A few years ago, I took a detailed look at all 61 episodes of a cartoon series called Avatar: The Last Airbender. You may have heard of it. It was a cartoon series that ran up until 2008. It garnered enough popularity that some asshole decided to blight the Earth with a terrible live-action film version, allegedly adapting the first season of that series.
Four years later, the creative team of the show was brought back to deliver a sequel series: The Legend of Korra. So named because James Cameron owns the word Avatar now*, so they couldn't use that name anymore. Thankfully, they decided that the idiotic name "The Last Airbender: The Legend of Korra" wasn't a good idea. If for no other reason than that there's more than one airbender in it...
And now I'm back to have a go at this one. But first, some discussion, both about my feelings going into the series and about the format of this review.
First, on the format. While I fully stand by pretty much all of what I said in my ATLA review, it was one of my earliest reviews. It was pretty rough, especially at the beginning. Since then, I've refined my style quite a bit, deciding to usually leave lengthy commentary out of the main body of the narrative and move it into more of a conclusion/remarks section. So that's what I plan to do here, more or less. I'd say that this will be much more like my Metroid: Other M coverage stylistically* than my ATLA review.
So basically, each section will talk about what happens in each episode. At the end, I'll go into detail on some aspect of the show that was raised by that episode.
Hopes and Fears
So, what was I thinking before I went into this series?
Well, you already have my impression of ATLA. And at the end, I posted some impressions and feelings about what I wanted Legend of Korra to look at. But there were a few things I didn't say, because I hadn't formulated them at the time.
I did stay almost entirely spoiler-free before starting Korra. TV Tropes did not help in this, as people were throwing trope entries for that thing everywhere. But there were some facts that I did know, as mentioned at the end of my ATLA review.
My biggest hope was that the writers would have the courage to stick with what they said they were doing: making the show not like ATLA. Rare indeed is the sequel that is willing to change the tone of the setting, to induce real, substantive change over time. That's one of the big reasons why Medieval Stasis exists as a trope: the complete unwillingness of writers to allow a setting to grow and evolve.
Now, there's a reason for that: audiences hate change. It's one thing if you're writing Doctor Who, where the whole point is that you have a built-in justification for going anywhere, anywhen, anytime you want. But when you're dealing with a world that is built on a specific setting, audiences tend to fall in love with that setting. Thus changing it is always fraught with peril.
Few are the writers that have the courage to have the setting actually evolve with time. So I was really hoping that they'd stick with that, and not bow to the pressure to make the show an ATLA clone.
There was one fear I had with Korra. That being... Korra herself.
I don't think it's too far afield to say that I was not... entirely pleased with Katara as a character in ATLA. I felt that other characters let her get away with a bit too much too often, and the world itself sometimes seemed to just let her escape from the consequences of her actions. Now, there were times when she was called out for her BS, and it did show the dark side of her nature on occasion. But I just felt that the writers favored the character a bit too much, especially with her kill-stealing of Azula, which served no character or thematic purpose to the work.
So as I thought less about what I wanted from Legend of Korra and thought more about what I thought the writers would do with it, I began to worry that Korra would become sort of the Uber-Katara. This became much more true when it was revealed that she'd mastered three whole elements by age 16. That's prime Mary Sue territory, isn't it? Be honest: if you saw that in a fanfic, as the first lines of the fic, you'd probably just drop it entirely on that basis alone. It's not that it can't be done well; it's just the law of averages that most writers who would think to use that idea probably aren't the people who would do it well.
My biggest concern was about her personality. Specifically, I recall her being described as something to the effect of "ready to take on the world." While I was never a big fan of Aang's Reluctant Hero phase, I'm a lot more forgiving of that than "arrogant, over-powered hero appears and destroys the badguys who have no real chance against her." See Katara's "fight" against a super-powered Azula as an example.
This is not an entirely unfounded fear. It's a matter of record in various media that attempts to create female heroines often fall into two major traps. Both of these often happen in the name of promoting "feminism" and creating the elusive "strong female character."
There is the "faux-strong" trap, where reflexive attempts to keep a character "feminine" or otherwise protect them works against making a compelling character. I mention something to this effect in a section of my Other M review, how allowing a character to duck responsibility for things makes them weak. That in order to be an active participant in the plot, you have to be responsible for both successes and failures. This leads to a character who is nominally strong, but is always getting bailed out by others or is otherwise not actually integral to the story being told. So basically... Samus Aran in Metroid: Other M.
Then, there is the "clearly overcompensating for something" trap, where in an attempt to avoid the previous trap, they overshoot the mark. A lot. Such characters tend to have no real downsides. They'll be loud, boisterous, everyone loves them, they fight the badguy and win with minimal effort, and so forth. They get powers whenever they want with no real effort or sacrifice. All to make the character "stronger," yet also making the character far less interesting. Then there's the Unfortunate Implications, that in order to be worthwhile, a character must always embody masculine traits, that these are the only ones worth having.
It was clear that they weren't going to land in the former, given Katara and Toph never came anywhere near that one. But the latter... well Toph pretty much lived there. In my gut, I feared some kind of unholy Katara/Toph chimera, with the most obnoxious aspects of both on display and none of the issues of either character.
I don't know, maybe my fears are unfounded. I mean, the writers did a pretty good job with ATLA overall. I'm sure they can deliver a well-balanced character, one who won't be so hyper-confident that it makes you want to punch them through the scre-
This is gonna be a long review, isn't it?note