The Legend Of Korra: Book Of Change – 10/11 Review

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Zaheer really doesn’t make a good case for anarchism, does he? Apparently mankind’s first instinct is looting when an important government-figure dies. “The tyrant is dead! Long live the reign of ‘survival of the fittest’!” may be a fitting slogan for Zaheer’s little “revolution” but you certainly won’t earn any peace-Nobel-prizes with that kind of philosophy. And then Zaheer goes on to threaten the “Air-Nation”, the only nation in the whole world without any significant hierarchical problems. Seriously, he better has some big-ass plan as to what he wants to do with the Avatar once he has captured her or otherwise he’s kinda pathetic in terms of being some sort of “political visionary”.

Review:

Ultimately it all comes down to fighting. The reason why the finales of Legend of Korra have mostly been a weaker part of each season is because at some point the season discards all interest in its themes and ideas and just puts characters into some sort of arena to fight. The first Avatar-series still concentrated on bending-battles to be just an expression of the drama within the story and the only sort-of gimmicky elements were the moments when non-bending techniques were shown as being useful or when the range of the elemental bending got extended by some new technique. But overall it all still seemed like an addition to the series’ universe. Meanwhile Legend Of Korra always felt kinda gimmicky in its finals when the series tried to present new challenges for benders. In the first season it was about benders fighting against machines, the second season was about benders fighting against spirits and now it’s benders against VERY special benders.

These final battles of Legend Of Korra always seem to be more interested in spectacle than storytelling. But to present this spectacle there’s always this clean cut happening in the story where things can only get resolved by one final confrontation. Rather than organically building up towards that confrontation Legend Of Korra goes for a clearer straightforward structure in its finale. It’s not bad – but it also forces the series to simplify its storytelling once it gets closer to the finale.

And with that the tenth episode clearly has the feel of the calm before the storm. The series is setting the stage for the inevitability of the final confrontation. And the plot is doing some complicated acrobatics to set the stage. The first thing it does is giving Asami a moment to shine. When Asami and Korra are captured by Earth-Nation-soldiers, it’s Asami who basically saves the day. Like I’ve mentioned in the last review, this is again too little that comes too late. And it’s especially bad in Asami’s case where it’s really obvious how little characterization she has experienced so far. Her whole moment of glory kinda feels like plot-convenience. And you need a good characterization in moments like these because when a character says “I can do this!” the audience isn’t supposed to say “Uhm, she can…?”. Asami is so badly characterized, though, that you just have to accept that she knows all this stuff she’s talking about and is capable of the stuff she’s doing. The series just doesn’t show enough of her to make those moments inherently convincing. This series really needs to step up its game when it comes to the characterization of Asami.
The other thing that naturally has to happen is a way to vilify Zaheer. I’ve already talked about in previous reviews about how this series tries to undermine whatever ideal the villain is chasing by making him a real asshole. And the series certainly got that point across. While Asami saves Korra’s ass, Mako and Bolin are the prisoners of Red Lotus who travel to the Earth Queen to lie in wait for the Avatar. But when the Avatar doesn’t turn up, Zaheer decides to “free” Ba-Sing-Se. And then things escalate rather quickly. I mean, the whole city starts burning within a few moments and everybody becomes a mindless looter.

The depiction of this city falling into chaos wasn’t great, I feel like. The whole anarchistic angle is a nice reference to all the social upheavals, changes and uncertainty in the traditional class-system at the beginning of the 20th century. Though, it would’ve been more convincing if the Red Lotus had been a widespread underground-movement of poor people who are all for anarchy as a societal structure. There needed to be some group of people within the population of that city that would’ve needed to take action after Zaheer’s announcement. But even if nobody liked the Earth-Queen and what she did, the people didn’t seem riled up enough yet to consider a revolution. So, Zaheer’s announcement shouldn’t have caused the anarchy it did. And I’m not saying that in a way to complain about the logic of these events, it’s the implied assumption of the events that everyone would become mindless, destructive looters without some government and a police keeping order. For one I don’t think that even a monarchy is such a frail system as to fall apart only because the monarch died and two, society isn’t that frail either to just fall apart like that. And as an allegory for class-warfare the whole Equalist-movement of the first season was more interesting than Zaheer’s extreme anarchism anyway. The series has done very little to make Zaheer a compelling villain. First, he was just chasing the Avatar with his buddies for some mysterious reason and then he revealed his anarchist motivation – but it all adds up to him just being another buddie who likes wrecking stuff. Also, I would like to add at this point that Zaheer’s voice-actor isn’t great. His voice-acting seems kinda bland and there are no real nuances in Zaheer’s voice and his style of talking.

Also, I would like to add a more personal niggle: Charakters should never HAVE to make detours. A plot should make sense and it should build towards a satisfying conclusion and the pacing should allow “side-projects” for the sake of characterization – BUT the cohesion of all that should never complicate things. When Mako and Bolin end up in Ba-Sing-Se and have to take over an airship so that they can rescue their newfound relatives and so that they then have to pick up the trail of the Avatar in a desert… that’s all busywork. What essentially happens here is simpler than the stuff the plot needs to do in order to make it happen. This is just about reuniting Mako/Bolin with Korra/Asami. The effectiveness of plot-structure is measured by how much time the plot needs to move all its elements forward. But the amount of time that is spent on making this happen in this instance is WAY too much for something that is basically just a transitional moment. The structure of a plot, especially an action-heavy one (the kind LoK’s finales are gunning for usually), always needs to face forwards. There needs to be a momentum that carries the plot forward. That can’t happen when there’s a need for some backtracking where the characters go “Ah, before I forget, I should so this first…”.

It’s actually for the same reason as why the 10th and 11th episode are setting the stage for this final confrontation but this season had so many great character-heavy moments so far that it can’t just blast past those established connections. I will give the series that: It does a great job of backtracking here. The family of Mako and Bolin, the Metal Clan and the new airbenders all make an appearance in the 11th episode to remind us of the characters introduced in this season. That’s definitely better than like for example Mako and Bolin just fleeing with an airship forgetting all about their newfound relatives. That would’ve been the cheap-ass solution to a plot-structure that needs to backtrack in this moment of urgency. So, ultimately it’s less that the series has done something wrong here but more that it could’ve done something better. And I’m only mentioning this because this season really has been great so far, so now I’m at a point where I think about just how great of a season this has been.

Another thing that was kinda unnecessary in the 11th episode was the fanservice. Korra talking to Iroh in the spirit-world and Zuko was just plain fanservice. And it didn’t have to be! That’s the thing that confuses me really. I mean, it makes sense for Korra to impulsively go into the spirit world in search of Zaheer but instead she has a meet-cute with Iroh. But that’s where things start to fall apart because both Iroh and Zuko are supposed to give advice to Korra but both of them don’t really have anything insightful to say. Especially in the way Korra has matured as a character in her portrayal during this season, the advice she’s given here is far too general and obvious to be considered helpful. Then again, like I’ve already mentioned, the series is trying to set a stage for a flashy brawl. And the nature of that conflict as well as its necessity becomes simpler the closer the finale gets. So, I had expected Iroh or Zuko to give some new exposition-like insight into the Red Lotus’ motivations and/or plans. Instead the series goes for these general platitudes of “what Aang would have done”. Aang would’ve done the same as Spock in Wrath Of Khan (or Kirk in Star Trek Into Darkness… damn you JJ Abrams!). I mean, yeah, everybody would expect a heroic figure like an Avatar to sacrifice himself or herself for the greater good. That should be hardly surprising. And yet those two characters from the first Avatar-series are paraded in this sequence. I understand that any fan of the first series would be curious to see what those characters are up to now during Legend Of Korra but their presence alone isn’t good enough. Especially since they are full-fledged characters from the first series, this series should be capable of doing far more with those characters than to just parade them for some lazy fanservice.

What ultimately makes the 11th episode work despite all those niggles is that it shows Team Zaheer being successful. Due to how effectively the Northern Air-Temple and its members have been characterized, there’s a real sense of tragedy when Team Zaheer invades this sanctuary. And there’s a real sense of futility to the resistance Tenzin & Co put up. But it’s a nice move of the series to not just see them failing but to show some characters getting out of the “cage” created by Team Zaheer. Meanwhile Tenzin will end up handicapped – or dead. I did talk about how Asami could possibly die to spice things up a little for the finale. So maybe it will be Tenzin who’ll provide the spice for this finale. I’m really interested to see how the finale next week will turn out!

Episodes-Rating: 10th Episode – 7.0/10 11th Episode – 8.0/10

Random Thoughts:

  • There’s a humorous moment in the 11th episode that makes fun of Mako having previously dated both Asami AND Korra. But seriously… This has been sort-of a running gag for the entire season now. At some point they have to give this issue a meaningful resolution.
  • Korra had a nice character-moment during the takeover of the airship when her bending got too reckless and wrecked the controls of the airship. That’s totally a thing Korra would do. Legend Of Korra really doesn’t have enough little, poignant character-moments like this one.
  • Also a nice little touch: Tenzin being able to kick Zaheer’s ass in an 1vs1 airbending-battle.

 

 

About M0rg0th

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

Posted on August 16, 2014, in Anime, Reviews, The Legend Of Korra: Book Of Change (S03) and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. You really couldn’t have been more wrong about Ba Sing Se and Zuko and Korra’s conversation.

    Did you even watch The Last Airbender? Ba Sing Se has always been corrupt to an uncontrollable degree. Given the cities background, it makes complete sense why everyone would start looting and creating anarchy!

    In the case of Iroh/Zuko, that was one of the best scenes in the entire series because it finally developed a real dilemma for the Avatar. Yes the reborn air nation is important but the Avatar should consider ALL nations in turmoil and sort out his/her priorities. If one nation needs her to sacrifice herself, that wouldn’t help all the other nations in trouble. The two people that followed this ideology best were Aang and Zuko so it’s perfect that he’s the one to advise Korra on what path she would take as the Avatar.

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    • “Did you even watch The Last Airbender? Ba Sing Se has always been corrupt to an uncontrollable degree. Given the cities background, it makes complete sense why everyone would start looting and creating anarchy!”

      I did… And no it still doesn’t make sense to me that the city would fall into this state of barbaric turmoil THIS quickly. I take less issue with that it did end up in that place (because you’re right about the history of the place within the series’ universe) than with the suddenness it occurred. That was a scenario that needed more screentime to make sense than what was provided by the series.

      “In the case of Iroh/Zuko, that was one of the best scenes in the entire series because it finally developed a real dilemma for the Avatar. Yes the reborn air nation is important but the Avatar should consider ALL nations in turmoil and sort out his/her priorities.”

      Yeah, but the whole “sacrifice for the greater good”-argument, be it Korra herself or the Air Nation, seems so trite.As far as virtuous courses of actions go, this one should be pretty obvious. So I feel like that scene wasn’t really necessary and I would’ve bought Korra thinking of that “sacrifice”-idea herself. I guess, the so-called “dilemma” presented here is that Aang would just give himself up in the hope that this would save the Air Nation but Korra would rather fight the Red Lotus to kick their ass. But I don’t think the reference to Aang or the appearance of Iroh or Zuko was necessary to present such a basic dilemma.

      That stuff was already obvious enough by establishing that Team Zaheer has kidnapped characters dear to Korra and they are freed if she gives herself up. That’s a rather basic hostage-scenario. The bigger philosophical implications of what an Avatar should do as presented by Iroh and Zuko are just a variation of what Korra should already be aware of. I feel like that she has come far enough as a character that she can be aware both of her personal desire to save her friends AND her duty as the Avatar.

      So I feel like that the appearance of Iroh and Zuko was unnecessary, at least in the way it was presented.

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  2. It really would have made way more sense to hear about the Earth Queen in the oasis, and for Korra + co. to go TO Ba Sing Se to fight Zahir, only find Mako and Bo Lin with their message. The way they kept calling it “his message!” without actually mentioning he’d be exterminating an entire nation…again…was kind of hammy and forced.

    And if this was all about getting Sue to the finale, Korra could have really stepped up as Avatar and sent a general distress call to leaders of all sovereign powers, and the Metal Clan would respond because, let’s face it, they’re the only ones in range, and she isn’t going to leave Opal to Zahir.

    Regarding Zuko’s presence, I think the best thing done with him was showing how Bo Lin and Mako revere him. That added some interesting depth to how people in the Republic view him all these years hence. Can’t really disagree with the rest xD It felt like a step backward. This book is the start of a new Avatar cycle, and seeing Korra act as her own person has been a big draw for myself. But we can kind-of negate it by getting proxy-Aang advice, which isn’t actually advice so…the hell?

    As far as Zahir (Zaheer? Zahear?) and his motives go, to quote Confused Matthew OH MY GOD WHY ARE YOU ALL TRYING TO MAKE BANE WORK?! HE NEVER WORKED IN THE FIRST PLACE!

    I IMAGINE that while using Korra to his ends would have been a useful stepping stone, that killing her is the ultimate plan. Nothing affronts chaos more than the Avatar Cycle, a demigod who brings order like a pharoh to the mortal and spiritual worlds. In order to do that, though, they need Korra to be uncontrollably in the Avatar State… so there might be dramatic use for Tenzin still. Huehuehue.

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    • “It really would have made way more sense to hear about the Earth Queen in the oasis, and for Korra + co. to go TO Ba Sing Se to fight Zahir, only find Mako and Bo Lin with their message. The way they kept calling it “his message!” without actually mentioning he’d be exterminating an entire nation…again…was kind of hammy and forced.”

      That’s true ^^ . I would definitely give the series kudos, though, if Korra would end up ignoring the whole Air Nation situation in order to restore order in Ba Sing Se. It’s very unlikely that this will happen because the finale is always about kicking the bad guys’ asses but it would be an interesting plottwist in how it would change and influence the characters. And two episodes aren’t enough to play around with such a heavy plottwist, either…

      So yeah… the restoration of order in Ba Sing Se will probably be more like an afterthought in the series’ epilogue.

      “That added some interesting depth to how people in the Republic view him all these years hence.”

      Yeah, but that one should be as obvious as showing some people who STILL hate him despite his adventures with Aang. Stuff like that should be the starting-point for his portrayal and not the whole point of it.

      In the end, this is just about showing off characters from the first Avatar-series. At least, that’s how it seems.

      “As far as Zahir (Zaheer? Zahear?) and his motives go, to quote Confused Matthew OH MY GOD WHY ARE YOU ALL TRYING TO MAKE BANE WORK?! HE NEVER WORKED IN THE FIRST PLACE!”

      You’re right, Zaheer is totally Bane in Dark Knight Rises and that one also had some pacing-problems in how quickly Gotham just turned into this barbaric villain-town. Well, at least Legend Of Korra didn’t do any preposterous plot-acrobatics like trapping ALL the policemen in the sewers…

      “I IMAGINE that while using Korra to his ends would have been a useful stepping stone, that killing her is the ultimate plan.”

      But in that one episode it seemed more like they were trying to kidnap her… I don’t know. You could be right. Personally I would like there to be something more than just a plan to kill the Avatar again and again before each new reincarnation can become a force of order in the world.

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      • Well, killing Korra wouldn’t be enough. I imagine kidnapping her is just to get her to a secure place when they can invoke the Avatar State and murder her to break the cycle.

        I think it’s this “Guy Fawkes Fallacy” in fiction, as far as the Bane clones go. Everyone wants that villain who inspires revolutionaries. But, as in the case of Fawkes, or perhaps Guevara, it’s never the things they do themselves, but the badly-interpreted ways college kids adopt their mannerisms that makes them sensations..

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