Thursday, 22 March 2012

Avatar: The Legend of Korra (First impressions)

First impressions, 22.3.12

Well, the first episode of The Legend of Korra got ‘leaked’ a few days ago, and has become widely available, albeit only as a low-quality stream or slightly cleaned-up streamrips. I resisted for a little while, wanting to wait until the series had its proper premiere and I could watch it in decent definition, but in the end I was too weak! I’m a confirmed Avatar fan these days, and I have an inkling this leak wasn’t entirely accidental, but designed to gauge fan reaction.

And I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve been on the fence about the series since designs and early plot outlines were revealed: I was very happy we were getting new Avatar at all, but I wished it could have been about the ‘gaang’. I wasn’t sure about Korra, who seemed cocksure (my least favourite character trait ever since Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and not very interesting. I also wasn’t sure about the 20s-New-York-n-jazz theme, with mobsters in old motorcars, and worried that the series would lose its fantasy edge.

But having watched the episode, I’m pleasantly surprised. It all works. It may never quite reach the heights Avatar did, and I’m fairly sure Korra as an emotional core will never give me the same resonance Aang did, but I suspect it will also be more mature and more consistently good, rather than swinging between good and poor as Avatar did for so long.

The Legend of Korra, as fans have known for a long time, tells the story of the next Avatar after Aang. This means that by the time of the story, Aang is dead, and likely to appear only as a ghostly adult. More or less all the other characters are dead and gone, too, thus far only old Katara making an appearance, though the children of old cast members appear. There’s something a little unsettling about thinking of Aang and Katara having children, but there is a bearded airbender with kids of his own, driving the plot – he is the only one who can teach Korra to airbend, but since Aang passed the city he founded has been in turmoil, so his son cannot take the time away from the city needed to mentor the new avatar. Toph’s child is another major player, the head of the city’s police force of earthbenders capable of bending metal, and while she’s an awesome no-nonsense character, the idea of Toph having a child makes me a little sad. It’s unusual for stories that put kids at the centre to make us think of them growing up, marrying, having kids and dying of old age – and it’s very different from the way Dragonball Z sees Goku grow up - but that’s where Korra starts.

It takes some getting used to, but I think it’s all to the good. It’s sensible to make a whole new story rather than dragging the old one on. And the things I didn’t think I’d like, it turns out I did – Korra’s one line as a small child, in a nod to Buddhist traditions of searching for reincarnated masters, made her seem bratty and tomboyish, and certainly her character flaw is that she is all aggression and action-without-thinking, but she is also identifiably young, uncertain and repentant about the mistakes she makes. She’s a lot more Aang-like than I thought she’d be – though no Aang.

At the moment, it doesn’t look like we’ll have a core of youths as in the first story – though I have to say I’m glad there’s no Sokka figure as yet, as unlike much of fandom I never liked him, and he never had a boufbowl moment to win me over. Aang’s grandkids are too young, and the adults in Korra’s life seem like mentors rather than companions. I’m sure Korra will gain friends, possibly related to Zuko (in fact, the artwork above shows them), but it had better be soon. Beyond that, the tension seems to be very much in the comic book mould: a rising faction of the non-benders in Aang’s city feel they are oppressed and a league is being formed around a mysterious figure to fight back. Well, as long as they don’t make any Sentinels, that’s fine. I like that the plot is somewhat comic book-flavoured, just the same as I liked how the city is obviously meant to put us in mind of New York – the blend of East and West is part of what makes Avatar what it is, and it’s moving on in its own way.

It’s a little complex following what happened with the Korean animations studios behind Avatar, but to wrap up I’ll give an overview of how it worked as I understand it, based mostly on image board posts, side articles and what people who actually work for the studios have said on their DAs – the original pilot was made by Tin House, who made Wonderful Days. Tin House stopped being a studio in their own right, though, and some of the key workers went over to the Korean animation powerhouse Dr Movie for a while, before forming their own new studio JM Animation to finish work on Avatar (with some work farmed out to Moi). Now, though, a ‘core’ of JM staff are working in a new, separate company called Studio Mir, who will now be credited with Korra’s animation. It’s clearly the same people, though, and while some backgrounds are different, the same elasticity, propensity to make comedy expressions with the mouth down at the bottom of the chin and nice action scenes are there in abundance. The first shot of the big city is great, though some CG cars could blend in better.

Overall, I’m pleased with how Korra looks at first, and eager for more. After the new My Little Pony, though, and maybe Lucky Star, I’ve never known a show so influenced by its fanbase – the episode with the play at the end of the original series was full of nods to online debates, and here there was an explicit reference to them too, with the line about Zuko’s mother. These nods can be very amusing, but I hope they don’t go too far with them. They can get very, very jarring.

Additional notes having seen Korra ep 2: I must say I’d prefer to see Korra actually learn humility and peace rather than levelling up under pressure of battle like a Shounen Jump character. And I hope we don’t see too much pro-bending in future eps. But here are the two main companions, very much in the Sokka and Zuko vein, and I like them. I just wonder if this will lead to being stuck in a rut. Korra needs a more immediate quest.


  1. Had to stop reading this.

    I've started watching the first episode 3 times and then forced myself to stop. I'm going to try my hardest to wait for April. I tried to pre-DVR this show in advance clearly it didn't work.
    God I'm so excited.

  2. You have my respect! I couldn't resist it. 

    Episode 2 is going to be 'leaked' on Saturday, though - will you be able to stop yourself then? XD