The second half of 'Civil Wars' was pretty consistent with the first half, following up on the main beats while also pushing more of the plot forward in brisk ways. Once again, another episode of Korra flounders around with pacing issues, which seem like they're just going to be a symptom of this whole season at this rate. That's what happens when you try to cram an entire story arc into 14 episodes, I guess, while insisting on drawing out twists and turns every episode or two.
The presentation was, as usual, appealing, though there felt like more instances of awkward stillness. Characters not blinking, standing completely still for just a little too long, mouth movements that aren't as detailed as what we're used to, that kind of thing. Not a big deal, but after the lofty expectations we're used to with Avatar, it's still a bit strange to see these things happening for those who pay attention. The music is as engaging as usual, though the whole high-tension strings bit to make it clear when bad things are afoot is starting to become almost comical, which sort of defeats the point. These things said, they're just nitpiks in the grand scheme of what it is still a good looking show, with environmental and background art that is perhaps even more gorgeous so far this season than it was in Book 1.
As for the writing, it felt a little more divided this time than last as far as audience is concerned. Specifically, in terms of the three age brackets: younger kids, teenagers, and adults. This was most evident due to the contrast between adults dealing with courtroom drama, treason, and Korra giving a judge a death threat, all compared to the kid-oriented parts with Ikki and Tenzin. These were of course endearing and adorable, with the My Little Pony inspired names for baby Sky Bison (who were pretty damn cute), but when your characters are outright stating what the message of their side story is in blunt terms (“Being part of a family is hard, isn't it?”), it talks down to the older members of the audience and reminds us, “Oh, right, we're watching a Y-7 cartoon” which can be a bit jarring when Legend of Korra has often been better at avoiding that than ATLA was. I feel like the sentiment of the scene could have been conveyed in a way that got the point across to younger audience members while not making teen and up audiences slapped upside the face by it.
I often don't think of the Avatar series as “a kid's cartoon” in the same way that I don't think of Harry Potter as “a kid's book” because their presentation and storytelling usually treat the older audience with respect while still being appropriate for younger audiences. But when the characters within the story apparently need to tell me how I'm supposed to be feeling about the characters (Mako is so smart and so cool, and Meelo and Bumi are so funny and Eska and Desna are so creepy) it just cheapens things in a way that is hard to describe. It's not a big deal at all, it's just another detail – like the altered animation, for instance – that contributes to things just feeling “off” this series' 'A Game.'
In other words, something about this season so far, even more than the last, feels like it's trying harder than I'm used to Avatar trying to “appeal” to people – Nickelodeon execs, teenage fangirls (and boys), little kids, fans of the original series who are a bit older. Whereas the original series, after clearing the hump of Book 1, found itself balanced in its writing rather than divided. Instead of the characters feeling segregated into different tones of existence, they all meshed together into a more broad sense of “adolescence” with a few adult characters to broad things out. And yet that show rarely ever felt like it was specifically trying to garner the attention of particular people – but Legend of Korra feels like every other scene is directed at pleasing a separate group of folks or something.
This entire issue is exacerbated by the fact that the show just feels too short. It feels like it was meant to be a 40 minute drama that has been crammed into 20 minutes. Scenes are often super short, cutting away and re-visiting rather than just playing themselves out more naturally (do they really think people's attention spans are so short than an entire minute or two is too much time to spend on a single scene?). Credits roll mid-episode, distracting from the events at hand and reminding us of how rushed things are. The trial scene felt unceremonious and unnaturally short, and the judge shakedown feel very plot-dumpy because there doesn't seem to be enough time to fit everything organically in there. Why did Varrick have a plane on his boat without a runway? Why did they crash the plane instead of just leave Asami to continue piloting it as a getaway vehicle (oh, right, because EXPLOSIONS)? What was even the point of whole 'northern portal' bit if Korra was never needed in the first place (I'm assuming this part will at least make sense later)? Why did Tonraq even bother telling Korra to not do anything rash when we all knew full well that was exactly what she would do? And why does Korra continue to rely on rash and violent acts without suffering the consequences that tend to come with these kinds of activities? I hope that hammer comes down soon and evokes some learning for the young Avatar.
All in all, I'm being very picky on technical plot stuff, though the pacing and segregated nature of the series is getting to the point where it distracts while watching it. Even so, Civil Wars Part 2 definitely added more character development, and was also funnier than Part 1 while bringing a bit of charm and “aw” moments regarding Tenzin and his family. It had character development, humor, and also moved the plot along. It's still a wonderful episode as it stands, but the signs of a bloated narrative were even more present this time around.
I'll be curious to see how it goes forward.