Legend of Korra
Legend of Korra Review: More Like Avatar, But Still Korra

Mike Hoffman | 29 Jun 2014 19:30
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Korra and crew are headed to Ba Sing Se, but stop along the way to try and recruit new airbenders -- and, of course, run into some trouble. Apparently, people don't want to abandon their families, give up their possessions, shave their heads, and live a monastic lifestyle. As important as the airbender culture and history is to Tenzin, and as excited as he is to see that carried on by more than just his children, it doesn't seem possible to indoctrinate people into your culture just because they share abilities with that culture. The gang first finds a recruit in Kai, an orphaned young boy who is also a thief and troublemaker. While the rest of the team happily accepts him, Mako harshly informs Kai that he will be watching him.

Throughout the two-part episode, a threat to the Korra -- and the entire world -- is revealed. It starts with a prison cell in the middle of nowhere, the sole inmate of which is an older man. He shares some knowledge of older airbenders with his guards before using his newfound airbending skills to escape. This is Zaheer, voiced by Henry Rollins, and he then proceeds to two other prison cells. First, he frees an earthbender named Ghazan: after Zaheer throws rocks into his cell, Ghazan condenses them until they are burning hot and breaks out of his wooden cell. Next, Zaheer and Ghazan head to a cell suspended over lava. In the cell is an armless waterbender named Ming-Hua, voiced by Grey DeLisle (Azula in Avatar: The Last Airbender). Ming-Hua uses water supplied by her liberators as a tool for escape, taking the place of her arms as something like weaponized tentacles.

After they leave, Fire Lord Zuko arrives at the scene. Yes, Zuko is back. Initially the antagonist of The Last Airbender, Zuko eventually allied with Avatar Aang and took control of the Fire Nation and the two helped rebuild after the damage caused by the Hundred Year War. Zuko is also one of only two surviving members of Aang's group (the other being Aang's wife Katara), and in his old age is now sporting a beard similar to his uncle/adoptive father, Iroh. Knowing that these benders are dangerous enough to destroy the world, Zuko flies off (on his dragon!) to the North Pole to stop them from releasing a fourth prisoner.

It's a great hook... which the third episode doesn't really follow through on.

In the third episode of Book Three, "The Earth Queen," Korra and team arrive in Ba Sing Se -- and it still sucks there as much as it did in Avatar. The city still physically separates people into classes of wealth, the current ruler is overbearing and deceitful, and for some reason the Dai Li (the evil secret police of Ba Sing Se in The Last Airbender) are still around.

Mako and Bolin chase down Kai, who is using his airbending to steal, and end up trapped in the lower ring without passes to get back to their group. While in lower ring, sleeping in trash and debating stealing rotten fruit, they come across their extended family, and both are happy to reconnect with their grandmother and dozens of other family members.

The Earth Queen is harsh and demanding and seems to be an interpretation of Empress Dowager Cixi of Chinese history. Before she will allow Korra to recruit airbenders from the city, she insists that Korra retrieve a shipment of tax money. Of course, when Korra and Asami are collecting the money, they are attacked by bandits they easily dispatch. While retreating, the bandit leader shouts that Korra is on the wrong side -- something she thinks could be true.

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Upon returning to the palace, the Earth Queen states that after searching, there are no airbenders in the city, despite reports stating otherwise. In truth, the airbenders are being taken by the Dai Li and conscripted into military service, and Kai is their newest "recruit."

At the North Pole, Zuko is accompanied by Korra's father, Tonraq, and cousins, Desna and Eska. Zuko explains that this prison was built to contain a very dangerous firebender, a woman who can create explosions with her mind. Zuko reflects on how he hired someone with a similar ability to kill Avatar Aang long ago. Fans of ATLA will remember that Zuko also helped to defeat Combustion Man towards the end of that series. Combustion Woman, as fans have called her since her reveal in the trailer, is actually named P'Li and is amused at the arrival of Zuko and the others, aware that this must mean Zaheer is on the way.

One of the chief complaints ATLA fans have with The Legend of Korra is how different the two series are. Beyond an entirely different cast of characters and new dynamics, Books One and Two of Legend of Korra were constrained to Republic City and the North and South Poles for the most part. Some viewers lamented loss of the "journey" story in Avatar as well as the impulsive, headstrong nature of Avatar Korra compared to the peaceful, contemplative Aang. Now, Korra is much more mindful, but she is still Korra and is aggressive when she feels it is appropriate. Similarly, now that she has taken on this quest, perhaps this season will cater a bit more to those fans that enjoyed exploring world with Team Avatar.

However, this world is different. There was only one airbender in all of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Korra and Tenzin were the only grown airbenders in Legend of Korra. The return of the airbenders is a huge change in this world, so while some of the storytelling concepts of ATLA may be returning, thematically Legend of Korra is still completely its own show.

Still, the season is off to an odd start with a three-episode marathon immediately before heading into a holiday break. We'll have to see if this book keeps up with its early momentum when the next episode arrives on July 11th.

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