The Legend Of Korra: Book Of Balance – 01 Review

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The final season of Legend Of Korra! Personally I have been looking forward to this. I loved the third season and so I hope that the fourth season will continue this trend. Naturally I still don’t really like the second season and the first season was kinda okay but in general I’m optimistic regarding this fourth season. The third season has been THAT good.

Also, I’ve found out that Chaika’s second season is also coming up. I definitely won’t review the second Selector-season but Chaika’s? That first season wasn’t great but it wasn’t bad either. *sigh* It really depends on where that series wants to go with its second season. I really hope the first episode will give me a definitive answer in that regard.

Review:

And so the fourth and final season of Legend of Korra begins. It’s not the glorious, long-awaited finale it should be but rather a quiet send-off for those who actually still care about the franchise. Or at least that’s how it feels like. It hasn’t been that long since the third season had ended and now we’re already watching the next season. I can’t imagine that this schedule was the one they originally went for when the creators of the show started working on the third and fourth season. The weirdest thing about the way Nickelodeon has treated this series is that nobody has real answers – not even the creators. Nickelodeon just did it and that’s it. We can speculate and I still think that this all happened because they had high expectations for this series (even after the second season) but ultimately they just gave up investing in this series and just wanted to get it over with but that’s just me guessing what happened. There isn’t any “official version” of why the third season appeared out of the blue on TV and why it was then “cancelled” mid-season. Ultimately it ended up with a digital distribution-model and that’s how the series will end in this fourth season.
You can tell that the sort-of cliffhanger-ending of the third season was meant to hype up the start of this new season. The final of the third season did a really good job of delivering a lot of meaningful consequences and those acted as the cliffhanger for this season. But this final season does something that makes its beginning a bit more technical than you would expect: There’s a time-jump.

Time-jumps are something of a drastic measure, I would say. Rather than to simply continue where a previous season has left off, you actually start a fresh storyline. A time-jump doesn’t simply move forward time, it’s an actual disruption. There’s a reason why originally the Greek Drama had a sort-of time-constraint. The flow of a story is a thing you build up at a continuous pace. Time-jumps disrupt that flow as the audience is taken out of the timeline. After all, the characters do keep developing, things still happen – but the audience simply doesn’t know about it. So, where before you could just continue where the story has left off, you now have to explain to the audience what has happened to the characters and the world in the meantime. A time-jump drastically changes the landscape of a story.

Therefore, the question becomes whether it’s truly necessary for this final season to have employed a time-jump. In an ideal universe the answer would be no. The three years this series jumps forward in time aren’t used to drastically change the series, they’re used for plot-convenience. Korra could barely walk at the end of the third season, so a whole lot of her storyline would’ve been her moping after the end of the third season. But I’ve said “in an ideal universe” because naturally there’s one other thing to consider here: This is the last season. There are only 13 episodes left to bring a FINAL conclusion to this series. So, it would make neither sense to drastically change the story-landscape of the series for this last season but neither does the series have the time to calmly move forward after the ending of the third season. And hey, a time-jump may not be ideal but it’s better than to miraculously heal Korra in some way and make her a great fighter again.

But now the question is of course: If the series doesn’t want to drastically change itself, how does it resolve a time-jump? With a LOT of talking apparently or at least that’s how this episode deals with it. And sure, you may say “show, don’t tell” is the golden rule in such situations but you can only show so much indirectly in an episode without becoming somewhat obscure. Personally, I didn’t feel like I needed to learn what happened to everyone after these three years in the first episode but oh well… The point is that this episode turned out to be VERY talky. The whole episode was one giant “Whatever happened to…?”-routine. Many dialogues between characters we know in this episode feel forced because of how obviously they try to summarize what has happened in the three years the audience hasn’t experienced. Most series usually make it a bit of a mystery to reveal what everyone has been up to but this episode…? Nope, this episode shows us everyone we know blatantly tell the audience what they are up to nowadays.

And naturally Asami is the least interesting one of them. Her company’s doing well… again. For fuck’s sake, her company’s winnings and losses are always in a constant state of flux, I feel like. I don’t care how well her company’s doing and since the first season Asami’s involvement with this company has been nothing more than as a plot-device that sometimes pops up when she’s involved in the plot (a big emphasis on the when, of course). This series continues to act like she has experienced the same level of character-development and depth-exploration as the other characters – but that is NOT the case. Her character barely works. She would need a couple episodes solely focused on her to make up for the lack of development she has experienced in the last two seasons.

Meanwhile, Prince Wu clearly has been turned into the comic relief for this episode and he’s guarded by Mako. I don’t really think that except for Bolin most of the characters here have experienced that much change in these last three years. They’ve gotten older, of course. Asami’s voice-actress certainly is trying to deepen her voice here – but aside from that? Nothing that’s really interesting. Well, maybe Bolin’s involvement with Kuvira is interesting.

And that brings me to this season’ s arc: Dictatorship. I assume that’s what this series wants to go for here. Kuvira is uniting the Earth-Kingdom – or at least that’s what’s left of it. Apparently the Earth Kingdom has sunken into total anarchy. Poverty, hunger, bandits and a lack of law and order seem to be the norm there now. And that’s when Kuvira apparently entered this political landscape with a powerful army and simply conquered this shitshow. Once again, we have a season of Legend of Korra that’s trying to tackle a rather complicated villain-situation.
The reason why the third season has been so phenomenal was because it focused on the characters. The Red Lotus with their anarchy-agenda were left in the background for most of the season (even though, I would say, that they actually had an interesting backstory to offer after what the last two episodes had hinted at). For that season as a whole it worked wonders since the series could finally concentrate on developing the protagonists and giving them a more nuanced portrayal. Now we’re back to having a villain whose motivation isn’t exactly evil and one of the good guys is even supporting her.

But thinking back on the first season I’m rather skeptical that Legend of Korra is the kind of series that should even tackle complicated situations like this. Legend of Korra still tries to be a show that can be also watched by kids and you really need to get on a mature level of discussion with complex issues like this one. And you can already see the series struggling to convey the message it wants to deliver when the old man while talking to Kuvira turns into this talking-head who has this little speech about “what’s really going on”. But it’s all accusations and while the rest of the episode nicely shows how naïve that governor was in rejecting her at first, a truly mature show would’ve resolved this issue right then and there with a discussion that assumes the audience already knows what sort-of is going on. So, instead the episode becomes way too blunt and straightforward about what is going on. Rather than letting the submission of the old governor speak for itself, he has to tell Opal something like “I only did it because I didn’t have a choice.”. The events spoke for themselves, I think and yet the episode just keeps shouting what is going on.

So, of course, it seems cheesy that Opal dislikes Kuvira and distances herself from Bolin because he works for her. She never makes it clear what exactly makes her so suspicious of Kuvira. In fact, the episode even goes out of its way to downplay her dislike by linking it to her brother who was exiled in disgrace but now is to become the husband of Kuvira. Bolin and Opal never have a real talk either where she could open up about her suspicions and where Bolin could explain why he had joined Kuvira. But I guess, that’s the trouble with doing a whole “Whatever happened to…?”-episode for everyone of Team Avatar: There’s simply not enough time to really explore the reasons for the changes that have happened (which is maybe also one of the reasons why nothing drastically has happened to the characters, I guess).

Well, that leaves only one character: Korra. And the episode clearly treats this like the most important bit of information: What has happened to Korra in these three years? This episode only shows a little glimpse of her fate but… it concerns me. Korra’s having an existential crisis after she has lost most of her physical prowess and so she has joined an underground-fighting-club. Look, the only reason Korra was great in the third season was that she showed signs of growing up and that when she struggled those struggles never became obnoxious (unlike in previous seasons…). I doubt that the angry and gritty existentialist-version of Korra is much better than the immature and impulsive hothead-version of Korra seen in the second season. So, I really hope that they either nail that new version of Korra or they quickly bring her back into her role as the heroic avatar. Otherwise, we will have a bumby road ahead of us, I would say.

Episode-Rating: 7.5/10

Random Thoughts:

  • Here’s the link to the podcast where the creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino talk about the show. And here’s a link to an episode of Janet Varney’s (she’s the voice of Korra) podcast, the JV Club, where she talks with the two about their lives as teenagers and other stuff.
  • One scene that seemed blatant to me but may have been a little too complicated in its context was when Kuvira subdued the bandits and made them swear to serve society again. But also, she made them swear loyalty to HER personally, not a state, a king, an ideal or something, no, HER, just HER. That’s a pretty dickish move. But then again she’s the only force of order currently in the Earth-Kingdom it seems like, so realistically her version of “law and order” is better than nothing.
  • If it were up to me, this episode would’ve focused solely on Korra’s miserable, gritty life as a below-average underground-fighter who tries to hide that she’s the Avatar. If Korra’s such a big deal that she’s considered the sweet dessert in this episode, they might as well have focused on her alone. And then they could’ve explored what is going on with each one of Team Avatar bit by bit in the following episodes. But oh well… like I’ve mentioned, this being the last season the series has some serious time-constraints to deal with. *sigh* Compromises, it’s all about compromises…
  • This episode seems problematic to me but overall, it’s good to watch Legend Of Korra again. And as an introductory episode, it does its job – but not a very compelling one.

 

About M0rg0th

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

Posted on October 4, 2014, in Anime, Reviews, The Legend Of Korra: Book Of Balance (S04) and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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