Avatar: The Legend of Korra [Book Four: Balance] (TheByteScene Review)

Date: May 13, 2015

TheByteDaily

Avatar: The Legend of Korra [Book Four: Balance] (TheByteScene Review)

4 Spectacular-seasons-of-Television out of 4

I’d like to begin my review for the final season of The Legend of Korra by stating precisely how much I’ve enjoyed this series’ writing, characters, plot, animation, music, and direction. After two years, four seasons, and 52 episodes, it’s been an absolute pleasure to be able to be a part of Michael Dante DiMartino’s and Bryan Konietzko’s vision of their world. Thanks to the talented work of Janet Varney, David Faustino, P.J. Byrne, Sychelle Gabriel, J.K. Simmons, and Mindy Sterling, characters like Korra, Mako, Bolin, Asami, Tenzin, and Lin not only came to life onscreen, they felt like real people. The efforts of Jeremy Zuckerman to give the world of Avatar a musical voice was not only successful, but it sets the standard for success, and I hope that future showrunners give their composers the kind of freedom that Konietzko and DiMartino gave Zuckerman.

In Book Four: Balance, Konietzko and DiMartino bring their story of Korra to a stunning, moving, and deeply human conclusion. Their character writing – as well as their decision to out Korra as a bisexual woman – will surely resonate in the annals of television history. When I say that there hasn’t been a show like The Legend of Korra in a long time, I also mean to say that I hope the future of animated television will look to Korra as a benchmark of subtlety, grace, and animated splendour.

However, my swelling praise comes with a single rejoinder: for as much as history will study The Legend of Korra as an example of television-done-right, historians will also study Nickelodeon as an example of television-networking done wrong.

When Nickelodeon announced The Legend of Korra‘s third season, they did so with the least pomp and circumstance that comes to recent memory. Ignoring the fact that four episodes were leaked online well before Nickelodeon had even announced an air-date for the third season, Nickelodeon’s announcing of a 13-episode season merely one week before it was to air was simultaneously beguiling and astonishing.

I failed to mention my extreme disappointment in Nickelodeon during my review of Korra‘s third season for the simple reason that I believed the series’ troubles to be over. Not content with forcing the show online after choosing to air two episodes weekly, Nickelodeon set up further barriers for Konietzko and DiMartino by slashing their fourth season budget. As a result of Nickelodeon’s actions, Balance – a 13-episode season – really featured 12 episodes and a clip-show.

Nickelodeon has, for reasons that grasp comprehension, obstructed, impeded, held back, and disadvantaged one of the finest offerings of children’s entertainment and animation. I will say this, however: I do not review The Legend of Korra as a great show despite its disadvantages – nor do I believe that it is a great show in spite of its disadvantages. Even with its enormous mishandling on the part of its studio, this is a show that has repeatedly surpassed and subverted expectations time and time again.

The notion of subverting expectations is key to deconstructing exactly why The Legend of Korra is such a spectacular work of art.

The distinctions between television and cinema are so obvious and so vast that it is often difficult to realize that the only real difference between the big and small screens is the fact that TV has more time to tell a story. Ignoring marketing, securing an audience, financing a budget, and even attracting talented artists, the simple difference between television and film is a difference in runtime.

Moviegoers have two – possibly three – hours to grow close to characters, actions, plots, and situations. In comparison, fans of television have weeks – often literal seasons – to analyze, discuss, nitpick, and watch their favourite televised moments over and over again. TV creators – more so than filmmakers – are tasked with creating individual stories that grasp their audiences’ attentions, while simultaneously combining into a logical, cohesive, and comprehensible whole.

When I first watched The Legend of Korra‘s first season, I did so with a group of Avatar-fascinated friends who made an active point of discussing theories and speculating about where the show will go next. We came up with ideas and possibilities, we used our almost encyclopedic knowledge of Avatar lore to interact with our viewing of Korra’s story. In short, we tried to figure out what would happen next.

Time and again, Konietzko and DiMartino subverted our expectations. Not only did they do things we never thought of, they took the paths of least and most resistance almost simultaneously. Their narrative choices forced us to reconsider our original theories to the point that it’s safe to say that I was completely wrong about Amon’s identity.

Balance takes place three years after the conclusion of Korra’s story with Zaheer and The Red Lotus. It’s been three long years since she’s seen her friends – and since Mako, Bolin, Asami, and Tenzin have interacted with their Avatar. The world has changed, kingdoms have fallen, and new enemies lie on the horizon. What remains, however, is the single, undeniable conclusion that this is a story about a girl coming to terms with her identity and place in the world.

The Legend of Korra is a story about a girl, whereas The Last Airbender was a story about a universe. What Balance emphasizes, more so than any other season of Korra, is that this is a story about Korra first and the Avatar second.

When we first see Korra, almost a full 20 minutes into Balance‘s first episode, we see her battered, bruised, and broken. Her emotional journey – though filled with experience – is far from complete and certainly far from over. First, we spend time with the rest of Team Avatar, and then we meet our Avatar in a state of complete incoherence. Through episodes like Korra Alone and The Calling, we learn about Korra’s struggles in a way the series has never truly addressed. Instead of seeing her as an omnipotent leader – or a foolhardy, arrogant showoff – we see her as a person struggling with understanding her notion of herself.

Korra’s story has always been about identity – about coming to terms with the past and using it to inform the present – but the show has often focused on other characters precisely because Korra’s chosen identity is often unlikeable. Balance brings Korra’s emotional journey to an end by reconnecting the audience with the character. Simply put, Balance makes us like Korra again. We see her humanized, de-powered, unable to act, emotionally vulnerable, and damaged, and this allows us to see her as a single, imperfect person.

Balance further introduces the perfect foil to Korra in the metalbending, would-be conqueror Kuvira. Through no large amount of subtlety, Konietzko and DiMartino paint Kuvira as the perfect antithesis to Korra. Whereas Korra is uncertain of her fate, Kuvira commands her future. Whereas Korra is unable to lay claim to her sense of self, Kuvira is determined in her purpose and person. Whereas Korra is now humble, Kuvira stands as a deity to her people. The Yin-Yang dynamic that has always informed the Avatar world’s heroes and villains continues through Korra and Kuvira in an obvious – yet never overdone – way.

In a way, Balance is The Legend of Korra‘s least ambitious season yet. When compared to the loud, proud, and bombastic third season, Change, Balance stands as an almost quiet, laid-back epilogue to Korra’s story. In fact, the epilogue-like nature of Balance speaks to an interpretation of this season not as the end of Korra’s story, but the beginning of unseen adventures in the world of Avatar as a whole.

Make no mistake, Balance features dynamic animation, big action scenes, and loud moments – the two part finale, Day of the Colossus and The Last Stand feature a giant made of platinum – but it is a character-driven, emotionally-tense season of television. More so than any other season of Avatar, Balance is about people instead of actions. The notion that television has a longer time to tell story comes into play, and the idea that Balance serves as an epilogue gives its audience plenty of time to say goodbye to the characters and world that they have spent almost nine years with.

I’ve attempted to put off writing this review simply because I don’t want it to be over, but I realize that all great things do not come to an end once we finish experiencing them. Surely, the only thing more powerful than experiencing something great is remembering something great.

I will take a moment to address the series’ final scene.

A relationship between Korra and Asami has officially been confirmed by both Konietzko and DiMartino, and I have few opinions on the matter. I will say this, however: there are people who care very much about the notion that two women can not only love one another romantically, but that they can do so while also feeling romantically attracted to men. Accepting bisexuality is the next great sexual hurdle that our culture will need to overcome, and The Legend of Korra‘s decision to acknowledge even a remote possibility that heteronormativity and homonormativity are not humanity’s only options for sexual preference is bold.

Then again, no one should really be surprised that The Legend of Korra is sensational after all these years.

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

-SC(EK)

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