Haven’t gotten your seasonal fix of spirits yet? If so, The Legend of Korra’s newest installment “A New Spiritual Age” is the episode for you, as it follows Korra and Jinora through the depths of the Spirit World in what is one of the best episodes of Book 2 so far. Just after last week’s episode, I became much more invested in the spiritual side of the story than the Republic city side, and even criticized the disjointedness of having two unequally successful stories run side-by-side this season.
“A New Spiritual Age” abandons any subplots, save for a minute or two with Tenzin and his siblings, and just gives fans what they were promised in the offseason: spirits. That’s not to say this week’s installment didn’t have a few aces up its plot-dense sleeves.
One of those aces, the most powerful and nostalgic, is the return of Iroh. Yes, he’s back and he’s serving tea in the Spirit World, which is plainly fantastic because, as we’ve learned from the original series, with tea comes wisdom, and there’s plenty here. I hadn’t realized how much I missed the old guy’s lengthy expositions until he began talking to baby-Korra. That’s right, Korra has literally been returned to infancy.
This is the second most important ace, as it adds one of the most interesting dynamics of the season and further builds on Korra’s increasingly likable image. Korra has never been in such a vulnerable state, and as a viewer, it’s extremely easy to sympathize with her as she becomes less abrasive and learns to control her emotions. She is paralleled by a little dragon-bird which she is tasked with bringing home to its nest, another intelligent decision on behalf of the writer, Tim Hedrick.
Like the dragon-bird, Korra grows in maturity, and eventually, physically ages back to her regular self. The dragon-bird, likewise, evolves into a much larger golden version of itself in what is one of the standout portions of the episode.
The third and final ace completes the hand with Wan Shi Tong’s library. Wan Shi Tong was one of my personal favorite spirits from Avatar: The Last Airbender, so Jinora’s adventure in the library is particularly enjoyable for me. We even get to see Professor Zei, who’s not in his best health at the moment, and the spirit foxes that act as informants to Wan Shi Tong. I had a good chuckle at the owl spirit’s idea of radio and how one of the foxes, apparently, misinformed him on the subject.
In a broader sense, the storytelling and writing this week are excellent, whether it be prominent in the character interaction or in conflict. Every sequence between Korra and Iroh, is especially great, and pairing the knowledgeable Jinora with Wan Shi Tong opens up to some wonderful interplay. It definitely lives up to the potential of Spirit World journeys and the incredible possibilities of Book 2’s latter half.
“A New Spiritual Age” also marks the return of Studio Mir for good (so long sub-par quality!). The animation is gorgeous, consisting of meticulous attention to detail and beautiful realization of design. Spirits move in unique ways and so do characters, most obviously when contrasting Iroh’s patient behavior and Korra’s quick, childlike mannerisms.
There is a short but sweet moment of animation when Korra apologizes to the spirits she upset, in which she is knelt down in her seat with her feet sticking out. I have seen children in this posture on numerous occasions and it is very realistic to have Korra do the same. To complement the episodes overall design, the background paintings are some of the best ever produced by Avatar and they do a superb job of giving the Spirit World a sense of vastness and beauty.
The episode also does something that I’ve missed greatly from the original series and that’s having the story almost entirely overrun the action. Episodes such as “The Storm” and “Zuko Alone” have small action scenes as part of their climax, but that’s it. “A New Spiritual Age” mimics the formula, treating Korra’s confrontation with Unalaq purely as an afterthought in comparison to everything else, and the episode is all the more immersive because of it. Not many animated shows can do that successfully.
The only gripe I can come up with for the episode is that some of the conflicts toward the end are retread, such as when Korra tells Unalaq that she can’t believe she trusted him (I’m pretty sure that was established six episodes ago) or when Vaatu reveals his motivations to spread darkness (again).
Needless to emphasize, there are a plethora of things to love about this episode, from the return of past characters, to the engaging dynamics, and vibrant animation. “A New Spiritual Age” is, to put it simply, a phenomenal episode that is only surpassed by “Beginnings Part 2″ for the title of season’s best.
It’s an easily determinable 9.5/10.