A different kind of Avatar
Like The Last Airbender before it, one of the most compelling elements of The Legend of Korra, apart from its kick-ass action sequences, is the characters.
First up is Korra, the new Avatar. What instantly makes Korra interesting is just how different she is to her predecessor. Whilst Aang was selfless and generous, Korra is brash and impulsive, stubborn and sometimes borderline arrogant. This massive change to the type of central character takes the show into unknown ground and gives it an entirely new dynamic. Despite Korra’s headstrong attitude, the creators manage to keep her grounded on the right side of likeable. Her flaws make her more human and her rough-around-the-edges personality seems to stem from a desire to earn the adoration that people already give her, which makes her a sympathetic and relatable protagonist.
Next is Mako, a firebender who is probably the closest thing the show has to a stereotype. He’s the dark and broody one with a tragic past, and while it would have been easy for him to have become trapped in a cliché, he is well written enough to rise about the ranks of another wannabe Batman. Still affected by the murder of his parents, he is very serious and protective, yet displays a surprisingly calm head that goes beyond his years. What’s most interesting about this trait is the fact that he’s a firebender, a race of people usually shown as being completely driven by their emotions. The fact that Mako is one of the most level-headed and composed characters in the show really helps to make him memorable.
Then there’s Bolin, Mako’s younger brother and an earthbender. Seemingly the polar opposite of his brother, Bolin doesn’t seem to have any angsty issues about his parents, and comes across as an instantly likable, very loyal, fun loving and affable guy. It soon becomes apparent that his major flaw is that he’s too emotional and trusting, but he never stops being a constant source of humour in what is altogether a very dark show. Although he is a competent fighter, more often than not he’s portrayed as being adorably useless, a trait that has made him most people’s favourite character. The fact that he looks just like my younger brother helps too.
Rounding off the young heroes is Asami, a non-bender, and the daughter of a rich industrialist. Like the benders, she is more than capable of holding her own, and is a strong and independent character. At the same time though, she is also presented as something of a tragic figure. Over the course of the show, her entire personal life implodes in on itself, and she constantly finds her allegiance walking on a knife’s edge. But despite all this, she’s the kind of character that is determined enough to always bounces back stronger, and she is someone that you never stop rooting for.
Another brilliant character is Tenzin, Aang’s son and Korra’s airbending teacher. Expertly voiced by J. K. Simmons, his age and wisdom provides a thoughtfulness and rationality that is missing from the younger characters. But he also comes with his own baggage, and you can practically feel the weight of upholding his father’s legacy pressing down on his shoulders. There’s also a certain sadness and weariness to him and Simmons’ nuanced performance makes him a very compelling and sympathetic character. And it’s always a treat whenever his calm demeanour slips and reveals the very flustered and frustrated father that hides beneath.
Surprisingly, one of the most well written and compelling characters in the entire show is actually its main villain, Amon. It’s refreshing to see a show that actually invests time into making its villain into a character of substance, and it is something that I really feel the creators of TLoK should be commended for. Despite the fact he hides behind a mask for the entire series, he still manages to come across as charismatic and utterly convincing. In fact, that’s one of the reasons he’s such a great bad guy. His stance and movement against the benders is not only completely plausible, but it also seems justified, and that makes him all the more frightening. And even though he’s the antagonist, his final scene is both one of the darkest and most genuinely touching moments in the entire season.
The Legend of Korra is confident enough to make sure that its memorable characters never become buried beneath the action or the set pieces. The show is unafraid to push them to the front and centre and have the story focus on their relationships, knowing that they are more than capable of holding the audience’s interest on their own.
A welcome return
Book One: Air, the first season of The Legend of Korra had some pretty big boots to fill, but it is more than capable of living up to the legacy it continues. With all the elements that made Avatar: The Last Airbender a truly remarkable show, but with a darker tone and a more personal feel mixed in, it is a true joy of television, and like its predecessor, once again raises the benchmark for a children’s cartoon is capable of.
Reruns of The Legend of Korra, Book One: Air are currently airing on Saturdays at 9:00am on Nickelodeon, episodes are also available for purchase on the iTunes website, and the UK DVD release scheduled for 28 October. The episodes watched for this review were bought by the author.