Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Avatar: Legend of Korra – Book 4: Balance

Going into the fourth and final season of Korra, I had high hopes. I felt that the seasons got progressively better, and I was left feeling excited about a new mini-generation after Jinora got her tattoos and Kai looked to be a something of a new hero figure. The first episodes felt like they were fulfilling that promise – after a short timeskip, there was an established Airbender Corps of sorts, helping rebuild the Earth Kingdom, a ‘great unifier’ named Kuvira who is uniting the people – but with an iron fist – and Korra herself is missing, still suffering from her fight with Zaheer. It’s a great set-up, and there’s a lot in this season that goes very well. Sadly, it all rather falls apart towards the end, and especially for the ultimate finale of the series, it’s a disappointment. And yes, I’d still rather have the Gurihiru continuations of the original series animated.

I liked Korra’s quest to find herself, especially as she found a certain cranky old-timer from the original series to be her Yoda. I loved the little shopkeeper who had a ‘Wall of Avatars’ as well! I enjoyed the way Mako and Bolin were split up and their loyalties to one another tested, and the general idea behind Kuvira’s philosophy – as well as her personality – was excellent. Of course she had to push things way too far in order to be an unambiguous antagonist, and her being badass enough to take down Korra in Avatar State – even having mental issues – was pretty damn awesome.

But the need for a big bombastic climax rather ruined this season. If Jinora, Kai and co looked to be developed this season, they had to be cast aside to give enough time to the main four characters. The moral dilemma of stopping a strong leader from uniting the Earth Kingdom gets dropped when Kuvira reveals that she not only wants to unite the established territories, but also to reclaim the land that Aang annexed to make his Republic City. This makes her a conqueror ignoring what had been established by diplomacy, and unambiguously in the wrong – which is something of a shame.

There’s already a huge problem with this as the final ending to Korra’s chronicles. After the events in the second series seemed genuinely apocalyptic, this season needed to at least have a threat to the world, or destroy the spirit realm, or someone stealing all the spiritual energy in the entire world, or a war between all spirits and all mankind...something huge and apocalyptic. I thought that’s where things were headed when the spirit vines began to become hostile. Instead...well, what we got was Kuvira deciding to retake Republic City for the Earth Kingdom. So the threat was already just one city, and some pride. And how is the ante upped? Well, with a weapon of mass destruction, naturally.
Mounted on a frickin’ giant mecha.

Sure, certain series can pull of giant robots. Evangelion, Bokurano, Gurren Lagann...but in the Avatar world? The giant drill was the biggest mistake the original series ever made! Sure, there’s been a progression of technology in this season, but really? A giant robot? Controlled by bending levers? It really doesn’t work. And taking it down is far harder than it could feasibly be, the thing staying upright when its feet are bound, Kuvira is blinded and Bolin uses his goddamn newly-acquired lava bending to trap a foot. Kuvira’s plan to sort of stomp into town and smash things up rather than, y’know, imposing trade sanctions and blockading the ports, goes badly and the whole thing ends with a whimper. To my great surprise, Korra never even learns to connect with her past lives properly, because she doesn’t need to.

It’s an ending that sadly lets down everything that went before it. There were certainly interesting places this story arc could have gone, and I don’t think it pulled any of it off with the final direction of the plot.

Then there’s the mild controversy of the implied lesbian relationship between Korra and Asami with the final scenes. I like the idea, but I think it was poorly done. It would make sense that Korra and Asami end up falling for each other and try being together. But the show would need to have built that up, developed it and made it less ambiguous. I mean, the creators had to clarify what they intended – and nobody saw it coming. The result is that it just seems like something tacked on for a fashionable statement on what can be included in a children’s show. It’s a welcome statement...but I’d much rather it were done right, and not at the last minute for its own sake.

In a way, it encapsulates why I was disappointed with this last season. The ideas were good, but the execution just didn’t work for me.

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