The Legend Of Korra: Book Of Change – 09 Review

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I actually think Asami is going to die. Bear with me. Look, I know there’s NO evidence for her dying within the series but I would like to believe that the series has something more up its sleeve for its finale than some rowdy anarchists. And the way the series treats Asami these days I don’t think she’ll stay relevant much longer anyway without a dramatic death-scene. I mean, it can’t be just Korra kicking Zaheer’s ass in the last episode of this season, right? There needs to be something more for that conflict. And the death of a person close to Korra is exactly the kind of stuff that would spice things up a little.

Review:

Anarchism. Is that what it’s all about this season? Radical anarchism? Look, I appreciate that the series finally revealed the true motivations of the Red Lotus but… ONCE AGAIN it ends in this series having a bad villain. I have no fucking clue what is going on in the writers’ room for this series. How the hell do you mess up the villain-figure THREE times in a row?! And it’s not like the writing of this show is generally bad, it’s really only the villains that ALWAYS fail to impress, it seems. The big villains of the Avatar-franchise (not just Legend Of Korra) are apparently always these old men who are the tyrants in whatever movement they’re supporting. And Legend Of Korra is actually better than Avatar: The Last Airbender by having this sliver of ambiguity associated with those villains but then the series always finds some stupid way to squash that. In the end, all these patriarchal tyrant-figures all turn out to be petty and misguided.

But what would you do with a villain you introduce in the same season in where he’s discarded? My opinion is that you shouldn’t treat such a character as a character actually. Unless you want to spend a lot of time on developing the villain as a character, the focus should be on him becoming an idea or a statement. The first season of LoK nailed that with Equalist movement. That was a believable issue that would exist in a modernist Avatar-setting. But look where it led to? Ultimately the movement was done by revealing their leader to be a liar. The intriguing idea was undone by the portrayal of the villain! Granted that Unalaq in the second season got as far as he did was mostly Korra’s fault but this is yet another case where the idea behind the season is squashed by the villain’s pettiness. And it’s no coincidence that this season mostly works because there isn’t some grand idea behind the season which gives the series space to explore the characters instead of the idea. The villains in LoK apparently always ruin the story.

Legend of Korra starts with the concept of using the villain as an idea but ends up concentrating on some psychological bullshit that obviously justifies the punishment the villain receives. In the same way Zaheer’s anarchistic streak probably won’t be as idealistically motivated as he phrases it but actually it just disguises some primal evilness that just makes him a bad person.

And this third season, while still being the strongest so far in my opinion, has the weakest villain so far, simply because Zaheer neither works as a character NOR as an idea. It becomes especially obvious when Zaheer pitches his “villain-idea” to Korra who immediately calls bullshit on it. What is comes down to is Zaheer saying “Look, we guys from the Red Lotus didn’t like the world we’re living in so we pushed for a return of the spirits – and you did that, for which we are grateful. Now, all that’s left is just to kill A LOT of important humans around the world to create even more chaos” and Korra’s like “You had me at spirits and you lost me at killing a bunch of people.”.

Sure, there’s some ambiguity to Zaheer’s words but the good parts of his argument have already been realized in season 02 and there’s no real logic explaining why now human society has to be returned to a primitive state. There’s some real-world-philosophy they could’ve warped to use as arguments, like for example some Rousseau-stuff. But when Zaheer’s all like “The natural order is disorder.” then yeah, you won’t win a popularity-award like that. Also, interpreting that sentence to mean that all authority-figures in human society need to be killed is a VERY radical interpretation of that sentence. And the series has this half-hearted attempt where Zaheer references the shitty behavior of the president and the general public in the first two episodes and the stupid Earth-Queen is also mentioned but Zaheer’s argument is WAY too extreme for that stuff to matter. After all, he’s not advocating killing bad authority-figures, he wants them ALL to be killed. No matter how you look at it, Zaheer’s speech isn’t very convincing unless you have already bought into his philosophy.

The bulk of this episode actually concerns itself with Team Avatar chasing Ai-Wei. And it’s clear that Mako has now become the voice of reason when planning these little missions. The series reasons once again that he having been a policeman for some time makes him smarter than anyone else when it comes to doing police-tropes. It’s good that Mako is put to use as a character within the story and stuff like that is the reason why this season has been the strongest so far but overall, this is too little coming too late.

In a first season establishing roles for the characters of an ensemble is key to give them a noteworthy place within the story. But in the third season that stuff actually should’ve already been established. It’s a sign of how flawed the first two seasons have been that only now the series is getting around to really assigning roles to most of Team Avatar. Only now you can actually look at Team Avatar as a band of actual friends that isn’t plagued by some soap-opera-like drama.

But where should those characters be at this point, dynamic-wise? There’s a point where characters aren’t just working as individuals within a group but start to work together with other characters of the group to create new dynamics for each character. Instead of just responding to each character individual personality, the interactions, through familiarity between the characters, should bring out new facets in those characters. That’s how you recognize a really good character in an ensemble-scene: The character not only is compelling on his own but makes the other characters he interacts with more compelling as well. But Legend of Korra has JUST hit this stage where each member of Team Avatar is comfortable within their own skin. There’s no real interpersonal dynamic or back-and-forth that would make their scenes really enjoyable. Each of the characters just perform their assigned roles as their individual shticks dictate.

Despite those flaws you can see in this episode why stuff like Team Avatar becoming more comfortable around each other should have happened much sooner. There’s trust and sound reasoning at work that actually makes all their actions look like teamwork. Instead of getting wrapped up in their personal little dramas, there’s a real sense of them wanting to work together towards a goal.
It also helps that this episode has very good pacing. There’s always an objective and a plan about how to reach said objective which gives the episode far more momentum than you would expect from a stakeout. The plot isn’t very elaborate but through its straightforward, quick pacing, the episode nicely leads to the confrontation between Zaheer and Korra.

Sadly, just like last episode the villains aren’t as compelling as they need to be in these scenes. And that’s not the fault of the animation. The bending-battles are still nice to look at. The story’s to blame here primarily. I’ve already explained why the villain of this season sucks but in this finale it’s apparent what it costs this series to have these dull villains. These villain-sequences need to evoke tension, danger and the real possibility of the hero-figure (Korra) failing. But nowadays most of the audience is already media-savvy enough to know that the hero will save the day anyway So, the confrontation between a villain and a hero shouldn’t be about winning or losing. That’s why The Dark Knight is still my favourite comic-book-movie: There’s SO much more to the confrontation between the Joker and Batman than just a hero stopping a supervillain.

But here, every confrontation with Zaheer and his buddies feels somewhat banal. After all, what ARE the meaningful stakes of this fight? Korra’s safety? That would be more compelling if the Red Lotus actually had succeeded in kidnapping her last episode. Really, last episode I was kinda excited about the possibility of Korra ending up a prisoner of the Red Lotus with all the other character being responsible to save Korra.

But instead we got the Earth-Queen. Well, at least I would commend the series for using more than one plot-thread for this plot-twist. Every series that has at least some action should be interested in keeping multiple plot-threads alive simultaneously.

Well, to be honest the one thing I’m most interested about right now is to see what the series wants to do with Asami. Maybe the voice-actress didn’t have a lot of time so they had to reduce her part in the series? Seriously, it’s VERY weird that in a season that focuses on side-characters more than the main-character, there’s a somewhat important side-character who almost disappears from the series. Asami could be literally anyone for all the characterization she received in this season. All the individuality she experiences basically amounts to “Yeah, you were in season 01 and 02, right…?”. What a weird way to treat such a character… You would think that in a world with bending the characterization of heroic non-benders would just write itself…

Episode-Rating: 7.5/10

Random Thoughts:

  • So, Bolin is once more doing comic-relief-duty for the series and… he’s still an enjoyable character. But do all funny scenes need to focus on him…?
  • Aiwei’s fugitive-skills leave much to be desired. He isn’t very good at covering his tracks.
  • At least, Korra calls bullshit on Zaheer’s arguments immediately. You could call that character-growth or common sense, I guess. Well, then again, considering how Korra behaved in the second season, it’s definitely a much appreciated sign of the former.

About M0rg0th

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

Posted on August 2, 2014, in Anime, Reviews, The Legend Of Korra: Book Of Change (S03) and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. You made some wonderful arguements. I personally loved this episode and the fact that the Red Lotus parallel the anarchist movement is very fitting seeing how the series is set in the 1920s! Just gives off more of that 1920s vibe which I love and is very unique to this show.

    All I’m gonna say regarding Asami and The Red Lotus’s endgame is that you’ll most likely be surprised given the latest clip for Episode 10 and the title of the final episode of the season. Both insinuate vast difference to how they’ve been handled before and I think you’ll enjoy it!

    Like

    • “I personally loved this episode and the fact that the Red Lotus parallel the anarchist movement is very fitting seeing how the series is set in the 1920s! Just gives off more of that 1920s vibe which I love and is very unique to this show.”

      Ah… yeah, I’ve totally forgotten that parallel. Hmm, personally I feel like it’s hard to remember that parallel when there isn’t a whole lot in this season’s setting that’s reminiscent of the 1920s. Especially with the bending you’re constantly reminded that this is a somewhat fantastical setting.

      But thanks for the reminder! You’re right, the historical parallels offer an interesting perspective for these somewhat modernist elements in Legend of Korra.

      “All I’m gonna say regarding Asami and The Red Lotus’s endgame is that you’ll most likely be surprised given the latest clip for Episode 10 and the title of the final episode of the season. Both insinuate vast difference to how they’ve been handled before and I think you’ll enjoy it!”

      I hope so! Usually I keep away from such promo-material or possible spoilers but if those things offered you insights that make you think I’ll be surprised by future developments… That makes me excited. Surprises are exactly what the finale needs!

      Like

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