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'The Legend of Korra' meets high expectations

By Juliette Martin

Section: Arts

March 23, 2012

In 2008, Nickelodeon’s animated series “Avatar: The Last Airbender” was brought to a rather premature end. Thanks to its enormous popularity among both its target age group and teenagers (most of whom are now college students), however, “The Last Airbender” is far from dead. Recently, the first episode of its sequel series, “The Legend of Korra,” was leaked onto the Internet several weeks ahead of schedule, giving fans the pleasure of the first new material from the “Avatar” universe after years of waiting. The first series was full of incredible plot and animation quality. Hopes have been high for “The Legend of Korra” since the moment it was announced.

“The Last Airbender” and “The Legend of Korra” take place in a universe based on various Asian cultures, in which certain inhabitants known as benders have the power of control over earth, water, fire and air. At the center of both series is the avatar, a figure of almost mythical proportions, who is capable of using all four elements, and who is continually resurrected so as to be a constant force of balance in the world. In the new show, this figure takes the form of Korra, a headstrong teenage girl who is born as the newly resurrected Avatar after the between-series death of the first series’ main character, Aang. In the lifetime that has passed between the two shows, things appear to have changed drastically with the passing of the industrial revolution as evidenced by the based on the new steamships, cars and skyscrapers in the series. With many of the beloved characters of the first series now elderly or dead, there is plenty of novelty to “The Legend of Korra” despite strong ties to the original story in the appearance of those original characters’ children and grandchildren.

While “The Last Airbender” was structured around travel and adventure, “The Legend of Korra” is set in a single city and has more subtle political themes in play. It is a way of catering to the show’s slightly older than anticipated audience. In “The Legend of Korra” there appears to be conflict brewing not on a global scale, as in its predecessor, but on a more serious social level, in which those who are not benders feel oppressed by those who are. The complexity of this situation becomes apparent almost immediately, as an ever-vigilant and apparently all-seeing police force that utilizes overly harsh bending techniques patrols the city streets. The new show still has the humorous moments of the old, but as of yet they appear fewer and farther between, with more serious themes setting themselves up to take center stage.

One of the best features of “The Legend of Korra” is our titular heroine. She is a refreshingly strong female lead: athletic, stubborn and idealistic. Personally, I had feared a show lacking the original main characters to which I had grown so attached, but there were enough references to them to satiate me, and I was extremely pleased with the new protagonist. I also particularly appreciated the music for this first episode, which was a mix of beautiful and epic, carrying the various cultural themes on which the show itself is based.

Despite my entirely positive reaction to “The Legend of Korra,” there will no doubt be many complaints. I have already read critiques that are frustrated with the show’s diversion from the structure and tone of the first. The tone has undoubtedly shifted: “Korra” is darker and grittier then “The Last Airbender.” That said, “The Last Airbender” was certainly not without its darkness. The shift is far subtler than it seems at first, though “The Last Airbender” did begin on a much lighter note. “Korra” still contains the same humor and bright characterization that made its predecessor such a humorous delight. The balance between humor and darkness is still present and strong, and hopefully that remarkable quality will allow “The Legend of Korra” to carry the success of the original, a success of which it is, so far, entirely deserving.

For fans of the original series worried about the quality of “Korra,” there is truly nothing to fear. It is a wonderful return to an old favorite, but it manages to bring fresh elements to the table so as to keep the series from becoming redundant. Even without the beloved characters of “The Last Airbender” (as of yet, only one has appeared), “The Legend of Korra” knows its roots and pays clear homage to them. I look forward to watching the story unfold, particularly since it is leaning toward a much more mature conflict, as well as a sort of moral gray-zone in which the antagonists might even have a point, an element that was never really present in the past.

I fully enjoyed the first episode of “The Legend of Korra.” It was, in many ways, both everything I’d been told it would be and everything I hoped it would be. Although obviously more exciting for old fans of “The Last Airbender,” “Korra” is promising even for a new watcher. “The Legend of Korra” officially premieres April 14 and is an extremely high-quality show that contains far more depth than meets the eye.

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