Thursday, January 28, 2016

Legend of Korra: The Worst Avatar

Screen Shot of opening sequence
In what unfair world do fans only get three seasons of Avatar and four seasons of Korra? They should have made an "Air" season about rebuilding in the wake of the war. The graphic novel material would have made a great fourth season! When The Legend of Korra first came out, I watched maybe half of the first season. I was told that I should keep watching: I just had to remember that it wasn't Avatar: The Last Airbender. True, I wasn't ready to let go of my favorite characters, but The Legend of Korra is objectively poorer in many other ways.

Avatar: The Last Airbender is an Americanized version of the Japanese anime format. As such, there are certain elements present in the show. Young heroes face evil while growing in power and wisdom as each antagonist is defeated. Serious themes are engaged with a large amount of comic relief. The characters are bound together by strong friendships, and relationships are characterized by trust and support. Enemies often become friends after they are defeated. The medium allows for fluidity of art styles to depict different expressions, emotions, and actions of which the human body isn't normally capable. Characters fly around, especially during epic battles, without much concern for the laws of gravity. Many of these elements are lacking in The Legend of Korra.

1. Young heroes face evil while growing in power and wisdom as each antagonist is defeated.

Konietzko's "Legend of Korra" for the
announcement at the Dark Horse panel. Nickelodeon
http://www.latintimes.com/legend-korra-season-5-
news-series-will-continue-graphic-novel-328834
The characters in Korra are a bit older than Aang and the gang, and they are already powerful when the series begins. Korra already knows water, earth, and firebending as a child; she picks up airbending quickly; and all the elements are mastered by the end of the first season. When she is introduced to metal bending, she picks it up on her first try. (Apparently, Aang never asked Toph to teach him, so Korra is the first Avatar to ever master it.) Mako already knows how to shoot lightning when we meet him. Asami is accomplished in technological inventions, physical confrontations, and race car driving.

They are also able to dismiss the advice and wisdom of their elders. Their mistakes look more foolish and their failures are more frustrating than (the real) Team Avatar's. Because they don't take the wisdom of the more experienced seriously, the show constantly has to bring back characters from the original show to give advice. Katara, Iroh, Zuko, Toph, even Aang through a vision. I think the only person we don't hear from is Sokka. So, the new team doesn't take advice from their elders, and their elders (Tenzin, Bumi, Lin Beifong) receive advice from them. Examples of children giving advice to parents abound.

Traditionally, good stories progress in a repetition of conflict. Each new conflict provides a paradigm for the next, emphasizing the final conflict that they build towards. Korra does not follow this in the same way that Avatar did. Presenting a completely new conflict and antagonist each season created a treadmill effect, where no growth occurred, no progress towards the goal was made, and the knowledge that another evil will soon arise robbed the audience of any sense of closure.

As a result of over-powered characters, their lack of growth, and the fresh conflict each season, the audience has trouble investing in the character's conflicts and battles. They seem shallow and insufficient in comparison with the original characters, and the flood of "main characters" (Korra, Mako, Bolin, Asami, Tenzin, Bumi, Lin Beifong, Jinora, Ikki, Meelo, Varrick, Zhu Li, Opal) does nothing to help matters.

2. Theme of Strong Bonds of Friendship

Screen shot Season One, Episode 2:
"Welcome to Republic City; A Leaf in the Wind Part 2"
 In Avatar, relationships are characterized by trust and support. When there are conflicts there is always an underlying issue: Toph misses her parents, Zuko is dealing with inwardly-directed anger, etc. Always, the conflict developed the characters and progressed the plot, and their friendships were strong enough to weather the battle.

Korra, on the other hand, features divisive conflict over relationships, including cheating on your significant other. In fact, the only relationships that do not feature a break up are the people who are already married. Mako and Korra break up. Mako and Asami break up. Bolin and Eska break up, get back together briefly, and break up again. Bolin and Opal break up. Zhu Li betrays Varrick (even though she was only pretending, he thought it was real). Kuvira betrays Baatar Jr. Councilman Tarrlok kills his brother Noatak (Amon). As result, the audience mistrusts the characters' feelings towards each other. The fact that many of these differences are never resolved at all contributes to the lack of character growth.

3. Serious Themes Interwoven with Comic Relief

Korra is definitely darker than its predecessor. The themes are more complex and more serious. However, more complex can also mean more controversial. Many of the antagonists' values and goals are not evil. Amon seeks equality for the overlooked non-bender population, Zaheer was concerned for the people of nations whose leaders were more concerned about their own political goals than the well-being of the nation, and Kuvira represented herself as uniting the Earth Empire and re-stabilizing its economy. True, they were extremists. It is a very good thing that someone hot-headed like Korra was the Avatar and not Aang because then someone might have had to talk to these characters and discover that their values might even be held by some of the audience.
"Taste My Fury" Screen shot. Season One, Episode 10,
"Turning the Tides"

These darker conflicts present a greater contrast between the serious parts of the show and the comic relief. The fart jokes feel out of place. A nail-biting battle is interrupted by a joke, and instead of feeling like relief, it feels odd. The tone of the show is inconstant and confusing. Is it trying to be like Avatar: The Last Airbender, or is it trying to be a more mature show about more mature issues?

Conclusion

These three elements are the big contributors to The Legend of Korra's failure as a sequel series to Avatar: The Last Airbender. There are others, such as the lack of consistency in the nature of the Avatar and the Spirit World; the misogynistic depiction of Kuvira, a woman in power; and the inconsistent setting that lost the charm of the original. Overall, I remain disappointed in this series, and I do not recommend it to anyone. Avatar: The Last Airbender, of course, I recommend to everyone.

"Book One: Air," "Book Two: Spirits," "Book Three: Change," "Book Four: Balance." The Legend of Korra. Writ. Bryan Knietzko and Michael Dante Dimarino. Nickelodeon, 2012-2015. DVD.

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