The Legend Of Korra: Book Of Balance – 11 Review
The series is coming to a close… *sigh* Grant you, it’s not like I’m the biggest fan of what Legend Of Korra has done during its run. Especially Korra’s arc over the course of this series still feels like a trainwreck because of how underdeveloped it was until the third season and how the fourth season wasn’t radical enough in actually committing to the extreme developments at the end of the third season. Unless this finale is as good as the the one of the third season I still don’t see myself recommending this series. There are a lot of good things in this series but none so far are good enough to make me want to say to someone “Hey, you need to see those 30+-episodes of this show…!”. This show is still flawed but it has moments where it shines.
The tenth episode of this season is a solid preparation for the finale. The stakes are presented, the characters get into position for the final confrontation and the stage is set by introducing a nice-looking mecha (reminiscent of the ones used in Neon Genesis Evangelion design-wise). This episode does all the groundwork for the finale but it still doesn’t feel like it forces the plot to come to a screeching halt in order to heighten the tension. And the reason for that is the greatest strength of this series: Its characters.
But let’s talk about Kuvira first. At this point, I think, it’s fair to judge her performance as the villain of this season. Legend Of Korra always had specific villains for each season that weren’t part of some sort of hierarchy like in Last Airbender. The first series treated its villains as subordinates of the “Real Evil” which Aang confronted in the end and this led to some very inspired characterizations for the villainous characters – or at least it led to interesting character-arcs as far as Zuko is concerned. In Legend Of Korra they always tried to have a villain for each season that was somewhat meaningful. I’ve talked about this before but this series ultimately always failed at actually making the complexity work it introduced at the start of the season. This series always sought to be more meaningful than it ended up to be when it comes to its villains. So, how does Kuvira fare in that regard?
The biggest problem with Kuvira, the villain, isn’t herself, but what she represents. She isn’t supposed to be some villain running around doing evil, she’s supposed to be a leader, someone who gets shit done in a time when shit needs getting done. Basically she’s a dictator and the lesson of dictatorship isn’t that dissimilar to how monarchy ended (although there are a lot of differences between the two forms of rulership, mind you): In the end you’re trusting ONE (maybe even exceptional) person to be able to be a fair ruler for thousands or even millions of people. And that person is just overwhelmed by all the expectations and needs to do right, so what happens is that this one person will try to pursue the “greater good” and somewhere along the way people will realizes what this “greater good” really means and then all of a sudden the dude who was a hero, who became the ruler of a nation, has become the villain. (Of course the historical, original version of this interpretation is far more complicated AND more fucked up than what I say in regards to Kuvira here.) Kuvira is the sort of villain that doesn’t exist because of her own evil intentions but because of her own ideals created by the masses.
And that’s where her portrayal as a villain becomes somewhat flawed. She’s portrayed as the savior of the Earth-Kingdom which she later turns into the Earth-Empire ruled by her – but we, as the audience, see none of that. It just happens. She starts the season with a giant-ass army who can go around conquering Earth-Kingdom-provinces one by one. And from that point on we really only see Kuvira, the individual, but never Kuvira, the dictator. There are only small hints at what horrible things she’s doing when Bolin and Varrick encounter some people who have escaped one of those “reeducation-camps”. But the series avoids turning Kuvira into Hitler. It’s a good thing. Drawing parallels to Hitler would’ve been a sledgehammer in terms of showing off the historical role of dictators around the 30’s and 40’s of the 20th century. At the same time, though, Kuvira ends up looking evil only because she’s deliberately doing evil stuff now and not because she started out doing evil stuff. Legend Of Korra was never good with complex storytelling and so the solution of this season is to just hint at stuff.
The episode’s opening moments show off this “solution” as Kuvira gives a short speech to her troops in Zaofu and everybody cheers. Who’s everybody? Where did all those troops come from? Those elements are deemed irrelevant in this series and once again Legend Of Korra undermines its rather complex dramatic setup it had presented at the start of the season. Instead of explaining how Kuvira could’ve become the dictatorial leader of the Earth-Empire, it simply accepts this as the state of things. Actually, that’s a thing all those villains in this series have in common: Whenever they appears, they appear with wide support. And sure, there are complicated reasons for why those people follow that villain but in the end… it’s still just a confrontation between Korra and the villain. In the end, all the complications really don’t mean anything because Korra just ends her cycle by reaffirming her omnipotence due to how she kicks the villain’s ass.
So after all that you may wonder why I still like this series and it’s because of its characterizations. Even if the epic stuff really doesn’t work in Legend Of Korra, the personal stuff always works (at least, when the series actually pays attention to it… yeah, I’m looking at you, season two!). This series rarely misses a beat in showing off the individual characterizations of its cast and thanks to that the series is always very poignant whenever it focuses on its characters rather than its plot or story.
The more amusing character-beat of this episode is Zhu Li basically being angry about how Varrick still doesn’t recognize her as his equal. It’s a bit of a pity that this series doesn’t have more time to explore this relationship because right it’s just this plucky, charming relationship without a lot of depth. I mean… is Zhu Li as good as Varrick? Who knows… the series never really seemed to push the notion that Varrick didn’t have an assistant in Zhu Li but rather someone who was as smart as him. The undertones of this confrontation between Zhu Li and Varrick actually seem more romantically motivated than anything else. This isn’t about about Zhu Li proving her worth, this is about Varrick recognizing her as a possible romantic partner. Actually, this is once again one of those examples where the series avoided the complications of addressing all the questions it had raised by rather going for a simpler answer. By tying Zhu Li’s recognition as an equal to Varrick to some romantic undertones, it’s basically turned into a personal issue rather than a gender-based one. (Still, it needs to be said that this series is actually one of the few series who handle gender-equality pretty well.)
What the other characters do in this episode is far more compelling, though. First, there’s of course the comic-relief-moment of this episode when Mako fails to calm down the public of Republic City with his overly complicated instructions but it’s rather Prince Wu’s emotional little speech that does the trick and a couple little montages show how Prince Wu helps the evacuation-efforts of the city. Prince Wu’s transition from being a complete idiot to “Actually, you have a bit of a talent for handling the public.” is a fairly natural one actually. As long as the new “Earth-Kingdom” goes for one of those constitutional, parliament-controlled models, it’s actually possible to imagine Prince Wu as a good king for the Earth-Kingdom.
The more important character-development is Korra, of course, although it’s a REALLY subtle one. Essentially she just deals with the situation. There’s no panicking, moping or whatever, she just does what is necessary (without compromising most of her ideals). More than that, the people around her have started to accept her wisdom on the subject of solving conflicts. I still don’t like her character-arc over the course of the last few seasons but it’s good to see her take responsibility for her actions with other characters accepting that.
And so the episode leads to the abduction of Baatar Jr., the husband of Kuvira which then leads to a VERY subtle character-moment. Essentially Korra threatens Baatar to just keep him from reuniting with Kuvira and since this is too much to take for him he actually pleads to Kuvira to stop with her war on Republic City. But I’ve REALLY liked this predictable moment of Kuvira basically being disappointed by how her fiancée gave in and failed to live up to her standards. At that point, the best he could do was to end up as a glorified sacrifice for her agenda. And this moment once again showed how little time you actually need for a good characterization. With good voice-acting on one side and good script-writing on the other, you actually don’t need a lot of exposition to present good characters to the audience and the most important thing is that if a series does it right, it has more time to focus on other stuff besides characterizations while still shining in that regard. Of course, the production-cycle of a series is seldom so fortuitous as to actually make use of such circumstances.
This is a great episode for this season. It does everything it’s supposed to do and infuses it with the spirit of the series’ good characterizations. Naturally, once again this series fails to present a finale that’s as complex as you would expect it to be after seeing the first act of this season. This series still exceeds at characterizations, though, and thanks to that it can even transform mediocre plots into a compelling story by making it reliant on our investment in the characters. I want to know where this series is going with its finale and I really hope it will be satisfying.
- I assume that Kuvira appearing earlier than expected on the border of Republic City is a reference to the First World War. During the latter half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, one of the dominant theories among warfare-theories was that logistics is the most important element of war. The pervasive idea during that time was that when you were the first to arrive on the battlefield you had a huge advantage and thanks to railroads, cars and whatnot, this was actually possible. In the end, it was all about logistics and… well, read a history-book about WWI. Believe me, that whole thing is a way more complex story than what Legend Of Korra has presented here.
- That moment Korra tried to threaten Baatar Jr. was also unbelievable for me. After all, Korra is hardly known for decisive actions… except when it comes to moping.
- The short still scenes of Prince Wu (and others) helping people to evacuate were nice in terms of atmosphere but I don’t really think they were necessary. If that’s all you want to do with that idea, just telling me that’s happening will be enough.
- I wish this series had more time in exploring the realization of how insignificant individual benders have become in modern wars thanks to technological progress.
- Really, this would’ve been far more interesting if it would’ve been all about Korra trying to balance traditions with progressive ideas while a war is happening in the background of that conflict.
Posted on December 13, 2014, in Anime, Reviews, The Legend Of Korra: Book Of Balance (S04) and tagged Anime, book of balance, cartoon, Legend Of Korra, reviews, S04. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.