the end of The Legend of Korra, the sequel to Nickelodeon’s highly-acclaimed cartoon epic, Avatar the Last Airbender. It came after the show’s third and fourth seasons, both of which came out this year in rapid succession with a surprising jump in story and character quality. Now that Korra is over, it’ll be hard to see how Nickelodeon will retain interest from the older fan base, especially when shows like Gravity Falls and Star Wars Rebels are gaining momentum on Disney.

Copyright © 2014 by Nickelodeon
Copyright © 2014 by Nickelodeon

In this two-part finale, we see Kuvira continue her conquest of Republic City using her superweapon to devastate everything in her path. Korra brings in allies both old and new to the fore of battle, leading up to an epic rematch with Kuvira now that she’s overcome her fears and inhibitions. The end result is a deadly blast of dark spirit energy and the creation of a new portal to the Spirit World, as Kuvira’s reign of terror is brought to a swift conclusion in a touchingly emotional and spiritual way.

So what does the finale to The Legend of Korra have to offer?

  • Excellent fight choreography. You might think that watching a bunch of tiny people going toe-to-toe with a giant mecha in the middle of a city would be dull. Except these are some of the world’s most powerful benders, led by the Avatar herself in a desperate battle to breach Kuvira’s Colossus. It’s an excellent showcase for everyone’s talents, from the engineering of Asami and Varrick to the sibling teams of Mako, Bolin, and the Beifong sisters.
  • A nice resolution of several character arcs. Everyone gets something out of this, from the oft-teased romance of Varrick and Zhu Li to Asami reconciling with her father to closing out the subplot of Prince Wu. But most importantly, this is a fantastic way to end Korra’s story, as she finally achieves a spiritual status as the Avatar. She doesn’t beat Kuvira with a blow to the head, but a sit-down chat and an examination of the trauma they share.
  • A high-energy climax worthy of its predecessor. In both episodes of the finale (“Day of the Colossus” and “The Last Stand”), nothing sits still for a minute. Much like the epic four-part finale to Avatar, the end of Legend of Korra is full of earthbending matches, giant laser beams that split buildings in half, enormous badger moles digging holes, and watching so many beloved characters get knocked out of the sky or nearly shot down.
  • One last romantic moment. Perhaps one of the biggest surprises in the finale is its quiet ending scene. Much like how Avatar the Last Airbender ended with Aang and Katara’s passionate kiss, we have a moment between Korra and Asami forging a new bond as they walk (hand-in-hand, no less) into the spirit world for a much-needed vacation. It was a huge nod toward all the Korrasami shippers in the fan base (including myself) and reading Bryan Konietzko’s own words on the subject is a breath of fresh air. For a show that always pushed the envelope, this was a great step forward and a nice resolution for Korra herself.

A few years ago, I wrote a review that compared the entirety of Avatar the Last Airbender to the first season of The Legend of Korra. At the time, I saw a lot of unrealized potential in Korra that Avatar had managed to achieve on its own. Looking back now, I can honestly say that, if the studio had given Korra the budget and attention it deserved, it honestly could have been a more groundbreaking show and another triumph in the spirit of Avatar. As it is, we’ll have to be content with the beautiful animation and all the hard work that Bryan Konietzko, Michael Dante DiMartino, and everyone else on their team put into it.


Bibliography: The Legend of Korra Book Four: Balance. Created by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino. Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Ki Hyun Ryu, Colin Heck, and Ian Graham. Written by Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, Tim Hedrick, and Joshua Hamilton. Produced by Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, Joaquim Dos Santos, and Tim Yoon. Ginormous Madman, Studio Mir, Nickelodeon Animation Studio, and Studio Pierrot. Nick.com (channel). Original broadcast date: April 14, 2012 to December 19, 2014.

First Look: The Legend of Korra: Book Four: Balance

Much to everyone’s surprise, the showrunners of The Legend of Korra announced that the fourth and final season would premiere only a few months after the third season finale. Then again, so much about Korra has been up in the air (from being renewed for additional seasons to changing to an online-only broascast) that it’s hard not to take such news in stride.

With that said, here’s a look at the opening to Book Four: Balance.

Copyright © 2014 by Nickelodeon
Copyright © 2014 by Nickelodeon

In the pilot episode “After All These Years,” we skip ahead to 3 years after the fall of the Earth Queen and the defeat of Zaheer. Korra has disappeared following her recovery from the Red Lotus attack, leaving the task of preserving balance and defending justice to the newly restored Air Nomads led by Tenzin and Jinora. Meanwhile, the Earth Kingdom is preparing to welcome its new ruler, Prince Wu, back from exile while also feeling the iron fist of the elite general Kuvira (voiced by Zelda Williams), who brooks no argument in her quest to pacify the kingdom under her particular brand of justice.

So what does this season have to offer so far?

  • New character arcs. Despite her name being in the show’s title, we get to see barely anything from Korra herself in this episode. Instead, we see all the things that the new Team Avatar has been up to in the last three years. I like that Asami is helping connect the world through Future Industries and the ways in which Mako and Bolin are contributing to the restoration of the Earth Kingdom. Even side characters like Opal are getting their own arcs. It’s a healthy approach after spending so much time focused on Korra and her personal needs (though her arc this season will undoubtedbly be the strongest of them all).
  • An interesting antagonist. Kuvira is an interesting antagonist. She has the common well-intentioned extremist brand that so many other Korra villains carried, but she seems to be far more effective at her job, almost on the scale of Amon or Azula. She inspires fear in the name of justice and isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. She definitely comes across as a sinister counterpart to Avatar Korra, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
  • The Air Nomads in action. Ever since the start of Book Three, seeing the return of airbenders has been a real treat in Korra. I love everything I’ve seen about the new Air Nomads, from the new aerodynamic uniforms to the partnership between young recruits like Opal and Kai. It’s a return to the playful spirit that Aang and his friends exhibited during the Last Airbender saga
  • A glimpse at Korra’s journey. The biggest change this show has to offer in Book Four isn’t merely physical or political. The last few minutes showed us Korra who for once didn’t define herself as the Avatar or try to live up to her own legend. That alone is an interesting premise and worth following up on this season.

Ultimately, what this season seems to be focused on is the same fundamental question: “How does this world do without the Avatar?” It’s a question you consider whether you’re looking at Kuvira’s Napoleonic rise to power or the return of the Air Nomads or Korra’s own struggle to define her identity. Whatever this season may bring, I can only hope that it lives up to that promise of a mature look at the Avatar universe as much as possible.

The final season of The Legend of Korra is available through Nickelodeon. New episodes air on Fridays.


Bibliography: The Legend of Korra Book Four: Balance. Created by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino. Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Ki Hyun Ryu, Colin Heck, and Ian Graham. Written by Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, Tim Hedrick, and Joshua Hamilton. Produced by Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, Joaquim Dos Santos, and Tim Yoon. Ginormous Madman, Studio Mir, Nickelodeon Animation Studio, and Studio Pierrot. Nick.com (channel). Original broadcast date: April 14, 2012 to present.

Season Finale: The Legend of Korra: Book Three: Change

Last Friday was the season finale for Book Three of The Legend of Korra. By most accounts, this season was a clear improvement after the last season in terms of both action and character development—and I heartily agree.

Copyright © 2014 by Nickelodeon
Copyright © 2014 by Nickelodeon

(So, um, spoilers below…)

In this two-part episode (“Enter the Void” and “Venom of the Red Lotus”), we get to see the culmination of the two major story arcs: the return of airbenders and the Red Lotus threat against Korra’s life. When Korra surrenders herself to the Red Lotus to ensure the safety of the airbenders, she and the rest of Team Avatar end up in a constant match against the four bender extremists. The fight against Zaheer comes as great cost—for both Zaheer and Korra, which the show spelled out very poignantly. The final scene of the season is bittersweet, as Korra has suffered a terrible injury, but her job of keeping balance in the world is given over to the reborn culture of the Air Nomads, led by Tenzin, Bumi, and the newly elevated Jinora.

While the animation in both Last Airbender and Legend of Korra has always been good, I really was blown away (no pun intended) at the beauty of the animation in the fights between Korra and Zaheer. Watching two powerful benders clashing through the skies near the Northern Air Temple was quite a thrill, especially sweeping landscape shots and the fact that two people are straight-up flying as they fight.

That being said, this finale isn’t a nice one for Korra, even when you compare it to the loss of her bending at Amon’s hands in the first season. It’s amazing how often she gets knocked out, chained up, beaten up, and straight-up poisoned. Even in the finale’s close-out, she’s still recovering from her injuries and crying quietly—although it did make for a quiet and heartwarming moment between her and Asami, and their friendship has been one of the best parts of this season. Korra has suffered, but she suffers with purpose and it helps that she has great friends to support her when she needs it the most, whether it’s Team Avatar or Jinora and her fellow airbenders.

While Zaheer’s downfall was expected—and the sudden deaths of his comrades was jarring—I must admit that I didn’t see Bolin’s time to shine coming. The show had pulled a bait and switch, making us think he lacked confidence in his ability to become a metalbender like Korra did, only for him to suddenly pull off lavabending and then use it against Ghazan, the lavabender on the Red Lotus’s side. Of course, there’s a fan theory going round about Bolin and Mako’s mixed parentage of earthbenders and firebenders, so I’m inclined to support this view as it paints Bolin in less of a deus ex machina corner.

Ultimately, this finale was a great cap to a great season. I really felt that there was a sense of growth for both the show and for Korra in particular. She’s proven herself as a capable Avatar, and despite the heavy toll, she did succeed in helping restore the Air Nomads to the world. I can barely wait for Book Four and see what new adventures are in store for her.

The Legend of Korra is available for viewing on Nickelodeon.


Bibliography: The Legend of Korra Book Three: Change. Created by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino. Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Ki Hyun Ryu, Colin Heck, and Ian Graham. Written by Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, Tim Hedrick, and Joshua Hamilton. Produced by Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, Joaquim Dos Santos, and Tim Yoon. Ginormous Madman, Studio Mir, Nickelodeon Animation Studio, and Studio Pierrot. Nickelodeon (channel). Original broadcast date: April 14, 2012 to August 22, 2012.

 

First Look: The Legend of Korra: Book Three: Change

After watching the first two seasons of The Legend of Korra, I had trouble with how the story of a new Avatar was progressing. I didn’t feel the joy or the character arcs that I got out of watching Avatar the Last Airbender.

Fortunately, with the first three episodes of Book Three: Change, I think the show is finally getting to where it’s always needed to be.

Copyright © 2014 by Nickelodeon
Copyright © 2014 by Nickelodeon

Episode One: “A Breath of Fresh Air”

Weeks after Harmonic Convergence, Korra struggles to find a balance between the spirit world and the human world. However, reports of airbenders reemerging gives her an idea: to help Tenzin travel the world and rebuild the Air Nomad culture that the Fire Nation drove to extinction. However, recruiting these new benders prove difficult and a new threat looms in the form of dangerous criminals led by an airbender named Zaheer.

While I feel like the spirit world angle gets dropped fairly quickly, the concept of airbenders returning does provide some excellent visual comedy and a great focus for Korra’s spiritual journey. It’s also telling that this episode finally sees a real friendship form between her and Asami, who bury the hatchet over the whole love triangle with poor Mako and start to build one of those rare female partnerships.

My only complaint—so far—has to do with the villains. While the idea of an evil airbender like Zaheer has potential, his voice actor (the great Henry Rollins) seems stuck delivering only pure exposition, even in his threats to his former prison guards. His companions have far more personality and sinister appeal between them. However, this could still be remedied as the season continues.

Episode Two: “Rebirth of a Nation”

Korra, Tenzin, and the others travel the Earth Kingdom, trying and failing to recruit airbenders everywhere they go. Things seem to look up when they recruit a young airbender named Kai, only to learn that he’s a skilled thief and consummate liar. Meanwhile, the old Fire Lord Zuko learns of the escaped benders led by Zaheer and leaves to make arrangements to protect the young Avatar from the threat they pose.

You might think that trying to rebuild an ancient culture of airbenders would be poignant and dramatic. As it turns out, Tenzin’s eager sales pitch about being a monk with tattoos and a flying bison for a friend are pretty hilarious (thanks in no small part to J.K. Simmons’s delivery). We also get more antics from Bumi, who is great when paired with the equally funny Bolin; it’s like hearing Sokka and Toph again.

Seeing Zuko return was a delight, especially considering the fact that his older self resembles his beloved uncle Iroh. I look forward to seeing how he can contribute to the plot. However, when it comes to the newcomer Kai, I’m a bit skeptical. Sure, he’s streetwise, talented, and a possible love interest for Jinora, but I could see him becoming annoying fast. He’s got “kid appeal character” written all over him. However, if this show has proven anything, it’s that everyone’s actions have consequences, even the Avatar’s (and come to think of it, especially the Avatar’s).

Episode Three: “The Earth Queen”

Arriving in Ba Sing Se, Korra meets the Earth Queen, who proves demanding and ungrateful, even when asking for Korra’s help in retrieving tax money from local bandits. Meanwhile, Mako and Bolin come across their father’s relatives in the slums, learning more about their heritage and the return of the Dai Li, who have press-ganged the city’s airbenders into the Queen’s secret army.

While I liked Ba Sing Se both in the original cartoon and in this series, I admit that I’m a little skeptical that we’re getting the same Dai Li plot recycled. The only difference seems to be that the Earth Queen is complicit in their underhanded actions instead of being kept in the dark. Fortunately, this means we get to see Korra show a little more foresight when it comes to dealing with the Earth Queen’s tactics, not to mention a fantastic fight scene between her and Asami as they take down a gang of motorcycle-riding bandits.

Now that we’re past the “stupid cops” subplot from last season, Mako and Bolin finally get a better storyline with their family reunion. It’s touching to see them introduced to their grandmother and dozens of cousins, but it’s also effective as a storytelling tool. Through the family, we get a local’s perspective on the problems in the Earth Kingdom and a contrast to the easier life that Mako and Bolin enjoyed in Republic City (even though they both grew up on the street as orphans, which is really saying something).

Ultimately, what’s been good about this season so far is that we’re finally overcoming some of the old hurdles, like a coherent plot and the constant love triangle between Korra, Mako, and Asami. We’re getting to see more of the world outside of Republic City and get a deeper focus on Korra’s mission as the Avatar. It’s appropriate that this season is entitled “Change” because it’s a bold step forward for both Korra’s world and for the show itself. It’s very telling that I feel much more optimistic and excited about how this season will develop than I did the last one.

The Legend of Korra is available for viewing on Nickelodeon. New episodes air on Fridays.


Bibliography: The Legend of Korra Book Three: Change. Created by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino. Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Ki Hyun Ryu, Colin Heck, and Ian Graham. Written by Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, Tim Hedrick, and Joshua Hamilton. Produced by Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, Joaquim Dos Santos, and Tim Yoon. Ginormous Madman, Studio Mir, Nickelodeon Animation Studio, and Studio Pierrot. Nickelodeon (channel). Original broadcast date: April 14, 2012 to present.

First Look: The Legend of Korra: Book Two: Spirits

Copyright © 2013 by Nickelodeon
Copyright © 2013 by Nickelodeon

Last Friday was the premiere for the second season of The Legend of Korra. In short, it’s reminiscent of some of the developments that we can remember from Avatar The Last Airbender, but the show still has a way to go toward becoming a strong sequel.

The premiere of Book Two: Spirits was shown through two episodes (“Rebel Spirit” and “The Southern Lights”). We learn that Korra has finally mastered airbending, though her spiritual training is still lacking. Tenzin tries to arrange a trip to the Air Temples around the world to correct this, but when they detour at the Southern Water Tribe to visit Korra’s family, they learn about a terrible imbalance between the physical world and the Spirit World. Hideous spirits have emerged, attacking human beings at random and spreading chaos. Korra is called upon to open a portal to the Spirit World at the winter solstice and restore balance.

Copyright © 2013 by Nickelodeon
Copyright © 2013 by Nickelodeon

When it comes to the returning main cast, I was mostly pleased. Korra is still maturing–both as the Avatar and as a teenager–and learning to question the decisions of her elders. Her relationship with Mako could be interesting depending on where things go. I do, however, feel that Bolin isn’t getting much development (though I felt the same way about Sokka from ATAS before I saw “Sokka’s Master”). Asami is getting some nice development as the head of her father’s company and we’re seeing more modern inventions like biplanes and “moving pictures” through her scenes. I’m also pleased to see some new subplots involving Tenzin’s family, like his siblings Bumi and Kya, and his daughter Jinori in particular.

The new cast, however, is far more interesting. We get to see Bumi and Kya, the older children of Aang and Katara, and how their relationship with younger brother Tenzin is still developing. We also get to see new Water Tribe members like Korra’s father Tonraq, his estranged brother Unalaq (who possesses a curious passion about the Spirit World that bears watching), and Unalaq’s twin children Desna and Eska. While I could easily dimiss these latter characters as an Overprotective Father, an Ambiguously Evil Uncle, and a pair of Creepy Twins, the show does give them just enough layers to be more engaging than cardboard cutouts.

While I will miss the bustling atmosphere of Republic City, I do like that the second season is going back to familiar locales like the Air Temples and the Southern Water Tribe region. The colors and details in these landscapes are fantastic, and they remind me a lot of Avatar the Last Airbender, where our heroes would get to explore a large and beautiful world instead of being bound to any one settlement.

In the end, I guess what I come away with at the end of the first two episodes is a sense of cautious optimism. I know that the show’s creators will always put a lot heart and soul into these stories and characters, so I’m not afraid I’ll ever lose interest in the series. But at the same time, I’m hopeful that Legend of Korra will be just a little bit less about teenage drama and a little more about fighting the real dangers of the world while striving for inner balance.

The second season of The Legend of Korra is available on Nickelodeon. New episodes air on Friday night.

Bibliography: The Legend of Korra (Book Two: Spirits). Created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. Written by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos and Ki Hyun Ryu. Produced by Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, Tim Yoon, and Joaquim Dos Santos. Ginormous Madman, Studio Mir, Nickelodeon Animation Studio, Studio Pierrot. Nickelodeon (channel). Original broadcast: September 13, 2013 – present.