Home > Reviews > THE LEGEND OF KORRA: Thoughts on episodes 1-2 (Spoilers)

THE LEGEND OF KORRA: Thoughts on episodes 1-2 (Spoilers)

This past weekend, the premiere episodes of The Legend of Korra, the sequel to Avatar: The Last Airbender which debuts on television next month, were made available for legal online viewing on KorraNation.com.  They were only up for the weekend, and are apparently gone now, but I watched the episodes twice, and here are my thoughts.  If you didn’t catch them over the weekend, then you may want to hold off reading this until after they premiere on Nickelodeon on Saturday, April 14 at 11 AM Eastern.  I’ll try to avoid any huge spoilers, though.  (This is mostly a repost from my review on the Ex Isle BBS.)

This was a great beginning, a gorgeously made continuation of the Avatar universe. The animation was spectacular, feature-quality work, continuing everything that was great about the original but ramping it up. It felt like a Miyazaki film, even more than A:TLA did. Even the 3D computer animation on the cityscape and airships was very smoothly integrated with the 2D animation; the opening shots of the cityscape and the statue of Aang looked like paintings but had 3D movement. The “satomobiles” (cute) looked a little more like digital constructs when in motion, but I guess that’s been done for so long that today’s viewers are probably used to it, and it’s certainly not unprecedented for this franchise.

Korra is a good character, well-played by Janet Varney. She’s got a nice strong voice that reminds me of both Mae Whitman (Katara) and Cricket Leigh (Mai). It took me a few minutes to realize it, but in a real sense, Korra is Aang, or rather the same soul in a new life. And she does have Aang-like qualities in her impetuousness and self-doubt, and in her impulse to heroism. But she’s different too, and her difficulty with airbending drives that home. She’s a lot more aggressive than Aang, and a lot less polite.

Great to see “Master Katara” again, but it’s a shame that Aang, Sokka, and evidently many of the others are gone. That’s surprising, really, considering that it’s only been 70 years and A:TLA showed us a number of characters who were well over a century old. I guess they wanted to keep the A:TLA characters’ presence to a minimum so they wouldn’t overshadow the new cast and storylines, but it’s still a bit odd.

Oh, and that was wicked of them to tease us about what happened with Zuko’s mother. (I think that story’s being told in the new comics.)

It’s interesting to hear J. K. Simmons as Tenzin; I’m used to hearing him play angrier, sterner characters (J. Jonah Jameson, Generator Rex‘s White Knight), so I didn’t initially recognize him in this softer-spoken role. Although Tenzin does seem to have a Jameson-esque temper boiling beneath the surface. It’s interesting… he’s Aang and Katara’s son, but he takes more after Sokka in appearance and maybe in some aspects of personality (though he’s serious, not the jokester Sokka was).

And I guess that “roll eyes skyward, then give a world-weary sigh” business is pretty clearly going to be Tenzin’s “thing,” but what’s impressive is that the animators have him do it a bit differently each time. I love the attention to detail. Joaquim Dos Santos is probably the best animation director in television (though credit should also be given to his co-director here, Ki Hyun Ryu), and it’s great to see his work again.

Not sure I’m crazy about the sports focus that emerged in episode 2, but it was well-handled. The climax was entirely predictable, but the execution still moved me.

I still find it surprising that they’ve gone so quickly from the early-industrial tech of A:TLA’s Fire Nation to this early-20th-century environment with cars and electricity and radio and cameras. But then, this is a world where it took them about six months to go from the Mechanist’s first prototype hot-air balloons to a fleet of massive war zeppelins. I guess they’re just very, very efficient. But I would’ve liked it if the tech had been a little less advanced, a little more steampunk and bending-based.

By the way, if Republic City is in the former Fire Nation colonies, then Air Temple Island can’t be older than about 70 years. So how come there’s a 2000-year-old teaching aid there? I guess it could’ve been moved there from somewhere else, but that line still threw me. (Not to mention that I doubt wooden flats like that could survive 2000 years outdoors.)

In episode 2, the pro-bending folks are surprisingly blase about discovering the Avatar is on their team. I mean, the Avatar’s kind of the most important person in the world, this deeply sacred figure. It’s kinda like having the Dalai Lama or the Pope join a sports team. Yet the sports folks merely had a few moments of surprise and then just rolled with it. That seemed like something got glossed over for the sake of pacing.

Also, one thing that concerns me a bit is that so far, all the bad guys seem to be male. I know Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee are tough acts to follow, but it’s just not an Avatar-verse show without awesome, kickass young ladies on both sides.

On reflection, one other thing has been bugging me a bit.  Korra is worth watching for the gorgeous animation and rich characterizations and good music and such, but so far there’s very little sense of danger or high stakes.  By the end of episode 2 of A:TLA, we knew that the world was torn apart by war, that Aang had an urgent mission to pursue, that he felt guilty for abandoning the world and allowing the war to happen, and that he and his friends were being pursued by a driven and capable enemy who’d already done a lot of damage to Katara and Sokka’s home and would stop at nothing to capture Aang.  There was a clear, palpable sense of danger and urgency.  Here, though, the stakes don’t seem all that high.  The opening narration sets up the current situation but doesn’t give any indication of danger or trouble.  The first episode does establish the core conflict in Republic City — the unrest between benders and non-benders, the crime and social inequality, the risk of failing to fulfill Aang and Zuko’s vision for the city.  It suggests that Korra has a role in resolving those problems, and it introduces the villain Amon who will be her main rival.  But this is all more potential than actual at this point, and then episode 2 de-escalates things and spends the whole time focusing solely on Korra’s training and character interactions.  So any sense of high stakes hinted at in episode 1 faded in episode 2, and it’s hard to feel at this point that what we’re seeing is anywhere near as important as A:TLA’s saga.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with the occasional episode that has low stakes and focuses on character rather than danger and fighting.  “The Headband” in A:TLA’s season 3 is such an episode, and it works very well.  But if the intent was to debut the series with two back-to-back episodes, then it would’ve worked better to have a second episode that escalated things like “The Avatar Returns” did.  As it is, it feels kind of like the producers are coasting — like they expect us to watch out of loyalty and so aren’t trying as hard to give this series a really compelling storyline.  I’m hoping that subsequent episodes will prove otherwise, but the opening of this series is simply not as narratively strong as that of its predecessor.

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  1. April 4, 2012 at 3:28 am

    I enjoyed reading your initial thoughts on the series. I have yet to watch episode 2 (so I flew over your bit on that).

    To add my tiny two-cents to the swiping out of characters like Sokka and such, you have to remember that at the time TLA was developing, the Fire Nation was at the beginning of an Industrial Revolution. Times are different in Legend of Korra, and their life expectancy could quite possibly have been shortened due to newly introduced pollution – I think 80 years is enough to start seeing side-effects.

    Of course, this analysis could’ve been comepletely unintentional and simply coincidental on the creators’ part. Haha, just speculating possibilities.

    • April 4, 2012 at 7:01 am

      Interesting thought. Though I’d kind of prefer to think that Sokka and the others gave their lives heroically to protect people.

  2. Alayna
    April 5, 2012 at 10:41 pm

    I like a lot of what you said. I would just like to point out that the reason TLA jumped right into the main conflict was that it had to get viewers to watch this brand new show. The franchise doesnt need to grab attention anymore, the same people who watched the original series are gonna watch legend of korra. This new franchise needs these first two episodes to introduce a new story line that will both stay true to the original WITHOUT repeating the same story again. I would bet that they will introduce the conflict more in depth in the next few episodes.

  3. April 8, 2012 at 1:03 am

    I like alot of what you said and i agree i feel something is missing hopefully it will come soon but the reason Aang is dead is because he was frozen for 100 years so in essence he was 113 at beggining of the series then add 70 years he would be 183 so he was well past a century he used up alot of his time when frozen ..Sokka on the other hand probably just died from his horrible diet LOL. My main problem though is the atmosphere its not as engrossing to me as the previous was. I’m still waiting to see who Korra’s partners will be hopefully not just bowlin and mako and i kind of hope something will come about to give high stakes feeling the whole anti-bending isn’t enough for me and i kind of miss the musical score from the first one. Hopefully she will learn how to use her fire bending properly like Zuko and Uncle did with all the colors the dragons used and i was surprised to see metal bending maybe that will be interesting.

  4. Joseph
    April 12, 2012 at 9:18 pm

    chris, so far you are the only person in the entirety of the world wide web whose had an almost exact thought of what I think of the show. so bravo.

    Also, I’d like to speak my mind about the electricity situatuion(i think you’ll agree with me on it). I really can’t handle the fact that the creaters introduced electricity into the show. I mean the last airbender took place in a 14th century asian influanced world and withen 70 years, not even a century mind you, they manage to not only discover electricty but use it and convert it into energy which is used for early 20th century american styled technology, I’m surprised this hasn’t striked odd to anyone else yet! not only that but the only sign of electricties existance during the original series was either during thunderstorms or when being bended, but even then, only the most powerful and elite of firebenders could even attempt to produce such energy for bending and even then benders like that were extremely rare and hard to find. for petes sake, there were only 3, maybe 4 characters max in the entire original series that could produce lightning. so with this case in mind it’d be completely illogical to think that withen less then a century in an old traditional asian fashioned world that electricty could be obtained and coverted to electricity for use early american tech! I know what some of you are thinking, “but what about the ships and tanks?”.
    well for the ships they either powered it like they did the hot air balloons, through firebending or used coal to power it, need an example, then watch the last few epispdes of the show, its all there. Now for tanks, like said before, they probably used coal, but firebending for ammunition. by the way, the use of coal power was still quite a bit before electricty so you can’t counter me on that either.I’m not trying to be mean or anything, I love the avatar universe, and I think the new korra show is kinda nice. the thing is, is that when it come to legend of korra, the storys stable enough, the characters are enjoyable, the animations flawless, but the setting technology/energy source-wise is not that good and could use some adjusting.

    P.S. what I’m about to say is directed towards the creaters of the show or anyone who has control over the show whom pass through this site and sees this post.

    please take what I’ve said into mind and delay the release of the show on air and adjust the already made episodes accordingly, please. I say this not as some critic, but as a voice of the people (fans really). if you think about it, the majority of your veiwers will be those loyal to the original show and if thats the case, they’ll probably, like me, be expecting the avatars world to not even fathom the use of electricty as an energy source but as a rare technique to firebending. believe me there are fans out there (a lot actually) that’ll think like this and if they see their beloved show altered in this way they may start to lose both faith and interest in the new show causing a small but existing financial problem for your network to deal with which could be avoided by just adjusting the existing episodes and future episodes by only a small amount. theres a chance this may occur but do you feel its a chance worth risking?

    • April 12, 2012 at 10:08 pm

      First off, I think you need to read this interview with the creators that was posted today on ComicsAlliance:

      http://www.comicsalliance.com/2012/04/12/the-legend-of-korra-michael-dante-dimartino-bryan-konietzko-interview/

      DiMartino: We thought about how quickly technology progressed in the real world around the turn of the 20th century. The original series we always thought took place in a time equivalent to the 1850s. And a lot changed between then and the 1920s, which is roughly the time period-equivalent in Korra. The more modern setting opened up a lot of creative opportunities. We used to have to figure out how the Fire Nation was communicating with each other via messenger hawks and now, people can pick up a phone or send a wireless message half-way around the world.

      I hadn’t realized it myself, but they’re probably right — most of the world in the 1850s was a lot less advanced than we might have thought. Some parts were industrializing, but others were still little changed from the way they’d been centuries before — as we can see in the difference in technology between the industrialized Fire Nation, the agrarian Earth Kingdom, and the fishing-based Water Tribe. But by the 1920s, things had changed a great deal. What we’re seeing in Korra reflects the equivalent passage of time in the real world, so I was in error to question it.

      Second, I’d be amazed if anyone involved with the show bothered to read my little blog. And third, it took them three years to make this show, and they’re already well into production on season 2, so they’re sure as hell not going to “delay” things at this point, especially when they have no reason to.

  5. Joseph
    April 12, 2012 at 10:47 pm

    first i’d like to thank you for showing me that article, I also did not realize that it took place in a 1850s equivilant before reading the article, I truly thought it took place in an earlier time setting equivilant. actually, now that I think about, when japan was being (I think) targeted by other nations, they studied how other nations military worked and within an amount of time (not sure how long), they became as modernized as everyone else in the ways of military
    (I’d like to point out my national history is rusty). I kinda feel foolish now, not remembering this peice of history beforehand. I guess the reason why I was so blind to the truth to begin with might not only have to do with me forgeting about that part of japans history but also the fact that for so long I’ve been so used to series original setting.

    again, thanks for helping me understand.(i also now realize the unlikely odds of what i said in the p.s.)

  6. Kelsey
    April 16, 2012 at 1:48 am

    If you follow the map in the beginning when it shows where Republic City, it clearly shows where the fire nation is with steaming volcanoes and Republic City is not there. It actually looks like it’s in the Earth Kingdom.

    • April 16, 2012 at 7:31 am

      That’s right; it’s located in what used to be the Fire Nation colonies in the Earth Kingdom. As we were told in the opening narration:

      “Avatar Aang and Fire Lord Zuko transformed the Fire Nation colonies into the United Republic of Nations, a society where benders and non-benders from all over the world, could live and thrive together in peace and harmony. They named the capital of this great land, Republic City.”

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