The Legend Of Korra: Book Of Balance – 10 Review
It’s a bit weird to think of how this series will end in a couple episodes. I mean, sure, Legend of Korra had four seasons but it certainly doesn’t feel like that. And in this instance, this isn’t a positive thing. As I have mentioned many times before it really comes down to the lack of decisive character-development for Korra. The main-character of this series just never developed in a way to stay interesting throughout the seasons. Even the drastic ending of the third season wasn’t enough to push the writers of this fourth season to get Korra to move forward. Like always, all the development this series has shown were babysteps. So why do I keep watching this series if I really don’t like the (lack of) character-development of its main-character? Well, it’s because of episodes like this one.
Balance is indeed the watchword for this episode as it very effectively balances story, plot and characterization. Any good episode of Legend of Korra relies on characterization and it isn’t always a safe bet that the story and plot will be equally interesting. If you look at the third season, you can actually notice how the season may flourish overall as it focuses on characterization but the Zaheer-plot wasn’t particularly interesting (despite its potential) during the season. Add to that a concentration on more episodic stories and the whole third season, while being great, didn’t feel great because of its plot. It was only during the finale when the plot and story of the season actually became really important again. And it was a great finale, I have to admit. With that in mind it’s easy to believe that Legend of Korra’s strength is really only utilized when the series focuses on characterization but episodes like this one show glimpses of a far greater potential.
One thing this episode proves is that it’s always better to keep a plot on a very basic level. What’s happening at any point during a story should never overwhelm the audience or make the story seem convoluted. And this episode addresses this point quite nicely by opening with a mission-statement. As Opal, Bolin and Lin land, they think about rescuing Su and the rest of her family. That’s when Toph suddenly appears and for the first time I’ve felt like one of the old characters from The Last Airbender has been used as something other than a lame cameo. But back to the plot… The really great thing is how the episode actually keeps the plot not only moving but its structure is also very straightforward and easy to follow.
The difference between plot-convenience and a good smooth plot is that it never feels like the solution to a problem feels shoehorned in. Last week’s episode was good in the same manner. By giving the plot a good structure the story feels like it has a good timing. And I mean, that’s why fictional stories can be so much more poignant and impactful than real life. With a fictional story you can set up the events to underscore what’s going on instead of leaving it to chance or unexpected developments. Like that, this episode never feels pointless or disorienting. No matter what scene you’re watching, you always know what’s going on. The point of the whole episode is clearly established at the beginning and then the episode puts all the pieces into position for the action without much debate or unnecessary build-up. The episode’s story wants to do something and the episode just does it. That’s where the effectiveness comes in as this rather basic plot is kept basic and is dealt with in a straightforward manner. There are no unnecessary complications for the sake of a cheesy plottwist, this episode just heads straight for the finishline and it makes a lot of things much better.
One way this episode benefits from this straightforward, simple plot is to have a lot of space for other stuff. And that’s where the characterizations come into play. What this episode has done with its characters is EXACTLY what I would wish this series would do more often. There’s a lot of subtext with the discussions between the characters and there’s a purpose to this subtext which leads to actual character-development. And it’s very important to notice how you actually don’t need a lot of time for these good characterizations.
The first thing is that all the characters don’t do anything unusual and feel like the characters we know. At this stage you have developed a certain trust and expectation of what those characters might do in certain situations and Legend of Korra always had a good handle on its characters in that regard. So, this series has always managed to do this thing where you just read a line and you’re able to say which character would possibly say such a line. Legend of Korra has always done this stuff right. The next thing is that characters will reference the past as a way to show off their experiences and the knowledge they’ve learned. This is a good way to tie present events of the past and create character-based plot-devices and it’s very effectively used here to show how Bolin helps the mission for example. The last challenge for characterizations is to actually give those characterizations layers so that there’s a point to exploring those characters.
It’s especially the third point this episode excels at as can be seen in the dialogue between Lin, Toph and Bolin. On paper it could’ve been a very cheesy, melodramatic scene but this episode handles this scene very well. It starts with Bolin gushing about his admiration for Toph which is a direct continuation of what the episode had established in the first few minutes of the episode. But then it’s Bolin who actually starts the real topic of that scene by innocently asking who Lin’s dad is. And the great thing about Toph’s reaction there is that Lin’s first reaction is nonverbal. It’s weird how rare it is for animated series to not use nonverbal reactions and not let them explode into an outburst immediately. The few more seconds of patience in this scene where Lin still remains silent while reacting to Toph’s words are actually very good build-up for her eventual outburst.
And I’ve mentioned this already but Toph’s presence in this episode was actually worthwhile for once. No other The-Last-Airbender-cameo in Legend Of Korra felt that potent. After all, those cameos from the The Last Airbender series were never treated like characters. They just fulfilled certain roles and after they had fulfilled their specific role they would just disappear again. But Toph is an actual character in this episode who has her own motivation and isn’t just playing this superficial support-role. This episode actually is a great example of how you can integrate these cameos into your story. Toph is an integral part of this episode instead of performing just this tacked-on role that clearly marks her as a plot-device.
But the direction of this episode was also really good. It wasn’t only within individual scenes that the timing and characterization seemed very effective, this episode also didn’t get lost despite dealing with events in Republic-City as well. And in connection to that there’s a very poignant scene where Korra tries to ask the spirits for help. That’s the kind of subversion I wanted! That’s the kind of subversion I had expected to see when at the end of the third season ended up in a wheelchair! But instead Korra got put into yet another cycle of having to regain her lost power. Anyway, this scene in this episode actually explains to Korra that her wanting the support of the spirits is just a nicer way of weaponizing spirits for the sake of mankind. And that the spirits actually just retreated from the human world saying “Yeah, we don’t care, that isn’t our business.”. The series never really explored the relationship between spirits and humanity after the second season but little moments like this one are already enough to describe the relationship between the two. Korra may plead for spirits and humans to work together but she hasn’t really done anything to support such a relationship after all (which is a bit of an unfair accusation but you know, it is what it is).
What sweetened the deal of course was the presence of a lengthy fighting-sequence. And holy shit, what a great fighting sequence! I’ve talked in one of my Fate/Stay Night reviews about how good battle-scenes need a good sense of movement and Legend of Korra’s better fighting-scenes have that in spades! What makes fighting-scenes like this one in this episode great isn’t only the sense of movement, though; it’s also the creativity of making the shown movements feel like a dance of opposition. By giving the maneuvers a lot of variation you give the battle a dynamic sense of progress which makes watching even lengthy fighting-sequences an exciting experience.
And the really remarkable thing is that it ALSO has set up the finale of this series. This episode has been one of the best this season for its sheer effectiveness to cram as much content as possible into one episode without damaging any of its intentions. In fact, I would say the condensed format which this episode had chosen has done wonders for the quality of this episode. No moment of this episode isn’t entertaining or is wasted, it all serves a purpose.
- The Zhu-Li-plot was predictable and the episode rightly didn’t spend a lot of time focusing on that one. I mean, they missed the chance to give Zhu-Li more depth with that plot and explore her relationship with Varrick. But that stuff wasn’t really necessary in this episode and so I’m fine with this episode not taking this road.
- Another nice, subtle character-moment was when Kuvira’s husband (who’s the son of Su) cried out for the experiment to stop when he saw that Opal was with Zhu-Li who’s being targeted by the super-weapon.
- The concept of the prison for Su and her family was obviously inspired by the prisons the White Lotus had built for the Red Lotus and it was a nice callback (which was made even better by not unnecessarily mentioning it).
- One thing I really didn’t like about this episode was the revelation that Kuvira planned to attack Republic City. I mean, sure, I get it. This is a series and Kuvira’s the villain and the finale is near… but storywise… Why would Kuvira start a war with Republic City? They really plan to make her a crazy dictator, don’t they?
- Isn’t it also weird how little time this season has spent on exploring the horrors Kuvira has unleashed on her “Earth-Empire”? In fact, I still have no idea how she even can be the leader of an empire. We have never seen her do any genuine governing. Then again, I’ve already talked about how Legend Of Korra always has dropped the ball when it comes to resolving complex issues at the end (the third season’s ending being the exception here).