Yeah, it's time to talk about cartoons.
Warning: This will contain spoilers, particularly for episode four.
I was really excited about the release of Legend of Korra, Nickelodeon's sequel series to Avatar: The Last Airbender. I loved the original series, and I really wanted to see where the creators would go with the new series. I've watched the first four episodes now, and I have some praise as well as some complaints.
First off, I love the setting. It is just amazing. If you haven't seen it, think New York or Chicago in the 20's, but with Asian influences in the clothing and architecture. I love the gang wars, the radio, the arena bending, the 'Sato-mobiles'... It shows that the Avatar world is growing and changing; it's a living setting, and it isn't stuck in stasis from the end of the last series. I also really love the way that this series, as well as the original, incorporate bending into the fabric of everyday life. It's not just a combat technique, it's a part of everyday life. The metal-bending police officers, the pro-bending athletes... There's a scene in the third episode when Mako and a bunch of other firebenders are using lightning bending to power a factory. It was convincing and natural, and touches of the mundane help to give the world its depth.
Second, the main conflict. Once again, I approve. While the story of the original was a classic 'band of adventurers versus evil empire' that was executed very nicely, I appreciate the shades of grey in Korra's main conflict.The main antagonist, a mysterious masked figure named Amon, is the leader of an anti-bending movement, 'the Equalists'. What I really love about this is that the Equalists aren't evil. They're not even bad people. They're perfectly ordinary people who have a pretty reasonable grudge against the super-powered benders who run their world. Not only that, but the Equalists use tactics from the original series in a way that makes sense. They can't bend, but they can use technology, and they can use the chi-blocking techniques that we saw Tai Lee use in AtLA to neutralize bending.
I got really excited, though, when I found out what Amon could do.
Viewers of the original may remember the deus ex machina turtle from the series finale that taught Aang how to spirit-bend in order to defeat the Fire Lord. Amon single-handedly turned that stupid ass pull into a really cool Checkov's gun, using it to take away his opponents' bending powers. It elevated him to the status of a very badass and dangerous opponent.
Then he fucking ruined it.
Perhaps I am being a tad bit melodramatic, but I was very disappointed in at the end of episode four when Amon had Korra right there and let her go without taking her bending. He had some bullshit excuse about not wanting to make her a martyr. Guess what, Amon? Martyrs are people who fucking die. You're not killing her, you're just taking her powers. There hasn't, as far as I know, been any indication in the series that having bending powers removed kills or otherwise damages the bender. If they really had to have that early confrontation, there could've been a much better reason for Amon to hesitate in taking Korra's bending. In AtLA, we saw that the Fire Lord resisted Aang's spirit bending. What if Amon had been worried that Korra's Avatar powers would prove too strong and he would be overwhelmed? It makes sense and it avoids the detested (by me) cliche of having the villain let the hero walk out of his clutches for no good reason.
There is one other, bigger problem I have with the series; it's too short. It seems almost rushed at times. AtLA was a journey, a long one, with three seasons and plenty of time to spread things out and give all the plots the time they needed to develop properly. In Korra, they don't have nearly the same amount of time, and they are attempting to push three or four plot threads into one short episode. I want to see a lot more of Mako and Bolin, who are both really interesting characters, as well as more of Tenzin, and would it kill us to see Naga and Pabu a little more often? They're adorable. But so far the episodes have all been trying to juggle Korra's airbending training, her Fire Ferrets practice, and her struggle with Amon, and it's all felt very rushed. I feel almost whiplashed.
(It occurred to me as I was writing this that that is also the way that Korra feels being torn between multiple obligations. Is that what they were going for? If so, well-played, Korra creators.)
Overall, I think it's a great follow-up to the original, and I really look forward to seeing what will happen. Valete!