"I admit my memories of Avatar: The Last Airbender are over perfected, but the same can be said for any beloved series."
Sequels are sentenced to mediocrity at conception, burdened with expectations that too often stifle any budding creativity. Sometimes as fans we panic over tiny details, devastated by minor character changes or minute variations in dialogue. When these complaints are voiced in unison, following network expectations for viewership, expanding a universe seems not only terrifying but impossible.
I admit my memories of Avatar: The Last Airbender are over perfected, but the same can be said for any beloved series. In memory, things become monumental, a sum of the times tied to experience. Four years later, The Legend of Korra stepped into substantial territory, particularly after the fiasco that was the live-action feature film. Despite the rush of critical acclaim and assurance from friends that it was fantastic, I did not watch a single episode during the original airing. Missing the show was never my intention, but maybe my subconscious made up excuses to avoid potential disappointment. Korra and I finally met with five years between us, the air heavy with history, and I approached that first viewing with trepidation and mild fear.
"Flashbacks color key moments, but we are left to make our own assumptions about the finer details. The characters we loved, those elements we obsess over, have been preserved and handed to us to keep."
The series opens in familiar territory, a settlement of the Southern Water Tribe, heavily inspired by Inuit culture, and one of four major nations that the Avatar works to keep in harmonious balance. However, Avatar Aang has passed, and these events take place 70 years later with an entirely new cast of characters. The jump in time serves as a literal separation and gives this story breathing room. Flashbacks color key moments, but we are left to make our own assumptions about the finer details. The characters we loved, those elements we obsess over, have been preserved and handed to us to keep.
Korra is exceptional because while the series is standalone it embodies the spirit of the original. Newcomers can freely enter this world, and fans will catch nuances, references to past events that manage to enrich the experience. Missing these references hardly detracts from the fundamental plot-line; duality only strengthens the show’s replay value. The shift in setting also challenges the creators to embrace completely new storytelling elements. The traditional environment transforms into a Pan-Asian Manhattan at the turn of the century; in stark contrast to classical Eastern influence we have modern conveniences like electricity. Korra travels to Republic City on a flying polar bear dog, and later navigates behind the wheel of a car.
Korra could not be more different from Aang, so it is no surprise that the creators envisioned her to be composed of his opposites. She is a brash 17-year-old deeply immersed in the physical aspects of bending, which she began mastering close to infancy. Korra epitomizes the strong female lead – her physical appearance is convincing, and her flaws keep her believable and relatable. Unlike Aang, she struggles with the spiritual. Pit out on the same path, she still flourishes to assume the role of Avatar.
"Plot elements blend seamlessly, while maintaining a fast pace. Originally conceived as a mini-series, the show consists of twelve brief episodes that contain absolutely no filler."
I struggle to designate Korra as merely a children’s show, because it breaks so many of the infuriating conventions that have become commonplace. The plot borrows and flourishes from a variety of source material, some of which is undeniably mature. Underlying themes of socioeconomic class struggle and discrimination are handled beautifully. Ideas are implied instead of explicitly stated, treating the viewer as an intelligent active participant. That’s not to say that the darker elements of the story fill every moment on screen, but they aren’t dumbed down. I was legitimately frightened by the main antagonist, Amon, a mysteriously powerful non-bender leading an underground crusade against the “oppressive” government.
Plot elements blend seamlessly, while maintaining a fast pace. Originally conceived as a mini-series, the show consists of twelve brief episodes that contain absolutely no filler. Every scene and character feels essential – whether the actions are furthering the plot or providing comedic relief. I’ve encountered discrepancy whether the introduction and large inclusion of Pro-bending, a competitive team sport based on the classic skill, detracts from the series. In its defense, I appreciated being introduced to the protagonists in a simpler setting while drama unfolds in the background. And we still learn a great deal about the dynamic of Mako, Bolin, and Korra’s relationship in these scenes. The romantic subplot while standard is honestly realistic – our leads are adolescents and act the part. When Amon’s Equalist conflict finally emerges in full-view, it carries an urgency, a sense of scale that I believe would be otherwise missing.
"The release is packed with over four hours of bonus content that includes supremely entertaining audio commentary for every single episode."
The Legend of Korra is Nickelodeon’s first television series to be released on blu-ray and it sets a standard to be beat. The immaculate detail put into the series, from the painterly strokes composing the intricate environmental backdrops to the clarity of the colors and the clean audio tracks, can now be fully appreciated. The release is packed with over four hours of bonus content that includes supremely entertaining audio commentary for every single episode. I was fortunate enough to view the series for the very first time on Blu-ray and I would not have it any other way.
Review by: Ameenah Salamunic | Review Format: Blu-ray | Running Time: 289 Minutes