Monday, September 16, 2013

The Legend of Korra: Spirits

I saw the Legend of Korra premiere, and was happy with it. Not pushed into throes of ecstasy, but I'm very interested to see where it goes next.

Starting out with a new direction was inevitable, since the series wrapped up its conflicts in the first season.  Parts of that were unsatisfying: I was fine with Korra regaining bending so quickly, and gaining Airbending, but her romance with Mako had no chemistry, and Asami had to be dumped to do it. Furthermore, Amon was a great idea and a great villain, but we never saw exactly *how* Benders were oppressing non-Benders. It's easy to imagine how it could happen, but remember the golden rule is still show, don't tell.

Now we have a story where the plot and the new characters are more interesting than the current characters. I still want to like Korra, but she doesn't seem to have been changed by her experiences. You can see what they're *trying* to do with her character, but it's not fleshed out enough.

Korra's problem (from an in-universe viewpoint) is that she's too concerned with the physical side of her powers and her world. The crux is that she has to learn to be in touch with the spiritual aspects of it, and by association, be less hot-headed.

This looks to be a key point in the upcoming season, but her spiritual experience in the first season finale doesn't seem to have rubbed off on her yet. Her first impulse on meeting hostile spirits even in the sacred forest is to cold-clock 'em, even after everything Unlaq has been telling her. I hope Korra's character development will actually start to happen, instead of being promised.

Mako is still bland, Bolin is simplistic comic relief. Being that this is the second season, I'm still hoping Bolin will be more fleshed out, the way that Sokka was.

Asami continues to be dynamite, wasting no time in trying to get the family business back in full swing, and investigating new technologies to do it. This time, we see the beginnings of movies in the Avatar world, which is wonderful because unlike many fantasy worlds, that of AtLA is looking towards the future and embracing progress.

I still enjoy the characters of Tenzin and his nuclear family, though. Too often in children's entertainment, families and parents are regarded as un-fun, not deserving of attention, but LoK fleshes out them into real characters instead of props, proving that a character can be a parent and still have a personality, and also without idealizing what families go through. Tenzin’s kids can still be total brats.

We meet Tenzin's other siblings, and Bumi and Kya look like fun characters with a lot of potential. The way they play off Tenzin is great, and they are all distinct from each other, which is the best way to create a family of characters.

The expanding on Korra's family, however, makes me wish that the writers knew more about what they were going to get in terms of episodes, so that matters could have flowed better. As it is, it comes off as, "Remember the uncle and cousins you had that we never mentioned before?"

Other viewers say they called Unalaq as a villain, but he's really more nuanced than most "evil uncles". At this point, he comes off more as a corrupt extremist with a valid point, rather than out-and-out evil. Hopefully he isn't lying about the anger of the spirits or faking something for his own gain, because that would be lazy and predictable.. By having a core of truth to his beliefs, Unalaq would become more credible as a villain.

However, it's also good that in defiance of fantasy conventions, Unalaq, the character who looks to the past, is cast as evil and misguided. It connects nicely with Asami's interest in upcoming technologies, forming a larger contrast to stereotypical fantasy.

Despite how useful a character Unalaq could be to the plot, the conflict that leads up to Korra deciding to be Unlaq's protege is very stereotypical and insincere, and with a lot of talking heads. A teenage girl shouting at her father and father figures about how she wants something more and to make her own choices is morally correct but also overdone. Compared to how real the relationships among the other characters can feel, including previous interaction between Korra and Tenzin, this is a disappointment.

But I want to see more. I’m still hopeful that the good parts of this series will come to overshadow the issues, that the potential will come out as LoK grows more comfortable in its skin.

As always for the Avatar series, everything looks gorgeous, with a cinematic quality to it.
The modernized setting is still one of the best parts of Legend of Korra, and it would be great to see more television fantasy embrace such settings. Some have expressed disappointment with the lack of traditional fantasy grandeur in the Korra universe, but it’s not the setting that creates or destroys grandeur, but the writing. And Korra isn't trying for that traditional grandeur. It's creating its own sort of world.

1 comment:

  1. "I was fine with Korra regaining bending so quickly, and gaining Airbending"

    I was fine with those themselves happening, but I didn't like HOW they happened.

    "we never saw exactly *how* Benders were oppressing non-Benders."

    Aside from the city council being made up entirely of benders, benders getting more opportunities than nonbenders (including a whole sport dedicated to it), the cops being all benders, and bending criminals who get let off too lightly by the system? Not to mention the Equalist suspects/candidates that Tarrlok's task force and the police oppressed.

    "I still want to like Korra, but she doesn't seem to have been changed by her experiences."

    That was evident since the end of Book One. It's the problem with Aang giving her absolute power without her having actually done anything or coped with her loss of power yet. She still hadn't learned how to define herself as an individual rather than as just the Avatar, and to her, being the Avatar is all about power. She basically ended the first story exactly where she began it in terms of character growth, only with everything she could ever want. And this has actually turned her into an unlikable, irrational, despicable person. It looks to be intentional at this point, so I sure hope they give her real character development that sticks this time.

    "Mako is still bland"

    I didn't think it possible, but Mako's an even worse character now!