Monday, 13 October 2014

Avatar: Legend of Korra – book 3: Change

Avatar gets stronger and stronger...ironically as the focus shifts gradually away from its main characters. 

The second season was a huge improvement on the first, but the giant squiggly spirit antagonist was a bit unconvincing. This time, the threat is more earthly: when Korra opens the gates to the spirit realm, all of a sudden new Airbenders begin popping up around the world. At first, this is a time for celebration, but it also empowers a dangerous prisoner. Using his new abilities to escape, he also sets free his three old comrades, who of course are from each of the other elemental factions. This group, part of the evil hidden society the Red Lotus, set about trying to draw out the Avatar and kill her in the Avatar State – which will end the reincarnation cycle. While this is classic kill-the-innocent-main-character bad guy stuff, the fact is that they’re quite cleverly depicted as genuinely believing what they are doing is in the interest of the balance of the world, and are fleshed out quite a bit through both romantic and comedy scenes. They are fleshed out well, and if Bolin has rather descended to Sokka-level inappropriate goofiness by this season, one great thing about having him around is that he sometimes brings out a more interesting side of other characters, giving them another dimension.

What really made me happy, though, is a shift towards a younger generation, more like that of the old season. Much as I like the older teen main characters, I find them pretty dull and hard to like. On the other hand, giving Jinora more of a spotlight is very much a breath of fresh air in the show, and then there’s the introduction of Kai. Looking rather like Aang with darker skin and a Hitler Youth haircut, he has the classic introduction of annoying streetrat thieving brat who repents when he gets into hot water and falls under the positive influence of older brother figures – but beyond that he gets really likeable and is given a role that is clearly leading to a much-expanded one in Season 4. His puppy love with Jinora is also absolutely adorable. He brings the same sort of energy Aang brought to the original, and it’s extremely welcome.

Which isn’t to say I dislike the screentime given to the others. I like how Korra’s mind works in this season, suspicious of authority figures and determined to improve herself and make sure those she cares about are getting on – even prickly Lin, who gets lots more development as she is reunited with her estranged sister. Bolin and Mako also get some good development thanks to reunions – stumbling upon their extended family, including their grandmother.

Ultimately, of course, the whole thing boils down to a big scrap, and the many overpowering the few, thanks to Jinora’s quick work and leadership. It’s pretty satisfying and the stakes genuinely feel high without being on the huge scale of the season 2 finale. Perhaps it would have been good to get some indication of where the next season will lead, as things feel neatly wrapped up other than the political upheaval of the Earth Kingdom, and of course the fourth season began very quickly after the (online) airings of the last episodes of this season.

It remained a little unsettling to the end that the same animators were working on this and The Boondocks. Especially in the comedy scenes, there was often a lot of Grandpa Freeman in Korra’s expressions, and that is pretty weird and jarring. But arguably the influence is actually going in the other direction. It feels like there’s less ambition in the animation now, all looking just a little cheaper than it used to, but the art stays on-model remarkably well, and the lava effects are great.

Certainly I want more – especially more Kai and Jinora, which from watching the first episode of the next season I know I’ll be getting, with their designs really not changing much after a time skip. I’m slightly sad Jinora grows her hair back, though – she looked so cute as a bald girly-Aang!  

No comments:

Post a Comment