Apr 9 2012 12:00pm

Adventures in Republic City: The Legend of Korra Premieres!

After years of anticipation, the sequel to Avatar: The Last Airbender has finally arrived. Set seventy years after the original series, The Legend of Korra follows a new avatar, a teenage Water Tribe girl named Korra, as she learns to master airbending and navigate the world’s great metropolis, Republic City. What can fans expect from the show? What are the connections to the old series, and what new surprises are in store? Below the cut, we’ll talk about what’s the same, what’s different, and what to expect this season on The Legend of Korra.

Fans already know the premise. Teenage Avatar Korra has mastered waterbending, earthbending, and firebending, and travels to Republic City to study airbending with Tenzin, the middle-aged son of Avatar Aang and Katara. Most of the characters we knew in The Last Airbender have gone on to that great air temple in the sky, but the beauty of this new show is that, like Korra, who has the compassion of Katara, the strength of Toph, and the rebelliousness of Aang, there are many other characters and situations in Legend of Korra that will be instantly recognizable to fans of The Last Airbender. Here are five:

Gray Hair Loopies Of the original cast, only Katara makes an appearance. The other heroes from The Last Airbender are gone. Katara has adopted the GranGran role well. Korra looks up to her, and she offers advice and comfort to the new Avatar and Tenzin both. It seems she will play only a small role in the show. Early on, she passes the torch to the new generation.

Aang the Third Tenzin’s son Meelo has inherited his grandfather’s kooky side. For bald airbender troublemaking, look no further than this mini-Aang clone.

Metalbending is Boss Toph may be gone, but her daughter Lin Beifong is the chief of the Republic City police force. She commands a squad of intense metalbenders, who use the advanced earthbending techniques invented by Toph in the original series. The tactics and style of these benders is reminiscent of the Dai Li from The Last Airbender, which gives Korra’s interaction with Lin Beifong an off-kilter feel. The police chief feels more like an adversary than an ally.

Those Boys When Korra arrives in Republic City, she befriends two teenage brothers—the firebender Mako and the earthbender Bolin. Intense, dark, brooding firebender. Hmm . . . does that sound like anyone you remember from the previous series? And then there’s Bolin, the goofy, friendly, passionate ally. Yup. We have our new Sokka.

The Easter Eggs — There are oh so many. Aang and Katara have two children besides Tenzin, Kya (named for Katara’s mother) and Bumi (named for Aang’s childhood best friend, the King of Omashu). When Tenzin first arrives at the South Pole, Katara’s granddaughter says, “GranGran! I’ve been reading all about your old adventures. I’ve been dying to ask you, what happened to Zuko’s mom?” It’s a lampshade moment, but it shows that even the characters in the world of Avatar are aware of the plot holes in the original series. The White Lotus makes an appearance. So do Sky Bison. So does the traditional garb of Earth, Fire, Water, and Airbenders. Korra’s firebending friend Mako is named in honor of the actor who voiced Uncle Iroh in the original series. ::sniff:: Did you spot any shout-outs or throwbacks when you watched the premiere? Feel free to mention them in the comments.


But for every throwback to The Last Airbender, there is something else that is new and surprising. Want examples? Here are five:

No Journeys — Although The Last Airbender was lauded for its dynamic characters and serialized storytelling, it still had a formula. Aang’s task was to walk the earth, in each episode encountering denizens of the Four Nations and righting wrongs. But now we’ve seen the world, and the creators of Avatar don’t intend to re-tread old ground. The Legend of Korra will take place almost entirely inside Republic City. If there is a lesson in the second half of season two of The Last Airbender, which is set almost entirely in the city of Ba Sing Se, it is that in a thriving metropolis, there will be more than enough to keep our heroes busy.

The Equalists — In The Last Airbender, the citizens of the Four Nations seemed to take it in stride that a sizable minority could shoot fireballs from their hands and transmute through walls just by waving their arms. In Legend of Korra, an anti-bending organization, called The Equalists, has come out in protest of bending, which they believe relegates non-benders to the status of second-class citizens. Their leader is Amon, a mysterious masked man played by Steve Blum, known for his voice acting as Wolverine and as Spike Spiegel on Cowboy Bebop. According to early promotional copy, the Equalists use chi-blocking techniques to defeat benders, similar to Ty Lee’s fighting style in The Last Airbender. There were some fantastic non-benders in the original series. It’s scary to think that some of them might become enemies in Legend of Korra. Can you imagine if the Kyoshi Warriors were the BAD guys? Yikes. If there are two predictions I would make at this point in the series, the first is that Tenzin’s pregnant non-bender wife Pema is going to get into trouble with these baddies, and the second is that Amon is actually the descendent of someone we know—Ty Lee, Mai, or (ulp!) Sokka and Suki.

Organized Crime — As soon as Korra arrives in Republic City, she gets mixed up with some criminals who are wearing dapper suits, driving an Avatar-world variation on the Model-T, and using bending to intimidate innocent people. Although thieves and vagrants did exist in The Last Airbender (think about the pirates from “The Water Scroll,” or even Zuko’s alter ego, the Blue Spirit), my guess is that the conflict between these gangsters and Lin Beifong’s police force will be central to the Korra’s story. And speaking of Model-Ts, check out the technology bump the world has gotten in seventy years. Technology seems to have encroached upon the magical world of Avatar. The architecture and innovations of this world resemble that of the 1920s. Old Timey Radio, cars, floodlights, and fedoras.

Let the Games Begin — Pro-bending. Wow. If this doesn’t sell you on Legend of Korra, maybe nothing will. The national pastime of Republic City is this crazy bending-based sport. Part boxing, part dodgeball, part American Gladiators, pro-bending is the sport that Mako and Bolin play in a huge arena on the coast of Republic City. Korra joins their team in a pinch, and proves herself as a great player and a savvy bender. Pro-bending makes Quidditch look like Tiddlywinks.

Young Adult — I have often said, on this website and elsewhere, that Avatar: The Last Airbender is the best middle-grade fantasy in the history of television. Swashbuckling adventure, a coming-of-age story, and just a dash of chaste romance. But Korra, unlike Aang, is NOT twelve years old. She’s seventeen. Her disdain for authority and her arrogance are major character traits, and when she first meets Mako, whoaaaaaaaaa you can cut the sexual tension with a meteor sword. Each season of The Last Airbender grew darker and more mature. Signs indicate that season one of Legend of Korra is on track to be as mature as season four of The Last Airbender would have been.

So get ready. Legend of Korra looks like it’s going to be a worthy successor. Stay tuned.

Matt London is an author and filmmaker who lives in New York City, currently a student in the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU. He is a graduate of the Clarion Writer’s Workshop, as well as a columnist for, Fantasy Magazine, Lightspeed, and Realms of Fantasy. Follow him on Twitter.

1. Candace-LoveyDoveyBks
Thanks for sharing! I didn't really have any intention of watching The Legend of Korra, even though I did enjoy watching Avatar: The Last Airbender. I'm definitely going to check it out now so I can see all the differences and similarities during the show!
David Holden
2. davidholden
This show doesn't (officially) premiere until Saturday . . .
3. CaitieCat
My first-ever subscription to a show before it runs, since I no longer have cable. I cannot WAIT. I saw the first ep in preview, and it was fantastic, wonderful, OMG amazingly cool. Baby Korra was adorkable and led obviously to older Korra, and Katara! Hair loopies in grey! And sadness for the loss of the other characters, but re-spect to the Makers that they had the courage to go with entirely new characters. And a girl/young woman as main-stage fighting hero/Chosen One! On American television! With flaws like anger and overassertiveness!

I could just go all faint.
Matt London
4. MattLondon
Your exclamation points are well placed, @CaitieCat I couldn't agree more.
5. AudreyG
(For anyone that has a US iTunes account, you can download the first two episodes for free. Don't know how long that's going to last, but that's how I was finally able to watch it.)

I'm thrilled by this new series for many of the reasons you already pointed out in your post. What I love most, I think, is that Korra isn't Aang version 2. She's her own person with her own flaws and strengths. And the fights the show is setting her up to have are going to be entirely different from Aang's. Aang was focused on a megalomaniac trying to take over the world; Korra looks like she's going to be facing a lot of social justice/power-responsibility problems in her future, and I love it.

I'm also ridiculously happy that (so far) there's going to be a lot less filler in this series and that the creators are definitely aiming for an older audience. I'm in the middle of my own Avatar: The Last Airbender Rewatch, and while the creators showed an amazing amount of respect for their younger target audience, they still cut corners sometimes. I hope that Korra's story will not shy away from these tougher discussions.

And can I just say that I adore that there are multicultural families (like mine!) in this show?
Scott Silver
6. hihosilver28
Matt, are you going to be doing a recap of this season of Korra? I liked the recaps of A:TLA that you were doing and was bummed when it dropped off the map. High hopes that won't happen with Korra. I am beyond excited for this year in television, and Korra is near the top of reasons why!
Neil Sood
7. RanchoUnicorno
At the risk of being tossed out of the cool kids table, I wasn't totally impressed. The first two episodes were good, but there was something missing. It took a while for me to figure it out, but I think I have it. Repercussions.

I fully expect the writers to resolve this issue throughout the season, but the first couple of episodes seemed to be repercussion-free for Korra. Throughout the episode, whenever she does something that she shouldn't, it works out for her in the end - through success and/or the other person acknowledging their error. Even when she gets on the path to trouble, she gets out of it without any long term impact.

It feels a bit too...Egwene.

NB: Examples intentionally excluded to protect those not using iTunes.
8. Stefan Jones
I've been watching Last Airbender for the first time, since getting a Netflix subscription as a Christmas present. I'm two episodes (actually, about two hours) away from the finale.

My delight with the series is tempered by bitter envy . . . there was nothing, nothing, like this on the Tube when I was growing up in the late 60s / early 70s. Avatar was smart, funny, exciting, and occasionally moving . . . Uncle Iroh's little vinegette in Tales of Ba Sing Se was a leaves-you-slack-jawed stunner.

Time to fire up the DVR for the new series. I hope my cable subscription includes Nickelodeon! That is where it is running, yes?
9. tigeraid
Anyone know where it will be aired in Canada? YTV? Teletoon?
Mordicai Knode
10. mordicai

Also, Tenzin is the first par tof the name of the Dalai Lama. The second part of the name is Gyatso. So yeah, Tenzin is a name check as well, to Monk Gyatso.
Evan Langlinais
11. Skwid
I have set my DVR!

Very excited to finally be able to see this world in HD!
Matt London
12. MattLondon
@hihosilver28 Thank you for the kind words! I too hope will run a series of Legend of Korra recaps, but I do not think I will be the one doing them. I'm just too swamped with my graduate studies and other writing projects to commit to a weekly column. Gotta stick to one-offs like this! But I still want to get back to the Airbender rewatch -- just not sure when.

Thanks again!
13. Michael S. Schiffer
"If there are two predictions I would make at this point in the series,
the first is that Tenzin’s pregnant non-bender wife Pema is going to get
into trouble with these baddies, and the second is that Amon is
actually the descendent of someone we know—Ty Lee, Mai, or (ulp!) Sokka and Suki."

I'm thinking that Pema might be Ty Lee's daughter-- one of her and Tenzin's daughters reminds me a lot of her. Which doesn't preclude the other speculation-- Avatar has had it's share of family intrigue before. (Though another candidate: IIRC, it's mentioned that Aang and Katara had one non-bending son...)

I do find it interesting the way that Republic City's very multiculturalism seems to have driven the emergence of bender and non-bender as identities. Multiple bending specialties team up in pro-bending and street gangs, and Pema's desire for a child "like her" specifically means a non-bender. Compare with Aang's day when (aside from unusual groupings like the White Lotus or Aang's friends), benders identified and were identified primarily with the tribe/nation/kingdom they emerged from.
14. CaitieCat
Thx, MattLondon@4 - definitely missing your ATLA rewatch, though completely understood on how real life can interfere. I've been plotting my own rewatch of something elsewhere, and have learned the lessons of those who have gone before me, and now have my First Commandment of Rewatching:

1. Thou Shalt Have a Bunch of Eps in the Bag Before Thou Posteth Any, Yea Even One Little One, Just Trust Me On This.

16. CrazyCanuck
My favorite shout out was the cars. Did you not notice they were called Sokka-mobiles?

As for Amon being a child of past characters, I'd bet yes. Personally I think Amon is Bumi, a non-bending son of Aang and Katara. We know benders can have non-bender children. Aang had three children but ONLY Tenzin is an air-bender. The other two can either be water-benders or non-benders. If you were a non-bender child of one of the greatest water-bending masters alive and the Avatar wouldn't you be bitter enough to start a movement?
17. StrongDreams
I never saw the original all the way through, but watched as much as I could and enjoyed it. One element that I did not catch, but is stated in the Wikipedia article, is that if the avatar is killed while in the "avatar state", the cycle is broken and there will be no more avatars...

This leads me to a speculation. Someone will conclude that if the avatar is killed in the avatar state, not just the avatar but all benders will die, or at least no more benders will be born. So I'm guessing one of the major plot elements will be an attempt to goad Korra into the avatar state and kill her.
19. Lepleyjr
I'm up in the air about this new series. One of the reasons I liked the The Last Airbender was because it was not "modern" - this isn't a deal breaker but it may take time getting use to. Also, Korra didn't really "learn" fire, earth or water bending. I couldn't tell if her parents were benders and I'm pretty sure that the idea was for the Avatar to "learn" bending...the first episode shows Korra already knowing how to bend fire, earth and water. I understand they wanted to jump ahead in time to when she was older (not wantingto redo the last one but make it new and different) but it would have been nice to know how she came to bend fire, earth and water at the age of what....4 while Aang had to "do it the hard way" and learn from others. Once again, not a deal breaker but disappointing that they are not keeping to some of the rules they gave us in The Last Airbender. I think it's hard to find a cartoon that appeals to children as well as adults and I think...though there was no "sexual" tension in The Last Airbender it made up for it in other ways. I know several adults who watched this more than their children. With Aang - you grew with him and felt a connection because you saw what he went far, I'm not connected with Korra - she's just another already "set in stone" character. I'm hoping this feeling will change as I watch more episodes.
20. Darkstand
The fact that they are not showing her learning the first 3 elements irritated me (too). I think that they wanted her to be a more immediate badass, and did not want to cover the same ground, but it seems kinda cheep to me. But it is to early to make any judgements yet... probably. The show seems to be excellent otherwise at any rate.
21. RecappersDelight
My whole family really enjoyed watching the Last Airbender together as a family. Korra looks great. It introduces a really strong female character in a genre that usually showcases boys, and it's one of the very few children's shows that is intelligent enough to be enjoyed by adults.

Trivia of the day: Today is the first day my daughter noticed that each bender class has a different eye color. All water benders have blue eyes, fire benders have red eyes, earth benders have green eyes, and air benders have grey eyes. Somehow, we never made that connection before now.

You can find my recaps by googling "Recapper's Delight".
22. Superstarseven
Us not knowing about Zuko's mom is most definitely NOT a plothole.
Mordicai Knode
23. mordicai
Also, random note: this post isn't tagged "The Legend of Korra" & thus doesn't come up under The Legend of Korra tag. Hrm.

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