About Last Night: The Legend of Korra “A Leaf In The Wind”

People will eventually find something that they’re not very good at, something that they don’t get right away and require some actual practice at.  It can be a real ego and self-confidence blow, especially if you’ve been able to do pretty much everything else beforehand with real ease.  In those cases, how you respond to such adversity details how you are as a person.  Korra’s response to not immediately mastering Airbending is likely the one that many other people would have in this kind of situation; she sulks a lot, blames her teacher and angrily declares that she can do without it.  Yes, it’s one of the oldest narrative tricks in the book (including the last-minute-embracing of said spurned skill in the third act) but it’s still a thing that a person would do, which continues to help make Korra feel like a person rather than a character.  She was already fully-formed in last week’s pilot, this week’s episode immediately kick-starts her character development enabling it blaze through the section of the arc that may otherwise have bogged down her character and taken her from entertaining and relatable to just plain whiney.

Filling in most of the rest of the world’s blanks seems to be the order of the day for “A Leaf In The Wind”, introducing two new regulars, Mako and Bolin, and possibly setting up a love triangle custom-made to tear the Avatar/Korra fandom in two (like it needs the help).  I shall reserve judgement on the latter until it fully kicks into gear (at which point I’ll probably tear it to shreds as an unnecessary distraction much like Aang/Katara was on the back half of Season 3 of Avatar), but I can start passing judgement on the former.  Mako, currently, is rubbing me up the wrong way.  Oh, sure, he gets a few pretty great lines, is pretty badass at bending and I’m fairly positive that I’ll warm up to him further when his character development kicks in, but right now he’s just the kind of stoic bad-boy “I’m not even going to pretend you exist, therefore you want me” love interest archetype we’ve seen a zillion times before and I’m going to scream bloody murder if Korra falls for it.  He needs to loosen up and have more dialogue that isn’t him being a super serious brooding fellow otherwise he’s going to be the flattest character on this show by a country mile.

Although Bolin is clearly going to be “the dogged nice guy who will be the loser of this triangle”, he comes off much better because a) his introduction is great (this show really has a thing for character establishing moments), b) he already has a great rapport with Korra (the exchange where he fails to realise he’s talking to the Avatar is priceless) and c) he is already such a dogged nice guy that I can’t help but love him as a character.  Sure, he’s not got as much depth in his first appearance as Korra did last episode, but he’s far more three-dimensional than Mako is, at the moment, so I’m more inclined to enjoy times where he’s on screen.  Again, I’m fairly certain that character development will deepen him further, but I’m already enjoying the company of Bolin.

The hand-drawn 2D and the CG 3D animation styles are slotting together nicely in Korra. The results look amazing.

Somebody else whose company I’m very much enjoying (segway!) is Tenzin who, just as I predicted last week, I’m beginning to enjoy for reasons that don’t just amount to “he’s voiced by JK Simmons”.  Yeah, he’s still pretty much the world-weary teacher who has to put up with Korra’s shenanigans, but the character is written so well and the animation gets his reactions so spot on and Simmons’ performance is so good that I honestly don’t care.  I could watch an entire series of Tenzin passive-aggressively snarking and reacting to things that he doesn’t enjoy because he’s just so damn entertaining at it.  Going hand in hand with this are Tenzin’s children who had (and still do have) the potential to be annoying little tone spoilers, but are currently hilarious little bits of comic relief.  This is probably down to a combination of Tenzin’s reactions to their antics being the natural punch-line and the children being used sparingly.  They’re fun in small doses and Korra, for the time being, seems to realise this.

The pro-bending stuff that formed the main scenario of the episode was great fun.  It created a natural set-up for the show to demonstrate how adept its animation staff are at handling multiple different bends at once, had some good dramatic tension and had rules that were easy to follow, which is a must for any fictional sport in fictional media.  Sure, overall it was nothing new, and I’m kind of disappointed that allowing the Avatar to get involved didn’t have any kind of blowback, but it was entertaining and exciting and served its narrative purpose.  This seems to be a theme for Korra so far: it’s not very original, but it’s the delivery of the material that’s of high-quality.  I’m not going to complain for now as, for one, it’s early days and, for two, the show is still remaining highly entertaining but I can’t help but sit here and wait for those training wheels to be let off and for the show to fly.  I know that asking any TV show to immediately start at 700,000,000MPH is insane and stupid, but I can’t help but want the series to at least not be so archetypal in setting up its pieces.

“A Leaf In The Wind” was funny, exciting and a nice bit of set-up.  If the Internet reaction over the last year has clued me in to anything, it’s that I should cherish these lower-key episodes whilst I can.  For now, though I am very much enjoying this series, I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Grade: B

Stray Thoughts

  • Before you ask, I’m shipping no-one with no-one because I have far better things to be doing with my life.

    Once again, I know nothing of what’s coming up ahead other than the general feeling that it goes CRAZY in the back half and I intend to keep it that way.  If possible, please limit your discussions on events in the show up to the episode reviewed or put thoughts on later episodes in clearly marked spoiler tags so that I can avoid them.  After all, I do like a good discussion!

  • I’m going to be rather stingy with episode grades for Korra for the time being, because I know for a fact that this show is not going to be operating anywhere near its best for a few weeks.  When it does get going, though, I highly expect the “A”s and “A-”s to flow like wine!  Again, I am very, very much enjoying these first two episodes of Korra, especially in the moment of watching them, but I know for a fact that this show is capable of better.
  • No Lin Beifong or Anon, this week, although the former shows up on a newspaper that Korra incinerates.  Here’s hoping for their return next week!  Or at least the return of Lin for obvious reasons.
  • This show is gorgeous to watch in HD.  I thought that Avatar looked good, and that was in standard definition, but this is on another level!  Just goes to show what six years, an increased budget, and the wonders of high definition can do for you!
  • I really liked the “Previously On” being done in the style of an old-timey newsreel that you’d get in the cinemas.  I hope that wasn’t a one-time thing as it’s highly reflective of the “roaring 20’s” aesthetic of Republic City and also I liked the guy’s voice.
  • Oh, hey!  It’s the Airbending training device from The Last Airbender!  Let’s never mention that movie again!
  • Nickelodeon UK’s Attempt To Undercut The Drama Of Korra This Week:  Pugs showed up for some series called How To Rock twice, first during Korra’s big flip-out with Tenzin and then during her makeup with Tenzin.  They cover at least 10% of the screen which equates to one full character at points.  This had better not become a recurring pattern.  At least they still haven’t invoked credits pushback, yet.
  • Here’s hoping that Korra’s Comic-Con panel has a Book 2 premiere date attached!  I know that animation lead-time is a cruel mistress, but if this and Gravity Falls take forever to come back, I’m going to be left with a vast cartoon-shaped hole in…  oh, right, Wander Over Yonder!  Almost forgot about that!  PREMIERE SOON, DAMN YOU!
  • “Technically, you said I couldn’t watch a match.  You never said anything about listening to one!”
  • “Look at Meelo, he’s able to meditate peacefully!”  “Actually, I think he’s just asleep.”  “What?  Well, at least he has the relaxing part down.”
  • “So you see, we’re together!”  “Well, not together together, more like friends.”  “Right, friends.  No, no, I didn’t mean to imply.”  “Oh, you implied it.”  Give Mako and Korra an exchange like that and I’ll take back all of my complaints against him instantly.
  • “You’re the Avatar and I’m an idiot.”  “Both are true.”
  • “You must promise me that your teenage years will not be like this!”  “I will make no such promises.”  Line of the episode, ladies and gentlemen!
  • This episode also contains the best spit-take gag I’ve seen in a long while!
  • “I’ll see you tomorrow bright and early for Airbending practice!  Oh, and by the way, I kinda permanently joined The Fire Ferrets and we’re playing in the tournament in a couple of weeks!”
  • I could have docked this episode a full letter grade for that last shot, though.  If that meant what I think it meant and it starts to negatively impact the main plot, I’m punching a dolphin in the face.
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