Welcome to Republic City
Hi! This is Shadow Warden, and this is the first TV Tropes-based liveblog of Avatar: The Legend of Korra
that I am aware of. Having liveblogged its predecessor back in the day, I've decided to take a stab at this one. I haven't followed the leadup too closely, but I am aware of the basic conceit, so let me describe it to those of you who may not, for whatever reason, be watching the show with me:
The Legend of Korra is set in Republic City, a modernized metropolis representing the progressive ideals of the last series' protagonist, Aang. While Aang - and most of the original cast - are dead, the new Avatar Korra has stepped up to take his mantle and is going to move to Republic City. Among the various problems she'll face are organized crime, an anti-bending faction, and... well. Let's just get on with this. It's been a while since I've liveblogged and I'm rusty.
Book One: Air: Welcome to Republic City
We have an opening, summarizing the state of the world as it is now. Aang and Zuko won out over evil, established a new integrated republic, best intentions and ideals, and then Aang bit the bullet. The narration is done by Aang's son Tenzin, in parallel to the way Katara narrated in the last series. However, I would contend that this opening is vastly superior, if only for one reason: Tenzin is voiced by none other than J. K. Simmons, whose voice is really rather incredible.
Also, it's clear from even this brief glimpse that the animation has been stepped up a notch. As we segue out of the introduction and to a remote Water Tribe village, we see three figures approach a home. We learn from the couple inside that these three (who are entering) are from the Order of the White Lotus. Apparently they're attempting to find the new Avatar, and have been investigating claims both in the Northern Water Tribe and here in the south. Most of these have turned out to be false. One wonders how they even test for such a thing, but that question is neither here nor there, because the couple has called out their daughter Korra, who demonstrates early mastery of a certain trope.
"I'm the Avatar! You gotta deal with it!"
A young Korra then marches forward, earthbending, firebending, and waterbending in a prodigal display of prowess.
Hold on. Time out.
- While I think it's a great moment, and while it does aptly establish Korra's character, it doesn't make any sense by the rules of the universe as we've known them. Indeed, it's the same problem Aang had, taken to a whole new extreme. Where Aang managed to sufficiently master three elements within less than a year, Korra, at a comparatively young age, is demonstrating the ability to use all three.
- Granted, she's not doing so with much skill, but the fact that their igloo is still standing and not melted or in more disarray than it is speaks volumes to the fact that she's already got a firm grasp of the power under her command, not to mention she's got her opposing element figured out. The next Avatar will probably have all four elements mastered by the age of one, going by this kind of progression!
We segue out of Korra's display and into a literal firefight some years later. It's pretty cool. More of the upgraded animation is on showcase. She wins handily against a number of competent Firebenders and immediately begins cheering herself; the council on hand, however, who include members of the White Lotus, are not so thrilled. We get the sense here that they aren't too impressed with Korra's lack of restraint, and we also learn that Korra's not too spiritual. Also, Katara is still alive, and considered a Waterbending master. They decide to let her move on to Airbending, and receive spiritual guidance from Tenzin.
- I do appreciate that they're distancing her characterization from Aang's, and also that they're making her a positive character while still allowing her to have flaws.
- Another thing I'd like to comment on here, in this brief interlude, is that the feel of the show so far is much more polished. In the previous series you had a tendency for the humor to feel jarring, or out of place, even in the later seasons, but in this episode it's worked in far more naturally. They had a much clearer vision for what this show was going to be, and that is very much apparent.
Korra brags about her success to her pet... polar bear-dog, it would seem? Naga. They go out for a ride, and we immediately cut to our next scene; the arrival of Tenzin and his family - looks like someone's been busy! Tenzin's a very stoic, straight-man kind of character, standing in marked contrast to his rambunctious children. His wife seems to be an ordinary non-bender, and somewhat resentful of the fact that she's the only non-bender in the family. I smell foreshadowing! Also worth noting is that sky bison aren't extinct, as Tenzin rode one in.
Anyway, Katara is his mom, they're happy to see each other, and it turns out Tenzin can't actually stay there; he has to go back to the city, being one of its leaders, and he can't teach Korra. Obviously none too pleased with this, Korra tries to convince him to take her back, but the Order of the White Lotus will have none of it; seems like ever since Iroh died, they've become zealously overprotective busybodies instead of benevolent agents of balance, though in Korra's case I can see why they'd want to keep her far, far away from anything resembling civilization. Of course, locking her up inside a compound seems to be going to the other extreme. Tenzin also objects, citing the city's instability; pay attention to this, guys, it's going to be a central point of the show.
Korra, of course, will have none of this, and so she escapes. Katara, in a wonderful parallel with the original series,
allows her to escape, and in fact encourages her to do so. You go, cool old grandma. Another short scene follows, where she bids her parents goodbye; the moment, sadly, is ruined by poor voice acting on her mother's part, but since they were incidental characters anyway we can just forget them. Our bold new Avatar stows away with her polar bear dog in a steamship and sails off to Republic City.
We pan across the hold she's hiding in; we see, among other things, a very old-timey automobile, another bit of foreshadowing for the technological state of the impending City. They arrive, Korra and her polar bear dog make a hasty exit, and we see another bit of footage from the trailer. Scenery Porn
galore. We find out that in this setting, automobiles are called Satomobiles. Korra is of course intent on reaching Air Temple Island, where Tenzin apparently lives, but Naga wants food; so they take off, running down one of the streets. They disrupt car traffic, cause crashes, and some jazz music is playing. While jarring at first, it helps really drive home the difference in mood; this is the big city, not the calm, pre-industrial world of the original series.
They find a food vendor; lacking money, of course, they can't buy anything. Instead, they find the nearest park and fish out of it, with Korra quite practically using firebending to cook her meal. She meets a bush-dwelling homeless bum, who fills her in on the rather obvious fact that not everyone in the city is rich and well-off, and then a cop chases her off, informing her that she can't fish in the park. He resembles a British bobby in many respects.
Now, of course, we come to one of the more fascinating ideas of the new series; the introduction of Amon and his anti-bending political faction.
Hold on a moment.
- While the implementation of their idea is naturally going to be quite violent, the argument at the core of the anti-bender movement is not actually terribly unreasonable. In a world like Avatar's, where a small minority have functional magic and a large majority do not, there is bound to be resentment, and there are bound to be benders who misuse and abuse their power for less than ideal purposes. As we see later in this episode, a majority of the law enforcement appears to be comprised of benders; metalbenders, to be quite exact, forming an elite core. While bending is rather obviously desirable in policemen, it does also suggest a bias inherent in the system. While it's hard to say at this point, I do think the movement might be a reaction to said bias. I hope they explore this more, I really do.
The speaker, of course, is urging non-benders to join and overthrow the current establishment, and Korra objects; she's not very good at rhetoric, however, and so suffers an egregious
verbal curbstomp. She walks away, dejected.
Next scene. Korra's asking for directions, but then some gangsters (calling themselves 'Triads') show up. They're dressed pretty snazzily, and they're hitting up a poor salesman for some money. When he doesn't have it, they start making threats, and so of course Korra steps in to save him. Some banter is tossed back and forth, and the thug eventually says, "Who do you think you are?" She shoots back, all badass
: "Why don't you come here and find out?"
Cue a fight scene. Korra does a ton of collateral damage to the shopfronts, but she does beat the Triads up pretty handily. Just as she's finished - tons of wreckage, by the way, this is important - the police show up. As I mentioned before, they're metalbenders, and they're very, very cool.
- It overjoys me that, for once, they made the police competent.
Of course, while they arrest the three thugs, they also try to bring Korra in for the gratuitous amounts of property damage her would-be heroism resulted in. She, stupidly, resists arrest and tries to run. A good chase scene ensues, and while you can't really blame Korra or the police, I still think she's being pretty dumb
here. Eventually, they do
catch her, and I bring out the ill-used, dusty crowner:
- Republic City police force's Crowning Moment Of Awesome assigned: Successfully capturing and bringing in the Avatar in competent, efficient fashion. Also, looking really cool while doing it.
We cut to the police station, in which we meet my absolute favorite character in this entire episode; none other than one Chief Bei-Fong
, Toph's descendant, metalbender, and stone cold bitch
. She lists off Korra's list of offenses and shoots down her attempt to play the Avatar card. "You can't just waltz in here and dole out vigilante justice like you own the place!" Seriously, I love this woman, she is all kinds of awesome.
Anyway, Tenzin comes in, and bails Korra out, promising to return her home. While we all know that isn't going to happen, it's nice to see that even without the Avatar being a wanted criminal, no one's going to let her get away with things just because of who she is. It's refreshing to see a show - a children's
show, no less - that focuses on consequences to this degree without going over-the-top about them. As Korra exits, Chief Bei-Fong gives her the evil-eye, and Korra gives it to her right back; the sheer brattiness they convey in a split second of animation is truly hilarious to behold.
Korra gets her polar bear dog - it has a canonical name! - back, and she manages to talk Tenzin into letting her stay in the city. It's a bit quick, especially for someone as resolute and serious as Tenzin, but they're running out of episode time so they need to wrap it up somehow. Tenzin relents, Korra's overjoyed, and she hugs him and all his kids at once in a particularly overt display of nigh-Amazonian strength.
Cut to the next to last scene. Korra's being publicly announced and she does a speech to the various reporters and citizens assembled. She doesn't have a plan yet, but she's happy to be here, woo, woo, except—
Last scene. We get introduced to Amon, the leader of the anti-bending faction, using yet more trailer footage; he's a creepy guy in a mask and he ends the episode on an ominous note, citing 'plans' and the need to speed them up.
I can't believe I have to wait until April for more of this. I love the blend of styles, and I love the shift away from the original series; jazz music, a huge metropolis, and an Avatar with completely different issues than Aang ever had. I feel that Korra's attitude is meant as a subtle illustration of the anti-benders' point - they object to boastful, arrogant, oppressive users of bending power. Is it any coincidence that literally the very next scene
, the police have to bring in Korra on dispensing vigilante justice and causing huge amounts of damage to public and private property? I'm sure they did that on purpose. This is by far the most fascinating idea the show has going for it, more so because there's no easy solution at work here.
I do also like the way that shades of grey have been worked into not only the Avatar herself, but into the Order of the White Lotus and the other 'good' characters. One can only hope they'll give these dimensions more exploration; it took the original show quite a while to entrench itself in moral complexity, but with hints of it here in the very first episode, I'm hopeful. It feels like a very grounded, very mature series so far, but one with a good sense of humor that keeps things from getting too gloomy. I'm looking forward to seeing the second episode.