The Legend Of Korra: Book Of Balance – 03 Review

Korra 040301

 

Okay, I don’t really know what else to write here as an introduction so let’s just continue with the ridiculous, overblown version of “What if Korra had lost her powers and had been treated like a Rocky-reference?”. So… the first season Korra had lost most of her phyiscal prowess but still she faced some arrogant pro-bending-champion and kicked his ass. Everybody loves her again! She even buys Tenzin a talking robot as a birthday-present! But it turns out, the tumultuous Earth-Kingdom has sent the incompetent Queen into an exile during a violent revolution and now the people rule! Naturally that makes the Earth-Union a big threat to the capitalistic Republic-City! Korra doesn’t want to get involved in politics but that’s when she talks with Bolin who doesn’t know what to do with his life after all the adventures he had with Korra. He wants to show the world that his time in the limelight isn’t over – and so he challenges one of the Earth-Unions strongest pro-benders, Lizard, to a fight! Korra is reluctant to get involved in this fight but then agrees to be on the sidelines to offer him advice during the breaks between rounds and whatnot. The fight is a disaster… Bolin gets destroyed! More than that – he dies! She blames herself for this and so she vows revenge. And with that she goes training in the spirit-world away from all of her friends and family. While that champion from the Earth-Union Lizard is basically training to become the first Cosmonaut of the Avatar-univers that also being pumped full of steroids, Korra does traditional, clean training to get herself in shape for the final big battle! And so in the end they face each other! And Korra has no chance against him. She’s not as strong, not as fast and not as experienced in pro-bending. And the crowd in that Earth-Union-stadium loves how Lizard is dominating the fight. But then round for round passes and Korra is not getting thrown off the plateau, round for round she gets pummelled and yet she never gives up! And that’s when the people from the Earth-Union start cheering for Korra instead of Lizard. Inspired by the audience Korra starts a comeback and slowly step by step pushes Lizard back and ultimately throws Lizard off the platform. The crowd cheers and even the politicians from the Earth-Union tear up at this display of perseverance and courage! And in the end Korra proclaims that this fight has shown her that change is possible for all people. everyone can become a better version of themselves tomorrow as long as they would strive for that! And with that the second season ends.

Review:

Last week’s episode was great, it was one of the best of this series and still I really don’t feel like it’s the kind of episode Legend Of Korra SHOULD have at this point. We have it all seen before! Korra, who’s generally powerful and proud of her power, being rendered powerless is something this series has used as a plothook time and time again. And it’s always on a physical level! This second episode may have offered the best version of that struggle but it’s a struggle that Korra has faced countless times in this series. The really big problem isn’t even the repetition but that in the fourth season we still see Korra stressing over the same problems she has faced in the first season. Korra as a character was never really developed beyond a point where her struggles could leave this physical interpretation of power. In fact, most of the nuances Korra has as a character stem from Janet Varney’s performance here. The character itself isn’t half as complex as she should be after three seasons. And with that in mind the second episode’s greatness firmly lands in “too little, too late”-territory.

Korra’s arc naturally continues towards recovery in this episode and despite a lengthy conversation, the scenes were mostly about showing off Toph’s character and personality. And she does have a great personality! I love cynical characters and Toph’s right up my alley in that regard. Actually Korra should’ve met Toph a whole lot sooner who turns out to be the right person for all the whiny bullshit Korra usually spouts. With Korra it’s always about the image she projects onto herself instead of accepting any sort of reality. She isn’t the Avatar, she NEEDS to be the Avatar. She isn’t strong, she NEEDS to be strong. Korra’s just playing around with the toys she’s being offered and she’s proud of them because nobody else on the playground has the same toys. It’s childish and it’s a bit unfair towards Korra’s character at this point… you would think. But no, here we are yet again in a situation where Korra needs to learn some lesson about what it means to be an Avatar. Only this time around, it’s concentrated on the issue of the danger that comes with the job apparently. On the whole it’s only a differed dress-up for the same issue of that being an Avatar isn’t easy, that the series has already addressed during the first and second season. Actually, during the third season it really seemed like Korra was prepared to deal with her duties. Now apparently we are back to square one on this topic, it seems.

Another voice-performance that stands out, though, is Zelda Williams’ performance as Kuvira who really sells her character’s toughness and willingness to achieve her goals no matter what it takes. In this episode she reveals her intentions to rule the Earth-Kingdom herself and to denounce the marionette-king Wu. I feel like this is the first time anyone has called Kuvira a dictator as well. It’s obvious that this is the historical topic this series is going for and it’s a bit of a balancing-act naturally. I mean, it IS an important historical topic for the reservoir of historical references Legend Of Korra draws from but then again: You don’t want to re-create Hitler and Nazi-Germany, either. Setting aside how far this series would have to go for this reference, it would also seem kinda cheesy. I mean, the reality was far from cheesy but in the world of fiction using Nazis as a reference for villains isn’t really the most interesting plothook. And in that regard this season does the right thing in toning down the more evil implications of the dictatorship-reference while concentrating on how the Avatar-universe would have a dictator.

At the same time, though, I really felt like the series dialed back the complexity of its situation a bit here. The essential conflict is that the Queen of the Earth Kingdom was killed and so the whole Earth-Kingdom dissolved into a state of anarchy. And so this ambitious general Kuvira started uniting the Earth-Kingdom again with military-force. Also, she was apparently sort-of hired by Republic-City-officials to do that. So, she does exactly that and she does it very successfully. Except… she makes every province swear loyalty to HERSELF personally. As shown in the first episode she didn’t establish order in the Earth-Kingdom, she conquered an empire for herself!

Meanwhile, though, there’s a prince-in-exile hanging around in Republic City waiting to be crowned and take his rightful place as the new ruler of the Earth-Kingdom. He’s a total buffoon, though, and is completely disconnected from the plight of the people he’s supposed to rule. And here’s the part this episode weirdly downplays: He isn’t meant to rule the Earth-Kingdom. In fact, the conflict I see here isn’t between whether some idiot like Wu will rule the Earth-Kingdom or a dictator like Kuvira, the actual conflict is between Kuvira and Republic City. After all, Wu is not only incapable to rule the Earth-Kingdom correctly, he’s unable to since he’s willing to leave all the decisions to the ministers handpicked by Republic City! The Earth-Kingdom could be practically just a puppet-state of Republic City! So when Kuvira warns rather aggressively foreign powers to stay out of the Earth-Kingdom she does have a point somewhat. Although, it’s certainly not very diplomatic or intelligent to be as blunt as Kuvira has been during that speech which just exemplifies her villainous nature.

And the way this episode downplayed the actual problem, it entered a bit of a stalemate. The way the arguments went in this episode neither side was right. I don’t know whether the series wants to keep some of the more poignant arguments for later but the episode does ring hollow when the story isn’t prepared to show all the facets of the established facts. It really feels like the situation has become a tad too complex for what this show is going for. Or I guess, it has yet again a situation where it couldn’t deal with the complex situations it has set up while maintaining the identity of a kids-show.

That has always been one of the big problems of this show, I feel like. After Avatar: The Last Airbender it had become clear that this has become a show watched by ALL ages. It wasn’t just a kids-show, it was a show that also appealed to adults. Considering the depth of the first season’s villain and theme, I really feel like the series had indeed embraced that. But as in the first season the show simply can’t go the whole way with its complex adult-themes. And so there are always these little tidbits that get dumbed down in the story to simplify things. It’s stuff like this episode being VERY obvious about establishing that Kuvira is the villain while at the same time showing off the stupidity of Wu as the alternative where you’re not really sure whether this series wants you to be unsure of what’s going on or whether the series is counting on you getting what’s going on. The produced confusion of the former and the “Okay, I get it, so what else do you have to say?”-impatience of the latter are simply a product of this series really being on the edge between a kids-show and an adult/older teenagers-show. I would say that the series is more in the territory of the latter but it also doesn’t do enough to leave the territory of the former. I mean, maybe that’s the problem with having a series like A:TLA having such universal success. At that point you gotta ask yourself: Who is this show for? If you look at the success of the first series, you could almost say “Everyone.” but where do you go from there?

The answer is apparently an odyssey. This series’ third season has been great and this fourth season has also been great so far but whenever I feel like proclaiming my love for this series, I’m reminded that it had two whole seasons of stuff I didn’t really care for that much. It’s a real pity but these two last seasons live in the shadow of these rather mediocre two seasons (with the second one being the worse one of the two). This series needed two seasons to find itself and do stuff with its characters that would merit anyone’s attention. But it kept going and sure it had improved a lot during the third season. Although, I would say, the first two seasons did SO little for the series as a whole that the third season should’ve been even more radical in establishing a new status-quo. The first two seasons aren’t even personal baggage for this series. The series just sort-of acknowledges the characters that were introduced in it and references the events of it in broad strokes. Aside from that, though, the third and fourth season so far really have not a lot to build on from those two seasons. Just beginning with the rather self-contained nature of the stories portrayed in those first two seasons, you can already see how much the third season’s ending was improved by not acting like everything needed to be wrapped up at the end. Of course, I wouldn’t put it past Nickelodeon to have pressured the creative team behind the series to think during the first two seasons that the series could be cancelled at any point. In the end rather than calling The Legend Of Korra a great series you have to say “It has become a great series.”.

Episode-Rating: 7.5/10
Random Thoughts:

  • Oh boy, I hope this season doesn’t continue this trend but… Asami’s simply non-existent in this episode.
  • For someone who had just announced a coup d’etat publicly, Kuvira seems strangely unaware of her actual situation. Apparently she’s delusional to the point where she believes she’s just doing what’s best for the “Earth-Kingdom”.
  • So… all Korra needs to do to regain her former strength is to learn some valuable lessons and that’s it? I figured her weakness was more something of a permanent thingy and the lessons would be about her finding a way to accept that. But I guess, we just go back to the usual formula of her regaining her power here.
  • Splitting the action between the Republic-City-storyline and the Korra-storyline hasn’t done this episode any favors. Mostly because the former has been rather predictable for me and the latter wasn’t very eventful.

About M0rg0th

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

Posted on October 17, 2014, in Anime, Reviews, The Legend Of Korra: Book Of Balance (S04) and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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