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Saturday, 25 of May of 2019

The Legend of Korra – “Welcome to Republic City” & “A Leaf in the Wind”

“This girl is crazy.”

KorraTitleCardI caught up on Avatar: The Last Airbender in a matter of weeks before the series finale. I had caught Toph’s first episode randomly a year or so before, was interested, but never pursued the show until I heard it was ending. I was working at a Blockbuster at the time and used my free rentals to watch the show in 4 episode chunks.

It was a  great experience, though sadly one I wasn’t able to share with people (no Twitter or TV blog at the time). So when folks I follow on Twitter asked for shows to catch up on, I pointed them to Avatar (depending on if they were willing to watch not only animation, but an animated show that was aimed at children). It’s a rich show with strong characters, gorgeous animation, and excellent writing that balances comedy and pathos in equal measure. It’s a show that anyone can watch and enjoy.

So, needless to say, a follow-up series to that show was pretty much the best news possible for me and a lot of other people. As news about the series started to leak out, particularly the first trailer, questions arose about what the show would be as it introduced things like cars, radios, electricity, and more blimps/airships. What role does this technology play in a world with bending? How does it affect the tone of a series that previously used technology sparingly (or in conjunction with bending)?

And those are just questions of setting. What about the characters? What’s Korra like? Who are the supporting characters? Who’s the villain (though, as we know, that’s can be a complicated question for this series)? Was it worth the wait?

The short answer, so far anyway, is an enthusiastic yes.

Korra takes place about two generations after the end of TLA. Aang has died, but before he did, he and Zuko established Republic City as a place of peace where benders and non-benders alike could come and work together to maintain peace around the world. This, sadly, has not worked out too well as we see.

The first two episodes help establish Republic City in a number of ways, with “Welcome to Republic City” being the more engaging in this sense (though I think folks may find “A Leaf in the Wind” to be more fun (and it is)). Republic City isn’t the bastion of prosperity and peace that Korra expects (she’s been training at the South Pole her entire life, under the protection of members of the White Lotus), and it isn’t perhaps what we’d expect either, in all sorts of pleasing ways.

There’s poor people living in the luscious green spaces, there’s Triad-esque gangsters extorting protection money from store owners, there’s a metal-bending police force led by Lin Beifong, Toph’s daughter, and most interesting, there is an anti-bending movement called the Equalists gaining strength in the city. All of this works for me, and it’s all connected to the advances in technology as well.

I know some weren’t thrilled with the technological changes in the story, but coupled with the political aspects the show is engaging in now, I feel these things are connected as the Avatar world shifts into an industrialized world, and all that comes with that. This, I think, is very exciting as I cannot think of many shows that want to engage these questions of the politics of industrialization and how you maintain order in that world. The last series was about stopping a war, and this one may very well be about whether or not a potentially bloody revolution should be stopped.

Against this backdrop there is Korra, who is different enough from Aang that any concerns about the show repeating itself are nullified rather quickly. She’s head-strong, impulsive, and impatient, but she maintains that sense of wonder about the world that Aang had. This is a needed trait since the audience is being plunged into a new version of the same world, with all sorts of questions, and Korra can ask them for us.

Most exciting for me, however, is that Korra will have to learn airbending, the bending we didn’t see learned in any substantial ways in the first series (for obvious reasons). This, like Korra’s personality, brings a freshness to the series that helps set it apart from its predecessor. We already know the processes for learning the other three forms of primary bending, so seeing the exercises for airbending (I love the panel exercise in “A Leaf in the Wind”) offers more insight into how these elements work together.

Likewise, Tenzin’s role as the instructor offers an adult bending master, which also offers a different dynamic than Aang learning from people in his own age. (Tenzin teaching Korra airbending also has  the delicious joy of a son having to teach the reincarnated soul of his father airbending.) Yes, Iroh taught firebending to Zuko, but the dynamic was different due to Zuko’s own baggage and his familial association with Iroh, making a new sort of relationship between Korra and Tenzin.

The direction, both of animation and voices, remain top notch (Joaquim Dos Santos is back for the animation and Andrea Romano has returned for the voice directing), and while the animation feels a little looser, sometimes sketchier, than the previous series, I’m chalking it up to economics. This isn’t to say that the animation is poor — it is not — but just there’s a noticeable difference, I think, between this series and its predecessor.

All in all, I’m very pleased with the start of Legend of Korra, and I’m eager, so very eager, for more.

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