People often tell me that the Legend of Korra, “Just doesn’t feel the same.” I typically respond by saying, “You’re right, it doesn’t.” But why is that? Why does the sequel to arguably one of the best animated shows on television seemingly fail in comparison to its predecessor? There are numerous reasons why Avatar: The Last Airbender can be seen as the superior series – most of which are strictly opinion based. Perhaps you enjoyed the inclusion of filler episodes that The Legend of Korra has avoided. Or perhaps you enjoyed being immersed in a storyline that has several seasons to develop?
One thing I think we can all agree on is that the characters in Avatar: The Last Airbender are far superior to those in The Legend of Korra. I understand that comparing these characters is a bit premature since The Legend of Korra has just hit the half way point, but one thing I noticed during Book 2 of The Legend of Korra is that a lot of the characters seemed to have regressed.
With only 12 episodes, I thought the writers did an above-average job of introducing and developing Team Avatar in Book 1. The development was by no means perfect, but it would be unrealistic for characters such as Bolin, Mako and Asami to be fully developed after one season. The expectation was that the writers would start making the characters more dynamic in Book 2 and essentially pick up where they left off in Book 1.
Unfortunately, these expectations were missed by quite the margin. As I mentioned before, many of the characters in Team Avatar seem to have regressed in Book 2 and they’re on the verge of becoming almost unlikable.
One of the main reasons why Avatar: The Last Airbender succeeded was due to the likability of its characters. They were charming, they had good relations with one another and they were developed well throughout the course of each season.
At the end of Book 2, Azula struck Aang in the back with a volt of lightening, killing him in the Avatar State. At that moment in time, I feared for the life of Aang. I related to his character and mourned his death because he seemed real to me. Seeing Katara try to fend off the Dai Li was heartbreaking and seeing Uncle Iroh give himself up to allow Katara to escape made me a bit emotional. The emotion in that seen was unmatchable and the reason for that was the superb development of the characters.
One difference between Book 2 of The Legend of Korra and Book 2 of Avatar: The Last Airbender is the amount of episodes leading up the finale of the respective season. The Legend of Korra has 26 episodes leading up to the Book 2 finale while Avatar: The Last Airbender had 40 episodes. The difference of 14 episodes is certainly notable because a lot can be done with characters in that span of the time. But, once again, the thing that strikes me about the characters in The Legend of Korra is that they’re regressing.
Several days ago, I used the Reddit community’s opinions to formulate a post on how to use Book 3 to drive suspense or anticipation for Book 4. Many posters advocated the death of one of the main characters. I thought it was a bit silly at first, but when I really thought about it, it didn’t seem like a bad idea.
Why not kill off Bolin? It’s not like he provides anything useful to the show. Or how about Mako? If he died, there would be fewer feuds within the fandom about his character. Killing off Asami would be a bit harsh since I do like her character, but she provided less in Book 2 than Bolin did – and that’s saying something.
After I finished writing that post, a peculiar though came upon me: I really don’t care for any of the characters involved in Team Avatar outside of Korra. And even if something happened to Korra, I’m not as emotionally attached to her as I was to Aang at the end of Book 2.
When Korra developed amnesia after being attack by the Spirit in the ocean, there was certainly a sense of shock. I was worried for her character in a way, but at the same time, there seemed to be more good that could be derived from the situation than bad. Perhaps she will end up spending more time with Tenzin so she can regain her memory? Perhaps the whole feud between Mako and her will dissolve because she no longer has feelings for him? Perhaps Korra will find a new set of friends who actually accompany her in her journeys?
When I look back at Book 2, Mako, Bolin and Asami provided next to nothing throughout the entire season. All three of them were wrapped up in a Varrick plot that ended up going no where. Korra, on the other hand, was single handedly trying to save the world on her own (with some help from Jinora, of course). It wasn’t until the last few episodes when the rest of Team Avatar got off of their lunch break and gave Korra a hand.
And what was Mako doing while Korra was trying to save the world?
“You’ve been smooching with everybody. Snuffy, Al, Leo, Little Moe with the gimpy leg, Cheeks. Boney Bob. Cliff.”
That’s a Home Alone 2 reference to end the holidays on a high note. In all seriousness, Mako was “smooching” with Asami and that brought the feud of the love triangle back into the mix. As much as these characters are lacking development, they’re also tearing each other a part.
Constantly formulating this rift between Korra, Asami and Mako is just not healthy from a developmental standpoint and, frankly, it’s getting a bit difficult to watch from a viewer’s perspective. I’m not a huge fan of the romantic arcs in this series, but if it has to be a part of the narrative, can’t it include characters outside of Team Avatar? Do the writers have to undermine the characters a part of Team Avatar by creating a romance that induces ‘cheating’ and ‘back-stabbing’?
Few people enjoyed it in Book 1 so why was it included in Book 2? All it did was hinder the growth of the characters and put them on the verge of unlikability.
While the romantic arcs in Avatar: The Last Airbender did focus within Team Avatar, it didn’t intensify until much later in the series. The romantic arcs in the series also did not have any negative impact on the characters or the storyline. In fact, some of the moments were a bit humorous such as when Toph thought Sokka had saved her after she fell into the waters of the Serpents Pass.
As much as I believe that the writers haven’t done the best job developing the characters in Team Avatar, I think they did a great job with characters outside of the group such as Tenzin and Jinora. Learning about Tenzin’s complex relationship between his siblings and him was interesting and seeing Tenzin interact with his father in the Fog of Lost Souls gave my heart a tug.
Tenzin is one of the few characters that I genuinely cared about during Book 2. In the beginning of Book 1, he seemed to be a bit of nuisance due to the control he had on Korra. It was obvious that he was only doing what was best for her, but as a viewer I could see why Korra was upset with him and I agreed with her.
This season, however, Tenzin has taken strides to be one of the best, if not the best, all-around characters in the series. He has depth, he has likability and he has importance.
Jinora is also another character that was well developed this season. Seeing her go from ‘one of the siblings’ to a monumental factor in Korra’s spiritual development proved her importance and worthiness to the series. Tenzin and her are two of the characters I’m most looking forward to seeing in Book 3.
I’d like to see the writers handle the characters a part of Team Avatar similarly: give them importance, give them depth and give them likability. Build an unbreakable bond between the four of them and don’t let romance interfere with it. We’ve already seen the impact of romance on Team Avatar for two seasons now and it’s not pretty.
I want Book 3 to succeed, and more importantly, I want the Legend of Korra to succeed. Hopefully the writers use Book 3 to re-set some of these characters and get them back on track. In order for a series to succeed, likability is the key and it starts with the characters.