Showing posts with label Legend of Korra. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Legend of Korra. Show all posts

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Legend of Korra: Skeletons in the Closet/Endgame

The finale of The Legend of Korra presents a world in which magic fights technology, and loses. The show so far has done a great job of combining modernity with mysticism instead of directly setting them up as a contrast. Benders and non-benders compete, but both of them help make the cars and electrical plants that run the city. The war has so far not been an ecological one, although it would have been easy to make descendants of Aang preach about saving the animals. However, nature vs technology comes into play in a few key battles.

General Iroh II says that Amon is “outsmarting” the benders by hiding behind a mask and letting tanks do his work, and it’s true: Korra, “running out of patience”, is doing more smashing than thinking. The pure disparity of a lone hero attempting to face land mines and missile-launching biplanes by herself and without armor makes the first major battle very exciting. Later, though, we see plenty of members of Team Avatar driving robots and cars. Republic City would be happy to use the technology that Hiroshi Sato created. Spirituality is not directly connected to the environment, although exactly what it is connected to becomes a bit blurred by the end.

Just to be clear, this is going to be a spoiler-free review until the cut at the end. There are some burning questions that can be answered without giving much away. Amon’s and Tarlokk’s backstories were predicted by some fans a few weeks ago, but the actual horror of seeing bloodbending in action means that no matter what you’ve heard, the episode still has the chance to shock. The Clone Wars has been said to deal with “adult” scenarios of death and politics, but the death of grunts (or slaves with about as much character development) aren’t nearly as affecting as the bloodbending scenes we see in this episode. The music helps make the finale become at turns tragic and uplifting.

The finale goes quick but covers all the major bases: Asami’s relationship with her father, the fate of the airbenders and Lin Beifong, and, of course, Korra’s confrontation with Amon. She’s accompanied by Mako, the requisite almost-love-interest, and they take turns saving one another.

Naga is the real hero of the day, and her big scenes are where I most clearly thought the creators might be continuing the idea that nature will defeat machinery. Naga seemed pretty indestructible against the Korra-universe version of tanks. It’s a lesson that seems futile in a society undergoing an industrial revolution like our own, though. Nature is not going to win. However, we’ve already established that nature and machinery can work together.

Interpersonal relationships were the other big theme of the finale. There are a couple interesting discussions of the nature of love in these episodes: Asami tells her father that “You don’t feel love any more. You’re too full of hatred [which you think is love]”, referencing her dead mother. It’s a nice insight that immediately paints Hiroshi Sato as an almost sympathetic character, confused by grief until he doesn’t know wrong from right any more. Almost.

When Korra is confronted with a declaration of love of her own, she refuses on the grounds of having too many other things to think about. She says “I can’t.” There’s too much going on. Love must be set aside, like it was, temporarily, for Aang. Tenzin says it “needs time”, but he really means that she will only later be able to deal with her larger problems. Depending on your reading of the ending this could be depression, pragmatism, or a sign that the moment just wasn’t right.

The final sentiment of the episode is “When we hit our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change.” At first this struck me as a very simple and clear way of expressing that it’s okay to fail sometimes. However, as the ending went on, I felt that it was a bit of a hollow sentiment for people who...aren’t the Avatar. The ending went by very quickly, and while it is widely known that the creators weren’t sure whether they would have another season to play with, I would have liked the wrap-to to be a little less neat. It reminded me very much of the ending of Avatar: The Last Airbender. The first season of Korra was very well-done and deserves a re-watch with the revelations of the finale in mind. The ending, though, felt like a fairy tale instead of the story of an industrial revolution.

Head below the big bold warning for a few notes on spoilers.

In the long wait until next season, Nickelodeon will be re-airing the episodes along with creator commentary. They also have a Legend of Korra game available on their website.

- spoilers -

I’m not happy with the Korra/Mako outcome being portrayed as so positive, leaving as it does both Asami and Bolin feeling betrayed. Either Mako has been hiding his feelings for most of the season, or he’s always been impressed by Korra, and although I do think there’s a thin line between effectual love and hero-worship, his actions toward Asami don’t make me feel especially positive toward him. Korra wants him, but I’m not sure this relationship is going to last. This season was wrapped up pretty neatly, but I feel like that relationship is one of the issues that will be explored in the next.

I really liked the reveal of Korra’s airbending, where the only type of bending she never used before is the one that still works. it makes sense that a body naturally primed for bending would take whatever means it had left.

I really wanted Amon to stay scarred: that could have been from something besides firebenders. But scars in this style of animation do tend to look like paint anyway. (I’m looking at you, Zuko.)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Legend of Korra: Spirit of Competition


    The Legend of Korra has been a huge success with both networks and online fan communities. Beautiful animation carries the story, and four episodes in we’re getting to know the three main characters. The fifth episode, “The Spirit of Competition”, hits fans head-on with the love triangle at the center of the Fire Ferrets’ story.

In the last episode, Korra faced her fears of Amon and the pressure of being the Avatar in some of the most realistic ways I’ve seen on screen. I love that she showed her fear, even crying. This makes her relatable, and it makes her successes even more sweet. We also see another trait that comes out even stronger in “The Spirit of Competition”: her bullheadedness. Korra was raised in a secluded Water Tribe, a small village where everyone knew she was the Avatar. She was given freedom to do what she wanted: if she got huffy, a ride across the tundra on her predatory pet would help her out. In the city, her forwardness comes off as uncivilized. We saw this get in her way in the first episode, when she got in trouble with the police; in the fourth episode we see her brashness lead to a humiliating encounter with Amon, who spares her life because it’s convenient for him.
Korra wasn’t entirely fleshed out before: her bullheadedness could have been a ploy by the writers to get her to look tough, but it isn’t. It’s a real trait, and one that means Korra isn’t just a stereotype. She takes “don’t mess with this guy” as a challenge. She’s getting closer to being a person. These writers are good, and we see Korra be rash and forward in social situations in episode five too. There isn’t a clear lesson at the end about whether or not her presence there is right. The consequences are simply felt, albeit wrapped up within the half hour.    
“The Spirit of Competition” uses the love triangle to tell more about each character as well as complicating them. Korra is straightforward and blunt, both when she asks Mako out and when she kisses him. Neither turn out quite how she planned, and the consequences play out in realistic dialogue and dramatic twists and turns. When she says she and Bolin are “just having fun together” instead of trying to bait Mako, I believe she’s doing both at the same time. There is no easy answer.
Likewise Mako could be jealous and protective of Bolin at the same time. Korra goes from doubting herself to being so sure that Mako likes her because of one thing that he said, and while that shows how quick she rallies and how straightforwardly she thinks, it was also one of the few lines I thought came out of nowhere. But we’ve seen Korra suddenly gain confidence in times of stress before, like when she set up a meeting with Amon. She’s good at dealing with fiery emotional moments, but extended ones not so much. And she knows it - her sarcastic “Well played, Korra,” tells us.

Mako is in what appears to be a happy, Eskimo-kiss-y relationship with the suspiciously convenient Asami. He’s also interested in Korra, but thinks that it “makes for sense” for him to be with Asami. I liked that Mako wasn’t fawning over Korra: he seemed pretty lukewarm to her, acknowledging that she would be nice to date but remaining taciturn. Bolin is very conscious that  Mako has most of the fangirls he mentioned in an earlier episode: Bolin’s “leave some ladies for the rest of us” makes it sound like Mako is used to being upstaged. But Korra is “more like a pal” to Mako, and I love that. It’s perfectly possible for people to be friends, or even attracted to one another on a surface level, without wanting to be in a relationship. I haven’t declared a side in the great relationship wars brewing in the fandom, but I like that Bolin is enthusiastic, even silly,  about his feelings for Korra. On the other hand, she uses him as her fallback guy.
 Bolin gets some of the best dialogue and delivers it with an earnest lost-puppy cuteness. His banter with Mako has some of the feel of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo attempting to advise  one another away from Leia. It’s a very funny episode, mostly because of Bolin’s antics and dialogue.

   One question I was left with is this: if a female character had been put in Bolin’s place, sobbing over a crush that didn’t like her back, would I approve? My first instinct is to say no, but then, Bolin’s situation is one a lot of people can identify with, and he carries it with his natural humor and passion. He also doesn’t let his love life get in the way of his relationship with his brother, and mending broken ties of friendship is always a good thing. Bolin stays strong partially because he has his brother. This is an interesting arc no matter what gender the character is.
But the final conclusion I came to from this episode was that there is no neat little moral lesson I can talk about - and that’s great. “The Spirit of Competition” shows the characters being themselves. If a show is so bad that one person’s pet peeve (poorly written female characters or love stories) becomes the dominant thing that person takes from the show, that’s a roundabout critique of the show in general. The Legend of Korra is good enough that the story as a whole feels more important than nitpicking questions about what a show is teaching us. If it was trying to teach anything in this episode, Korra taught that relationship drama happens...even if you’re a Chosen One in a civilization built on magic. 

Friday, March 30, 2012

Legend of Korra: Republic City/ Leaf on the Wind

Avatar Korra has been generating commentary in places I didn’t expect. Monty Oum, an animator who helped bring some of my favorite characters to life, posted this on facebook yesterday:

The “man with boobs” is a concept that has been thrown around on Fangirlblog, and in fact before I wrote for Fangirl I discussed it over there. It's not a phrase I easily understood. Sometimes it sounds like an excuse for making a character either overtly emotional or overtly tough, in order to exaggerate their gender. Is it un-female to, for example, disregard romantic relationships? I still think there’s some gender assumptions within that phrase that don’t need to be made, but right now the real question is whether, two episodes into a show, Korra herself is a well-written character.

I think that she is. As the “avatar” of the audience she nicely brings us into Republic City, the capital of the world fifty years after Aang’s adventures in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Republic City’s aesthetic is inspired by 1920’s America with a steampunk twist. The ships and zeppelins developed by the Fire Nation for the war in Avatar are now used by civilians as everyday conveniences. It’s great that the show takes economic and technological development into its design, and one of the smartest moves I’ve ever seen an animated show make. The new aesthetic also keeps the story bright and exciting, while continuing the Asian-inspired flair of the original. An all-new look could have been jarring, but through Korra’s eyes (she, like the audience, has been stuck in another part of the world for a while) it makes sense.

Korra has been raised in the distant Water Tribe, which means that she had a lot of freedom growing up but not a lot of places to go. Her introduction to the city highlights all the things she doesn’t understand, including hobos, the law, and the rules of “pro bending”. She’s headstrong and willful to a fault, and sometimes gets chastised for it. Willfulness seems like a cop-out flaw to me, like someone sadly saying oh, you’re too brave. There’s a coolness factor to that that wouldn’t be there if a protagonist from an icy wasteland was, for example, shy. 

But that isn’t her only flaw. She gets knocked out of her first pro bending round by breaking rules she didn’t know existed, a problem that made me angry right along with her. That’s a great scene to show that not all the Avatar’s problems are heroic in scale. In addition to being a fish out of water, even if she masters the physical moves in the arena she doesn’t have the Zen discipline to master airbending. There’s a great scene where she fidgets during meditation.

Korra may not be a “man with boobs”, but one thing I loved about the episodes was that she was never specifically called out as female either. The world of Avatar is a world of equality: Korra ends up in a  prison interrogation room, a part of town run by a gang, and a changing room in the pro bending arena, and no one ever tells her she should get out or be treated specially because she’s female. Of all the things she has to live up to, being one gender or another isn’t one of them. I love that because it doesn’t make female-ness a challenge that Korra has to overcome.  Being female does not make her more or less noticeable or significant than if she was male, except in the case where she’s noticed by the potential love interest.

The Legend of Korra brings back all the things I loved about Avatar: beautiful animation, martial arts action, and humor. We're only two episodes in, and there's sure to be a lot more character development surrounding Korra and her two companions, the pro bending brothers Bolin and Mako. I'll be reviewing Legend of Korra regularly, and maybe talking a bit about its fandom too. Avatar had an incredibly loud fanbase, and two creators who loved to mess with and communicate with them. Will Bolin and Mako be the new Aang and Zuko, inciting fangirls to passionate, creative rage? I'm wondering what is in store for the new Avatar as well as her fandom on this season of Legend of Korra.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Legend of Korra Episodes Released

From Club Jade comes this link, which you can use to watch the first two episodes of Legend of Korra whenever you wish. I saw the first twenty minutes this morning, and am already wowed by the animation.  The main character is likeable so far too, and not defined by her gender once. The writers playfully nod to their fans in the true spirit of Avatar, cutting off speculation about the location of Ursa by having a hyper-energetic Airbender child burst into the conversation. It looks like this is shaping up to be awesome. I'll have a complete review up closer to the television premiere.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Legend of Korra has a Release Date, Shorter Title

The creators of Avatar: The Last Airbender have announced that their new show will premier April 14, 2012. They've also shortened the official title, removing some of the references to the previous show and paralleling The Last Airbender's subtitle, "The Legend of Aang."

It's most likely that I'll be reviewing Korra as well, since Avatar was wonderful and now we've got a female protagonist. Let me know in the comments if you're interested in hearing more about Avatar and Korra.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Last Airbender: Legend of Korra now has official Facebook presence

If I had had this blog a few years ago, I would probably have been reviewing Avatar: The Last Airbender and its exuberant fandom.  The show's sequel, Legend of Korra, has no precise release date yet, but does now have an official facebook page. I'll be watching it for upcoming news.

Korra is of special interest for its female main character. Coming from the creators of Avatar, it should also offer great fight scenes, story, characters, and animation.

Expect to see reviews of Korra, as well as Tron: Uprising, coming this summer.