Thursday, 19 April 2012

The Legend of Korra (First Impressions)

The legend continues...

I have to admit, once upon a time I totally dismissed Avatar: The Last Airbender before I even watched a whole episode. But really, can you blame me? An American cartoon borrowing crazy heavily from anime during a point when crappy faux anime was clogging up Saturday mornings may have caused me to already have doubts. Then you tell me it was done by Nickelodeon, a cartoon company best known for jokes involving slime, goo, or some other gross-out humour, and you may get why my expectations were so low for this show. So you can imagine how my expectations were thoroughly dashed once my friend actually forced me to watch the first couple episodes. Quite simply, I fell in love.  The adventures of Avatar Aang and his quest to learn all the elements to defeat an evil dictator was epic, fun and skillfully crafted to create many memorable characters and moments. The animation, the voice work, the music, the backgrounds, the humour, the choreography: all of the elements came together (pun intended) to make one of the biggest breaths of fresh air in a long time for action cartoons. And one of the best things about the series? It ended. Unlike many other western cartoons (and western television in general, actually) it didn't continue until it was unprofitable and stale. There was a set beginning, middle and end, and it all was so skillfully planned and paced. But of course since the show got so popular, Nickelodeon couldn't let go of such a hot property. So how in the world do you follow such a great show?

...with a horrible live-action movie by M. Night Shyamalan, of course!

Curse you Shyamalamadingdong!!
But ignoring that mess (and I believe that's just what Avatar: The Last Airbender creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko did) it was only a matter of time before we revisited this amazing world. And luckily that's just what we get in this sequel series, The Legend of Korra (now dropping the "Avatar" title. Thanks for nothing, James Cameron.) Taking place 70 years after the original show, The Legend of Korra feels like a wonderful jumping on point for newcomers, but for veteran fans of the show it feels just like like coming home to family. 

Korra: Badass in training
Thus far I've only seen the first two episodes: Welcome to Republic City and A Leif in the Wind. What I've noticed most about these two episodes is that it does something all good sequels should do; it should seem familiar, yet different. And familiarity shouldn't be limited to characters and setting, but in theme and tone as well. While there are many references to old character and plot points for fans, the series wisely chose to focus on the new characters such as Korra and the airbender Tenzin (Aang's son, who now has a quirky, energetic and ever growing family.) Actually, so far only one character from the original show is even present. And honestly, that's all that's needed because these new characters are so likeable and have so many ties with the old cast of characters (both actually and thematically) that they are instantly a cast I'm invested in.

Pro bending: another new addition to the world of Avatar
What I'm mostly happy to say is that this series still has the same feel of the old series, just slightly older and more mature and also (mostly) taking place in a completely new setting. There's still excellent character moments, wonderfully choreographed fights and even some oddball slapstick humour, but it's not just a rehash of the same plot with different characters. While the original series had Avatar Aang traveling all over the globe, the issues that Korra faces in this new series are much more centralized on one big city. Instead of fighting wars against nations, Korra has to fight crime and corruption. It's something new that the series hasn't tackled, and I can only imagine how things will progress. Even some of the world's style has evolved with the flow of time between shows. Having an apparent industrial revolution talking place in the past 70 years brings about a slew of new stylistic choices to the show such as having technology like radios and cars. Again, familiar because it's in the same world we know and love, but different with the progression of the world's technology.

The start of this series, in my opinion, couldn't have gone better artistically. Much like the show's tone, the art direction has only grown and matured over time, bringing to this series an even greater amount of detail in the art and animation. Quality voice actors have been thoughtfully brought in and casted (something I can't say for every Nickelodeon production.) And the music is still top notch, even having some sort of "Chinese jazz" being played in some of the city's segments. Very cool stuff indeed.

H'oh yeah. This is one good lookin' show
All in all, these two episodes left me wanting more and thinking about what's to come, which is exactly what good episodic storytelling should do. If you're an Avatar: The Last Airbender fan, I don't need to tell you to watch this. Heck, chances are you already have. But if you're new to the series, or in need of some refreshing and creative action/adventure animation, you'd be pretty hard pressed to find a show better than this one. It's a great jumping on point for new watchers, and hopefully it'll hook them enough to also go back and watch the wonder that is the original series as well. Welcome back Avatar! I greatly look forward to the adventures to come!

Highly recommended!

- Moo