Coming back to a finished series, any finished or cancelled series, and creating a new season or a sequel show is a very tricky and risky prospect. Mess it up, as is likely to happen, and you risk not just retroactively tainting the associated series, but also the wrath of the fandom who, if your show is popular enough, will only have grown in the years between series and won’t take too kindly to anything sub-par. Pull it off, of course, and it’s an excellent addition to the universe that’s also thoroughly enjoyable in its own right. And, to be fair, in recent years these sorts of comebacks have actually turned out for the better; witness the returns of Beavis & Butt-head, Arrested Development and the Battlestar Galactica prequel series, Caprica.
It is into this landscape that The Legend Of Korra, a sequel series to Avatar: The Last Airbender, steps up. Now, I must confess, I am a rather recent convert to the Avatar universe, finally biting the bullet about six months ago, after having spent most of my life prior dismissing the show without having seen any of it for reasons that escape me but were probably stupid. Thanks to the powers of Netflix, I stuck out the show’s extremely rocky opening – honestly, folks, it didn’t truly find its footing on a consistent basis until “Jet” – and become a full blown fanatic. I ended up devouring Seasons 2 and 3 in four marathon sessions of 10 episodes each over the four-day Easter weekend. Once it finally realised exactly what kind of show it wanted to be, the show took off for the stratosphere and never looked back. It was smart, exciting, funny, crushingly heart-breaking, dark when it needed to be, had dramatic timing that many mainstream network dramas wish they could have and I hold up Book 2: Earth as one of the best seasons of TV ever. Not animated, all TV, that’s how much I adore that season.
And despite my recent joining of the fandom, I’m still fiercely protective of the property. I watched The Last Airbender and despised it on just as many show-ruining qualities as I did basic film-making conventions. As such, though I have been excited for The Legend Of Korra for a while now, I’ve also remained sceptical. It, after all, had been five years between the Avatar series finale and the Korra series premiere (six for us Brits because we chose to be born on the wrong side of the Atlantic). Maybe creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko had lost a step during that gap. Maybe the behind-the-scenes turmoil – it was supposed to be a mini-series, hen it got renewed for a full season! Then it got renewed for two more seasons – would negatively impact the show’s narrative focus. Maybe it would just disappoint my lofty expectations (Avatar Book 2: One Of The Best TV Seasons Ever). Maybe I shouldn’t have worried because the pilot is pretty damn great.
Compared to the two-part Avatar pilot, though I promise to at least attempt to keep comparisons between the two shows to a minimum, this episode was the equivalent of a bullet train. It’s in such a hurry to set things up and get the series to its premise that there’s barely enough time to get a full handle on the characters included. This may be down to the compressed run-time, something I feel is going to have a major impact on the pacing of the season, or it may be down to letting character backstories and such be fleshed out in later episodes, but it is the one misstep the pilot makes. The only character I feel I know, right now, is Korra herself and Tenzin’s change of heart at the end of the episode didn’t feel fully natural due to the lack of time dedicated to the man himself. I got the feeling more that he let her stay due to the emotional blackmail of his kids, but hopefully we’ll get to explore him more as time goes on.
Because, outside of the lack of time to get a handle on our main cast, this was a far better pilot than both parts of Avatar’s. Confident, assured of exactly what it wants to be, funny and exciting in addition to the promise that had me struggling my way through the first 7 or so Avatar episodes. Korra herself has already made a huge impression on me, clearly skilled at what she does but overly brash and rather cocky (her character establishing moment is one of my favourite of that sort in a long while), she’s already a class ahead of most female characters on TV. She’s already complex, with natural strengths and weaknesses that make her seem more like person than a character. Few characters come out this fully formed in the pilot and I’m very excited as to where she’ll end up from here.
Speaking of things that I’m excited as to where they’ll end up, our villains appear to be a radical group of Equalists, who believe that element benders are being made to be superior in positions of power to non-benders and seek to rectify that apparent injustice. That’s heavy stuff and, frankly, is something that I’m super glad this franchise is finally tackling. Sokka in Avatar explored the potential for this idea, but limited it to his character arc instead of tackling the wider ramifications. That worked for Avatar, don’t get me wrong, but I am super excited to see where it will lead here. Done right, this will be a super complex examination of a legitimate issue in the Avatar universe, how does a normal person feel when they have to live their lives in the shadows of people who literally control the elements. Done wrong, they’ll just be cheesy villains, but I trust DiMartino and Konietzko enough that this won’t come to pass.
I’m also very intrigued to see how Republic City and the 70 year time skip are treated further on down the line. To go from classic fantasy epic-style landscapes with some occasional metal machinery in Avatar to full-blown steam-punk in Korra is a big leap but already they’re making the most of it. The episode’s centrepiece sequence, Korra trying to escape from the Republic City police squad with their giant airship and metal-bending rappel lines (that bear a strange resemblance to a certain famous webslinger), is exciting and inventive and hopefully indicative of the kind of action sequences the series will be indulging in. The whole classic America vibe, with tramlines and mob-style cars being driven by 70’s gangster movie-style mobsters, makes a great backdrop and the utterly gorgeous art and animation does it the service it deserves. The first time that Republic City is introduced in-show is quite frankly breath-taking.
Then, on less technical levels, this was just a fun premiere to watch. Slightly more comedic than I was expecting, all jokes landed nonetheless and served to actually deepen the world and some of its occupants instead of just lighten the mood. Action sequences were fast, exciting and gorgeously animated (presumably from getting a budget increase due to the reduced number of episodes in production). As previously mentioned, I already love Korra as a character and can easily see myself equally loving Tenzin and Lin Beifong in about two episodes time for more than just base reasons (one is voiced by J. K. Simmons, the other is the daughter of Toph Beifong the single greatest character in anything ever). Voice acting was very strong across the board; links to the original series are currently pleasant additions instead of overwhelming nuisances…
In less detailed and waffle-y terms, “Welcome To Republic City” was a strong premiere that has me very excited for the rest of the series. There’s more than just promise giving me a reason to keep watching, here, and what the season seems to be promising is right up my alley as to just how far the show might go. I’m hooked already! Here’s hoping the rest of the ride doesn’t blow the promise from the premiere!
- Welcome to The Legend Of Korra: Book One coverage, everyone! Yes; one year after America has actually finished the season, let alone started the damn thing, it’s finally come to the UK! I swear, you colonise a nation one time and they never stop punishing you for it… In any case, I’ll be reviewing episodes after they air on UK TV, which is every Sunday at 9am! There’s only one a week, but that helps bring back the mystique for me of speculating where a show may go between episodes, something I haven’t had for a while. Hope to see you all here week after week, anyway!
- Now, seeing as there is a very high chance that you, the lovely reader reading this, have already seen Korra in some way shape or form (don’t worry, I won’t tell), you’re likely to be privy to information about future events that I’m not aware of. I’m in this pretty much completely blind and I intend to keep it that way. That being said, I do love joining in on discussions in the comments. So, where possible, keep comments to events that have happened up to the episode reviewed. If you must start conversations about, or even allude to, events that happen later on in the series; please put them in spoiler tags or clearly mark your post with them so that I can easily avoid you. Thank you in advance for understanding!
- Currently, the fact that most all of the main cast, admittedly only three so far but still, are direct descendants of the original cast doesn’t bother me. Of course, my feelings on that will change if it turns out that the season’s big villain is Azula’s half-cousin four times removed, but for now I’m willing to go with it. Besides, Toph Beifong had a daughter! Squueeeeeee!!!
- Other theme that I hope continues throughout the season that I didn’t address in the review: the fact that just being the Avatar doesn’t give you immediate respect and leeway to do whatever you want anymore. That time has passed and society has moved on. I really, really hope that this keeps being addressed throughout the season because, done right, it’s an excellent potential plot-point.
- Nickelodeon UK’s Attempt To Undercut The Drama Of Korra This Week: There was only the one pug, near the end of the episode during Korra’s public speech, advertising the web game for kids. That’s heavy restraint on Nickelodeon’s part! They didn’t even invoke credits pushback, allowing them to run in all their serene beauty. Nevertheless, I will be here, ever vigilant, ready to take them to task the second they attempt to undercut the power of Korra with their commercial practices!
- In case you need context for that last segment, here.
- “I’m the Avatar! You gotta deal with it!”
- “Yes, Ikki, as I’ve been telling you for the last fifteen minutes, we’re… finally ”
- “Gran Gran, I’ve been reading all your past adventures and I’ve been dying to ask, what exactly did happen to Zuko’s mom?” I can’t get angry at that bit because that is some masterful trolling. Pure, A-Grade trolling.
- “So… do you live in that bush?” “Yes, presently that is what I call home! Took me a while to find a bush that beauteous!”
- “You’re… you’re oppressing yourselves!” “That didn’t even make any sense!”
- “You’re the ones who are gonna need a hospital and, for your sake, I hope there’s one nearby.” Korra is so, so badass!
- Lin is having none of the pleasantries. “Lin, you’re looking as radiant as usual-” “Cut the garbage, Tenzin.”
- Anon is voiced by Steve Blum. I think we may get a villain to rival Azula, after all…