The Legend Of Korra: Book Of Change – 01-03 Review

Korra 01Now that spirits are such an integral part of the human-world again, the series really should give spirits a more prominent role in the story than just letting them pop up like this from time to time.

The third season of Legend Of Korra is here! After the somewhat dull second season I really hope the third season can at least reach the quality of the first season again. I mean, the first one wasn’t that great either (especially compared to the original Avatar-series) but hey, the start of this new season looks promising.

Look, it’s the third season of Korra’s adventures! Nobody saw THAT coming! Mostly, because for whatever reason Legend Of Korra had one of the worst promotional campaigns imaginable, meaning a non-existent one. I mean, I had suspected this new season to come out sometime this year but my money had been on the fall-season. But whatever, now it’s here and it can start leaving behind the mess that was season 2.

I’ve always liked Legend Of Korra but I’ve never been much of a fan of the series. The previous two seasons always started with an interesting premise that was also surprisingly dark in some way but then over the course of the respective season the plot got distracted by superfluous subplots and the complexity got diluted by plot-convenient streamlining. The first season had a weaker finale than the second season in my opinion but what ultimately made the second season the worse one overall was its almost chaotic approach to storytelling. There were episodes in the 2nd episode that might as well be described with a laconic “Stuff happened”. It also didn’t help that the 2nd season didn’t make use of Studio Mir the for most of the season so the animation-quality wasn’t as great as in the first season.

As for the characters, it’s a sign of how inessential the second season had been that I don’t feel Korra has changed that much since the end of the 1st season. In the first season Korra had to learn to deal with the responsibility of being the Avatar and in the end she accepted having that responsibility. But in the second season she really turned into an arrogant twat and her character-development was merely to stop being an arrogant twat basically. But I certainly like the idea of Korra as a character. Where Aang was an Avatar-character trying to gain power to battle the evil of the world, Korra’s storyline is all about learning the limits of her seemingly endless power. And it’s appropriate for such a character-storyline to make her a headstrong impulsive person. She is the kind of person who would use her power without thinking and thereby prove the point her storyline is trying to make. But instead of where with a more thoughtful character you would need to express all that with the dialogue and drama, with a character like Korra her actions are already enough.

Which means, there’s more time for the side-characters… Okay, the most problematic one at this point is definitely Mako. My personal opinion regarding him is something akin to “Fuck that guy!” and with the 3rd season it’s clear that apparently the series has started to share that opinion. I don’t get it. Mako really seems like a freak-accident that seemed like a good idea in the first season, got dragged into the mess that was the second season and now after all that shit the writers look at him horrified as if he’s some kind of monster. The story goes to some great lengths during these first three episodes to make him the butt of a joke or throw obstacles into his way. When he at first insisted on staying away from “Team Avatar” I actually kinda hoped he would. Because what’s wrong with him devoting his life to his job and trying to find a new life there? It would be a more individualistic choice than just giving up and becoming a side-character in Korra’s adventures. Mako could’ve become one of those rare characters in these kinds of series who chose a somewhat mundane life over one full of wacky and epic adventures. Instead of this “brooding and trying hard to seem cool”-shtick he currently has he could’ve turned into a down-to-earth character who just tries to have a nice life.

Of course he didn’t end up doing that. He ended up re-joining Team Avatar and considering how awkward he feels around his ex-girlfriend and his current girlfriend (I guess), I can’t imagine that to turn out well. But the really big problem with his character is: What now? He was basically forced to leave his more-or-less ordered life behind in order to go on some adventure. And I can’t see him actually being romantically involved with either Korra OR Asami at this point. He’s SO awkward around them that it feels like he just hasn’t found a way to tell them that he wants nothing to do with either of them – especially since they both consider each other BFFs or something.

Korra 02In scenes like these it’s obvious what a difference a good animation-studo makes. Bolin also says my favorite quote of these three episodes: “The bad news is: we’re stuck here! The good news is: you can go to the bathroom wherever you want!”

That brings me to Asami who I still feel has way more potential as a character than the show gives her credit for. She was introduced in the first season when the story was all about how the disenfranchised Non-Benders were suppressed by the Benders in Unity City (a really ballsy and VERY interesting premise for an Avatar-series but sadly the series hardly committed to the complexity of that story). Her father turned out to be evil and she was left with a giant corporation who had various sort-of steampunk-ish machines to sell. What I’m saying is, she could’ve been the Iron Man (or Iron Woman in that case, I guess) of the Avatar-universe. She could’ve truly represented the fact that thanks to technology non-benders aren’t inferior to benders anymore. Instead, after two seasons she’s one of the least defined characters of the cast. It’s great, though, that she’s still friends with Korra. I mean, it’s already rare to have more than two female characters in a series but for them to also be friends…? Just pure insanity! Sure, it sounds stupid if I write it so blatantly but if you’ve watched enough Western movies or TV-series, you know just how weirdly rare such a simple thing is. And again, I have also the same worry with Asami as I have with Mako: What now? It just shows how sub-par the previous two seasons have been, that there’s no obvious direction character-development-wise for her to go. Asami’s even worse off since she doesn’t have any real conflicts to resolve. Why does she hang out with Korra and joins her adventures? I don’t know. She’s a vaguely good person, knows Korra and believes Korra’s a good person. That’s all the characterization she has right now. And her romantic relationship to Mako is hardly believable considering how pathetic Mako seems at this point and how he doesn’t even try to earn anyone’s love at this point.

Bolin, meanwhile, is all about charm. He’s just the wacky one on Team Avatar. But his behavior has this nice undertone of empathy which makes it clear that he isn’t just some random idiot. He’s the one who relieves the tension with a joke or two. In many ways, he’s an obvious plot-device for the sake of dramatic pacing. It’s only thanks to the good writing on the show that he hasn’t become too annoying until now.

A really well-developed character on the other hand is Tenzin. He’s a character who actually isn’t defined just by his motivations or his personality but a good mix of the two instead. That’s probably the closest thing the series got for a complex character. When he gives Korra advice it’s not just him fulfilling a cheap mentor-role, you can buy him as a character wanting to give this kind of advice. His joy about the spontaneous reappearances of airbending is one of the most human moments this show has managed in a while.

Korra 03Unless they plan to relocate the woman in this elaborate prison I really don’t see a point in Lord Zuko & Co visiting this place. It has been already made clear that everyone present probably isn’t enough to stop the super-criminals from helping this prisoner escape.

So, about the actual first three episodes of this new season… Look, basically each season of Legend Of Korra until now had started with a potentially interesting morally grey premise. The first season had the conflict between the non-benders and the benders, the second season had the question of what to do with spirits when some of them can be really nasty and now the third season is all about the chaotic reappearance of airbenders, I guess. The thing that makes me a bit more hopeful is that this third season seems more focused with its premise than the previous two. Here, in the third season the dualistic dichotomy is simple and straightforward: Airbending is back in style (Yay!) but some villains also got airbending in the process (Boo!). The previous two premises were way more ambitious and in neither case the series was up to the task of turning these plothooks into good shows aimed at children while still following the plothook to its logical conclusion. Sure, this is a show that’s supposed to be enjoyable even for 10-year-olds and you don’t want to confront those kids with the heavy stuff. But that means either not going for premises that would create problems when it comes to such audiences or finding an elegant solution that would render the plot understandable on a level for 10-year-olds but on a deeper level also understandable for older audiences.

At this point, I just don’t have the faith anymore to believe that this series will make good on its premise. There will be a ton of subplots popping up, some curt plot-developments and it will all lead to an obvious cheesy showdown between good and evil. But! I will admit that from the three premises this show has offered so far this one seems like the least likely for the series to fuck up in the end. But who knows, I have honestly no idea what the series will do some its more important characters so I’m kinda interested to see how that will pan out. And overall Legend Of Korra is still an enjoyable series, especially now that Studio Mir is back to animate it all.

Episodes-Rating: 7.5/10

Random Thoughts:

  • A team of imprisoned supervillains that only gets free because one of them surprisingly got airbending seems like a neat plothook, I would say.
  • Kai, the other new airbender… Well, so far he seems kinda ‘meh’ to me. The whole flamboyant-thief-shtick doesn’t seem very charming when it’s used by a little kid. He really just comes off as a snotty kid who doesn’t seem to know better. Also, that one of Tenzin’s daughters is sort-of into him… meh, whatever…
  • They really should introduce more spirits to the plot.
  • I think, it’s always interesting to hear voice-actors outside their roles, so here’s Janet Varney (the voice of Korra) on her podcast The JV Club having a chat with Paul F Tompkins (who’s one of my favorite comedians).

About M0rg0th

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

Posted on June 28, 2014, in Anime, Reviews, The Legend Of Korra: Book Of Change (S03) and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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