Ah, The Legend of Korra, the long-awaited sequel series to Avatar: The Last Airbender. I was just as impatient waiting for it as a lot of other people were, so when the premiere aired, I was excited. But just how good was the series so far? I realize it’s been a while since Season 1 ended, but the show is still fresh on peoples’ minds; plenty of people are still viewing the show for the first time, and even those who caught the original airing are still talking about it in fan communities, so it’s still a relevant topic in my eyes. Sometime soon I’ll also do a review of the original Avatar series, but for now, here is my review of The Legend of Korra.
Acting & Directing
Acting and directing are some of the most important aspects of any television show or movie — acting being needed to make the characters feel real, and directing being needed to make the show flow nicely from scene to scene and to make the experience feel smooth — and thankfully it seems the creators of The Legend of Korra agreed on this. The series handles both aspects very well.
I don’t think that anyone could argue a problem with the show’s acting. Every character has a fitting voice, and each voice-actor delivers their lines well. The intended emotion is never lost; every line, grunt, and utterance is perfectly suited to the character’s personality and to what is going on. There was never any point in the series where I was made to feel it was fake, which is more than I can say for many live-action shows. The voice-actors of The Legend of Korra rise well above the average in acting for both live-action and animated entertainment, and is definitely among the best out there in this regard.
Similarly, I don’t think anyone could argue any faults of the directing. I am well aware that there exist criticisms of the series (particularly of its later episodes), but whatever criticisms exist seem to be against the writing. Whatever you think of the story itself, the directing clearly is as good as it can be with what it has to work with.
There’s so much crammed into every episode that it’s jaw-dropping that the directors managed to pull it off in a way that doesn’t feel disjointed in terms of the viewing experience. The progression from scene to scene is optimized for maximum speed — it moves faster than possibly anything else I’ve ever seen — but each scene is so well-constructed that I never felt like any individual part didn’t reach its maximum potential or length. Each scene feels complete, and they go from one to another at lightspeed; each episode is incredibly loaded.
Acting and directing include the skills needed to construct a scene, but if anyone’s the planner, it’s the writers. This is why I think that any and all criticisms people have with the series being rushed or not liking certain events fall upon the writing. And I will confess, the writing has some problems. But it’s not quite that simple.
This is where the series starts to show a little more problems than the predecessor had. If I had to boil all the problems down to one source, I would say that the series had too few episodes. There were sometimes things that needed more expansion, or honestly just more time spent on them. These include Korra’s Airbending training, the Triple Threat Triads, all of Tarrlok’s interactions with Korra and Amon, the relationship stuff between Korra, Bolin, Mako, and Asami, and the backstory of Amon and Lieutenant.
And the fact is that the series optimizes it’s time so well means that there isn’t any room left for these expansions within the current episodes (this is why I don’t blame the directing), so more than anything the series just needed a few more. Even just two or three more episodes would have handled the problem. I’m happy Season 2 is going to have an extra episode or two, I just worry that it’s not enough. But if anyone can pull it off, it’s definitely the development team of The Legend of Korra.
I also was disappointed at seeing less day to day, simple interactions between the characters, and instead having the series so focused on events, on the main plot. However, after some time thinking about this, I determined that it’s not fair to call this an objective fault. It’s simply a major difference between the style and type of story of Korra and the original Avatar.
However, I said it wasn’t so simple as saying the writing had problems, and the reason I said that is because the writing is still incredibly good. This relates to what I talked about a few weeks ago in this video; Korra’s writing has a few shortcomings but is still incredibly well-made.
I would venture to say that compared to the original Avatar series, The Legend of Korra’s writing is significantly better. There is a constantly and incredibly seamless shifting of whimsy, humor, action, drama, character development, and fear. These elements interplay constantly, portraying a very real story in which each occurrence carries with it a lot of different emotions and reactions, as it would with real people.
The world is also realistically and fascinatingly expanded off from the original series’. Whether or not you care for the 20’s aesthetic, it’s not a bad thing and manages to create an effective evolution from the world of the original series. Republic City is a world of technological and societal advancement. It is still primitive, but its expanded off in a realistic way from the original series. Benders are more common, but spiritual association with bending is diminished, again running with the modernization theme, and the series has already begun depicting the battle to connect with spirituality as a sub-theme, to be expanded into the primary theme of Season 2’s story arc.
The show grabs your attention and never lets go of it, throwing around charming characters, fascinating world-building, great action, and frightening villains. There’s something here for everyone.
Though, Season 1, mainly in its main story arc, is surprisingly dark. When the series deals with its primary villains and struggles, the atmosphere becomes incredibly oppressive, and the primary emotion the viewer is meant to feel is fear; the story is scary. It remains to be seen if this will be the prevailing tone of the series main stories’ overall, or if individual seasons will shift tone.
As I said, the storyline is a bit rushed; its first two episodes remain its best for their perfect balance of speed of story progression and comprehensiveness of development, and it’s unfortunate that it loses steam a bit and starts skipping things that should be expanded. But the fact is that what it does show is well-written and extremely entertaining, with a high amount of diversity so that you get a multilayered experience and wide appeal. Whatever flaws it has, while definitely unfortunate, do not hamper the experience.
Visuals & Audio
There’s not much to say here. The series’ animation and art direction are impressive. The world, as I’ve established, is amazingly constructed and realistically designed, and this carries into the art design as well. The combination of the stereotypical ancient Asian architecture with the primitive yet modernized look of 1920’s America is unexpectedly fascinating. It’s a simple combination of two familiar styles but winds up creating a totally new, very impressive look. It’s hard to say if other settings in the series will continue this to the degree that it was present in Republic City, but it was nonetheless an impressive show for Season 1.
The character designs also benefit from the creators’ artistic skill, and wind up as a good balance of modernized city folk and tribal villagers; most of the clothes still see major inspiration from the garb of the tribes from the original series, but are tweaked to look proper in the more modern setting.
The animation quality is also breathtaking. Movements, facial expressions, and backgrounds are all well-drawn and move seamlessly. As a result the series ends up being far flashier than the original series was, and each fight scene is a major spectacle. Even if its amazing setting and character designs were stripped off, the series would be beautiful to look at, but with them present it’s simply unbelievable.
The music is no exception. I already covered the quality of the voice-acting, and the handling of other sounds is just as masterful. But where the audio really shines is in the soundtrack. The music was intentionally designed with the same concept as the setting was — a combination of Asian and 1920’s styles — and it’s extremely effective and fitting for the different scenes, whether they’re funny, action-packed, emotional, or frightening. The songs on their own are extremely well-made, as well, and these mark the only songs that actually got me interested in Ragtime. Impressive, Korra! I used to hate Ragtime!
The Legend of Korra is a fascinating expansion from the original series, evolving its world and its ideas equally. The core theme is modernization in all its positives and negatives, with a more advanced world, loss of spirituality, and downplaying of cartoon world-conqueror villains in favor of a more insidious master of propaganda and terrorism. It is darker and more plot-focused, but at this it excels, and it still takes the time to give us amazing characters with a lot of charm and humor, and develop them to the point where we’re emotionally invested in their successes and failures. An enthralling experience, through and through. I can’t wait for Season 2.
Acting & Directing: 10/10
Visuals & Audio: 10/10