The Legend of Korra

⭐⭐⭐½ based on 4 reviews.

tl;dr: A more-than-worthy successor to the brilliant The Last Airbender and a hugely imaginative show with a strong central core all of its own. With excellent world-building, brilliant characters, more mature themes, and some genuinely interesting, unique stories to tell, my only real issue is that it isn't twice (or four times!) as long.



Book One: Air

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

I don't know why, but I'd always thought that The Legend of Korra was a pseudo-sequel to The Last Airbender, a series taking place centuries earlier to Aang and friends. Turns out I was completely wrong, with Korra being Aang's direct successor/reincarnation. Initially, I was a little unsure that was a good idea, but actually getting to see the world that Aang built and being reunited with some of the original characters (albeit now all grandparents and much matured) and their families is great. Plus, it gave the show the option to set in some cheeky little nods for the fans, the best of which easily being the question around Zuko's mother 😂

As for the new cast, they're all great. Korra does feel like more of a plot foil than a character at times, and for someone who has spent her entire life training to be the Avatar she is painfully headstrong and quick to anger. On the other hand, she was sheltered from the world for that entire training period, leading her to arrive in the metropolis of Republic City with a very immature understanding of both people and politics. That works as a decent storytelling device to introduce this much-changed region of Avatar's universe, even if it wears thin on occasion.

And much changes it is. Since we left Aang and friends, the world has united under a single banner, though each nation retains independence and only the central United Republic is a truly cosmopolitan region of intermixed nationalities. That era of peace, off the back of a war which saw humans invent a myriad of new devices, has created the wealth needed for commerce to thrive. Rather than feeling like a rose-tinted view of feudal Japan, Korra's world has a distinctly steampunk feel, with cars and planes aplenty.

Peace has also led to both the creation of "Pro Bending" and a general feeling of disquiet around the naturally occurring power imbalance present in a world where some citizens effectively have magic whilst others don't. These elements are the main focus of the first season and I really enjoyed them both. The sport of Pro Bending was immensely fun to work out and whilst I feel Korra's entry into the tournament perhaps stretches reality a bit (she is pretty much a god, after all, cheating acquisitions would seem fair) it also gave the first half of the season a very interesting angle to explore. I also found Amon to be an excellent villain, championing an issue which the first show hinted at but never managed to properly explore.

In fact, in many ways season one of Korra feels like it is explicitly addressing the biggest revelations from the finale of The Last Airbender. We're not just exploring societal power structures, we're also seeing the direct repercussions of the re-discovery in the final years of the War of both Blood Bending and the Avatar's ability to permanently remove/block an individuals chi, effectively stripping them of any bending powers they had. Both elements are fascinating and lead to a lot of interesting world-building, particularly when paired with Ty Lee's specialist chi-blocking martial arts. It answers a lot of questions as to what repercussions these discoveries might have on the wider world, plus getting to see that Metal Bending has become a distinct art form is pretty great too (Lin Beifong is a personal favourite character), as is the confirmation that Aang is no longer the "last" Air Bender, with at least some of his family also inheriting those powers.

Still, that's a lot to pack into a single season and Korra has obviously decided to broaden the storytelling scope compared to TLA, so we actually get all of the main plotlines wrapped up. I don't hate that we're moving quickly, but I did think that both villains – Amon and Yakone – were excellent characters and would have been happy to see more of them. Overall, it was a great reintroduction to the universe, with some excellent new characters (even if none of the supporting cast truly feel that special yet) and a lot of brilliant world-expanding storytelling. I can't wait to see where they go next!

Book Two: Spirits

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

After the brilliance of Amon's villainy, I wasn't too sure how TLoK could really up the ante. Season one had an opponent, after all, who could literally take away Korra's powers – where do you go from there? Well, they certainly managed to escalate the threat! I found diving into the spirit realm a huge amount of fun, letting them really flesh out this side of their world-building, and the episode where we get to relive the life of the first Avatar, learn how he came to be, and understand why they exist at all, was one of the best the show has produced (including TLA), both for storytelling and animation style – and all the Easter eggs!

Outside of Korra's main plot, I thought the show did a great job of evolving and expanding the rest of the cast. Tenzin and his family, in particular, have really "matured" into some brilliant characters and I loved the introduction of Bumi and Kya. Also, a quick note on the fact that we therefore have a family where J K Simmons and Lisa Edelstein (Cuddy from House) are siblings 😁 Oh, and whilst I thought the "evil twins" were a bit meh, Aubrey Plaza's sinister girlfriend trope did have me laughing a lot, particularly towards the end of the season. Elsewhere, Varrick (and Zhu Li) were brilliant comedy characters, whilst the expansion of both Korra's direct family and the wider Southern Water Tribe were just generally interesting. Oh, and the revelation about Iroh was excellent!

Plus, the spirits Vaatu and Raava were beautifully designed, and the season as a whole consistently reminded me of the videogame Journey. The whole flag-spirit concept, paired with light and dark energy conversions as well as the particular musical qualities meant that there's a lot of similar themes going on here, which can only be to the show's credit. It's stunning.

That said, I did feel like the show's creators undertook a little retconning on the wider universe to make the plot work. Part of what I loved about Aang's travels was the fact that spirits very much did exist and whilst the spirit realm was definitely only present in pockets of the physical world, those barriers were still malleable and seemingly ever-present. From the library in the desert, to the great Lion Turtle that unlocks Aang's final powers, to the immensely spooky confrontation with the face-stealing Koh, or even Sokka's love for the moon spirit, Aang's run-ins with the spirits made them feel like a part of the fabric of his world. Yet here, we find that the first Avatar effectively separated the two worlds, that the spirits were never truly from man's world to begin with, and that a single event separated them again. It just felt a little less mysterious and failed to truly explain spirits/demons like Koh (who I kept expecting to pop up) who are seemingly able to still move between the realms. But maybe I'm overthinking things and perhaps it's just that the only permanent connections between spirits and humans are at the poles, whilst other regions are just more overlapped letting some spirits through. Who knows.

Either way, the second season stuck its foot on the gas in terms of huge decisions and world-building moments. Not only does Korra learn about how the Avatar came to be, and what the Avatar state truly is, but then she lost all of her previous incarnations, effectively becoming the new "first" Avatar of a new 10,000 year age. I'm going to be fascinated to see what happens now that the spirits are returning en masse, particularly given that the world is more "modern" than it has ever been before.

Book Three: Change

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

So season one had a villain that could render the Avatar useless via some of the most powerful Blood bending ever; season two had the literal destruction of the world at the hands of an all-powerful spirit god to contend with; where could season three go? Unfortunately, I'm not sure the show's creators had an answer for that. Who knows, with its halved run time there's the possibility that season three was cut down or never intended, but ordered when the show hit a popularity boom. 🤷‍♂️

Which isn't to say that the third season of TLoK is in any way bad. It isn't, at all. In many ways, it's actually an improvement on prior seasons. Whilst we get less focus on Republic City that actually feels like a good choice, instead giving us a broader view of what's going on in the Earth Kingdom. The main cast all seem to grow significantly, now far from their roots in season one, and the end of the love triangle between Korra, Mako, and Asami feels deserved. I also thought that the show handled the reintroduction of the spirits well, whilst using it to reinvigorate the Air nation was a great touch; ditto the expansion of the Metal clan and their, frankly, beautiful city under Lin's sister's guidance.

Similarly, I like that we find out that Toff is still around and get to meet a much-aged Zuko, whilst adding Kai and Opal into the mix gave Tenzin's kids yet further opportunities to grow into rounded, interesting characters. Jinora, in particular, has become a cornerstone to the plot and I think that's great, where many other shows would have probably just brushed her to the side a bit now that her big pivotal moment in season two is out of the way.

I'm also not dunking on the Red Lotus as the villains here. I think that a secondary, evil secret society was a fun move and making their main squad a series of incredibly talented benders from each tribe allowed us to really get an idea of what these powers can do. Each one was a fun expansion, in some form or another, of the stuff we've seen before, plus helped patch the hole that the "explosion bender" left in the first show's own mythos. On top of which, the final showdown was epic and a huge amount of fun, with genuine tension and a lot of very interesting ideas, even if some felt a little borrowed from TLA.

That said, whilst I really enjoyed Zaheer as a villain, his mastery of air bending seemed a little too rapid. We've watched two Avatars spend months getting to grips with a new set of abilities, despite already being incredibly talented benders within other elements and having direct tutelage, yet he's able to achieve mastery seemingly within days. Yes, it was nice to see that one-on-one with Tenzin he was getting beaten, but earlier in the season it still felt like his power levels were a little too extreme. On the other hand, the twist with Bolin becoming a Lava Bender was a nice one and I do hope that the re-discovery of Air Bending flight leads to some more interesting elements in the next season.

Overall, then, I felt like the third season had some solid ideas and some great character building, but it just felt a little lacking and, honestly, far too short. I don't know why the last two seasons are half the length of the first two, but I think it's a massive shame. There was so much more that we could have explored around the rediscovery of Air benders, the rise of the Red Lotus (I mean, they're clearly a large organisation, so why has no one else from any cell made an attempt on Korra?), and even just the state of the Earth Kingdom now. I imagine the final season will take us back to the Fire Nation and flesh out Zuko a bit more (as seems to be the direction the show is heading), but a little more about him would have been appreciated. In other words, I really enjoyed what I got, but it just wasn't anywhere near enough.

Although, on the other hand, the single episode about Sky Bison babies was possibly the most adorable sequence I've seen in a while, so maybe I'm just salty that we didn't get a dozen more episodes just about them 😂

Book Four: Balance

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

I think a three-year leap forward was a brilliant set up for the final season, giving the character's some room to grow and allowing the impact of what were some incredibly impactful years a little breathing space. The world we return to is a more mature one, where spirits are now largely accepted, and where life has largely returned to normal across the various nations. Not so much for Korra, though. I did wonder what the deal was with the wheelchair at the end of season three, and I do think more could have been emphasised about the fact that she was actually crippled by the Red Lotus and their poison. Still, I'm glad we got to skip through her recovery, seeing it in flashbacks being sufficient, and I thought they dealt with her psychological healing quite well. That it gave us some more closure on Zaheer felt good too.

As for the main plot, I thought the rise of a dictatorship out of the Earth Kingdom, and the subsequent focus on Toff and her family was a lot of fun; plus, it obviously gave them a solid reason for bringing Toff back into the mix. I thought her as an old woman was hugely entertaining and felt really great, though it does seem odd that the only original character not to make a cameo now is Sokka. I also felt like Korra's reveal to Zuko that his uncle is still alive in the spirit realm could have maybe played a subtle role. For example, it would have been nice for Korra to have stumbled back into him on one of her meditations, perhaps with a young-looking Zuko by his side, seeing as humans can now travel to the spirit realm with relative ease.

Still, the focus on metal bending, in particular, was a good return to the series' overarching plot of showing that Aang and friend's war has had some severe impacts on their world. We see a world with new superweapons, armies unlike anything previously seen, and even radical new ideologies like democracy being thrust to the fore. I did think the giant mech was a little ridiculous, but the overall design and ultimate threat it provided served to make the threat feel truly real. On the other hand, the humming-bird mechs were brilliant and I really enjoyed the expansion of both Varrick and Zhu Li throughout the season – plus I totally called Zhu Li's fake betrayal-sabotage plot 😁

Of course, that brings up the ending, which I thought was brilliant. A new spirit gateway right in the centre of civilisation feels like a permanent mark that the world has changed (though does raise some convergence questions around power levels), but even more so Korra and Asami's relationship was a lot of fun to watch unfold. It's a real shame that Nickelodeon wouldn't allow them to have a proper relationship, but given how much benefit even this nudge towards inclusion has had on the industry makes it a huge achievement and a really critical moment in pop culture.

Overall, then, I've felt that The Legend of Korra has done a great job of expanding the world that TLA created, taking it in new directions and answering a lot of open-ended questions that fans had. That said, I don't think it quite lives up to the imagination, character building, or nuance of the original, instead going for huge set pieces and a slightly over-the-top level of world development considering the timeline. Coming out of the final season, I almost wish that we'd had large gaps of time in-between each of the four, but then the plot worked well enough that it wasn't really necessary. That said, it would have been nice to get more time with understanding, kind Korra, even if that evolution was the whole point.

Still, if they told me they were making another season, or even an entirely new series in a similar vein, I'd be front of the queue.

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