Firstly, let me say that I absolutely loved Avatar: The Last Airbender. It is and will most likely remain one of my favourite animated series ever made and it holds a spot alongside Batman: The Animated Series, The Venture Bros, Futurama and FullMetal Alchemist in my ‘most enjoyed’ pick of animation. Avatar blended Japanese anime with western cartoon almost perfectly. It gets full marks, 10/10, all of my beard!
That did leave The Legend of Korra in a difficult spot with some pretty big boots to fill. I was desperate for more Avatar when I first heard about the new series going into production and everything I saw about it looked promising: I liked the style, the setting and the new characters.
It’s not a good indicator then, that even though it aired and finished last year and I was on top of it as soon as it was available to me (sorry, Nickolodeon, but I will be buying it on DVD) it was only two days ago that I finally got round to watching through past the first 3 episodes; let’s just say I wasn’t as engaged with the latest series as I was with the original.
We could really leave it there, but that would be a very short article and it would kind of defeat the point of me writing anything at all about it… So, you are to be warned, thar be spoilers ahead!
On returning to the series, in anticipation of the second season, I can honestly say I enjoyed it a lot more all in one sitting, but I have been left a little baffled by what feel to me like some really obvious mistakes the show has made.
I’ll get onto them, but firstly, because it’s irrelevant and because it made me laugh: After 100 years, could we have maybe picked a better term for the benders? Using the term ‘bender’ so frequently in short hand created some very amusing scenes for me, because in the UK ‘bender’ is slang for gay man. “The benders are oppressing us!” sounds like something you’d read off the BBC’s have your say website. This isn’t a fault of the show, mind you, I just wanted to say it first. Again, because it made me laugh. Bender is a silly word.
Of course, the real issue I first had with the show is how it so immediately collapses into the predictable “she falls in love with the first person she meets” storyline. I found it blistering, where I wanted to see more of the setting that had been created, to be lead into a boring relationship dynamic that even the original series had, but had the decency to delay it’s fruition until the third season.
We’re teased with years of change to the world we met in Avatar: The Last Airbender. It’s awesome, and the fantastic art and animation only make it more so. Empire City is a great setting riffing on early New York, with gangsters and airships and automobiles and with the progeny of the characters from the original series already in their adult years; the impact of characters we knew and are likely still attached to being a key interest for a lot of the audience.
However, so much of this is sidelined throughout the whole series in the interest in keeping things accessible to a new audience. This would be forgivable, perhaps, were it not replaced by a predictable love triangle and an arena fighting story that we keep seeing over and over in Pokemon, Bayblade, Yugioh and countless other anime imports. It feels like cheap storytelling. I don’t like cheap storytelling. The original Avatar might have had tropes up to it’s eyeballs but it never felt cheap.
I like complexity. I like finding out more about why anti-bending (hehe) sentiment is so high in this city. I like finding out that actually, the big bad who wants to take away everyone’s powers has a pretty decent reason to do it. Maybe even one that prompts Korra to consider his philosophy as dangerous as he is. Nope. Sticking with the love story as the main interest. Sticking with the Legend of Korra: Football story edition.
And, brazenly then the series abandons that an episode or two after I originally stopped watching.
In a turn around that almost made the show brilliant again the big bad of this series proves his warnings and in doing so brings actual tension to the story. He beats everyone up, puts the avatar of the equation and takes over the city. For a moment, I thought the Legend of Korra might have drifted towards the original series in it’s exiled, on-the-run method of drawing tension. It looks like the benders have lost; perhaps even their entire way of life will be over? Maybe the-oh no wait it’s all back to normal as soon as it wasn’t.
C’mon! Seriously! I have never seen such a good set up get flattened so quickly. Loose ends are tied up with such rapidity it’s like the writers weren’t just expecting the show to get cancelled, it’s like they knew it was being cancelled. This is so odd, because… well… it wasn’t!
They create a setting that allows them to follow a similar structure to the original series and then they cancel it? Hell, they take away all of Korra’s powers, so she’s in the same position that Aang was at the beginning of his real journey. Nah, immediately give them back to her. They set up a romantic competitor for Korra’s love interest. Nah, they get together. They even let the big bad escape, so he could come back later to kick her in the – NAH. BLOW HIM UP!
What the hell is going on? And, really, what are they even going to do in the new series? I guess I’ll find out soon. Hmm, I wonder how I could watch the new series…