Avatar: The Legend of Korra [Season One] (TheByteScene Review)

3.5 Pro-Bending-Fire-Ferrets out of 4

Avatar: The Last Airbender (also known as The Legend of Aang in certain regions) crafted a story about a young boy named Aang destined to end a 100-year war and bring balance to the universe as the Avatar, a reincarnated , omnipotent figure capable of controlling the four elements. Introducing the concept of bending, The Last Airbender began as a children’s program and evolved as the fan-base aged; beginning with the book of Water, moving onto the book of Earth and, finally, the book of Fire, the television program succeeded in creating a realistic and believable portrayal of a world divided into four nations, all while drawing from Asian mythology to produce a story of a boy forced to stop the imperialistic expansion and genocidal decimation caused by the evil Fire Nation.

The Last Airbender remains one of Nickelodeon’s best series, and continues to be a pinnacle of animation and story-telling that many so-called “Cartoons” should strive to achieve. Though the first season is largely considered to be the most cartoon-y and childish, the second and third seasons make a point of focusing more on story-telling, character development, plot expansion, and universe creation.

Avatar: The Legend of Korra begins 70 years later and focuses on the next incarnation of the aforementioned, and titular, Avatar. Following the nomadic and spiritual character of Aang, a pacifist and firm believer in using violence only when necessary, Korra is portrayed as hot-headed, stubborn, excessively violent, and lacking in the spirituality needed to connect with both her past selves and her identity as an airbender.

Within the Avatar universe, the bending is a hereditary trait that was taught to humans by the spirits and their own Avatars; waterbenders learned from the moon, earthbenders learned from badgermoles (a chimeric combination of a badger and a mole), firebenders learned from dragons (who have all but died out), and airbenders learned from six-legged flying bison (who are, quite frankly, giant flying bison, with six legs). The ability to bend is often treated like the ability to perform any regular physical task, requiring practice, dedication, and a natural affinity to accomplish; some benders are incredibly gifted and capable of performing spectacular feats, while others are less inclined with the sole point being that bending exists to live harmoniously with nonbending.

It’s in this harmonious balance that the task of the Avatar becomes important as they are the only humans capable of manipulating all four elements and are, thereby, required to learn these four elements to maintain a relativistic balance in the universe. Events such as the destruction of an entire race, global devastation, abuse, neglect, and absolute evil fall under the jurisdiction of the Avatar and their ability to equalize and unify.

Korra’s inability to airbend is most peculiar in that she is shown capable of bending the other three elements at a young age, while her ability to control air is nonexistent along with her ability to connect to the Spirit World (an alternate plane that exists as the antithesis to the Living World). The series begins with her passing her firebending exam, graduating as a firebender, and having gained mastery over her third element. The characters immediately make a point of commenting on her inability to control herself, in addition to her inability to connect to the spiritual side of bending, focusing solely on its physical aspects. Rebuffing these claims, Korra embarks on a short polar beardog ride on Naga, her best friend and, as one can imagine, polar beardog (a chimeric combination of a polar bear, and a dog) that allows the creators and artists to showcase their craft.

The art within The Legend of Korra is absolutely stunning, and is entirely hand drawn; scenes appear to be painted using all manners of brush strokes and pencil lines and the set-pieces within the World of Avatar are stunning to behold.

While the story begins in the Southern Water Tribe, one of the two tribes that represent the waterbending portion of the World of Avatar, Korra runs away to Republic City to find her airbending instructor Tenzin (the son of Avatar Aang). Republic City is portrayed as a utopia for benders and nonbenders created by Aang to maintain and continue the trend of a harmonious existence though Korra soon learns that the most powerful members of Republic City are, in fact, benders, and that nonbenders seem to be getting the short end of the proverbial stick; to counteract this inequality, a group of nonbenders aptly named The Equalists have risen to bring back equality.

I’ll admit that the concept of bending has always seemed inherently flawed to me, and I’ve often wondered what kind of balance an almighty figure could hope to maintain, especially when they are incapable of understanding the struggle that those beneath them must experience. The Equalists seems to tackle this problem with an Occupy-Movement sense of ease. That being said, members of the Equalists plan and execute anti-bending protests, all while asking the ever important question regarding power in a society designed to be unequal; specifically, how can anyone consider themselves equal when there’s always someone controlling them through some form of unconcious manipulation. Indeed, it seems that benders have an advantage over nonbenders simply because they can bend, and Republic City’s entire infrastructure relies on the presence of benders to function.

Interestingly enough, the leader of The Equalists, a shadowy man named Amon, attempts to answer these questions with a single, indisputable solution: remove bending from the universe, and equality will be achieved. I noticed that I agreed with the character of Amon for the majority of Season One, often finding it difficult to disagree with him due to the callous nature of the benders I saw. Certainly, it was even more easy to agree with the man once I challenged the notion of religion in an increasingly scientific world, until it dawned on me that the World of Avatar exists beyond the possibilities of our own world to the point where bending isn’t religious unless handled by the religious. Instead, bending seemed to be less a spiritual entity, and more a special skill that some people were just born with; the firebending electricity generating plant made this incredibly evident once I saw tired workers channelling lightning with all their might to produce a source of renewable energy for their fellow citizens. These people aren’t attempting to control nonbenders en masse, they’re simply trying to earn a living with the means that they have.

My major gripe is the characterization of the main antagonist; Amon begins as a relatable character with very real reasons for being against bending, though he evolves into an idealistic tyrant incapable of seeing past his own haughty ideals. In a sense, it would have been fantastic writing to have a villain that’s undeniably right in his accusations, but, once I reflected on his motivations, it seemed absolutely logical to have him characterized as a deeply damaged and blinded man.

Interestingly, the Equalist plot is resolved within the 12 episode span that consists of Season One, and the entire first season is standalone, resolving the airbending and spirit world plots as well. The pacing is an additional point to comment on as the majority of the plot is incredibly fast-paced leaving very little time to dwell on anything unnecessary. Each and every subplot is handled dexterously, with very little time spent on filler, and the overall plot progresses brilliantly.

The only concern I had with the pacing was the characterization of Mako and Bolin, a firebending-earthbending set of brothers that accompany Korra on her quest to realize her position as Avatar, and the way the eventual romantic subplots were written. Bolin is written as comic relief, and his role is spent injecting humour into otherwise serious and incredibly somber moments. Mako, contrarily, spends most of his time as a rough and abrasive character wearing a constant scowl, even when smiling. Mako’s written worse since he’s Korra’s romantic interest, and the writers have the difficult task of providing a reasonable solution for that subplot within 12 episodes, something that comes off as a little sloppy.

In addition to being two more benders on Team Avatar, the bending brothers introduce Korra to the sport of Pro-Bending, a three-on-three sport reminiscent of Mixed Martial Arts, where teams fight against each other in a hexagonal ring. The Pro-Bending subplot provides a hearty action component with some of the best fight scenes I’ve seen outside an HBO prizefight. I honestly don’t think there’s a higher compliment that could possibly be paid to any program; I genuinely believe that the action scenes in The Legend of Korra are some of the best I’ve seen in a cartoon, and on television, with every step, parry, jab, thrust, and strike expertly portrayed and brought to fluidity. Without a doubt, there isn’t a single misstep in terms of bending.

I don’t feel the need to add this, but the voice-acting is fantastic; each voice, except for a single exception featured in the last two episodes, is stupendous, well-chosen, and well delivered. I must mention that music and soundtrack that was produced by TheTrackTeam was phenomenal and it was easy to see that the artists responsible for the music worked strenuously with the artists responsible for the art and writing.

The Legend of Korra is, without a doubt, one of the best shows on television, and the fact that I, or anyone, have to wait another year or so for Season Two is more than enough to make me tearbend. The artwork is absolutely gorgeous, the set-pieces are stunning, the voice-acting is stupendous, the plot is amazing, the characters are, on the whole, well-rounded and amazingly written, and the action is spectacular.

I could use more positive adjectives and dissect the show episode by episode, but I won’t. What I will say, however, is that LoK was an absolute pleasure to watch, and should be watched by any fan of things that are, quite frankly, awesome.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

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