Fri
Apr 27 2012 10:00am

Avatar Korra is Here! — The First Three Episodes

I am so over the moon excited about The Legend of Korra that I think I might burst. I want to let you know, without any hyperbole, that I think Avatar: the Last Airbender is one of the five greatest shows ever made. The other four are Twin Peaks, The Prisoner, Gilmore Girls and Firefly, I think—that last one might be Buffy or Angel or even Battlestar Galactica depending on the weather, but Avatar: the Last Airbender ain’t budging off the list no way, no how. I think the only reasonable comparison to Avatar: the Last Airbender are the Studio Ghibli films, and I think the parallels are flattering to both.

Complicated storytelling using the strengths of the animated medium? Yes please. You saw the Faith Erin Hicks comic, right? I’m basically like that. You probably are to, so you know what I mean. I’m going to be your friendly neighborhood The Legend of Korra for the next glorious few months, so I thought it might be a good idea to start of playing catch up, since I’m already three episodes behind! Yes, I watched “Welcome to Republic City” and “A Leaf in the Wind,” when they were first released online, of course I did, did I mention my crazy obsessive passion? I think I did.

I don’t think it hit me just how displaced from the first series The Legend of Korra was until I saw “Gran Gran” Katara’s lingering looks at Korra at the start of “Welcome to Republic City,” and until she casually mentioned Sokka being dead. Sokka? Is dead? That… that… it didn’t occur to me that could even happen. I will say this: they better find Sokka’s meteoric iron “space sword” stuck in a rock like Excalibur over the course of series. When it fell during the last episode that was all I could think—oh, random treasure for some later adventurers! and the first episode—from the incredible “I’m the Avatar! You gotta deal with it!” baby to the epic hug Korra gives Tenzin and his children—is about establishing Korra, how she is different from Aang and how she isn’t. The art direction really shines on the latter point; Korra is radically different from Aang… except in her body language. Every so often she slips into the same poses we’d expect from the impish Airbending Avatar who preceded her. It is a brilliant visual shorthand for a complicated concept—using Korra’s posture to telegraph reincarnation on a subtle intuitive level? Wow.

“A Leaf in the Wind” (is that a Firefly reference?) establishes the supporting cast in much the same way that the first episode established Korra and her polar bear dog Naga. Remember how Harry Potter dragged out Snape’s storyline over the course of seven books? Oh, he’s a strict teacher, but he has a good heart! Well, Aang’s son Tenzin wraps that story up in the first couple of episodes. The Legend of Korra doesn’t patronize the viewer; of course the stern Airbending Master has depths and a complex psychology, doesn’t every one? We also get the bending brothers Mako—named in honor of Uncle Iroh’s voice actor— and Bolin.

I can only assume the two of them come from a multicultural family, since Bolin bends earth and Mako is a firebender; they’re the legacy of the Fire Nation Colonies. It shows the degree of thought that goes into the cosmology and mechanics of bending… Avatar: the Last Airbender answered a lot of questions about the hows of bending, and Korra continues that tradition. Aang and Katara’s children reflect their heritage as well—Kya the waterbender, Bumi the non-bender and Tenzin the airbender. Can I say, as a side note, that I was puzzled as to who Tenzin was named after for a bit? Kya is obviously after Katara’s mother, Bumi after Aang’s friend, but I thought they’d name their airbending kid after Monk Gyatso. Then I figured it out—the Dalai Lama is named “Tenzin Gyatso.” Ah ha!

Lastly, since I stirred up a minor kerfuffle with my Modest Proposal For Increased Diversity in DandD and the M. Night Shyamalan The Last Airbender movie created a lot of legitimate controversy with its white-washing of the cartoon—leading to the creation of the term “racebending” as popularized by Racebending.com—I think it bears mention that the diversity of the Four Nations is just astounding. I am hard pressed to think of a television show that rivals it. Skin tones run the gamut from pale to dark and the cultural references are pulled from a wide variety of non-Western sources. Pacific Islanders, Inuit, Feudal and Imperial Japan, Australian aborigines, a smorgasbord of Chinese dynasties, Tibetan Buddhism…well, I could be here all day listing the complex and layered universe built in Avatar: The Last Airbender.

The Legend of Korra takes that well-realized setting and then evolves it, following the trends of the first series and taking cultural developments to their logical conclusion, again widening the circle of potential influences to include turn of the century America. Republic City is Shanghai, Hong Kong, New York, New Orleans—it is every great metropolis, and ever city’s underbelly, run through a steampunk filter. The giant Aang statue echoes the Colossus of Rhodes, the Statue of Liberty—the Statue of Liberty being the same height as that ancient wonder was reputed to be—and the park is a mash-up of Central Park and London’s Hyde Park. The aerial warships and tanks of the first series have given way to dirigibles and automobiles—sorry, satomobiles—in Republic City, and the cutting edge techniques of metalbending and lightningbending are part and parcel of how the world works, now. Pro-bending is the sport of choice—the mysticism of the first series given way to pragmatism and perhaps cynicism—and the driving force lurking in the background is the class warfare between the bending “haves” and mundane “have-nots.” I have to say, I’m curious to see where the show takes it.


Mordicai Knode is married to someone who is basically Mei, and figures he’s probably be a waterbender, though firebender was a close second. What would you be? Tell him on Twitter!

38 comments
Owlmouse
1. Owlmouse
Psst, when you say your wife is like Mei, do you actually mean Mai?

The comment about Sokka still makes me want to curl up in a ball and mourn about how he'd be such an awesome old, man. (Also, ZUKO'S MOM. I was legitimately torn between laughing uncontrollable and being outraged that they didn't finally tell us what happened!)
Owlmouse
2. AudreyG
I'm so excited to see that there's going to be a Korra recap/commentary here on Tor! I've loved the show so far, and I definitely approve of the direction the world building has gone. My biggest concern about this series was that it could end up being just Aang & Friends Version 2, but these episodes have put that fear to rest.

Korra is a very different person, and the challenges she's facing are also different. (I do love that she tried to capitalize on her connection to Aang with Lin Beifong and got that door slammed in her face. Lin does not care that your previous incarnation was BFFs with her mother.) And I love that we're not going to be walking the earth in this series. Republic City is a fascinating place to be, and I'm glad we get to explore it in depth.

And as much fun as it was for Aang to take on a psycho who wanted to take over the world, I'm just as excited--if not more so--to see the social challenges that Korra gets to face: organized crime, poverty, unequal distribution of power, etc. Amon is a suitably scary bad guy, and the threat he poses is just as scary as Ozai was, though for different reasons.

(Though on a side note, man, why are firebenders getting such a bad rap in this series? Certainly firebenders aren't the only benders that like to kill people, but we've gotten that story twice in three episodes. Surely a waterbender/earthbender could do some murder if they were so inclined.)

Loving the world building and the characters and especially the plot--there is a lot less fluff in these episodes than there was in ATLA, which is always a good thing in my book. I am hoping that we get another main girl character soon--I don't want to have to wait as long as we did in ATLA for Toph. Can't wait for the new episode tomorrow!
Gary Singer
3. AhoyMatey
The original series was awesome. And this one, so far, is just as good if not better. My son noticed a statue of Zuko in Chapter 3 (which we finally got to watch last night).
Mordicai Knode
4. mordicai
1. Owlmouse

Bah! I go on my piecemeal knowledge of Japanese & the audible phonemes! I spelled it the way I did on purpose! I mean, drat, you are right, I've been spelling it wrong my whole life. Next think you know you'll point out that I'm spelling Toff Bayfung's name wrong!

Seriously though, at least we got Fake Old Sokka in "The Headband," but yeah, so sad!
Mordicai Knode
5. mordicai
2. AudreyG

I'm so excited to have an excuse to talk about The Legend of Korra on here, too! A total win/win situation. & I never doubted that Korra would forge her own path; after three seasons of seeing what Team Avatar can do, I've gotten to the point where I just trust them to knock it out of the park.

(Anyhow, the Fire Nation waged a 100 year war of aggression resulting in the genocide of an entire race of people! I think they've got it coming. Which is to say, more reasonably: when you have a civilization geared for imperialism, where militarism is the driving force of your economy, you're going to get a lot of blowback when you try to change to peacetime footing. I think that the legacy of colonialism is a messy one, & The Legend of Korra is reflecting that.)
Mordicai Knode
6. mordicai
3. AhoyMatey

We've seen an Aang statue, a Toph statue & a Zuko statue so far, if I'm not mistaken. I'm better that there is a sweet Sokka statue; I hope it is carved out of ice!
James Whitehead
7. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
Sounds promising. Hope it can live up to the original. Not sure if I agree with your top five list. But, to each his/her own. ;-)

Quick question, what 'station/channel' is this on?

Kato
Mordicai Knode
8. mordicai
7. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard

Believe it or not, Nickleodeon! It is an "all ages" show, but as I said I think it deals with issues in a much more complex & intelligent fashion than shows that get the "mature" label.
George Brell
9. gbrell
One interesting thing that I didn't realize at first. The benders in the new opening credits are the last four Avatars, starting with Kyoshi. That means that the airbender is the adult Aang.

“A Leaf in the Wind” (is that a Firefly reference?)

Unfortunately, the Firefly line is: "I'm a leaf on the wind."

My overall thoughts are that it is excellent, if occasionally feeling rushed (mostly I wish they'd eliminate the somewhat cheesy summary lines at the end of each episode, usually given to Tenzin).

It's kind of ridiculous, but there is a flash game at the Nickelodeon website that provides a lot more background to what happens in the interim between the end of A:tlA and the beginning of Korra.

www.nick.com/games/legend-of-korra-welcome-to-republic-city.html?navid=showNav

The "game" aspects are a little repetitive, but so far they've revealed that Aang and Zuko originally planned to move the Fire Nation colonists back to the Fire Nation and that the colonists revolted. By that time, many of the colonists had intermarried with the earth kingdom (and created mixed-bending families). Zuko was apparently the one that pushed for the creation of the Republic and Aang apparently opposed him.

Zuko is still alive and has recently retired as Firelord, giving the position to his daughter!

There is also going to be another female main character, who is the daughter of Sato (of the Satomobile) and is going to be a driving expert non-bender.
Owlmouse
10. John R. Ellis
The phrase "a leaf in the wind" has been in use long, long before it was uttered in the Firefly film.


(Hello. I'm "that guy"! Pleased to meet you. : P )

But, yes, the show is awesome! Episode three packed in so much content it made my head spin! Much faster paced show. Not complaining at all.
James Whitehead
11. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
@8mordicai, thanks for that. I thought Nickleodeon would be doing it; didn't they air the first one? Or was that Cartoon Network?

We watched the first series as a family on Friday nights. Everyone loved it, even my wife & daughter who aren't too much into 'fantasy/science fiction.'

My youngest loved Sokka the most & will be crushed to learn he's dead.

That's why I dislike so many 'family' oriented shows; the treacle that pours from the television doubles my blood sugar. That's why I've always loved Tolkien; he wrote the Hobbit the way he did as he hated books/authors that talked down to children, since he didn't like to be talked down to as well.

Kato
Owlmouse
12. Cybersnark
@6

Of course, the Sokka statue is constantly getting (accidentally) knocked down and rebuilt. ;)
Mordicai Knode
13. mordicai
9. gbrell
&
10. John R. Ellis

Oh well sure, it isn't spot on & it isn't unique to Wash...but that being said, I find it hard to imagine that "Bryke" aren't aware of the emotional cache it has with geeky fandom.
treebee72 _
14. treebee72
I think I'm in denial about Sokka being dead...

Anyone else think Amon can't really take away bending permantly?
He's not doing the same technique Aang used on Ozai, so I think he's figured out how to cut off a Chakra point (which we know can be reversed from the last ep of ATLA).
Mordicai Knode
15. mordicai
11. KatoCrossesTheCourtyard
&
14. treebee72

It is like,70 years later, so it makes sense, but yeah...that is when it hit me. An old "Uncle Zuko" & "Gran Gran Katara" but I don't expect anything else. Oh man though, "Uncle Zuko" is going to rule.
treebee72 _
16. treebee72
@15 mordicai,

But he was like, 15-16 in the show, so that would make him only mid-eighties & we've seen people older than that in ATLA, so he totally could have still been alive! And so could have Toph! Now, I'm just bumming myself out...
Owlmouse
17. DarthRachel
what guts me is the bit on the interactive game/map thing that talks about how Aang tasked the White Lotus peeps with finding and training the next avatar when he realized his health was declining...

Aang... got sick. *cries*
S Cooper
18. SPC
@14 treebee: My husband had an idea about spirits and Amon that I can't get out of my head now. We have here a man without a face who says he spoke to spirits and opposes the Avatar. Remember the face-stealer from the first series? Spirit without a face who talks to humans and is opposes the Avatar. I could totally believe the face-stealer would teach Amon.
Owlmouse
19. Teddard Snark
4. mordicai

"GO TO YOUR ROOM!"
Mordicai Knode
20. mordicai
16. treebee72
&
17. DarthRachel

Oh man of course Avatar/Korra is making me grapple with mortality. OF COURSE IT IS. WHY CAN'T THEY ALL LIVE FOREVER? Well, at least Aang got reincarnated.
Mordicai Knode
21. mordicai
18. SPC

I am saving that for my next post, but yeah, I totally am on Team Koh Is Behind It All.
Owlmouse
23. Teddard Snark
The "took my face" phrasing from Amon's speech set off my bells.

The Koh sequence is the one thing in the whole series that actually freaked out my kids--because Koh is scary as hell!
treebee72 _
24. treebee72
I also wonder about Korra not being able to airbend - is it a sign of the balance changing?
Mordicai Knode
25. mordicai
24. treebee72

Naw; Aang started out unable to do anything BUT airbend! But remember, he had the hardest time learning Earth; the grounded nature of that element was just opposed to his natural inclinations. Korra is just having the same problem; she's not naturally inclined to the sort of spirituality & freedom that airbending requires, so she has to work at it. She'll get it, mark my words!
Owlmouse
26. StrongDreams
We also have to remember that the law of narrative causality is in play as well. Aang needed to master all 3 elements in less than a year, because the plot required it, and therefore he succeeded. The plot requires that Korra be stuck on airbending for enough episodes that she gets drawn in to whatever the real problem is in Republic City, and so that's exactly how long it will take.

And, FWIW, Korra's natural opposite is fire, not air. But we haven't seen whether her training on firebending was difficult or not.
treebee72 _
27. treebee72
@26 StrongDreams - on the elemental level, fire is her opposite, but emotionally, air is. Even though she is a waterbender, her attitude/mentality is much more like Toph's than Katara's.

With this show everything isn't always as it seems & the creators have spoken about having there be consequences due to the genocide of the Air Nomads. So, I just have to wonder if her lack of airbending is as straight forward as it's being played right now.
Gary Singer
28. AhoyMatey
@18, @21, I'd also thought that the spider-thingy stole Amon's face.

Someone reminded me about the Lion Turtle teaching Aang how to take away somebody's bending powers. I wonder if Amon has visited a certain Lion Turtle island lately?
David Goldfarb
29. David_Goldfarb
They seem to be laying the groundwork for a Korra/Mako pairing (Koko?) with a trowel. I find myself hoping that Korra ends up with Bolin instead, or with neither of them.
Cait Glasson
30. CaitieCat
Yay! Very excited to see that Korra will be looked at here, and by Mordicai, no less! Double win.

SO SO LOVING THIS SHOW SO FAR, it rocks my world so hard I'm getting foamy-mouthed thinking of my cabbages. The little touches: Toph's statue outside the police station, Aang's bittersweet memory evoked by the superb statue of him. Grey hair loopies! Katara the White Lotus member! Meelo gnawing on Tenzin's head. Korra's headstrong will to play, reminiscent of Aang in the early days after he was revived.

Just loving the show, loving that it's everything I hoped it would be and more, loving that it's made by Americans and respectful of a hundred other cultures, that it's populated by people who look like they come from a hundred other cultures. That Korra got arrested for superhero-ing the street to bits.

Definitely ATLA is in my top five TV series, ever. I'm wondering what will be displaced when TLOK takes up its rightful place alongside its predecessor. Look worried, BSG and X-Files!
Mordicai Knode
31. mordicai
29. David_Goldfarb

I'm thinking that I might start a "Borra" & "Makorra" section of the recaps to chart the whole thing. Personally, I think Mako is gay, but maybe I'm wrong.
Mordicai Knode
32. mordicai
30. CaitieCat

I'm excited to be the one talking about it! Because-- & I think I mentioned this but I can't stress this enough-- I AM TOTALLY OBSESSED. I mean, I've been part of projects trying to port the Avatar universe to various roleplaying systems, which is maybe like, one better on fanfic? I don't know, but man, I sure find it to be by far the most genuinely moving & honest television show. In rough strokes it sounds like your average cartoon, but the verisimilitude is just off the freaking charts.
Doc Tobin
33. thegooddoctor
the greatest television show is the wire.

full stop.
Morbus Iff
34. MorbusIff
@gbrell: Some of the stuff the Nick.com game talks about has also been written up in graphic novel form from Dark Horse, specifically the Fire Nation colonies - see that link for more information about the trilogy. They're not works of art, but they're decent enough.
Mordicai Knode
35. mordicai
34. MorbusIff

I'm waiting for the whole thing to be finished before I dive into it; I've grown frustrated with "floppies" in general.
Owlmouse
36. Zack20
During the start of the show I was a little confused with the concept.
70 years have passed and now there's huge skyscrapers and cars? But I
welcome this change now since it was extremely well done and this new series leaves me with that warm feeling the original gave me. I realized that there's a comic book series called Avatar The Promise which explains the events that led to the legend of korra. I had literally no idea they continued the original series with a comics. Now I can still get the best of both worls :P
Mordicai Knode
37. mordicai
36. Zack20

Well, I mean-- the Flatiron building here in New York was built in 1902. Seventy years before that is the 1830s which is when the Opium Wars of imperialism were being fought by the Chinese & the British. Avatar: the Last Airbender is a world of mechanized tanks, elevated train lines & airships...& a lot can change in seventy years. I think it is totally plausible.
Owlmouse
38. tarad
is there a more comprehensive "family tree"? i'm just catching up on the season now so i don't know if there is any mention of sokka's family etc. thanks

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