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Legend of Korra – Book 3 Premiere Review: Changes

The Legend of Korra Book 3 premiered with, appropriately enough, three episodes: “A Breath of Fresh Air”, “Rebirth of a Nation”, and “The Earth Queen”. I’ll review them together as one long episode because the episodes are heavily linked together and, strangely enough, they’re more complete together than they are apart.

Lets hop in.

Lookin’ Good

AV301
The art here is as good as it ever was. At some points in the first episode I thought the animation appeared choppy, but it must have been my imagination because the rest of the episodes were impeccable in their execution.

The combat was fluid and exciting, the characters were emotive, and the backgrounds were detailed and jam-packed with atmosphere.

The animation this season, as with the first one, was done by Studio Mir whereas last season had been largely done by Studio Pierrot. Which is awesome. While season two’s animation was fine, I prefer Mir’s style to the long necks and big ol’ anime eyes of Pierrot’s. Oh, now don’t get worked up if you’re devastated by this news, it’s merely a personal opinion, I know there are many out there who loved the traditional anime look. Not me though.

C’mon Pierrot, just because you’re a Japanese studio doesn’t mean you need to have a lady ensnared by strange tentacle-like monsters.

Hot to Plot

The past two seasons have been a little rocky and I feel Nickelodeon played a pretty big hand in it. The Legend of Korra was originally intended as a 12 episode miniseries, but Nickelodeon went ahead and ordered 14 more while they were deep into the development process. Not only that, but they bumped it up to a 4 season show because money is awesome and they need a lot of it.

So now the creators were tasked with expanding a 12 episode story into a 26 episode one, as well as making a 4 season series out of it. It’s a real tough position to be in, because almost no one can just make 3 new seasons of  groundbreaking television similar to the first Avatar series on the fly.

So the first season felt uneven at times because you had to fill, and then you had to turn around and create a new season that you never really intended to make. Understandably, the second season seemed to struggle with finding the main character’s cores, the villains felt very mustache twirly, some facts didn’t match up with the first series, and most the twists could be seen from a mile away.

A manipulative, self-professed war profiteer with a suspicious mustache? I’m sure he’ll never turn out to be a bad guy!

SPOILERS, YO

The third season begins only a few weeks after Korra’s victory over “The Dark Avatar” and the recombination of the Spirit and Material world. Unfortunately huge vines that the spirits call home are now covering Republic City and causing tons of problems for the humans living there.

Meanwhile, people all over the world are suddenly getting airbending powers as a result of harmonic convergence. Tenzin, now faced with a sudden resurgence in the airbender population, sets out to find them all and spread the Air Nomad teachings.

Meanwhile meanwhile, a prisoner named Zaheer (played by former Black Flag front man Henry Rollins?) escapes a secret prison with new airbending powers and is dead set on bringing down the White Lotus.

Zaheer
Holy crap, they even made Zaheer look like him.

At first, I feared it was more of the same. Korra was abrasive and stubborn with the President, another male authority figure (man, she has trouble with male authority figures like Turlok in the first season and father figures like Tenzin in the first season and her literal father in the second. The only ones she seems to like are the ones that tell her she can do whatever she wants and who are obviously evil).

Her messiah complex also came roaring back as she tries to fix the vine problem because “she’s the Avatar”. The only thing I felt good about was that she and Asami were no longer competing for Mako. There was no needless love triangle. It felt like we moved on there.

But then something glorious happened. Unable to fix the vine problem, The President orders Korra to leave Republic City. AND SHE DOES! Boarding an airship, the Avatar crew set out to find the airbenders around the world and restore the Air Nomad nation. Yes, if you’re wondering, that globe-trotting plot does sound similar to the set up of the first Avatar series. And it’s great.

They recruit a young thief who Jinora seems sweet on and head on to Ba Sing Se, which now has a large impoverished population rotting slums ruled by a terrible Queen. Korra, of course, is abrasive and stubborn with this authority figure, but at least here it seems warranted.

Sweet, sweet Conflict

All in all, I think that Korra is changing, not because her character is developing per se, but because as they’re traveling her situations are changing. We’re now seeing character’s personalities develop further as they hit new and unique issues. Korra’s the bull-headed one, Mako is now a by-the-book lawman, Bolin is out be everyone’s friend, and Asami is the voice of reason and supplies them with tons of expensive equipment for absolutely nothing.

However, there’s something even more awesome going down. They’re setting up a ton on conflict and I’m not just talking about the villains.

The thief and Jinora’s relationship will clash with Tenzin who already dislikes him for being a airbender and a lying thief. Mako and Bolin are going to have to decided between Korra’s mission and their newly rediscovered family. Tenzin will have to decide on whether to let thousands of years of his culture’s history go in favor a new direction with these new airbenders or let it die with his family. I don’t know what Korra’s conflict will be. Probably something to do with the power of friendship or listening to her elders.

Regardless, all that potential conflict can make for an entertaining season. It’s one the things that have me looking forward to more episodes. Speaking of…

waterarms
This’ll make sense in a second

The Villains!

Oh man. So Amon was a pretty decent villain, because the writers had an idea of him before creating the season. The villains of the second season seemed a little less thought out. Like I said before, they were far more mustache twirly than usual. Avatar: The Last Airbender set up so many interesting villains, it was a fact that hit particularly hard.

But this season’s villains show so much promise. Zaheer, especially. Whereas most Avatar baddies are portrayed as either overly-macho, people abusing power, or insane militants, Zaheer is well read, eloquent, and not overtly menacing or outwardly powerful. In his first appearance he talks of poetry and history. He’s like their version of a Hannibal Lecter.

Each villain is a prisoner of the White Lotus possessing a different element. An earth bender kept at sea, a fire bender kept deep beneath the arctic, and a water bender kept inside a volcano. Each is said to be exceptionally powerful at their element, each one capable of besting any other bender. When Zaheer gains the ability to airbend, he sees it as a sign that their mission is righteous.

Great care was taken into these character’s designs as well. The waterbender is armless so she uses water tentacles instead, making for some really interesting combat. The firebender is not just another firebender either. She has the ability seen in the first Avatar series to make things explode with her mind, which will no doubt change things as well. Zaheer is like a twisted version of an Airbending monk.

It’s all great set up. Enough to make me excited to see more.

In Conclusion

Has this hit Avatar: The Last Airbender level yet? No. Are there things that need improving? Yes. I still can’t find footing with Korra. And I don’t mean how she’s always an annoying teenager. It’s like this. Aang had lots of interesting conflict in his character. He was a 12-year-old that had to save the world. A nation was out to kill him. He was fated to do battle with a powerful tyrant. There was a lot going on. Korra just doesn’t feel the same, she doesn’t feel that compelling. And when you have a lot of side characters more interesting than your titular character, that’s a problem.

But I feel this is already a big step ahead from last season.  The setup for the first season was never meant to drive a full series like Avatar: The Last Airbender‘s was. However, it seems like the creators have had time to get with the program and formulate an actual series. This traveling plot seems to have legs. It can go places. There’s potential. If they started The Legend of Korra knowing they had 4 season ahead of them, I feel this is the kind of plot we’d see.

There are things that worry me and things that give me hope. We’ll have to see how this season takes it, but at the very least I’ll be watching.

 

Rating
6.5
Pros
  • Interesting Villains
  • New Plot Direction
  • Great Setups
  • Great animation
  • Visiting More of the World
Cons
  • Lacking Real Character Development
  • Bit of a Slow Start

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