The Legend of Korra

Though at its heart “One Large Popcorn, Please!” is a film blog, it would be foolish of me not to acknowledge the medium of television. The TV industry is currently in an era which many have labelled “the Golden Age”, with an unprecedented amount of quality programmes for both adults and children. In my first post about television, I’d like to discuss The Legend of Korra, a popular animated series I only discovered very recently.

Korra - Book One poster
Publicity poster for the first season of “The Legend of Korra”

Taking place in the same universe as Avatar: The Last Airbender, the show follows the journey of the Avatar – the master of all four elements and the bridge between the physical and spiritual worlds. After the peaceful death of Avatar Aang, his spirit is transferred to Korra (Janet Varney), a girl born in the Southern Water Tribe. By the time she’s a teenager, Korra has mastered three of the elements – Water, Earth and Fire – but struggles with bending the element of Air. To learn how to become an Airbender, Korra moves to Republic City and is mentored by Tenzin (J.K. Simmons), the youngest son of Avatar Aang.

Despite her naivety to the norms and dangers of city life, Korra settles in comfortably and manages to make some new friends: Mako (David Faustino), a Firebender who lost his parents when he was a child; Bolin (P.J. Byrne), an Earthbender and Mako’s younger brother; and Asami (Seychelle Gabriel), the only daughter of a wealthy entrepreneur. The foursome band together to form the new Team Avatar, and over the course of four seasons encounter a number of threats, including a group of “Equalists” who wish to purge the world of Benders, the dark spirit Vaatu and his disciples, a gang of terrorists called the Red Lotus and a rogue military general.

The Legend of Korra is so heavily linked to The Last Airbender that it’s impossible to talk about the show without referring to the previous Avatar series. When Nickelodeon first aired Avatar a decade ago, the programme was a massive gamble for the children’s network; yet, it has gone on to gain a cult following among adults as well as its intended audience. The excellent anime-inspired animation, quirky humour, complex characters, creative worlds, ingenious action sequences and intelligent storylines made it unlike anything else screened at the time, influencing the many children’s cartoons which came afterward.

One of these cartoons is, of course, Legend of Korra. It has the same aesthetic style as its predecessor, but also brings forward a slightly darker tone and willingness to explore more mature themes. This was done to reflect the fact that many of The Last Airbender’s fans were adults, or teenagers who had grown up watching the show. In doing so, the show becomes a fascinating study in religion, spirituality, politics, sociology and anthropology. With regard to the dark tones, there’s a lot more death in this series – villains are killed, protagonists sacrifice themselves and even a murder-suicide takes place!

Korra - Varrick, Zhu Li
Varrick with his assistant Zhu Li in “The Legend of Korra”

But Korra is still as upbeat, bright and enjoyable as Avatar is. The new characters are just as loveable as the old, with a particular favourite of mine being the eccentric, narcissistic businessman Varrick. Originally written as an antagonist in Book Two, Varrick proved so popular with the show’s viewers that he became a supporting character in Book Three. His voice comes courtesy of John Michael Higgins (Pitch Perfect), who brilliantly brings to life Varrick’s hilarious egotistical persona.

What pleases most of all, though, are the many throwbacks to the original series. For example, a number of the voice actors from Avatar make appearances in Korra, including Dee Bradley Baker as the many animal voices, Dante Basco as Lord Zuko’s grandson and Greg Baldwin as the spirit of General Iroh. I’ve also found that the more enjoyable episodes are those which include the (now elderly) characters from The Last Airbender, or have flashbacks which include them. But unfortunately, to appreciate these scenes one must be familiar with the source material.

I am awestruck as to how great The Legend of Korra is, so much so that I believe it to be better than The Last Airbender. Though it had a slow start, I soon found myself watching whole seasons and ended up viewing the entire series within a week. And if you think that’s impressive, I know of somebody who saw all 52 episodes in less than four days. If that’s not proof the show’s excellence, I don’t know what is.

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