Wednesday, 18 July 2012

5 Things I Liked (And Didn't Like) About "The Legend of Korra" Season 1

Back in April I gave my first impressions of The Legend of Korra, a sequel series to one of my favorite TV shows, Avatar: The Last Airbender. And if you recall, I totally gushed over the first two episodes. And now season 1 has finished, and not only that! At Comicon recently they annouced that next season (or "book," as they call them) will be called Spirits (COOL!!) and that the show has been renewed up to season 4. That's excellent news!

Time to look back on what happened with these guys...
With that said, now would be a good time to look back and see if the show met up with all of my lofty expectations I had for season 1. And did it? Well...kinda... It's odd. I'm met with a blend of emotions after the season finale, some good, some bad, and some...just odd.  So what better, and balanced, way to show my appreciation/disappointment for this wonderful/frustrating show than with 5 things I liked/didn't like about the first season of The Legend of Korra (in no particular order.)

But before we get started, let me say that on the whole The Legend of Korra is an amazing show, probably the best cartoon out right now. However, that doesn't make it imune to geeks like me nit-picking things apart. So with that in mind: haters, think before you leave comments. These are just my personal opinions, feel free to take em or leave em. Also, since I am reviewing the season as a whole there will be SPOILERS. So many SPOILERS that if you don't want SPOILERS then you shouldn't read this SPOILER filled blog full of SPOILERS. I hope I've made myself clear, and you have been warned... (SPOILERS!!) Also warning, this is gonna get really ranty. So grab yourself a drink, cause we're gonna be here a while...

I liked... the Art Direction and the Animation.

Even Meelo knows good art when he sees it! ...I think...
Let's get the obvious out of the way first. This is one pretty, pretty show. I said it before, but the animation and artistry in this show has been pushed to new levels of awesomeness. Even further than The Last Airbender did, and that was a show that was already praised for it's beauty in animation and backgrounds. And even though we don't get to see as much environmental variety in The Legend of Korra, what we do have is some amazingly crafted sets that go into an astounding amount of detail. There was even a deeper integration of 3D elements, which normally I find jarring in 2D shows, but how it was used here was inspirational. Much like the original series it was used for important vehicles such as blimps and tanks, but here it was also used for other major elements, such as the giant monument to Avatar Aang. I can think of one subtle moment when the 3D background was being panned in the episode "The Revelation." Because of how the 3D background was rotated, it looked like the characters were walking in an arc, rather than straight left to right. Subtle, but very clever! And likewise it goes without saying the animation was top notch. From the wonderfully choreographed fights, to little bits of character acting like Bolin proclaiming "I love you," the animation  was skillfully crafted and full of energy.

I didn't like...the Lost Opportunity to be a Vigilantly Badass

I thought the first episode, "Welcome to Republic City" was a perfect way to kick off the season. It was a great jumping on point for new comers, it set up our new cast of characters, and probably most importantly, set up our new setting for this whole season, Republic City, and the problems within: homelessness, class warfare, organized crime, corrupt officials, and the anti-bending revolution. Korra only tackled two of these problems in season 1, corruption and the anti-bending movement, the later being the primary focus of the season. And while it is the most interesting conflict to deal with, I saw two problems when jumping right into fighting Amon and his revolution: 1) we hear of all this supposed awful things the bending triads do to non-benders, but we never really got to see any of it aside from some slight bullying in the first episode (weak sauce) and 2) we don't get to see Korra take on this universe's equivalent of the mob, which would have been awesome.

Remember Zolt! Yeah! This guy! Wouldn't blame ya. He had, like, two lines.
Both these problems could have been easily solved by two simple words: turf war. They mentioned it briefly in the third episode, "The Revolution," that there were three criminal groups and it was implied they were going to fight it out soon for territory in Republic City...that would have been awesome to see!! Imagine how cool it would be to see Korra (and maybe Mako and Bolin too) take on not one, but THREE criminal factions as they fought each other! Even if Korra was successful, there would undoubtably be major damage to the city, and maybe even injured unsuspecting bystanders. This would give so much more ammunition for Amon and his anti-bending revolution, making his grand rally against Republic City not only more believable, but much more interesting. Hell, remember Lightning Bolt Zolt? The guy who had his bending taken away almost as quickly as he was introduced? Something tells me he could have been a great sub-villain, as an antagonist to both Korra and Amon. But nope. Third episode, and the mob's already out of the picture. But who knows, maybe we'll get some Korra vs organized crime in season 2, but without Amon to profit from the fallout, it almost doesn't seem worth it. In my opinion it was a huge wasted opportunity.

I liked... the Mature Tone of the Show

This is the darkest timeline...
Whenever there is a sequel of any sort, there is always going to be comparisons to the original. Especially for TV shows. Something tells me Aang vs Korra is going to be as frequently debated as Kirk vs Picard. But at the end of the day, you have to admit, Korra is not like Aang, and Aang is not like Korra. Aang is fun and funny and free spirited and a goofy trickster and yadda yadda yadda. While Korra is strong and independent, and fierce and stubborn and...well...more mature. Not just in age but in personality as well. And while the conflicts that plagued Aang were deep (remember the airbender genocide? Yeah...not a fun topic...) the show always delt with things in a lighter mood through the optimistic eyes of a younger generation. But much like the audience that watched the original, the Avatar has aged. Having the protagonist now a teenager was a brilliant move. It made the decisions, the way the characters acted, and the problems facing the character more mature, and even pretty dark. And yet they still had that bit of oddball humour the franchise is known for, so it still felt like we were watching a show in the same universe. So yes. The darker tone: me likey....however...

I didn't like...That There Were No Time for Side Missions

In this picture: Bolin finding out he won't get his own story arc
Much like my other criticism of the show, this here's another pacing problem. While I did like the drama that came from rushing head first into the conflict of the anti-bending revolution, what we lost were those character-centric episodes that all good ensemble shows need. Episodes that don't further the overarching story in any huge or meaningful way, but take time to develop the characters and let them breathe for a moment. There were many of these scattered throughout The Last Airbender: "The Cave of Two Lovers," "Tales of Ba Sing Se" and "The Beach" come to mind. And those also happen to be some of my favorite episodes! The closest thing we get in The Legend of Korra is "The Spirit of Competition" with the whole Korra/Bolin/Mako/Asami love trapezoid thing happening. But where are episodes built around side characters? Much like "Sokka's Master," where's Bolin's solo episode? How about an episode centered around the airbending children? Or totally centered around Lin? Hell, I think a Mako centered episode might have been the most needed: a chance to dive more into his tragic backstory and show how he and his brother got to where they are. That would have been awesome! True, we probably will have more time for that in the coming seasons, but having a greater connection to the characters through these types of episodes would have really helped in upping the drama in Amon's "Endgame." With those extra episodes thrown in we wouldn't have been able to defeat Amon by the end of the first season, but it would definitely have helped flesh out these characters, of which I definitely want to see more of. Hey that's a good segway to...

I like... These Awesome New Characters

If you're going to have an entirely new cast of characters for your sequel series, you better be damn sure they're good, interesting characters. And for the most part in The Legend of Korra, they are. Let me put it this way: the characters I liked, I really liked. They did a great job writing Korra as the main protagonist. Her personality was likeable, and yet not overbearing. The problems she faced seemed real and relatable like her frustration in not learning airbending in "A Leaf in the Wind" or her personal fear of Amon in "The Voice in the Night." These are real problems of overcoming fears and struggling to learn a new talent that I'm sure many, many people can relate to. Tenzin might be my favorite supporting character as a stark, serious counter to his father's playful teachings and his exhaustion at building a family of ruckus flying children is incredibly entertaining. And that only gets more interesting when you throw the show's biggest badass, Lin Beifong, into the mix, explaining exactly what her issue is with Tenzin. It makes watching these character's interactions so interesting and amusing. When written properly, there's nothing better...but on the other hand...

I didn't like... the "Perfect" Characters

Little known fact: Asami started out as a model for L'OrĂ©al 
Ok, this might be my biggest gripe with the show, and I'm referring mostly to Asami Sato. Oh my God, what a poorly written character this is. Some characters got dull overtime, like Mako, and some characters were never really given anything of value to do, like Bolin, but with Asami I was always waiting and wanting for her to be interesting...and she never was. Looking online I can see that a lot of fans aren't big on her because they ruin the oh-so-perfect and juicy relationship opportunities of Korra and Mako, but that's preteen fanfic bullshit that I don't give a rat's ass about. What I do hate Asami for is being "perfect." Seriously folks. She's perfect. Name one negative flaw about her personality. You can't. There is none. And that is more boring then watching paint dry. You need characters with flaws, otherwise your characters seem unrealistic. And no, writers, having bad things happen to your character doesn't make up for their lack of flaws. You can kill off her mother, have her father betray her, take away her family fortune, and have her boyfriend cheat on her all you want. If the character is not interesting, then I have to try really, really hard to care even the tiniest of bits for her. Hell, just make Asami a double agent for The Equalists! If that whole confrontation with her father was staged and it was all a ploy to get to the Avatar, suddenly her character has depth. And what if Asami felt remorse for her actions, and admitted that she really did develop strong feelings for Mako, all of a sudden this character becomes abundantly more interesting because of her flaws. But alas, the Mary-Sue character of Asami isn't the only one at fault here...we also have General Fan Servis...I mean...Iroh...

...I mean, Iroh...whatever...
Much like Asami, this is a character who is unreasonably perfect and is unquestionably awesome at everything right away, but unlike Asami  I can let that slide since he did only appear in a handfull of episodes at the end of the season, and arguably didn't have time to develop his character properly. What I can't forgive is his impressive lack of a personality. I think we're supposed to automatically connect to him because he's named after a fan favorite character (and one of my favorite characters ever written, Uncle Iroh) and he bares a striking resemblance to Zuko (as well as sharing the voice actor Dante Basco.) But he's not supposed to be either of these characters, nor do I want him to be, and yet the writers do nothing to give him a personality of his own other than "he's a good guy." The fact they're serving me this dull half-assed character who is dripping with fan servis and expecting me to love him automatically is almost insulting. The only thing stopping me from writing this guy right off, again, is the slim chance that we might expand upon his character and actually make him interesting in season 2. But first impressions do count for a lot, and my frist impression of this guy is that he's frighteningly boring.

I liked... The Sounds

I mentioned before the return of voice actor Dante Basco to voice the new General Iroh, and aside from his distractingly familiar voice being miscast in this role, I can safely say that all other voice acting within this show is top notch. Even my other hated character, Asami, has a wonderful voice actor in the roll! Janet Varney as Korra, J.K. Simmons as Tenzin: everyone was justly casted! But special mention should go out to Bolin's voice actor, P.J. Byrne. His free flowing ramblings as Bolin added so much personality and like-ability to the character, it's hard to imagine anyone else in the roll. It felt very natural.
Quality voice acting is quality
And Track Team returned. Oh, how I have so much love for Track Team: the duo who worked on the sound effects and music for the original series. They're back, and have upped the quality of the music this time around, probably with a higher budget I imagine. I wish Nickelodeon would just dump a wheelbarrow of money on Track Team's front lawn and just have them come up with amazing sounds. Not much else to say here, but I love em.

I didn't like... Plastic Surgery

Really....really?! Ok, this one is clearly me picking nits here, but plastic surgery? I know technology has progressed in the show, and I like that. I like having the race cars, the radios, the newspapers, the telephones, even the giant robotic suits of armour I'm willing to let slide. But giving the character of Yakone plastic surgery didn't feel right. Yes, I know cosmetic surgery did exist in the 1920s (which this show draws most of it's time periode from,) but I'm more upset with the lazy writing. The big reveal on Amon's identity hinged on the character of Yakone, and this was a lazy way to get him where they needed him to make that big reveal make sense. Hell, if you took this detail completely away, nothing would have been lost. He's moving to the end of the world anyway! Who's going to notice him? Again, this obviously wasn't a deal breaker, but it did strike me as a bit irritating. 

I liked... Similar Yet Different

I mentioned this in my first impressions of The Legend of Korra, and I stand by it. The best way to write a sequel is to make it similar yet different, and that's exactly what Legend of Korra did. It wasn't a rehash of the plot of the original series, yet a lot of the themes were the same. The show did get darker in tone, but the sense of humour and adventure remained the same. The setting became more modern and technologically advanced, but the awesome ancient art of elemental martial arts remained. You get the picture. It's a natural evolution that a franchise needs to take, and that really helps broaden this universe, making it seem epic and grand. Personally, I can't wait to see more of it...even though...

I disliked... That Everything Was Resolved

The season finale "Endgame" was indeed epic in scale, but as for resolving all the problems that faced Korra during the course of the season? I wouldn't say it was successfully in it's execution, or very satisfying. Believe me, I was all for Korra to kick some serious ass in the season finale. I gasped with horror as Amon took away Korra's bending. I cheered with glee when she finally unleashed a fury of airbending! And I reveled in the moment when Amon was exposed as a fraud infront of all of his followers!

"Sensational!" I said to myself , "I certainly can't wait to see what Amon will do in season 2! He - ...oh...his brother just killed himself and took Amon with him...well, that was shocking! And unexpected! And dark! Bravo show! You have dashed my expectations once again! Now surely season 2 will deal with the fallout of Korra not being able to use her... oh... Aang popped out of nowhere and handed back all your powers? And you can also go into the Avatar state? Like it's no biggy? Oh...well...ok, then season 2 will deal with all the other benders who had their powers taken away! I can't wait to see what Lin would be like without... magically all of a sudden can restore other people's powers too? ...ok...well, at least there's that unresolved romantic tension between Korra and Mako - AH GODDAMN IT!!"
...damn those hormones...

You see where I'm coming from? Everything turned from hopeless to perfect in 5 minutes. Again: lazy writing. If this was the end of the series, maybe it would be acceptable...maybe. But by this time they already knew they had a second season! Why the rush and give Korra the power to restore bending and resolve everything in such a rushed fashion? A power she never had to work for or earn by the way, unlike that satisfying moment where she finally could airbend. And if the show ended just a bit sooner, with Aang appearing to Korra, I would have gone ga-ga over the finale. I never thought I'd be saying this, but they needed a cliff hanger. They're important! They build hype, and give you a promise of things to come.  But as it stands now, my excitement has decreased in watching the second season

Sup. Avatars here. Here to lazily wrap up season 1.
That's not to say I won't watch the second season! Hell no! I'll be there with bells on! And I'm sure with a season called "Spirits" we're bound to get some awesome, awesome episodes with spirit world shenanigans. And hopefully it'll be even better then this season, which apart from my rantings, was very awesome. Personally I'm hoping for Ko, the face stealer to make another appearance...OH! And more Commander Bumi. Make it happen, Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, and all will be forgiven.  

Here's looking forward to season 2!

- Moo