My feelings about the piece are on familiar turf, having been a long-term fan of Avatar. I ended up loving the setting, really enjoying the characters and seeing huge potential…but ultimately spending the entire season swinging between like and dislike, thrills and disappointments. Just like with the original series, I suspect my immediate feelings will be mixed but slightly on the positive side, but will grow in the direction of love with a bit of hindsight.
The point of Korra rather seemed to be to do something in a different direction from that of the original, to centre it on older characters to give it a more grown-up feel, which would be in keeping with the ages of its original target audience. Travelling from place to place has been replaced by the claustrophobia of an urban setting, so often associated with grittiness in American media, especially when it comes to comic books. The original had this with Ba Sing Se, but that was the diversion – here,
very much forms the heart and
soul of the narrative, showing its positive and its negative sides. Republic
And yet despite its new direction, Korra falls back on familiar ground. We quickly get ‘the new Team Avatar’ established, and around the headstrong hero who must learn to overcome weaknesses and doubt, we have a wisecracking but reliable brother figure (Bolin was slightly more likeable than Sokka but had that same horribly irritating sense of humour), the standoffish but attractive and ultimately selfless firebender (though Mako was never an antagonist) and the idiosyncratic rich girl who is introduced later than the others and is born different from the rest (though Asami’s similarities to Toph are admittedly limited to these and very superficial). If you imagine Korra as a melding of Aang and Katara, it’s essentially the same set-up. And the awesome Tenzin fills the gap of Uncle Iroh, too – both stealing every scene they’re in.
But this is no bad thing and the team had potential for great adventures. But the main problems I had with Korra were that its pacing and scale seemed totally off and that its conflict was ultimately too inconsequential and badly-conceived.
Much of the 12 episodes are given over to the pro-bending tournament, which should have taken up an episode or two but dominates all but one of the entire first half of this season. Even Wakfu’s boufball episodes didn’t go that over-the-top. They were a convenient way to have Korra make strong allies but they were excessive, got in the way of real character development despite the shortcuts they provided and ultimately felt too throwaway because the whole plot arc got abandoned.
The writers clearly remembered that what drove much of fandom in the original was shipping, so we end up thrown by episode 3 into complex love triangles and squares. It’s all too superficial, moves too fast and feels too tacked-on, especially when it’s treated as so important. It worked in season 1 because you never did quite know if the kids had feelings for one another, and Aang was believably stupid about it. Here, all the young adults are upfront, so there’s little in the way of mystery.
And finally, we come to the story of Amon, which as it was clear from his first appearance it would, soon becomes the dominant element of the season’s overall plot. My first observation was that it owes a lot to The Uncanny X-Men – totally unrelated to how much Korra in
mode looks like Storm
throwing her elemental powers about. Amon is much like Graydon Creed, creating
The Equalists, who much like The Friends of Humanity are against humans with
advanced powers. Like Creed, he is not all he appears, and he was set on his
current course by family members. Avatar
One of the best parts of the season was the flashback to tell Amon’s past. It was nothing highly original – there were hints of Naruto and HunterXHunterand, perhaps, Thor in the siblings-and-father relationship – but it was no rip-off and had enough original elements to work. I very possibly would have enjoyed a dark season about its characters more than what we got. But it was only one positive when there were too many negatives, most of them as a result of rushing. The episode where Korra discovers a trusted patron is in league with the equalists is an absurd Scooby-Doo story of peeking through keyholes and snooping, getting proven right by the villain’s stupidity. Amon himself is dealt with much too expediently, not only arbitrarily deciding to stage a full-blown invasion when his advantage was clearly working from the shadows, but giving his own game away in a panicked moment I couldn’t quite believe someone so calculating would do. And then his sad final scene just seemed tacked on for the sake of convenience, not because it hit the right emotive notes or advanced the plot.
None of this is to say Korra wasn’t excellent. It’s likely the best cartoon coming from the
right now. Its characters are solid, its setting interesting and the animation
pleasant to look at. But it was also disappointing in many ways, and putting a
good episode of the original series on makes me remember that it had a spark
that isn’t really here. I cared much more about the gaang and their quest than
I do about Korra. But that doesn’t mean I won’t keep watching, or that s2 can’t
be far better!