The Legend Of Korra: Book Of Balance – 06 Review

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Why is this series actually trying to be SO historical? It’s not like it’s an actual historical series – but this series is obsessed with having these historical references. And it wouldn’t be a bad thing – except this isn’t the kind of show to tackle the intricacies of dictatorship for example. Dictators are bad guys, done! Going down the path of “But maybe there’s a reason why dictators come to power in the first place and it would be prudent to investigate those reasons narratively and what it leads to…” is something for mature shows! I’m all for kids-shows tackling complex issues but you have to simplify it – from start to finish. You may argue that this series is better for having these more complex story-hooks but I feel like that’s just a waste of time if you don’t follow through with it. The simply approach would be to call dictators bad but the mature approach would be to question why dictators exist in the first place and this season raises that question definitely. It’s just that it doesn’t really seem concerned with offering good answers to this complex question. So far, this season really hasn’t inspired a lot of confidence in handling its topic in a meaningful way, though. And with this season failing to really turn Korra into an interesting character, things just go downhill from there.

Review:

Korra: Fighting is something the old me would do. That always made things worse. – Episode 05

That’s what Korra had said in the last episode and while it was attached to the naïve notion that she could simply talk things out with Kuvira, it was still a very poignant comment for how Korra wanted to change. But here we are, dealing with the same bullshit Korra had dealt with in the first season (and ever since then): Rushing into battles she can’t possible win on her own. In many ways, what this episode has proven is that despite the time with Toph Korra has learned nothing. Once again we get a season that creates drama by letting Korra be Korra.

Korra’s words in the fifth episode turned out to be prophetic ones and more than just being prophetic I can’t imagine anyone disagreeing with that sentiment. And so the lengths battle-sequence in this episode, while looking good, was simply dull due to its predictable outcome. There was no way in hell Korra could’ve even won this battle. And the notion of using the Avatar-State as a trump-card is a cheap way out. The Avatar-State shouldn’t be there to be some deus-ex-machina for every combat-situation an Avatar finds him- or herself in. So, taking that away from Korra while also generally weaken her had been a good idea to force her to change her usual approach to things. Yet, the series fails to capitalize on these developments.

The approach Korra chooses in this episode is so naïve and typical that it’s baffling to see in her a character that has gone through three seasons of dramatic conflicts. There’s no self-awareness or wisdom to her actions in this episode. The greatest thing about Korra in the third season was how small her part was in the series and also that when she appeared she actually appeared to be at ease with herself. It really felt like she had gotten used to her role and the duties that come with it. That made that gutpunch of an ending just all the more effective. But a real Korra 2.0 has never shown itself in this series and instead of developing her character due to the mental and physical trauma from the third season, this Korra is seemingly regressing to her old personality. Sure, Korra wants to talk things out with Kuvira but thinking this to be even an option is such an unrealistic notion. And what’s the alternative? Fighting, of course – again…

Even following the character-arc of Korra this season it seems weirdly ineffective that Korra’s struggles with her trauma have seemingly become an arc for the entire season. Normally I would say that’s bullshit and it’s good to spend more time on the nuances of a character-arc such as this one but like I’ve said many times already this season: Korra has NO character-development. Instead we always get the same kind of this little cycle of aggression, battle, defeat, moping and second battle/victory. And so at this point I didn’t care about the battle not only because its outcome was predictable but also because it made the whole story of this season less interesting. Maybe the season will surprise me, who knows. Right now, though, this season just isn’t very compelling and follows a path that should evoke a strong sense of déjà vu.

Thematically I also felt like the need for a fight-scene between Kuvira and Korra distracted from the actual complexities of why Kuvira is there with an army now in order to turn the whole Earth-Kingdom into Kuvira’s Earth-Empire. Then again, that’s also one of the usual problems of this show: It starts out with these really complex issues, lets simple characters fail because they are overwhelmed by the complexity of the situation – and then it all gets simplified. That’s most certainly what’s happening right now. What happens next is probably to show Kuvira’s descent into madness as the ruler of her Earth-Empire. Dictatorship didn’t simply happen because it was time for some villains to be the winners.

Also, I feel like this season kinda downplays the importance of Varrick’s spirit-vine-bomb. I mean, sure, it basically can be the nuclear bomb of the Avatar-universe. That’s the important reference we are all supposed to get here. But within the Avatar-universe wouldn’t it be kinda revolutionary to see spirits as nothing otherworldly anymore because human technology can utilize spirit-stuff? How would feel people about cute, little spirits if it comes out that some scientist can turn those into ammunition for a deathray or more importantly… can bring more luxury into their lives at the expense of these spirits? It really feels like the writers thought more about the historical reference than the fictional-world-implications in this case.

The other part of this episode was at least more entertaining. And that’s the case mostly thanks to Varrick. His character is just fun to watch. You can certainly argue that he isn’t a very deep character or compelling in a dramatic sense but he’s fun. I didn’t care at all about Korra’s fight with Kuvira but Varrick “planning” his escape from that stuck-up husband of Kuvira with the help of Bolin was great. Bolin kinda took a backseat here but thanks to his good characterization he didn’t disappear into the background.

It’s a bit weird to see Varrick like this. Before, he really was on the same level as Prince Wu as being this one-trick-pony that serves as a comic relief and that would occasionally become a plot-device. In this season, though, Varrick has become a genuinely important character within the story and he also gets a lot more screentime. It’s probably due to his popularity and like in this episode you can see why he’s that popular. Varrick is this character-type of a dysfunctional genius that is also the basis for these new Sherlock-Holmes-portrayals and The Doctor in Doctor Who for example.

I don’t want to call this episode disappointing or even bad but this has been the first time since the start of the third season that didn’t make me feel interested about what would happen in the next episode. I really don’t give a shit about all this third-act-struggle-bullshit that is probably happening in the next episode. Korra will be REALLY mopey, Opal will be all about exacting revenge no matter how useless her plans for such a thing are and the rest of Team Avatar will be also just this entangled paralyzed mess of “Oh, what are we gonna do about this…?!”. Another Toph-cameo would be nice, though, as a way to say to Korra and the rest “Yeah, Kuvira has an empire… boo-fucking-hoo! It’s not like that’s the first time this sort of thing has happened.”

Episode-Rating: 7.0/10

Random Thoughts:

  • No Asami this week. Seriously, what was all this stuff about her reconciling with her father about? That stuff didn’t seem to go anywhere in particular except that it created a very cheesy little arc for Asami in that episode.
  • I’ve already talked about how silly Korra’s decision to fight is but why does Kuvira fight…? From her past actions, I figured she would be less a warlord but more the politician and refuse a duel with Korra while pointing out that Zaofu will be taken with or without her interference.
  • Also, everybody seems to forget that if Suyin actually had succeeded in killing Kuvira, the former Earth-Kingdom would descend into chaos – again. Sure, Kuvira’s evil – but she’s also the de-facto leader of a nation. It’s really disappointing how this series once again misses out on really tackling the complexity of the situation. That stuff really is only ever complex when it’s about Team Avatar failing to save the day before the finale.

 

 

 

About M0rg0th

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

Posted on November 7, 2014, in Anime, Reviews, The Legend Of Korra: Book Of Balance (S04) and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. No character development in a Shonen style show, despite dozens of traumatic and life changing events, that would normally leave the most hardened, pragmatic Special Forces operative a shell-shocked mess? Say it ain’t so! Someone really needs to overhaul this genre.

    And on the whole fake history thing seems more to me that old worldbuilding nerd fetish. The nerds get their escapism, the executives get their money from various spin-offs and franchising.

    But I’m still going to watch this one.

    Like

    • It’s not like Korra has no character-development, she actually has that. But it gets expressed in this ever-repeating cycle and despite Korra’s growing awareness of it, she’s completely unable to escape that cycle. And while this could be an interesting theme, instead it feels more like Korra is stuck in her progression and the storytelling lacks the subtlety to actually deal with that fact. In addition it seems like it isn’t clear to the writers what a Korra who had escaped that cycle would be like.

      “the executives get their money from various spin-offs and franchising.”

      Well, spin-offs probably won’t happen because Nickelodeon got tired of this show already during season 03 which is the reason it took it off the air presumably (officially there still isn’t an explanation for those events). And Avatar: The Last Airbender as well as this series were sort-of “ordered” by Nickelodeon. Nick wanted some fantasy-epic series and the pitch of Avatar was the one they went with. And Legend of Korra was basically just the result of the popularity of the first series. Also, the creative team behind this series wants to pursue other projects.

      So in that regard this will probably be the last thing in the Avatar-franchise for a REALLY long time.

      Like

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