This review was written by Wyatt.
As we move past the premiere and into the core of the season, The Legend of Korra thrusts us into the middle of a civil war. “Civil Wars Part 1″ poses a number of interesting conflicts, whether they be between Tenzin and his siblings, or between the Northern and Southern Water Tribes, but it is marred by below-standard execution. I’m going to get the animation issues out of the way early as I imagine it to be a hotly debated topic within the fandom.
After watching “The Southern Lights,” I had near-complete confidence in Studio Pierrot’s animation quality. If there’s one thing I learned from this week’s installment, it’s that I was very naive on the subject matter. After the premiere, I almost went as far as to claim that I would be fine with Studio Pierrot animating the whole season and, now, I can see why people are frustrated with them.
There’s an overall blandness to the animation (by Avatar standards) that makes typically beautiful scenes underwhelming. A lack of details, the most blatant example being the character designs, unfortunately, can rub off on other aspects of the show and prevent them from shining at their brightest. The fight scene between Korra and a group of men attempting to capture Unalaq, while decent, suffers from some slightly awkward choreography due to the way it’s animated. The animation just didn’t seem like it was keeping up with the directing.
Animation, however, isn’t the only problem with this episode, or even the most damaging for that matter. The episode’s most critical downfall is how it chooses to balance its sub-plots. It’s a little strange that the writer (Michael Dante Dimartino) places more significance on family matters than he does the occupation of the Southern Water Tribe. I get that the “civil war” applies to Korra and Tenzin’s families as well, but it would have been nice to break away from the sibling bickering for a while to get an update on the Northern agenda.
It is enthralling to hear how differently Tenzin, Kya, and Bumi envision Aang as a father figure, though. Realizing that our beloved hero from the original series may not have been the grandiose dad we had probably assumed him to be is fascinating. The favoritism Aang showed for Tenzin, specifically, is considerably alluring.
Adversely, the episode can’t seem to find a place for Bolin and Mako. Any time spent on the brothers feels like time that could otherwise be used to cover the growing civil war. Eska and Desna aren’t a helpful inclusion either. They’ve sort of become simple triggers for Bolin related comedy, which, in this instance, isn’t consistently funny.
The humor, as a whole, continues to thrive, though it’s relatively weaker than in the premiere. There are a few stand-outs, such as Bumi’s apparent rivalry with a shark-squid and Varrick’s motivating speeches to his future rebellion members, but not without some surprisingly juvenile, slap-stick comedy. I cringed both when Bumi laughed at the word “duty,” and at Eska and Desna’s overly-ridiculous laughter toward Eska’s “humorous quip.”
The pacing walks a line between being wisely patient and too slow, but is successful for the most part. On one hand, the episode avoids feeling rushed, but on the other hand, sections of the plot are drawn out to the point of annoyance. A sequence in which Tenzin, Kya, and Bumi lose their cool with each other goes from an intriguing moment of drama to a meandering mess of family squabbling due to its length. On the contrary, Korra’s meeting with Unalaq to discuss rising tensions among the water tribes, is paced to perfection.
In actuality, anything Korra related is fairly strong in this episode. Despite relying on identical relationship struggles to last week (Korra’s moodiness toward her father), there are some great scenes for Tonraq, Unalaq, and Senna. My personal favorite is shared by Korra and Senna.
Having Senna act as a sponge for Korra’s anger and stress allows the audience to gain perspective and sympathy for both characters as they bounce emotions off one another. Tonraq, also plays a role in picking at Korra’s emotional side. When Korra discovers her father isn’t a part of the rebellion he was believed to have joined, her mistrust of him crumbles before her and she breaks down into vulnerability. It is then, that we see the portion of Korra’s personality that has been hidden beneath her defiance and it is a very likable image for her character.
The episode leaves us with a cliff-hanger, which is expected from a two-parter, but it is, nonetheless, a jarring note to finish on.
All in all, The Legend of Korra takes an unexpected dip this week, which is especially disappointing since Avatar two-parters have such an admirable track record. But, even with all of its flaws, “Civil Wars Part 1,” boasts the same intelligent storytelling, interesting characters, and genre blend that we’ve come to expect from the series. Sure it’s a slower episode than usual, but it’s, at least, relieving to know that Book 2 is taking its time out of the starting gate. Although “Civil Wars Part 1″ suffers from wishy-washy animation and a poorly organized plot, it finds vitality in its compelling character interaction and conflicts, which is why it manages an 8/10.