The Legend Of Korra: Book Of Balance – 02 Review

Korra 01

 

I feel like in an alternative world Korra would’ve been successful enough to have gotten a deal for multiple seasons after the third. So what happens is that the 4th season basically turns into a Rocky-plot. A professional competitive bender challenges Korra to a duel who’s left weakened after her last battle and her healing-process doesn’t give her the results she wants. Korra ultimately secretly flees from the South-Pole to accept the challenge and arrives in Republic City for the duel. Her challenger is of course an insanely talented Fire-bender who cockily allows her to use all four elements. She battles him round for round, always seeming weaker than him, despite using all four elements, but she never gives up nonetheless. This sequence is full of flashbacks filled with regrets and bad decisions where she alienated her friends and family while also starting to hate herself. And yet she continues until after what seems like an eternity the battle ends as a draw as the rules would dictate. Her challenger flips out and attacks her but that’s when she finally recovers her Avatar-state and kicks his ass easily. Haha, how’s that for a fourth season ^^ ? What a weird world it would be where that would be the fourth season of this series…

Review:

The best way to sell Korra is in small doses. That’s what we’ve essentially learned over the course of this series. Korra was meant to be Not-Aang, physical, outgoing, confident, female and so on. And in many ways Korra was indeed different from Aang but Korra doesn’t work as well as a character. But that’s not because of a comparison to Aang, let’s be clear. Korra simply isn’t a very good character or at least that’s how this series has made it seem for the longest time.

The nature of all of Korra’s struggles can be simplified to this one sentence: It’s all about a simplistic person being overwhelmed by a complex environment. All three seasons tried their hands at a plot with shades of grey to varying degrees (this one does it as well, but I have no idea where it’s going exactly yet) and Korra NEVER does the smart thing from the start. Korra is impetuous, stubborn, straightforward and physical. The series has sold constantly the idea of her being a fighter who just needs some evil asses to kick. For Korra being an Avatar is all about kicking ass. At the same time, though, the story throws kinda complicated situations at her where that attitude simply is the wrong one to have. But Korra being Korra she naturally fails again and again at doing the right thing in those situations, then.

But the villains always get their comeuppance and good sort-of always wins the day so how can Korra do her job if she’s that inadequate? Well, the funny thing is that it’s all about power – and with that I mean physical power. That’s one of the weirder writing-decisions of this series. The stories are essentially about Korra not being able to do her duties correctly due to her personality like I’ve mentioned. But as soon as the stories come to talk about her personal struggles and her eventual personal victories the whole thing only ever happens on a physical level. It’s always about what Korra isn’t able to do and what she ultimately learns to do. Also, something is taken away from her in terms of power and then she regains it. The first season had Korra not being able to airbend, then she lost all her bending, but THEN she learnt to airbend AND she learned to enter the Avatar-State while also regaining all her bending-powers. In the second season it was about Korra not being able to spirit-bend and later losing all her powers in the spirit-realm in the battle against the dark spirit, but THEN she did learn to spirit-bend AND she regained her Light-Spirit-Powers. And guess why the third season was so great? For one it did NOT adhere to that purely physical formula. But at the same time, Korra had also taken a backseat in that very season. And ultimately we still got to see one half of the usual formula here.

At this point it’s all about what Korra had lost and is unable to do now. She lost her bending-prowess and she’s unable to face the ghost of the Avatar-State. That’s what this episode basically dealt with. The thing that made the ending of the third season more effective was that this one half of the usual formula was treated as a consequence and not as a plot-device to create tension or whatever. There was something final and permanent about the way Korra was hurt during her final battle in the third season. This time around this pain wouldn’t get drowned in the action only for Korra to receive a healing AND a power-up whenever the plot deemed it convenient.

This episode shows, though, that Korra did heal at least but for one she didn’t get all her strength back. And another thing that made this healing-process so frustrating for her as a character was that there was no reason for her to heal. One of the main-tenants of script-writing is that characters need motivations but considering how tedious Korra’s healing-process is there really isn’t anything going on that would give her an equivalent in motivation to overcome that tedium.

More than just being a test of patience, the healing-process was a test of faith. Rather than asking herself when she would get better, she’s starting to ask herself whether she can actually get better in the first place. And while everyone around her is certain that she will recover, none of them offer any real proof for those claims. They simply hope for the best and they mean well, of course. At the same time, though, nobody addresses the pressing question of “What if Korra doesn’t get better?”. Everybody around Korra like it’s just a mere matter of time until Korra will get better and ignores the festering doubts of Korra, so naturally she leaves.

And that’s when the episode connects to the scene of the previous episode. Coming back to what I said at the beginning, this episode had simply a great pacing. The first episode covered a longer period of time when Korra was taken care of by old Katara and trained to get better. And yet that part didn’t feel rushed in any way. Highlighting key-events united by the theme of Korra’s doubts and lack of successful recovery even made Korra’s naturally impatient attitude bearable and more sympathetic. If the series had lingered too long here we would’ve once again gotten a situation of Korra being a simplistic person overwhelmed by a complicated situation.

Actually that makes her sound worse than she is as a character but the thing is that there really isn’t that much to say about Korra. The series didn’t do her any favors by not really developing her that much until the third season. Her basic response to bad guys is to kick their asses and that’s how she’s characterized after all. There’s nothing wrong with that portrayal or having such a character. The problems begin, though, when you try to create drama with such a foolhardy attitude. As straightforward as her character is any drama revolving around that character will be equally straightforward. And when you surround this straightforward drama with a rather complicated situation, the series ultimately ends up having to oversimplify things for the sake of the dramatic level the main-character is on. That doesn’t mean any series would be doomed to use such a character as the main-character, just take this series’ third season for example, I mean. But in the first and especially the second season you really could see how her character simply isn’t good enough to carry a series. Korra simply isn’t a strong character. She could be one, don’t get me wrong, but the lack of depth and character-development have turned her basic personality into more of a hindrance than anything else.

With the third season AND this season, it seems, the series has found one way to deal with Korra: The series basically fast-forwards any character-developments she has through various means. In this episode there’s a good kind of fast pacing present as I’ve mentioned but the episode is equally fast in making things happen for Korra. Korra being lost isn’t an episode; it’s a problem that essentially gets presented and solved within the same episode. Because the way this series treats Korra, the longer it stays with her the more intense her flaws seem. It’s a pity because Janet Varney does a good job voicing her but her character really lacks the sort of charisma a compelling character would have.

But Korra finds her salvation in… Toph. Yep, it’s another cameo from Avatar: The Last Airbender. The creators found any complaints of this series not being as good as the previous one unfair and I would agree with that since Legend of Korra is a bit different in a lot of ways (so comparing the two is a tad more complicated than better or worse, I feel like). But then again, this series so often ventures into fanservice-territory with cameos like this that I don’t feel like it’s fair to not want to have the comparison while it clearly DOES want to be associated with the first series.
Ultimately, though, this was exactly the kind of episode this series needed. And personally I would’ve been fine with this being the first episode instead of the talky “Whatever happened to…?”-episode from last week. With the smartly directed quick pacing this episode is basically a best-of-reel of Korra’s personal struggle and it even nicely leads to a nice development that serves as a sort-of solution while also being a bit of a plottwist.

Episode-Rating: 8.0/10
Random Thoughts:

  • The visual style of this series has always been strong. There are always some neat little visual ideas present in each episode like the wingsuits of the airbenders from last week or how Korra looks into a broken mirror. That’s good stuff!
  • I really hope that Korra doesn’t exactly regain her strength but instead is now forced to find a way to solve conflicts in a more intelligent, mature manner.
  • I liked the letter-sequence in this episode as it was a perfect summary of each of the characters from Team Avatar. Also, Korra’s BFF-relationship with Asami is continued.

ReallyWikipedia: Really is the second album by JJ Cale. It was released in 1973.

About M0rg0th

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

Posted on October 12, 2014, in Anime, Reviews, The Legend Of Korra: Book Of Balance (S04) and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. The Korrasami ship will not be denied! *defiant*

    Oddly, the thing that went through my head for the first 15-ish minutes was the worry that LoK was being…too subtle. Which is an odd reaction to have. But seeing Korra’s worries dismissed by her peers and mentors, having her read the letters of all the great things her friends are doing while she’s forced to sit in bed, it was a completely believable and honest depiction of how someone might fall into depression. It was one of those moments where you could totally hear her thoughts without them needing to be direct with it. For a (ostensibly) kids show, it was downright ballsy to enter trigger warning territory.

    Of course then the ‘hallucination Korra’ becomes more than an illusion, able to be seen by that spirit and possibly-attacking-but-it’s-unclear stuff. It would be expected, and a shame if this ends up being something Korra has to spirit punch with her spirit powers because spirit swamp. Though at least with this episode it’s easier to swallow the “it’s a metaphor” handwaving.

    Though as far as Toph’s cameo goes, I liked how Korra meets her in what is probably the spirit swamp that Aang first had a vision of her in. Though really? Same outfit? Well she is blind…

    Like

    • “The Korrasami ship will not be denied!”

      Yeah, I have to say, at this point that relationship is more likely to happen than having Korra come back together with Mako. Although I feel like that there won’t be any romantic sub-plot concerning Korra in this final season.

      “But seeing Korra’s worries dismissed by her peers and mentors, having her read the letters of all the great things her friends are doing while she’s forced to sit in bed, it was a completely believable and honest depiction of how someone might fall into depression.”

      Definitely! And with the story not really giving her much of a motivation either to get better except to… well, just do her “job”, I guess, this was a really strong internal moment for Korra. The way they handled her depression and her quest of self-discovery was really great.

      “It would be expected, and a shame if this ends up being something Korra has to spirit punch with her spirit powers because spirit swamp.”

      Well, it would fit the formula of the series that Korra needs to end the conflict with a straightforward confrontation where she can prove herself. And I really hope they are NOT going to do that. Her weakness shouldn’t be overcome by simply letting her regain all her strength after a trial. This should be used as a chance to really develop her character.

      “Though as far as Toph’s cameo goes, I liked how Korra meets her in what is probably the spirit swamp that Aang first had a vision of her in. Though really? Same outfit?”

      Hmm, yeah, it’s probably that same swamp. I’m really curious to see where this meeting with Toph is supposed to go. Hopefully it’s not like those “cameos” from the third season whose advice wasn’t that helpful actually.

      Like

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