Legend of Korra Book 2 was the Most Artistic and Beautifully Done Season Yet

If there’s one feature of The Legend of Korra‘s second season that truly stands out, it’s the level of intricacy and immense variation of design being implemented. No prior season has dealt with such an array of styles, along with a persistent adoption of diverse color palettes and highly distinguishable environments. From the luminous mountain tops surrounding the Southern Air temple to the darkest depths of the Spirit World, the season wows its audience with confidence and ultimately embodies a visual marvel more resembling of an enormous art piece, than a television production.

When delving into the realm of animation, it’s important to remember the amount of effort required to produce a living, breathing world. In a commentary for Avatar: The Last Airbender, Bryan Konietzko recalls a major difference between filming a live-action television series and an animated one, and that’s the work involved in capturing each setting. It’s significantly easier to film real life, where a three-dimensional and functioning society is already set, than it is to draft a location from a blank slate, filling in the details from scratch.

That being said, how many creative staff members do you wager died in the process of designing Book 2? In all seriousness though, the immaculate envisioning of Book 2 was clearly not a weekend chore, and I believe the episodes “Beginnings Part 1 & 2″ and “A New Spiritual Age” are the season’s most shining examples of this.

‘Beginnings’ had some of the season’s best visuals.

“Beginnings” boldly encompasses an entirely new art style for the series, washing out the colors and flattening details to mimic a historic Chinese wood-block painting. Head director on The Legend of Korra Joaquin Dos Santos mentioned the challenge in dealing with a brand new art direction and how other technical aspects of the production had to be altered as a result.

So not only was the visual layout contorted, but so were a number other design stages to compensate for any influential variables. Toss in several newly crafted characters and locations, and you’ve got yourself a big, steamy bowl of design soup where even the noodles are spiced to a particularly large degree. Oh, and let’s not forget that all this effort is for a mere two episodes.

Korra and Jinora’s Spirit World trek doesn’t do anything to appease the artists’ sore wrists, as it too requires a vast amount of artistic planning. Characters have ventured into the Spirit World before in the original series, but the degree of minutiae on display was hidden by a sepia color scheme and a shroud of fog. Such is not the case with the Spirit World 2.0 (trademark!) in The Legend of Korra, where the environments are heavily lit and overflowing with colors.

In general, creating spirits to populate their depicted habitat is a very detail oriented task (as shown in both this and “Beginnings”) and with “A New Spiritual Age,” the design team really knocks it out of the park. Nothing feels real, as in nothing is mistaken for a domain in the physical world, and it makes for a highly immersive atmosphere for the audience to experience. That’s an indicator of successful design work.

Korra & Uncle Iroh wining and dinning the Spirits.

Technicality aside, one of the nice parts about having an incredibly talented creative team on hand is that, even when the animation might be lacking (ahem… Studio Pierrot), the settings and the material that exist within them still refrain from blandness. There’s always a plethora of attributes on our television screens to loll over, regardless of the way they move (the impressive painted backdrops in each episode come to mind).

Designing, really with any form of media entertainment, is a tiresome effort, but when it comes together to develop a reality that would otherwise be nonexistent, there’s something magical about it. In the grand scheme of things, this ability to breathe life into something like a drawing (to animate it) is what attracts me and many others toward animated movies and television.

The Legend of Korra is a large composition of drawings, essentially, but it becomes actuality when one is watching it, which is due in large part to the artists cooped up in their drafting rooms. Book 2, specifically, boasts the widest range of artistic development in the Avatar franchise, and as far as the animated medium goes, is a protruding reminder of what can be accomplished with a skillful production team.

Comparatively speaking, every season of Avatar: The Last Airbender introduced a handful of varying settings, but all of them fell into the same stylistic assortment: Water Tribe themed for the first season, Earth Kingdom themed for the second, and Fire Nation themed for the third. Even Book 1 of The Legend of Korra remained fully urbanized for its twelve episode duration. Book 2 doesn’t appear to have an exact elemental theme, which I suppose is fitting since spirituality is nonspecific to a single nation, and so we find ourselves in the Water Tribe, Airtemple, and Republic City all in one episode. Not to mention the Spirit World and other styles that run alongside those locations.

If you decide to revisit Book 2, whether it be online or on DVD, and even if you were disappointed with the story and character, at least view it as an extremely impressive artistic piece. As I echo my own words, the visual architecture is one condition of Book 2 that absolutely deserves the fandom’s highest praise.

I know that I’ll be purchasing my copy of Book 2 on Blu-Ray so that I can soak in its visual splendor in the best quality possible. Who’s with me?

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  • Kyle Edgecomb

    I hope they release the dvd soon, here in the uk they only released korra on dvd and not blu ray, which is ashame…but the dvd will do, I have an Hd tv anyway so it helps give a good quality picture

    • Wyatt

      I own the first season on regular DVD, but I watched it on my Blu-ray player with an HDTV and it looked excellent, so you should be okay.

  • ajames123

    Last seven episodes starting from beginnings 1 are masterpiece for sure!

    You are missing “Light in the Dark”, that episode is a epic masterpiece. visual-music-audio-script everything is perfect.

    Im sure Uncle-Iroh and Baby Korra made “New Spiritual age” your favorite. But “Light in the dark” is too better than “New spiritual age”.

    • Wyatt

      “Light in the Dark” and “Darkness Falls” (both had identical visual styles) also looked very good, but I think that “Beginnings” and “A New Spiritual Age” showed greater consistency, and thus felt more natural than the finale did, with its massive flares of light and color that made things that were less “at-the-forefront” seem dull. An example of this can be seen in “Darkness Falls” when Korra is battling Unalaq, in which the blue-ish color of the snow with the purple sky, green lights in the sky, and the yellow lighting from the spirit portal all sort of blend to make the sequence look slightly unfinished.

  • Link9150

    That I can agree on. The most artistic episodes are definitely Beginnings. That Asian Ink Paint was beautiful to look at.

  • Ariana Moreno

    I agree that the artwork was amazing and was one of the strengths of book 2. I liked how they decided to think more out of the box with the artwork in Beginnings 1&2 and A New Spiritual Age as well. It really stood out to me and I hope that they do more of that unique style of art in book 3 and 4! :p I’ve always thought that the art in both altla and lok was beautiful. So rich and full of color. I did notice that the art in book 2 was a lot brighter and had a more “lively” tone than in book 1, which mostly to me seemed like a darker pallet that they worked with. Since book 3 has a whole new environment/atmosphere in Republic City, I think the chances of us seeing some really neat backgrounds and artwork are high! XD

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  • Joe

    Finallyyy!!!! Thank you Wyatt, we finally actually have decent praise for book 2, I for one thought book 2 was amazing. It had some ups and downs like any series but the majority of the episodes 1-2 and 7-14 were amazing, i still thought the story for 3-4 was very good. Personally I think LOK has received a lot of unnecessary criticisms because in a way it has done things worse than ATLA but in others it was much better, for instance the soundtrack, and the art design. They have to count for something which a lot of people seem to forget. Also people when they criticise development of characters, what about Tenzin? What bout Wan? After 2 episodes I wished he were in more and he was so excellently developed. Tonraq they also developed well, I can see the point with Unalaq but then again he was no different than the firelord’s development (not including comics)

    • http://avatarthelegendofkorraonline.com/ Keval

      You’ll begin seeing a lot more praise from here on out. We’ve covered the negative parts of the show, and now we’ll cover the positive parts of it.

    • Wyatt

      Glad it connected with you.

  • filmaker102

    episodes 1-5 the animation wasn’t that great, it wasn’t terrible it was just bad and wierd. Then…. Episode 6 at the end was awesome the color and cinematography is phenomenal music is a bit repetitive though.

    • Wyatt

      I agree about the cinematography for sure. Looking back at the episode “The Sting” specifically, the animation just may have been the worst the series has ever seen, but particular sections such as the opening boat raid and the later boat chase were very well directed. And I’m actually a firm defender of the animation in episodes 1 and 2 this season as being visually impressive, except for the first half of the first episode.

  • Jim

    Nice to see some praise for LoK! A lot of what I have been seeing has been very critical of late. But i guess thats typical of the fandom (wonder why this is?)

    • http://avatarthelegendofkorraonline.com/ Keval

      Praise is the next direction this blog will be going in. I’ve spent a lot of time being critical of the season, but I instructed Wyatt to start writing articles analyzing the season in a positive light. I, too, will begin analyzing the positives of the season.

      • Link9150

        Is there anything else left to praise than this? hehehe

        • Wyatt

          It can be a bit challenging to cover subjects without repeating what I already said in reviews, so there are a plethora of positive feature to Book 2 that may go unmentioned for the sake of new content. I’ll be sure to think of more articles to write.

        • Kakshi

          Has the amazing music be praised yet

  • Nico

    Great Article, I would say though that I believe this season was very closely related to Water. I believe they will make the books go in the order of the avatar; Book 1 – Air (Literally that was the title), Book 2 – Water, Book 3 – Earth, Book 4 – Fire. Now obviously the last three books won’t be called these outright, but from my understanding Book 3 is going to delve pretty deeply into Lin’s family and the Earth Kingdom. So basically its connected to Earth. I would bet hard cash that book 4 puts us in the Fire Nation. Thats not to say we won’t see multiple environments throughout the series, its just the main focus will be on that specific location for each book. Just my opinion.

    • Wyatt

      Thanks :) And, yeah, I get what you’re saying. Book 2’s central element was definitely water, but the degree as to how “central” that element actually is, is very slim. I think we can expect Book 3 to have an Earth-y tone (like you said), but I doubt the majority of the season will revolve around the Earth Kingdom… If you catch my drift.

  • KorraKorra

    Not just that the artwork was fantastic, but the music was amazing. I thought that the Beginnings had the best visual and animation of Book 3. It was incredible.
    Know I just hope the characters will have some more development in book 3.

  • Emily Anderson

    I couldn’t agree more! I’m an amateur artist, and it takes me hours to draw and color just one piece of artwork. Imagine how much effort the animators put into those hundreds of thousands of frames! It takes a lot of hard work and determination to turn out these episodes, in all of their aspects, but all of the time and effort put into the artwork is truly admirable.

  • Legama

    140% Agreed. The whole series is art on its purest state. Can’t wait for more of it. Beginnings were my favorite. Very few series can achieve this amount of quality on art, drawings and animation. Thanks again Wyatt for another wonderful review.

  • Azulaalwayslies

    Well said! I’m definitely buying the season in Blu-ray as well. I’ll probably re-watch Beginnings over and over and over!