This review was written by Wyatt (Mitch Gunner). Wyatt also reviewed all three Books in the Promise Trilogy
The Legend of Korra carries a lot of weight on its shoulders from the incredible success of its predecessor, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and the incredibly bad movie adaptation (Thanks M. Night). So did the ambitious new series live up to the hype? I will express my opinions, both positive and negative, pertaining to multiple categories: Story, Characters, Presentation, Entertainment Value, and How Does It Compare to the Original Series?
My favorite part about Legend of Korra is that it captures the same feel as The Last Airbender (the action, comedy, drama, romance mix is still there), but it tells a completely new kind of story. Most sequels would probably recycle the exact same world that was already invented, apply new characters, and change the story, which I would have been perfectly fine seeing Legend of Korra do, but instead, it introduces a brand new setting and a plot that doesn’t resemble that of The Last Airbender’s.
When I watch The Legend of Korra, I notice the same style I fell in love with when The Last Airbender began, but The Last Airbender doesn’t remain on my mind, I’m thinking about Korra’s journey and I’m immersed in the new world. The plot begins in the South pole, where the White Lotus are searching for the new Avatar, which happens to be Korra, a little kid at the time who can already bend water, earth, and fire. Then it skips ahead to the future, where Korra has mastered those three elements, but has not been able to grasp the spiritual sides of them. The next element is air which is supposed to be taught to her by Tenzin, Avatar Aang’s son, but he must return to Republic City where he is a councilman, which postpones the teachings. Korra, being the hotheaded teen she is, decides to go to Republic City to find him and hopefully begin her airbending training. However, she soon discovers that Republic City is far from a utopia, as thugs and gangs walk the streets and not everyone is “living it up,” as she expected.
Korra ends up staying on Air Temple Island with Tenzin and his family with the goal of mastering air bending while under the pressure of being a city-wide icon. One thing that stands out to me in the plot is the number of mature and complex themes/ideas presented, such as terrorism, extremists, and oppression. These qualities add depth to an already detailed story, making the show seem more like a prime time action/drama than a cartoon. Excellent writing also plays a key factor in crafting the interesting story.
Throughout the season, in every episode, Legend of Korra never becomes boring, partly due to the quick pacing which is where I think it succeeds and suffers a little. Because of how many crucial plot points are fit into each episode, the show can sometimes feel quite rushed, but there are also no filler episodes and everything feels necessary. I would have liked to see a 20 episode season rather than just 12 episodes because it would give the story some more time to breathe and develop. The aspect that I thought was most rushed was the romance. It evolved from a love triangle to a love square, which was covered primarily in one episode, and it became awkward and felt forced at times as the season went on. However, I thought it was a fun B-plot that wasn’t concentrated on heavily enough to immensely hurt the story quality.
On a more positive note, Legend of Korra introduces a sport called Pro-Bending, though I also have mixed feelings about it. While think it is a great idea and an awesome break from the main story, I think it could have been shortened to dig deeper into the more important plot. I really like the way the first and second halves of Book 1 are balanced, the first half being lighter and less serious and the second half being darker and more extreme. There is a solid build up to the finale and the final two episodes are excellent, telling a complete story without a cliff-hangar. I’ve heard skeptical opinions toward the finale, such as that it is too complete and it doesn’t hint at a second season, or that it is random and full of plot holes. I like that the finale had a full ending because it leaves a feeling of “What could they possibly do next?,” which makes me more excited for season 2, and a lot of the “plot holes” that people mention either served a purpose or were hinted at earlier in the season.
Also, I think the first season is an introduction to the rest of the series, meaning that the ending is so complete because it is the true ending to Korra’s story of mastering the four elements. Overall, I thought the story was tight and well executed and did an excellent job of portraying a new and believable world for the viewers to ponder. The pacing could have been improved with a longer season, although it didn’t severely cripple the plot. The romance became chaotic and kind of awkward as The Legend of Korr progressed, but there’s no doubt that Book 1 provides another intriguing story for the Avatar universe.
Complicated and interesting characters have always been The Last Airbender’s specialty and, in Legend of Korra, the characters continue to be the highlight. Every character’s personality and traits are so unique to them that it is easy to define who they are and even choose favorites after just watching the first two episodes. The main group, Korra, Mako, Bolin, and Asami, make an excellent team because of this, which ultimately leads to great interaction between the four. I also really enjoy the action sequences that involve them working as a team because Korra acts as a water-bender, Mako is a fire-bender, Bolin is an earth-bender, Asami is a non-bender, and, when Tenzin is with them, he is air-bending, so there is every element being used along with a non-bender (reminds me of the old Team Avatar if you include Zuko, which you should).
There are also a number of great side characters like Tenzin, his wife Pemma, his two daughters Ikki and Genora, and his always entertaining son, Meelo. It’s nice to see them function as a family, even in the midst of danger, and they act as a break from the main story when things get intense. Two other cool secondary characters are Lin Beifong, the daughter of Toph from The Last Airbender and the chief of police in Republic City, and Iroh, Zuko’s grandson and a General in the United Forces. Lin’s interaction with Tenzin and Korra almost always makes for great scenes and I liked watching her develop and begin to respect Korra as the season progressed. There are a lot of solid characters, however, one in particular stood above the rest and that was Amon, the menacing and sophisticated leader of the Equalists. Steve Blum does a superb job voicing him and he is depicted as a believable villain through his realistic motives and troubled childhood. Amon is definitely one of Avatar’s best villains, if not the best (it’s between him and Azula).
There are two other villains in Legend of Korra: Hiroshi Sato, Asami’s father and a wealthy businessman, and Tarrlock, the Water Tribe councilman. They both do a good job in their own respects, especially Tarrlock, voiced by Dee Bradley Baker who also does the animal sounds for Naga and Pabu, oddly enough, but Amon is clearly the most interesting. Speaking of Naga, Korra’s polar bear-dog and Pabu, Mako and Bolin’s fire ferret, I appreciate that Korra gets an animal companion just as Avatar Roku and Aang had.
A high point for characters this season is seeing the older versions of Katara, Aang, Sokka, and Toph which arouses immediate nostalgia for me, since I remember watching them grow and become heroes in The Last Airbender. Just as Avatar Roku acted as a spiritual guide for Aang, a fully matured Avatar Aang acts as a spiritual guide for Korra. A knit-picky thing I can say about the characters of The Legend of Korra is that one character, named Tahno, is pretty weird to the point where it’s awkward at times, especially when he is attempting to taunt someone. It can become a little annoying since he is surrounded by other standout characters, but this is merely a personal complaint that, even to me, isn’t significant. Also, Tarrlock’s assistant is kind of a nuisance to any scene she (or ‘he’… I’m not sure) was in. In conclusion, The Legend of Korra has an amazing cast of characters with very diverse personalities and equally diverse actors to bring them to life. No one does characters on TV like Avatar does.
Legend of Korra is easily the best looking 2D cartoon (Star Wars: The Clone Wars is the only 3D cartoon that may be better). The animation is gorgeous, from the amazing choreography in the fight scenes to the simplest realistic movements of the characters’ bodies. If you watch carefully, you’ll discover just how intricate the animation is, such as seeing fingers move in different ways and pieces of clothing flapping up and down due to sudden movement. The beautifully captured choreography makes a return from The Last Airbender and it’s never looked better, giving the combat a more realistic appearance. There are a lot cool environmental effects used as well, such as weather and lighting that set the mood for each scene. Plus, they make the environments look great, adding yet another layer of detail to the animation.
The Track Team (Benjamin Wynn and Jeremy Zuckerman) does an outstanding job with both sound effects and scores. All the elements sound strong and independent (you can listen without looking and pick apart the different elements) and Jeremy Zuckerman’s music blew me away, just as it had in the past. Why aren’t his Avatar soundtracks available on iTunes?!
The Legend of Korra also has an impressive cast of talented voice actors, including Janet Varney as Korra, David Faustino as Mako, P.J. Byrne as Bolin, Seychelle Gabriel as Asami, J.K. Simmons as Tenzin, Dee Bradley Baker as Tarrlock, Daniel Day Kim as Hiroshi, and Steve Blum as Amon. Everyone does an excellent job lending their voices to their characters and it really shows in the final product. It’s one of the things that separate The Legend of Korra from any other cartoon. The show also looks incredible, sounds fantastic, and is supported by a talented group of actors. This is the best presentation of any current cartoon.
There are a lot of factors at work that make The Legend of Korra the most entertaining TV show currently on air. It’s a bold statement to make, I’m aware of that, and I stand by it. There is rarely a dull moment in the season and the shear scale and complexity of the world will keep you aching to explore more, especially if you were a fan of the original series. Also, The Last Airbender fans will likely feel a sense of nostalgia to the appearances of past characters and from flashbacks involving them.
There is so much variety within the storytelling, characters, and presentation, and there is so much depth to the overall show that it’s hard not to be immersed. Not only is The Legend of Korra an entertaining TV show, but it’s also entertaining just to see how the Avatar series will continue to push the boundaries of cartoons. In a way, The Legend of Korra seems to be the “ideal” TV show, mixing action, comedy, drama, and romance and, for the most part, performing in those genres better than most live-action shows. The Legend of Korra is fun, thrilling, humorous, dramatic, and an excellent follow-up to one of the greatest cartoons of all time.
How does it compare to the Original Series?
Personally, I think season one of The Legend of Korra sits somewhere in between seasons one and two of The Last Airbender. I like the story of The Legend of Korra’s first season a little more than The Last Airbender’s first season, but The Legend of Korra does feel rushed at times, something The Last Airbender never really had issues with. Although, due to the quick pacing of The Legend of Korra, there are no filler episodes, unlike season one of The Last Airbender which had two mediocre ones. I think the characters are equally impressive, but Amon definitely makes a better villain than Admiral Zhao.
I also find Korra to be more interesting than Aang, at least in season one, primarily because her “hot-headedness” makes her pretty unpredictable, which is fun to watch. As for other characters, it’s hard for The Legend of Korra to compete since there have only been 12 episodes and the characters haven’t developed much yet. Both The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra have very entertaining premiere seasons, especially when the end draws near and, specifically in the finales. They both have excellent finales, but I enjoyed The Last Airbender’s finale a little more, only because I think the first episode is better and the pacing is less chaotic. Seasons two and three of The Last Airbender are superior to The Legend of Korra’s first season because of their excellent pacing, phenomenal character development, and incredible story telling. However, I’m very enthusiastic about seasons 2 through 4 of The Legend of Korra because I believe that with more time, it could possibly be even better than or equal to the original series.
At the beginning of this review, I proposed a question: “Did The Legend of Korra live up to the hype?” The answer is a resounding yes! I realize that a lot of Avatar fans may be worried that the new series won’t be as good as The Last Airbender was, however, after seeing The Legend of Korra, they should feel relieved. It captures the same feel as its predecessor and expands upon the world to create an enticing new story with brilliant new characters.
This is a journey that I will happily take along side Korra, just as I once followed Aang, and I think any fan should too. As for new viewers of the Avatar series, I have typically found that they can jump right in, despite not watch The Last Airbender. They might not understand the references to past characters as well, but they will likely get the basic idea and still enjoy the show nonetheless. Anyone of any age should watch The Legend of Korra and support it so that we end up with more shows like it and not another CSI. It’s nice to know there is at least one excellent show out there when I see commercials for Honey Boo Boo and ten different Law and Orders.
I give Book 1 of The Legend of Korra a 9/10.