The Legend Of Korra: Book Of Balance – 12/13 Review
And this is the last episode, THE last episode of this series. I’m not the biggest fan of this series but these last two seasons were great. It’s a bit sad to see this series end after it has finally found itself after two seasons but four seasons is already more than what I would have expected after having seen the first season. I’m certainly interested to see what the next project of Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, the creators of the Avatar-universe, will be. It certainly won’t be Avatar-related and it’s understandable. After all, they started with Avatar: The Last Airbender and then did a sequel of sorts to that. Who knows how their style will translate to a series of a different genre or maybe they will create a new universe for an adventure-like epic story.
This fourth season has been trying very hard to find a fitting ending for this series and it’s mostly successful in this regard. I’ve liked the third season more but this one is nearly just as good. And still I wouldn’t recommend this series. The third season and this one have done a whole lot to improve this series and actually make it really enjoyable. But I really feel like the shortest way to describe the weakest point of these two latter seasons is “too little, too late”. The ending of the third season was exactly the kind of extreme measures this series needed to take in order to go somewhere with the characters. This fourth season tried to sell the idea that all the villains had a bigger point to convey but it’s a rather weak one – mostly because this is an idea that at most was invented during the third season. Or at least that’s what it feels like.
In contrast to the previous season this one was very conscious of its story (instead of its characters) at every moment. The first couple episodes focused on the return of Korra while Kuvira tightened her grip on the Earth-Kingdom (which was now the Earth-Empire). Then the first confrontations between Kuvira and Team Avatar followed. And it’s really a sign of how great the writing in this series is that despite “losing” an episode due to sudden budget-cuts, the rest of the season neither feels rushed nor feels cheap. This doesn’t really make the recap-episode a good one but it didn’t damage the series one bit. Actually the episodes that followed were all great at keeping its various storylines alive while also nailing the little character-moments which were necessary to stay invested in the action.
Good chara-designs, good animation, art-style and good characterizations are essentially what fuel the first half of this finale. And it really works. The third season had a similar approach for its finale by having a big battle as the key-element of the finale’s plot. This section is very good in not only selling the destruction Kuvira’s mecha can cause but also how desperate the countermeasures of Team Avatar are. The countermeasures get more epic with each attempt and ultimately someone has to sacrifice himself in order to give Team Avatar a chance to take down the mecha.
The sacrifice is one of the least effective moments of this finale. Remember the last time Asami’s dad has appeared? Yep, earlier in the season we saw Asami forgiving her father for his crimes and here he gets a chance at redemption. It’s a very simplistic dramatic arc and the emotional undercurrents of that scene were further undermined by this being Asami’s dad. I mean, Asami is the most underdeveloped, important side-character of this series. Also, the whole thing was rather predictable in how long it took for Asami’s dad to push the eject-button for Asami. But that was really only one tiny moment in an otherwise really engaging action-sequence.
And it’s good that Asami’s dad had been the only one who sacrificed himself. Mako was close to sacrificing himself and in general there were a lot of big explosions where it would’ve been understandable to show anyone being hurt badly in the aftermath of such explosions. It was tense but now thinking about it, what seems more annoying isn’t that there were multiple cheesy sacrifices but just how little Team Avatar was hurt by all those explosions. I know, this is still supposed to be a show that even children can watch but come on: Those characters had to face A LOT of hazardous situations. And apparently the only one who got hurt was Mako and Asami’s dad (who died).
The most interesting element of this action-sequence is the confrontation between Korra and Kuvira. It’s weird to look back on this season and notice how Korra has always struggled to get the poison out of her body but ultimately her problem was apparently more a mental one than a physical one. And that is only because the physical damage apparently can’t be healed. Even during the second confrontation Korra was sure to lose. With one episode having to be sacrificed due to budget-cuts, this series didn’t have a lot of spare-time, of course, but I wished they would’ve delved more into how Korra actually internalizes all the advice she has gotten over the course of this season. Whenever Korra tackled her “situation” the scenes were more about repeating this typical Korra-cycle of somehow regaining her powers, and that all this had been a futile journey is a great notion but one this season didn’t really have time to explore. Instead we got multiple scenes of Korra just not getting what was going on with her and the acceptance of her situation came without any poignant scenes or character-moments. The characters who advised her basically just described the internal journey she should go on but we never saw Korra actually going on that journey by herself.
And still it’s a great development that Korra ultimately didn’t “win” against Kuvira. The conflict wasn’t solved by her beating the shit out of the evil guy. Rather in the end it’s really just compassion that brings down Kuvira. It’s a cheesy line to say that love conquers all but the way Kuvira ends up losing the battle is very subtle. While fleeing into the spirit-vine-forest she discovers her gun and thanks to the surrounding spirit-vines, the weapon goes haywire and basically turns into a “nuclear bomb”. Kuvira was always bent on just winning the battle but then when things go wrong and is unable to turn off her weapon she faces certain death for the first time – except Korra is saving her life. And then they end up in the spirit-world as the giant explosion has created a new spirit-gate.
The dialogue that follows is the pivotal moment of the confrontation between Korra and Kuvira. What really sells this scene is less the dialogue itself but the body-language and voice-acting of both Zelda Williams and Janet Varney. Korra empathizes with Kuvira’s goals and struggles but also reprimands her for letting her problems push her down that road where she ended up being a villain. At the beginning of the dialogue Kuvira just cowers before a standing Korra and is full of spite and stubbornness but as the dialogue progresses and Korra, never once getting angry, articulates her understanding for why Kuvira has acted the way she did, Korra is suddenly sitting down as well and actually lowers her head a little bit. Rather than expressing the anger and self-righteousness the Korra of the first two seasons would’ve expressed she just pities Kuvira for having done the things she has done while ignoring the voice of her conscience. And it’s great to see a villain actually giving up at such a moment. The more stereotypical development would’ve been for Kuvira to get angry and be evil for evil’s sake rather than see reason. It’s a great way to show actually a victory that feels like something a matured Korra would go for.
And this is the point, though, where I will have to reiterate how this is just “too little, too late”. Actually, I feel like we’ve already reached that point with the third season where Korra already wasn’t the rather annoying, headstrong girl she had been during the first two seasons. And while the third and fourth seasons have done a lot to improve Korra’s character, the first two seasons were a weak foundation for a fulfilling character-arc that would span the whole series rather than just singular seasons. The third season and this one have been great but they didn’t really do enough to change the bad stuff that were leftovers from the first two seasons.
In fact, even the great third and fourth seasons couldn’t solve one of the biggest problem-cases of this series: Asami. I mean, what the final moments of this series show is a rather strong indication of a homosexual romance between Korra and Asami. I’ve talked about this before but the reason why that moment of blushing from a few episodes ago might’ve been a teaser is because the series hasn’t really spent a whole lot of time developing the relationship between the two. I also said that they might as well go for the romance because that’s at least one way to define their relationship and it really seems like the series went for that one. Seriously this really isn’t a depiction of a good friendship anymore when two people insist on a vacation alone while beginning said one holding hands. If Asami had been a well-developed characters this actually might have been a great moment where Korra and Asami sort-of accept their closeness that was only subconsciously expressed before. As things are, this dalliance between Korra and Asami is more or less an invention of this fourth season. I just can’t say if this turn of events either fits Asami’s character or just doesn’t. Asami’s character is just too underdeveloped for one of those options to make more sense than the other.
Ultimately this season has ended on a good note. This finale has been great. The season has been somewhat great as well. But the series as a whole…? Despite this fourth season’s attempts to link all the previous seasons with this one, the whole notion of it never rang true for me. And it doesn’t help that Korra’s journey as a character basically was a coming-of-age-story with all the trials and tribulations of a brat not knowing what to do with her life until she had learned all those pesky little lessons life throws at you in these kinds of stories. And it doesn’t help that the series really only explored Korra becoming more mature with the start of the third season. In the first two seasons Korra’s immature behavior was used as a plot- and story-device. It took far too long for this series to realize that nobody wanted to see Korra win the day despite herself.
The Korra of the third and fourth season that wanted to do better was far more compelling to watch but those two seasons never had enough time to really delve into these issues. What happened in the third season was really just housecleaning as it focused more on exploring the entirety of the cast (with the exception of Asami, of course) and that was great. Naturally Korra just had become a somewhat better person all of a sudden in the third season and then she got poisoned by Zaheer. The third season saw Korra taking a step into the right direction and thanks to the trauma of the poisoning Korra immediately took three steps backwards in terms of character-development.
In the fourth season Korra abandoned her duties and struggled with her loss of power. Until then Korra’s physical supremacy had been one of her trademarks. And she does this and that in order to remove the rest of the poison so that she would regain her strength. Meanwhile, everyone helping her along the way is telling her that her loss of physical power is as much a mental problem. That’s when this finale proposes the idea that Korra had needed to suffer the impotence imposed by the poison in order to understand Kuvira’s troubles. First of all, I don’t think that logic holds up when closely examined unless Korra thinks she was fated to understand Kuvira and in order to do that she had needed to go through the “trial of the poisoning”. Rather than having Korra regain her power (for the millionth time since this series has been beating that drum A LOT since the start), Korra finally just didn’t get her power get but instead simply became a better person. Four seasons and we finally got a Korra that not only takes her job seriously but also tries to be a good person while doing it. Usually it’s a bit cheesy to annotate an ending with “This is just the beginning.” but seriously… It took this series four seasons to reach a point it should’ve reached at the end of the second season. But the first two seasons were mediocre at best and so the other two seasons picked up the slack and at least got the series to a point it should’ve already reached during the second season at least. This is one of those series with a better second half but the second half really isn’t good enough to redeem the series for its rather weak first half.
- Varrick really stole the show this season. Before this season he always has been a very entertaining side-character and this season rightly gives him a lot more attention. John Michael Higgins’ stellar voice-acting and the manic characterization of Varrick really made this character one of the consistently most entertaining elements of this season. Varrick’s romantic arc with Zhu Li may be more sentimental than anything else but it still is a rather effective arc thanks to how effective Varrick as a character is.
- Prince Wu has been a character that has improved during the course of this season. Although I don’t really like how the second half of this season has made it a running gag for Prince Wu to say sensible things to the surprise of everyone present. I mean, we never learned just how exactly he suddenly gains these wise, inspired ideas. He was less annoying because that running gag but it didn’t really sell me on the idea of him as a full-developed character.
- I wonder if Nickelodeon will try to sell sequel-comics like they did with The Last Airbender or whether they’re just done with this franchise. Well, considering how Nickelodeon treated this series, it wouldn’t surprise me if they just drop all the support for this franchise beyond producing DVDs/BluRays for Legend Of Korra.
Posted on December 19, 2014, in Anime, Reviews, The Legend Of Korra: Book Of Balance (S04) and tagged Anime, Avatar, book of balance, cartoon, Legend Of Korra, reviews, S04. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.