So It All Began With a Giant Lion Turtle and a Guy Named Wan.
November 14, 2013 11:48 AM   Subscribe

Beginnings: Part 1 and Beginnings: Part 2, aired as episodes 19 and 20 in the second season or Book Two of the animated show Avatar: Legend of Korra, and represented a shift from the show's straight forward animation to a style that embraced the aesthetic of traditional East Asian ink drawing/painting and symbolism with a dash of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli charm to tell the background story of the Avatar figure. The result is incredible.

The Legend of Korra has been previously mentioned on Metafilter several times (once, twice, thrice, fourths, fifths), as had its predecessor, Avatar: The Last Airbender. The Beginning episodes concern the story of Wan, and how he became the first Avatar in the world of the Avatar series. Wan is voiced by Steven Yeun, best known for his work as the character Glenn Rhee on The Walking Dead. Regarding the challenge of such a story...
"Telling the story of “the first Avatar” is intrinsically risky, as it threatens to undermine the structure of the whole story, but Wan’s tale is the story of a trickster turned hero. Wan is the Monkey King, complete with flying cloud; he is Prometheus the stealer of fire, he is Pandora, whose impulsive act threatens the world."- Tor.com's review of the episodes.
The Vulture's recap discussed the change in style and animation...
"The Legend of Korra lost a bit of its artistry this season with its switch to a new animation studio, but the Book 1 team, Studio Mir, returns to realize the stylized universe of “Beginnings.” The opening sequence is a feast for the eyes; while the characters remain detailed and articulate, the backdrops evoke the watercolor paintings and woodblock prints of East Asia. With animation big and small suffering from define homogeneity, the episodes' pastel palette and swirling designs contemporize old school Studio Ghibli (the films of Isao Takahata come to mind) for a new generation."
And as noted, Beginnings also marked the return of Studio Mir, the Korean animation studio that had animated the first season of Korra with beautiful results. The studio's work was notably absent in the episodes preceding Beginnings, which it had been unable to take on. The studio that picked up the work was the Japanese animation studio, Studio Pierrot. No slouch in the animation field, the studio had animated such anime as Saiyuki, the Twelve Kingdoms, Fushigi Yugi, and massively famous Naruto.

For more reviews and thoughts on Beginnings: AV Club has chimed in, Den of Geek's recap and review, and also IGN's review.
Rather than read what fans and critics have to say about Beginnings, you can always tune in to the Republic City Dispatch, a Korra podcast, on the episodes.
posted by Atreides (62 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
I really disliked season one and had to stop watching season two out of annoyance with the sexism inherent in the character voiced by April Ludgate. Is this still worth watching if I don't like the rest of Korra?
posted by chaiminda at 11:55 AM on November 14, 2013


The first half of this season wasn't clicking with me. I was almost ready to give up on the show when these two episodes came along. They are really excellent, and the show in general has picked up the pace since then.

Chaiminda: Even if you don't like Korra, watch these two. They are almost entirely stand alone.
posted by Gary at 11:56 AM on November 14, 2013


Wait, I know I'm way behind on Korra but there's no way they're already on eps 19 and 20 of season 2.
posted by kmz at 11:58 AM on November 14, 2013


I'd like to second Gary, these two episodes are fantastic. The story is great and the animation style was new and felt exactly right for the setting. Also the two waterbender henchsiblings are absent.
posted by Peccable at 12:02 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Does anyone have a Canada-friendly link? Looks really neat.
posted by saturday_morning at 12:05 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


@kmz: These are episodes 19 and 20 of the series, episodes 7 and 8 of season 2 I believe.

While I haven't been as down on the Legend of Korra as some, these two episodes did put in sharp contrast the difference between classic Avatar and Korra's plotting. If there's a third Avatar series I'd love to see it be about the second avatar, because those dying moments with Wan were pretty tragic and left a lot to my imagination.
posted by john-a-dreams at 12:05 PM on November 14, 2013


Technically this is still "season 1," I think. For reasons that make no sense and which I am ignoring.

If I, like chaiminda, am completely soured on Korra at this point, can I just watch these two episodes or will I be lost without the other six from this year?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:11 PM on November 14, 2013


They're a standalone thing - aside from the intro, there's nothing that depends on seeing the rest of Korra in order to make sense, as far as I can recall.
posted by NMcCoy at 12:14 PM on November 14, 2013


Excellent.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:26 PM on November 14, 2013


Apologies on the phrasing of season/book and episode numbers! Also, as mentioned by fine posters, these are stand alone episodes which discuss the origin of the Avatar persona. The episodes are book ended by a few minutes of the Korra character, and while what happens in Beginnings is definitely important to Book 2's coming conclusion, enjoyment of the episodes requires no previous knowledge of Korra.

In brief, these episodes explain how and why the avatar came into existence and offers really a mythological view of the world before it formed into the one that is the canvas for the Avatar series.
posted by Atreides at 12:26 PM on November 14, 2013


Is this still worth watching if I don't like the rest of Korra?

No.

It's not much fun being in the minority, but I found the Wan episodes to be desperately ill-conceived.

For one thing, they continue the frustrating trend of putting Korra in an entirely passive role. She washes up on an island, which happens to be the island of the Fire Sages, who happen to know how to put her in touch with her past lives such that the audience gets treated to the Avatar origin story. This is a terribly ungraceful way to deliver this information.

Secondly, the Avatar origin story itself is disappointing. The pre-Avatar state of the world is almost laughably contrived. All humans in existence living on the back of lion-turtles? Checking bending powers out like so many library books? The problem with taking numinous myth and putting it on screen is that it's very difficult to come up with on-screen specifics that are more powerful than numinous myth.

This world is silly. How did it come to be in this state? Why do lion turtles both value humanity and have such weirdly specific ideas about how best to take care of them? These are not questions I should be asking, but the Wan story puts them front and center.

Secondly, the one classic fantasy trope that Avatar—and even Korra, for all its faults—has avoided is the Eternal Elemental Battle Between Good/Light and Evil/Darkness. Good and Evil are not elements of nature, somehow beyond or out of the control of humanity. They are conscious choices. Depicting Evil as an elemental force or an inherent quality is cheap and even dangerous, as it tacitly reassures the viewer that evil is fundamentally different from them, that it is a quality that either does or does not exist, rather than a potentiality that is a fundamental consequence of sapience. So this drives me totally crazy. It reminds me of the lever scene in Emperor's New Groove—I see a Dark Spirit and instantly think "Why do we even have that spirit?"

These are the faults of the original Avatar writ large. The lion turtles in the first series were a frustrating deus ex machina, but there was so much else going on (most notably, the climax Zuko's redemption story) that it seemed churlish to nitpick Aang's arc when it fizzled. Here, it is all that's going on.

The maddeningly clunky writing doesn't help.

The deployment of Ghibli-influenced imagery strikes me as an unearned and sort of cheap way to imbue the episodes with a mythic quality, but I admit that's subjective.

What I found most frustrating was that despite the highlighting of bending's origins, and the weirdly arbitrary and pedantic explanation for why the Avatar is the only human who can master all the elements, there is still no explanation for why some people have bending powers and others don't. Most people don't seem bothered by this, but it drives me totally bonkers.

It seems obvious to me that the entire setup of this season was created in order to give a fully-fledged Avatar something to do. The world is on the brink of modernity, and it's already been established that a 17-year-old girl who's really good at punching things is in no position "bring balance" or otherwise solve its problems. As a result, they had to invent a magical problem that only the Avatar, whoever that happens to be, could solve. This involved coming up with a bunch of retconny, rules-lawyery stuff about light and dark spirits and portals and origins such that Only The Avatar etc. etc.

The idea of the One Hero Destined To Save The World is a fundamentally childish and flawed one. The original show was at its best when it subverted this narrative, and at its worst when it embraced it. Legend of Korra is doing precious little of the former.

Good storytelling offers evidence over assurances. To see the difference between ATLA and Korra, one need look no further than their opening narrations.

ATLA:
"Water. Earth. Fire. Air. Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony. Then, everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked. Only the Avatar, master of all four elements, could stop them, but when the world needed him most, he vanished. [...] But I believe Aang can save the world."
We are given evidence of what happened when the Avatar vanished: The Fire Nation attacked. Furthermore, we are given a character's subjective evaluation of Aang's ability ("I believe Aang can &c"), which is crucially different from...

Korra:
"Earth. Fire. Air. Water. Only the Avatar can master all four elements and bring balance to the world."
This is not evidence, this is an assurance. Korra is chock-full of assurances, and offers very little evidence.
posted by Sokka shot first at 12:53 PM on November 14, 2013 [22 favorites]


Sokka shot first, this seems like an apt time to tell you that I love your username. And I appreciate your critique--Korra frustrates me because I loved the original so. damn. much, and it's comforting to know I'm not the only one.
posted by chaiminda at 1:05 PM on November 14, 2013


chaiminda: ATLA literally changed my life, so: I hear ya.
posted by Sokka shot first at 1:08 PM on November 14, 2013


You know, I read a lot of Korra hate here and elsewhere and I'm constantly surprised, because I find the show as well-written and engaging as the previous series. These two episodes are two of the best of either series, and are an indicator of the generally high quality of the Korra series.
posted by factory123 at 1:17 PM on November 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm not as big of a plot maven as some, so I could probably overlook that stuff, but for me, the humor is really lacking in Korra. Many, many lines from Avatar have become recurring jokes in our household. Out of my preferred tea brand? "This is nothing more than hot leaf juice!" Cat knocks something off the table? "That lemur is EARTHBENDING!" You get the idea.

Korra's jokes often seem to fall flat for me, possibly because the characters delivering them don't feel very well-developed.

I am still intrigued by this episode because I love the ATLA two-parter in which we learned more about Roku and Sozin, so I may give it a shot.
posted by chaiminda at 1:28 PM on November 14, 2013


The writing in the first "season" (whatever you call it) just fell flat to me on every level. The characters were one-dimensional, the scripts were simplistic, and every episode - sometimes every individual scene - seemed to have a thesis that it was dedicated to hammering home, to the exclusion of anything remotely like subtlety or multi-layered storytelling.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:42 PM on November 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am still willing to give Korra a chance (especially the last episode with Jinora!), and the Wan episodes actually got me thinking about this world's origin in a fun way.

1. Clearly it is not a past or future Earth: the planets of the Harmonic Convergence don't look like our solar system. But it is similar; one moon, yellow sun.

2. Before Wan, most humans were unable to cope with the world they found themselves in because it was overrun by powerful and dangerous spirits

3. All the animals (except for the rare ones owned by Earth Kings) are hybrids.

So clearly; this is a planet on which a group of human colonists landed. Why they chose to cross animals like cows and pigs or lions and (VERY BIG) turtles, one can only guess. Maybe there was some problem with the genes of the stock they brought with them.

The natives of this planet are the spirits. Raava and Vaatu can be understood not strictly as good and evil but as light/dark, order/chaos; they rampage across the world and occasionally destroy it, which has resulted in spirit beings being the dominant species; only they can survive this process (perhaps by escaping to the "spirit world" or alternate dimension). THe spirits resent the humans because humans are the invaders.

The colonists created the lion-turtle cities. Bending was an unexpected side effect. Maybe something happened to the lion turtle genes. Anyway, the colonists made the cities to keep themselves safe from the powerful and dangerous spirits around them. Over time their origins were lost to legend, etc. The lion turtles remember, but are essentially eternal beings and have chosen not to tell humans the whole story for various reasons.
posted by emjaybee at 1:47 PM on November 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


The lion turtles in the first series were a frustrating deus ex machina, but there was so much else going on (most notably, the climax Zuko's redemption story) that it seemed churlish to nitpick Aang's arc when it fizzled.

I've been thinking a lot about this, particularly as I've watched Korra plod mechanically along and tried to be fair in comparing TLOK's flaws with those of ATLA.

I don't disagree that there's an element of Deus Ex Turtur Leo in resolving the tension between the need to take Ozai out and Aang's commitment to respecting life, but I think there are some major ways in which Aang exercises agency that overcomes anything mechanical about the lion turtle's convenient appearance and makes the story work well.

Most important: during the Aang-Ozai showdown, there's not just one but *two* points at which Aang could have chosen to simply end Ozai. The most visible one is when he's all Avatar State Powerful and absolutely has the fight sewn up, but chooses not to finish the four-elements-drill-press move on Ozai's forehead. That's the decisive point, but I'm not sure it's more significant than the earlier inflection point where Ozai delivers lightning to Aang and he has the opportunity to redirect it right back at Ozai. The animation handles their faces pretty well here -- Ozai realizes what's possible and gets an alarmed look, Aang's expression changes from determined to compassionate as he decides to discharge it away. That's a decision which nearly costs Aang the fight and the balance of the world.

I think that's enough to make the events character driven, but on top of that, the writers spent some time laying significant groundwork before that point. Aang has to confront his current living peers and past-avatar peers-cum-authority-figures about his personal commitment vs his responsibilities. To a person, they all clearly think his responsibility trumps everything and can't give him any guidance. Someone else might have given up at that point, let himself accept some measure of discomfort with his own actions, mitigated by kind of distribution of responsibility/guilt over all the parties who advised him to kill. Aang couldn't do that, and began to look for advice in unlikely places.

So while the lion turtle's appearance is convenient, it would have done nothing if Aang hadn't been deeply committed to both searching broadly for an answer and putting everything on the line to try and live up to it.

I am kindof bugged by the perfectly shaped little rock in just the right place at the right time finally activating the avatar state, though.
posted by weston at 1:52 PM on November 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Secondly, the one classic fantasy trope that Avatar—and even Korra, for all its faults—has avoided is the Eternal Elemental Battle Between Good/Light and Evil/Darkness. Good and Evil are not elements of nature, somehow beyond or out of the control of humanity. They are conscious choices. Depicting Evil as an elemental force or an inherent quality is cheap and even dangerous, as it tacitly reassures the viewer that evil is fundamentally different from them, that it is a quality that either does or does not exist, rather than a potentiality that is a fundamental consequence of sapience. So this drives me totally crazy.

Is there a clear depiction of good/bad or light/dark? You do have a white and black differentiation, but that appears to really be related to Yin and Yang (they're bound by their tails, by and by, too). Really, the two major spirits exist as greater representations of the Yin-Yang theory of existence in the Avatar world. Even the "dark" spirits of LoK exist generally in the same manner as the problematic spirits of Last Airbender, reactions to imbalance generally created by humans. In that dark spirits represent a threat to human life and property, they might be classified as evil by us, but really they're no more evil than a hurricane or tornado. There is destruction in existence and that is why Vaatu exists, and there is creation, why Raava exists. Humans have an obvious preference to one over the other, and it's a natural inclination to claim one is good/light and the other bad/dark, but I don't think that's the statement that the writers of Korra are claiming.
posted by Atreides at 2:04 PM on November 14, 2013


Someone has to say it:

It's lion-turtles all the way down.
posted by maryr at 2:16 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


In that dark spirits represent a threat to human life and property, they might be classified as evil by us, but really they're no more evil than a hurricane or tornado.

I see your point, but in a way that's almost worse. Vaatu is clearly depicted as being sentient and choosing to destroy. For the sake of argument let's postulate a sentient tornado. It touches down in eastern Oklahoma and announces "Hey guys, I'm a tornado, I'm made of unbelievably destructive winds and it's in my nature to advance the entropy of the world. But, good news, I can choose to go pretty much wherever, so, thoughts?"

And the people of Tulsa point to a big open field and are like, "How about that big open field?" And the tornado heads into Tulsa and kills hundreds anyway.

At this point you have to wonder why bother having sentient tornados?! Sentience is the moderating force, not "elemental light." If the elemental spirit of destruction has agency and chooses indiscriminate destruction anyway, it's not elemental chaos, it's elemental evil—because evil is as evil does.

The moral cosmology of Korra falls apart upon any kind of examination; it exists only to provide the main character with something important to do.

I agree with you that the Korra writers are ultimately going to come down on the side of balance or reconciliation; my problem is that the notion of balance is absurd when one side is obviously morally reprehensible. It's like if I baked you cookies, then punched you in the mouth, because... balance!

Also, near-on an hour devoted to the origin of Avatar and bending styles in general, and there's still no satisfying answer to the question of why some people can bend and others can't.
posted by Sokka shot first at 2:32 PM on November 14, 2013


SSF, the bending/non-bending mix seems like a clear issue of genetics; some people perhaps are not capable of receiving bending, or, someone with bending from a Lion Turtle had kids with someone who didn't. We don't know that everyone who left the Lion Turtles got bending. Or if some people were already living in the wild like Wan, but without bending, and so never got it at all.

Perhaps parents with two different kinds of bending can risk a "cancelling out" effect when they have kids, as with Aang and Katara's son Bumi. Maybe since bending is an alien ability grafted onto humans it doesn't take or reproduce perfectly.

If we're going by the spiritual rules of the Avatar universe, it could be that some people are born with their bending "blocked" and unable to express itself, for spiritual reasons.

One question I hope they resolve in the coming seasons (doesn't look like they get to it this time) is whether Korra/the Avatar can give bending to a non-bender. That would be a clear solution to the problem of Not Enough Airbenders.
posted by emjaybee at 2:48 PM on November 14, 2013


Yeah, I don't get the Korra haters, either. Yes, it's not as good as AtlA, and yes, there are lots of things to nitpick about, but I would still put it in the top 5 Western Animation shows ever.

there's still no satisfying answer to the question of why some people can bend and others can't.

Near the end of part 2, the lion-turtle says that he won't be giving bending to any more humans. The people who get bending are reincarnated from these original benders. The number of benders in the world stays constant, even as the population grows.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 2:58 PM on November 14, 2013


The number of benders in the world stays constant, even as the population grows.

If that's true, why did the extermination of the Air Nomads result in the near-obliteration of airbending as a discipline?
posted by Sokka shot first at 3:15 PM on November 14, 2013


SSF, the bending/non-bending mix seems like a clear issue of genetics;

This is canonically not the case, as made explicit in a pointed aside in A:TLA wherein one half of a set of identical twins said "I'm an earthbender!" and the other said "I'm not!" I believe the creators have stated in interviews that bending is not genetic, though I don't have a citation for that off the top of my head.

But it sure acts like it's genetic, doesn't it? It's almost as though they want it to be functionally heritable without having bending ability saddled with explicit racial politics...

Anyway, sorry for being grouchy. It just drives me nuts. LOVE MAKES YOU CRAZY, MAN. :-/
posted by Sokka shot first at 3:21 PM on November 14, 2013


Maybe they're alive, with nobody to teach them airbending. Or maybe the souls are in limbo, waiting for an appropriate body to return to. It's just a theory.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 3:22 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


If I approached The Last Airbender the way most people approach The Legend of Korra I would have hated it so, so much. It didn't immediately answer all my questions! It had a lot of silliness! The main character was annoying! But I gave TLA a chance and realized that they had a whole lot of episodes to world build and tell their stories. The Last Airbender is one of the most complete satisfying shows I've ever seen, even without getting a fourth season.

The Legend of Korra is different; the avatar is older and, not surprisingly, has different issues. She's an annoying teenager instead of an annoying kid.

I thought the Beginnings episodes were great, though not perfect. I'd be happy to spend more time in those ancient days but I'll take what I can get. The story in the city doesn't seem all that interesting but Korra's part seems to be going somewhere interesting so I am excited to keep watching (and to, well, catch up).
posted by mountmccabe at 7:25 PM on November 14, 2013


I would like to clarify that I think Korra or anything should be accepted without critical examination. And there are many interesting ideas expressed in this thread, etc and I am glad that this is the case and I will consider these viewpoints as I continue to watch.

My personality is more Air Nomad and I need to learn to appreciate what others bring and the balance of the world.
posted by mountmccabe at 7:40 PM on November 14, 2013


Sokka shot first, thank you for articulating those criticisms of the Beginnings episodes. I found them trite and forced.
posted by schroedinger at 7:57 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just can't stand how Book I and Book II of Korra are so different from one another. One is about technology and rebellion, the other is about... umm, magic bad spirits?

Let's face it, Book I should have ended with Amon winning, becoming the dictator of Republic City, and enjoying a brief period of being beloved by the people before his regime turned tyrannical towards them -- like any dictator, he'd have to constantly find new enemies to give his reign legitimacy as the outer world shunned him and the economy crumbled. Some Equalists are more equal than others!

Korra, meanwhile, should have lost her other powers but kept her newfound airbending, gone into exile, and learned to inspire people through kindness, bravery, and cleverness, rather than raw power -- leading to her return to overthrow Amon as the spiritual leader of a people, who would have to organize around her out of their own free will.

Instead, they felt obliged to wrap it up in five minutes with a happy Scooby-Doo ending.

That's what doomed it. Sadly.
posted by ELF Radio at 8:20 PM on November 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


I've been really fed up and frustrated with all of Season 2 so far, and Season 1 has been retroactively ruined for me by that godawful finale, but I still really loved the Wan episodes. (Not enough to have caught up with the episodes since then, though.)

I would see the Wan episodes and just treat them as a standalone OVA, rather than an overly ambitious attempt to shoehorn eternal mythology into an otherwise boring story about spoiled teenagers.

[SPOILER]

At least Mako and Korra are currently no longer a thing, because god, that pairing grates. But then again, Korra grates, in general, and until Beginnings the best episode of the season was when Korra was deep beneath the sea.

ALSO, ASAMI. I THOUGHT YOU WERE SMART. Aughhhhhh.

[/SPOILER]
posted by Phire at 9:00 PM on November 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Manichean aspects of these episodes bother me quite a bit, considering that otherwise, it cites a great deal of Chinese legendry (with the usual appropriation of Japanese cosmology) fairly well for a Western show. As far as plot coherence, well...that's a trickier matter that I won't rule on.

I haven't seen ATLA yet. I'm not sure if I will venture in. But, at the very least, I appreciate seeing Yuan style coloration with Tang style dynamism in Western animation. Small comforts.

Thanks for posting!
posted by donquixote at 3:16 AM on November 15, 2013


Let's face it, Book I should have ended with Amon winning....

Well, sure. That's easy to say now that we know they're going to have three more books in which to tell a story. But the piece was conceived and sold as a 12-episode miniseries and I can't imagine they would have gotten anywhere if it ended with the villain in power and the hero all but powerless.

And sure, things are going to change now that they are planning for 52 episodes (total) going for a longer-form story, calling in more writers, etc.

This is not dissimilar to A:TLA. Book 1 is fairly self-contained. Book 2 picks up many undeveloped threads, adds new characters and ends with the protagonists losing. Then Book 3 continued everything, had a big ending but still set up threads for Book 4... which was cancelled.
posted by mountmccabe at 5:45 AM on November 15, 2013


I haven't seen ATLA yet.

In case it wasn't obvious, I highly, highly recommend it.
posted by Sokka shot first at 7:01 AM on November 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh hey guys, if you are on Tumblr and want to see ALL REMAINING EPISODES of Korra book two this weekend, you can reblog this link (featuring voice of Korra Janet Varney!). They will release them if it gets done 10,000 times in the next 12 hours.
posted by emjaybee at 7:37 AM on November 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I literally don't know a single person who has sat down to actually give ATLA a watch who hasn't subsequently fallen in love with the series. Definitely watch it.

Well, sure. That's easy to say now that we know they're going to have three more books in which to tell a story. But the piece was conceived and sold as a 12-episode miniseries and I can't imagine they would have gotten anywhere if it ended with the villain in power and the hero all but powerless.

That was the excuse I made for it for most of Season 1, but a few things don't wash for me there - (spoilers, obv)

1. In the season finale for Book 1, Korra immediately regains her bending after a 2 minute chat with Aang that didn't even require her to really figure out her spiritual side, which robs the final episodes of a lot of their gravitas. Her actions and her victory had no consequences, she didn't have any chance to ruminate on her identity outside of "the avatar", it was just "ha ha I'm sad oh wait never mind I'm not YAY MAKO ILU", which is poor writing no matter how you look at it. Like, imagine if LOK didn't get an additional 3 seasons in which to tell her story - how pissed would you have been if the Book 1 finale ended up being the series finale? What a pointless ending.

2. They have, so far, done precisely zero to pick up on the undeveloped threads or continue deepening the story in Book 2, which might as well be a wholly new story. There's no discussion of the latent social inequality in Republic City, no discussion of the rebuilding efforts, no discussion of how the bending gangs might retaliate against non-benders now that Amon is gone. Korra has evidently learned nothing from her defeats in Book 1 and is right back to thinking she's smarter and wiser than everyone else around her, has learned nothing about the need to balance her aggressive impulses with inner peace in order to harness all her powers. We get another social conflict, but it's a contained, family-based conflict that really has nothing to do with the world that Book 1 built. Hell, in Book 1 Korra realizes three episodes in that the quietude of Tenzin's teachings were essential to her being a good pro-bender, whereas in Book 2 Korra is straight back to using violence to solve everything (including blackmailing federal judges and using your family connections to the military to start an all-out war and then throwing a tantrum at your boyfriend because he realized that may not have been the best idea).

These two charts really tell you, in a nutshell, why Korra has gone off the rails. From a team that has done so well in slowly building out characters and their relationships to each other in ATLA, the Korra Gang is disappointingly flat and uninteresting. And the "bitches be crazy" approach to Eska is especially disappointing given how strong and well-thought-out Suki/Yue/Katara/Azula and even Asami were, and I am pissed at what they've done to Bolin in that fucked up Bolin/Ginger scene. (Bolin was such a fundamentally good and sweet guy who loved being friends with his cool teammate even if she didn't like him back romantically just because she was cool, and he's turned into this macho inconsiderate douchebro lech. Ugh.)

I have a lot of feels okay.
posted by Phire at 7:50 AM on November 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


1. In the season finale for Book 1, Korra immediately regains her bending after a 2 minute chat with Aang that didn't even require her to really figure out her spiritual side, which robs the final episodes of a lot of their gravitas.

Which, to be fair, matches up pretty well with how Aang got his powers back to smack Ozai around, way back in the TLA finale. Not that it was any good the first time around, but they are consistent.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:03 AM on November 15, 2013


1. I am a Korra cheerleader, but I definitely agree that the ending of Book 1 was a missed opportunity. It was a satisfactory ending, but not a great ending. Likewise, the ending of Book 1 in TLA involved Aang quite literally becoming the deus ex machina and beating back the Fire Nation troops that were manhandling the Northern Water Tribe. Though, the build up and execution was done a bit better. I do think the fact that the writers in Korra were handicapped with the work of a self-contained series may have played a role in the affair. Count me in as a fan of Korra having to go on a quest to redeem the bending powers she'd lost and then return to take down Amon.

2. When it comes to Book 2, so far I'd have to argue that Asami is probably the character who has suffered the most for lack of development. In the first episode, she's painted almost entirely as "my family's company is in trouble!" and that issue is what she basically represents in every episode she appears in for the most part. She hasn't been given a lot of space to grow, and to an extent, it's as if she's been in a state of shock recovery since she had to help take down her manic and revenge obsessed father and now has the fate of her family's legacy on her shoulders. It's not insane to see her drawn back to Mako, if only as a source of comfort, but I hope we see her gain back more of the independent and butt kicker Asami we had before.

Bolin has suffered, but it makes sense. At the end of Book 1, he doesn't have the girl, he's biggest contribution to bringing down Amon was keeping planes from taking off at the secret airbase, and the one claim to fame he had, the Fire Ferrets fell completely to shambles since he lost Mako and Korra as his teammates. More so, he's lost the constant friendship/companionship of the aforementioned with Mako more concerned about being a police officer and Korra off continuing her Avatar training/duties. Further, in his groping to find romance, he gets burned (freezer burned!) when he makes the mistake of approaching Eska. When someone suddenly eyes him and literally elevates him (be it in the box seat at the theater or in giant bird talons in a studio), he jumps at the chance to finally feel as important as his friends. Fame went to his head, and that's not unexpected, that he expects the success he's been feeling to flow into the romantic side of things and lead to something with his leading lady.

Korra was raised and trained as the Avatar, but only in the sense that being the Avatar means you can command different forms of bending. From the moment she arrived in Republic City, she has struggled with what it means to actually BE the Avatar. Her sense of justice has always been based out of emotion and personal judgment, and nothing in Book 1 really happened to truly shake that belief. Likewise, she is constantly reminded that she has a personal duty as the Avatar to do right, and while Aang was not afraid to use wisdom to solve problems (which I think harkens back to his raising as an air nomad), Korra has not had that opportunity except for her training with Tenzin. Thus, Korra as a character relies intensely on her own abilities to correct problems she encounters, be it confronting a Republic City Representative from the Water Tribe to manhandling a judge to uncover information about her father.

Further, let's remember the theme of family in the Avatar universe. Sokka and Katara both were very emotionally driven by the death of their mother and the absence of their father. Sokka departs on what really should be seen as a suicide mission to rescue his father after his dad's capture, based on family honor. Toph has her issues with her family, Zuko, well, that's several volumes of writing right there (from him to his mother), and in Korra, family remains a major issue. The show reveals that when Mako and Bolin are not relying on each other as family, the rift that results has devastating results. Additionally, while Tenzin certainly existed as a friend and teacher to Korra, she has intense bonds with her own parents and family. She didn't turn from Tenzin to learn spirit bending from just anyone, it was her own uncle. The familial bond created a false sense of trust for Korra that Unalaq exploited for his (or Vaatu's) own gain - Unalaq's disregard of family was highlighted as evidence of his evil/bad guy status when he pointedly ignores the safety and well being of his son, injured trying to help his father, as well his betrayal of his own brother. Asami is a literal oprhan, her lack of family means she can only identify with the next best thing, her family's company. [Also note the family theme in Amon and his brother and their dad]

Another theme is duty. Again, duty haunts the Avatar universe, be it Aang's sense of failure based on his duty to the people of the world when he ran away from the air temple to when he failed to find and defeat Ozai in the attack on the Fire Nation Capital. Duty to family and nation hang over Zuko's actions for much of the show. In Korra, duty definitely remains very important, be it to Korra being a good avatar to Mako choosing his duty to the Republic City police over Korra.

I think if there are flaws felt in the characterizations of the characters of Korra, then they are ones that run with the show as a whole. For the most part, I think Book 2 has been mainly true to the characters that were introduced and created in Book 1. One very interesting take on Bolin, Mako, Asami and Korra, is that they exist as teenagers. A teenager by general definition is someone who is neither a child nor an adult, and so it's not surprising when we get upset at these characters for not immediately learning from their pasts or for not thinking things through from a rational perspective. The events we watch them undergo or undertake are the learning events that they may not be ready to appreciate now, but will later. Korra does come around, after all, as seen two episodes back.

As for the Republic City aftermath, I concur it would definitely be interesting, but we have already seen some of it in the form of a non-bending leader, popularly elected. It's a political blow back/concession made after the events of Book 1, in which it's probably the only way that populist non-bending ire could be positively handled. Ultimately, these types of loose ends are true in every show, even TLA, which turned to graphic novels to try and wrap up a number of them after Book 3 concluded.

For its weaknesses, I still love the show nearly as much as I enjoyed TLA, be it the (now return to better animation), the music and the characters. I'm nearly done re-watching TLA for the third or fourth time and I can feel the difference between the shows, and it isn't one that exists because the creators tried to recreate the same recipe, but it's because they pointedly opted not to try. It's the same awesome restaurant, just different choice off the menu.

Oh hey guys, if you are on Tumblr and want to see ALL REMAINING EPISODES of Korra book two this weekend, you can reblog this link (featuring voice of Korra Janet Varney!). They will release them if it gets done 10,000 times in the next 12 hours.

And done.
posted by Atreides at 9:06 AM on November 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


P.S.

The Tumblr campaign worked! This weekend (starting midnight EST) the final two episodes of Korra will be available online, too!
posted by Atreides at 11:37 AM on November 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think a lot of people taking a dislike to the actions of Korra characters have failed to remember what being a teenager/young adult was like. You date people who are So Wrong For You. And sometimes you date them more than once. You are naive and gullible and get rooked by older skeezy types, on occasion. You are idealistic but have no idea what your ideals would really entail.

I mean, even just hanging out in AskMe, you get some stories much worse than anything that happens between the Korra teenagers in terms of "bad judgement". That's how we are.

In ATLA, you could write it all off as "they're kids/preteens!" and so they screw up constantly, but are also adorable, and getting cut lots of slack because they're 12. For a 12 year old, Aang did great. For an 18-year-old, he would have been more harshly judged.

Now the one gripe I do have is Underutilized Characters. Lin Bei Fong! Asami! There are some good stories to tell there, but we haven't gotten them yet.
posted by emjaybee at 12:21 PM on November 15, 2013 [1 favorite]



>>SSF, the bending/non-bending mix seems like a clear issue of genetics;

>This is canonically not the case, as made explicit in a pointed aside in A:TLA wherein one half of a set of identical twins said "I'm an earthbender!" and the other said "I'm not!" I believe the creators have stated in interviews that bending is not genetic, though I don't have a citation for that off the top of my head.


FINE. The bending is based on epigenetic expression. Twins could have different epigenetics.
posted by maryr at 7:09 PM on November 15, 2013


*SPOILER*

Can someone explain to me why everyone can bend in the Spirit World when last episode only Unalak could?
posted by schroedinger at 11:13 PM on November 15, 2013


I think it's because everyone physically entered the Spirit World through the southern portal. When Korra entered the Spirit World previously, it was through astral projection, i.e. she was just a "ghost" in that world and lost her normal physical powers.
posted by Balna Watya at 1:44 AM on November 16, 2013


Balna is exactly correct. If you're physically in the spirit world you have the power to bend. Up until that point, only Unalaq and his twins had physically entered it in our show.

And...just watched the final four episodes. Still not sure what to think. I'll wait a bit before I go all spoilery!
posted by Atreides at 1:40 PM on November 16, 2013


Oh hey guys, if you are on Tumblr and want to see ALL REMAINING EPISODES of Korra book two this weekend, you can reblog this link (featuring voice of Korra Janet Varney!). They will release them if it gets done 10,000 times in the next 12 hours.

This campaign seems really weird to me. Isn't a broadcast network suddenly pushing out the remaining episodes of a show usually a bad sign? I'm not sure we're getting book 3 (not sure I want it: eps of book 2 have been piling up on the DVR).
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 2:25 PM on November 16, 2013


Isn't a broadcast network suddenly pushing out the remaining episodes of a show usually a bad sign?

I'm pretty sure Nickelodeon ordered at least one more season, maybe two, although I'm having a hard time finding a citation for that.
posted by Sokka shot first at 2:49 PM on November 16, 2013


I feel pretty confident there's been orders for Book 3 and Book 4. (Here's the announcement by one of the creators.)

Of all things, just a few days ago I read that many stations that cater mainly to children are putting episodes online in advance of the air dates, in part because kids today are used to streaming shows in their entirety.

I'll probably tune in again to watch the somewhat better HD broadcast on Friday.

Ratings were down this season, many suspect because the show was moved from Saturday mornings to Friday evenings (and then moved twice that night).
posted by Atreides at 3:22 PM on November 16, 2013


Oh, another P.S. from the Creator:

"P.S. I forgot to mention, we have seen the first four episodes of Take 1 animation from Studio Mir on Book 3. AWESOME STUFF! They continue to blow us away. The premiere date hasn’t been pinned down, but we are on track to airing Book 3 with MUCH less of a wait than the unfortunate one there was before Book 2 aired. We are all incredibly excited for you all to see the new book. For now, I hope enjoyed the Book 2 finale!"

Thank goodness!
posted by Atreides at 3:24 PM on November 16, 2013


THAT FINALE. I have many feels.

One of which is irritation at Amazon Video because I could not access the episodes that way as usual the day after airing. They have the last three listed but as "unavailable" even though they are online. Which is where we watched them.

Tumblr tells me that the talking mushroom had the voice of Grey DeLisle (Azula).

I have no idea what they're going to do next season after this finale.
posted by emjaybee at 10:19 PM on November 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've been watching the Bolin fight scene over and over again. My God, that was perfect.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 6:09 AM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Book 3 of the Legend of Korra will be entitled "Change," and is already under production.
posted by Atreides at 10:15 AM on November 21, 2013


I've just finished watching the new series, here are a few things that I think:

First of all Korra is pretty disappointing. I enjoyed the Wan episodes that this post is about, and there was enough action in the final few episodes to keep me distracted, but I'm not a fan overall (also, those episodes were the ones where we saw the least of Korra, which probably isn't a coincidence). In fact I think that Korra is damaging to the Avatar universe in the same way (though probably not to the same extent) as the prequels were to the Star Wars one.

Overall I think that the characters are one dimensional, and they feel like cheap imitations of those from TLAB. It's as if they've been made to try to copy the dynamic Aang had with his companions and mentors. However those relationships came about organically and the characters evoke genuine empathy from the audience, especially as they develop. In Korra there's none of the richness or subtlety, which is a shame because they were done so well before. Oh, and also, it seems like they thought as they had a female protagonist who is physically tough, they had a 'strong' woman, which was enough of a concession to feminism, so they used lazy gender stereotypes rather than doing anything novel with their female characters, which TLAB did quite well for a cartoon.

The big problem with the series overall is that Korra has so much more going for her than Aang to start off with, so in order to have problems, she has to be responsible for them herself, which makes her unlikable. The script writers decided that way to achieve this is to have a headstrong and reckless hero, which has been done to death, and I found it really annoying.

If you look at Aang at the start of the series, he's a 12 year old kid, who can only bend air and everyone he knows is dead. He travels the world which is under the control of a hostile power, and is pursued by a bunch of different sociopaths hell bent on capturing him. Despite this he retains his humanity and humility, he tries to solve problems non-violently and he cares a great deal about the people he meets.

Compare this to Korra: She's a self centered teenager who's already mastered 3 elements. She lives in a friendly city where she has connections to high ranking officials in the police, military and government. She manages to fuck up, letting herself be manipulated far too easily and having a temper tantrum every time a friend tries to talk some sense into her. When things look really bad she always manages to unlock a new power with minimal effort (despite the fact that we saw Aang working really hard to get the same results, and she doesn't seem to be nearly as spiritually aware as he is). I can't think of a single time in either series when Korra meets a problem with anything other than a brute force approach, and it's rare to see her putting any else before herself.

So that's why I don't like Korra, as a character or as a series.
posted by Ned G at 5:36 PM on November 22, 2013


I never realized before that Korra was Harry Potter.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 5:42 PM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Haha, I edited a sentence out of that comment which said something along the lines of 'It's like they've taken all of Harry Potters worst characteristics and bundled them into an unlikeable character'
posted by Ned G at 5:46 PM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you have any lingering uncertainty about what happened in the season finale, remember that it actually makes perfect sense and has no plotholes or incomprehensible developments as long as you answer any question you have with "A wizard spirit did it."
posted by Ian A.T. at 9:13 AM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think Korra is supposed to be like Aang, and I think the series would do us a disservice if she was. Aang's challenges were mainly external. Korra's are within herself. It's well-established in the Avatar universe that every Avatar is different--there are laid-back ones who look for fights, indecisive ones, ones good at leading, ones that are not. And all of them change as they grow up--I mean, Wan was kind of a dick when we first meet him.

Korra is far more brash, headstrong, and arrogant than Aang. She hasn't had the same spiritual training because she wasn't raised by monks. And developing her control of the elements exceptionally early made her over-confident. I actually find her to be a more realistic character than Aang, because while Aang was kind of a perfect Boy Scout, Korra is a real human being, and her self-centered, irrational behavior very typical for a teenager. Teenagers are frequently not pleasant people and generally believe they're more knowledgeable and less easy to manipulate than they actually are.

I don't think her personality would be as much of an issue if she faced more consequences for her actions. I felt both seasons were wrapped up way too easily, with too little struggle and personal growth for her. For example, in the first season it would've been nice if we had at least one or two episodes of powerless Korra going on some kind of spiritual journey in order to connect with her past lives. I think the limitations of fewer episodes per season really hurts character development given the amount of stuff the creators want to do in each season.
posted by schroedinger at 9:22 AM on November 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I enjoyed the Catching Fire movie a fair sight more than I enjoyed the last four eps of this season, which is not something I expected to say. They've managed to pull something off, and the jokes/chemistry is better than it was at the start of the season, but between the deus ex and the total sidelining of all female character development and the Epic Battle Between Good And Evil I am just... tepid on the whole franchise.

Also, asking honestly, does anyone actually like Mako? The creators seem so hellbent on getting us invested in him, but I haven't seen a major character this wooden and boring since Riley from Buffy. (And by extension Agent Ward from SHIELD.) There is little by way of redeeming characteristics about him and yet everyone around him in this universe falls over themselves fawning. I mean I guess they were trying to recapture Zuko's appeal? But ugh, Mako. Mako is the worst. Mako Mori exists, he should just relinquish his claim on the name.

*grumble*
posted by Phire at 10:44 AM on November 23, 2013


It shouldn't feel like an insult that they named him after, y'know, MAKO. But it does.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:19 PM on November 23, 2013


I'm not big on Mako. I don't hate him, but I concur, he is a bit woody.

As streaming news goes...

Korra Book 1 is now on Amazon Prime and at least as this weekend, the entirety of Book 2 is streaming on the Nick website. So if you have the first, you can catch the rest, and be entirely up to date on the show.

I already believe Book 3 will be better, if only because Studio Mir is animating the rest of the show. The Japanese studio is no slouch, but I don't know if its the standard already set by Mir that they refused to match or it was a style, but there was a noticeable difference. Mako got a lot more likeable when the animation ratcheted up a level and he had a bit more expression to go along with his storyline.
posted by Atreides at 6:26 PM on November 24, 2013


A writer at Forbes.com asks,"Has the Legend of Korra" Created a New Genre?" (in which he should have probably framed as, a new genre in American television)

It's kind of funny, but Forbes is just not the place I expect to see covering Korra. I know they do entertainment, and half the time, I get ticked off at one of their senior movie reviewers who couldn't find the working end of a flashlight with it turned on...but they've been posting recaps of every episode. Strange.
posted by Atreides at 2:40 PM on November 25, 2013


I should add, I also find it strange the Wall Street Journal, is also covering Korra.
posted by Atreides at 2:42 PM on November 25, 2013


And, I swear, this is my last link....but college students have adapted Pro-Bending into a game to play! Hurray!
posted by Atreides at 2:45 PM on November 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


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