Water. Earth. Fire. Air.
Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony. Then all of that changed when the fire nation attacked. Only the Avatar, master of all the four elements, could stop them. But when the world needed him most, he vanished. A hundred years passed, and my brother and I discovered the new avatar, An Air Bender named Aang. And although his air bending skills were great, he has a lot to learn before he’s ready to save anyone.
But I believe, Aang can save the world.
Cue ominous music and paper parchment with inked calligraphy. Book number. Chapter. Title of Episode. Bamboo flute sound.
Everyone who’s been around long enough has grown to know the voice of Katara, the humble southern tribe female water bender that discovered the missing child-Avatar, helped him complete his training, and ultimately defeat the Fire Lord Ozai, restoring peace to the four nations after the Hundred Year War.
Now, Aang and the rest of Team Avatar is dead. It’s been seventy years since we last saw them, and only Katara is left in her old age to tell the story. We reunite with Katara in the first episode, finding her in the Southern Water Tribe where the teenage Avatar, Korra, stays to train. She has now mastered water, earth and fire. Katara and Aang’s son, the only air bending master, Tenzin, comes to the area to announce that he will not be able to stay teach Korra, and she would have to postpone her air bending training.
Tenzin is a councilman at the capital of the republic of the four nations, where Avatar Aang centralized his efforts to reunite the nations in rebuilding the peace. There has been trouble recently with the Equalists, a propagandist group of non-benders who advocate against bending. Their leader, Amon, says that benders have used their unnatural advantage over non-benders to abuse, overpower and oppress them. After Tenzin postpones Korra’s training, he returns to republic city to address the situation, but Korra follows him to Air Temple Island, located outside of Republic City, where he resides.
And so the story begins there.
I’ve mastered the elements a thousand times in a thousand lives before, and now I’m here to do it again.
Our new Avatar, Korra, is possibly everything Aang was not. She is feisty, rebellious, impatient, hot headed, and talented from the very beginning. She was found by the White Lotus, tasked by Aang to search and protect the Avatar after he passes away. In her earlier years, she can already bend water, earth and air, and only needed the training to refine her skills. Air, however, was something she was never capable of bending.
She’s Katara, minus the skirt, plus a little more boy.
She’s Katara, minus the Aang, plus a little more Zuko.
It feels as if Korra was meant to be the reincarnation of the Zutara shipping, one of the most popular ships of the first series. Like how CLAMP made Tomoyo and Sakura end up together because their mothers didn’t. Now, Korra gets into a little love trouble with an orphaned fire bender, Makko, who looks a lot like Zuko with a decent hair cut with no scar and no cash.
Yes, love. Makko is a pro-bending athlete with his earth bending younger brother Bolin in the team with him. Also, in the same triangle with Korra.
Love? Seriously? This is what the new series is about? A young adult rom-com of a rebellious young Avatar?
Nope. Well, at least I hope not. Well okay, you’ll see a lot of it, but there’s more to the story. The Legend of Korra centers on governance, politics and society, and the power of modern technology and its potential, if not already manifested, hazards on humanity , the “death” or societal disregard for spiritual rites and traditions and old culture.
Where bending is now even less of an art, and more of a sport.
With the world of Avatar completely evolving, there is no more war. There are no kings or separate nations. The only enemy that attacks the unified nation now is its own citizens. Much like how in world history, the kings and the wars didn’t last forever. But soon after, we hear about civil wars, and coups, and evil dictators. And revolutions where the poor are angry at the rich for oppressing them—and maybe non-benders going against the benders. (Come to think of it, why is there no non-bending representative seated at the Council? Where is the justice!) Avatar: Legend of Korra, no longer plays bad guy-good guy. There is no evil Fire Lord. Just a man named Amon, and a group of people who believe they deserve freedom. And it sounds entirely legit if not for what Amon plots to do, which you will find out when you watch the series. Because you will watch the series.
As the world of Avatar has evolved totally seventy years after the previous series, the entire setting now introduces new technology like cars called “Satomobiles” designed and manufactured by now millionaire Engineer Sato. Bending is now a sport, and a huge arena with a gym serves as a setting for pro-bending matches. The police task force is now headed by Toph Beifong’s daughter, Chief Lin Beifong, who must have inherited the role of keeping the school of metal bending. The police are now Metal Benders and patrol the city via air ships. And the Equalists use chi-blocking techniques, stun guns, gas bombs and other technology to keep themselves competent against the benders. I swear, the only thing you wouldn’t see here now is an iPhone 4S.
It’s all great that they tried to stir away from the past Avatar, and it’s absolutely inspired that they managed to let that universe grow and show how much potential and just how flexible it can be. But I’d have to admit, I miss all the spiritual-ish oldies Asian culture stuff. The hidden underground libraries with talking owls and giant sun-dials, the koi fish ponds, the boating water-way streets of the Northern Water Tribe—it was why Avatar was special, because it was an American produced “anime” series, if you’re one of the people who freely call it that, that perfectly combined all the traditional Asian elements. The Earth Kingdom was China, the Fire Nation was Japan, the Water Tribes were Malaysia/Indonesia/India/Philippines and the brown races, and the Air Nomads were like Thailand. The bending techniques all came from a sort of Asian martial art. And the concept of the Avatar itself was a Hindu belief.
It made Avatar huge, and by modernizing it, it makes it feel like it was shrunken down. But I guess they wanted us to feel that, how Asia, having some of the richest cultures in the world, is now the most technologically advanced—especially Japan! And I’d suppose they wanted us to feel that in the Avatar universe too. We have bartered our wisdom for knowledge, our tradition for trade. We have killed our gods and built new ones with iron and steel. I don’t know if that was the point, or if that was all I saw with the transformation of the setting. I mean, the Avatar couldn’t even meditate. She always just wants more action and never sits down to listen to the spirits.
I think our parents felt this way watching us grow up in a time where technology suddenly blasted out from the nothingness.
For the casting of voice actors, none of them were as iconic or as memorable as the first. Korra’s voice actor was okay but not as “I will perpetually recite the opening sequence in your head” as Katara. But I also couldn’t think of any other voice that will fit Korra anyway, so what the hell. For Makko, I think they really were trying to find a voice that would sound near to Dante Basco’s, but a bit less angry and a lot more chill. (Did you hear? Dante Basco will return for a role in the series.) And Bolin, trying to be the comedic relief of the pack cannot and never will be as memorable as the voice of Jack De Cena’s Sokka. Bolin’s voice was made to be a lot smoother and deeper, which made it easily funny when he says something stupid, and truly believable when he says something nice.
It’s both a good thing and a bad thing that they made the character design more mature for this season to keep up with its fanbase growing older. It’s well thought out that people may be bored if the heroine were to be another twelve-year-old, or something the fans could no longer relate to.
However, giving you Alfred from Ghost Fighter, Roy Mustang and a tanned Winry Rockbell from Fullmetal Alchemist doesn’t help. But the risk is that it centers less now on adventure. I think it’s a huge compromise. I don’t know. I’m unsatisfied.
But as much as we will miss the first series, simply because it is an unmatched masterpiece that even the original creators cannot keep up with, they did manage to have replacements that actually fit. Warm fuzzy animals. Our Avatar’s animal guide is a Polarbeardog. YES. A polarbeardog. A polar bear, with the head of a dog. But it’s a polar bear! WITH THE HEAD OF A DOG! And it’s huge and fluffy and strong and always hungry and loveable. IT’S A POLARBEARDOG. They could have been more creative, because the flying Bisen couldn’t be beaten. BUT IT WAS A POLARBEARDOG. And I think that it would be enough. (Maybe they watched an episode of iCarly and saw the Pandapig.) And for Momo, we have Pabu, a red Mozilla firefox. I mean ferret. It’s a ferret that looks like a red raccoon.
And it does circus tricks. In terms of coolness and originality factor, they lose to the mascots of the first series. But in terms of absolute manifestations of extreme fluff and adorableness? Avatar 2 wins, hands down.
It’s also a disappointment to know that Avatar 2 won’t be travelling much around the world now, as they did before. That means, we don’t get to see how the rest of the world evolved, and if the places outside Republic City maintained their oldies vibe. Or if they’re just living in poverty because of capitalism. Also, less beautiful city designs and costumes and differing cultures. It’s all just Republic City.
And although it’s been seventy years, we all still can’t help but miss the original Avatar series. Avatar: The Legend of Korra is expected to have 26 episodes, which is an ideal length. But six episodes into the series, and it’s still a bit bland, throwing out the love story too early into the game. In a list of analogies, Avatar and its sequel are like Darker Than Black seasons one and two. Or to be more accurate, Avatar 1 would be Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood with compact but creative and thrilling adventures leading up a big finale. Avatar 2 would be Blue Exorcist, turning into a semi-shoujo anime from a shounen manga and wasting episodes with plotless events to kill time and get viewers.
That’s how it feels like so far.
But you will watch the series.
Why? Because Nickelodeon Studios has to feel that Avatar: The Legend of Korra is so huge that they will have to add in more episodes which could allow for a more intricate plot, and hopefully would encourage them to invest more in the production.
So far, I am torn in between great love and great disappointment. I am in love with what they’ve written, but the production feels underwhelming, especially after Avatar: The Last Airbender. (It’s like DiMartino and the writers are the only ones truly passionate enough to get Avatar back out there. It feels frustrating! Feel my frustration with these keyboard smashes a;ksldhja;lksdjf;klsajdfl;kasjdf;l;;;;;!!!)
So for the first fourth of the series released thus far, I’d give a rating on 7.5/10. Good enough, but giving it any higher would be a shame to the entire franchise.