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Legend of Korra - rambling about Book 1

Journal Entry: Thu Jul 12, 2012, 12:37 AM

There's been tons of blog posts out there analyzing what Legend of Korra's first season did — both positive and negative thoughts. There's a lot of praise (there was a pretty steady flow as the season went on) but also some scathing critique (largely due to the finale). I'm not even going to try to be comprehensive because I've already tossed out so many ideas as the season went on, and other people have already laid out essays on the thing. I just wanted to touch on some points of interest to me — things I loved and hated about Korra's first season.

To be clear, I could make a similar list of things for any season of the original series. Furthermore, it is important to point out that the team only had 12 episodes to work with, spent TWO YEARS making the season, had to endure all kinds of fast-paced conditions we can't even understand, I'm sure…and in general, none of my critique here is meant in any personal way toward the creators. I have, as a whole, really loved and enjoyed Korra's first season as a production. It's brilliant. It's the WRITING that throws me off in the latter portions.

With only 12 episodes and under the notion that Book 1 would be all there was, along with everything else, it's understandable that the season would result in things that cause issues for some more critical types like myself.

But let's go over what Korra did so WELL first.

+ Political/social climate. That stuff was great. The tension in Korra involved a lot of societal stuff, much of it seemingly inspired by real-life history. Absolutely loved this stuff.

+ Amon. Awesome villain. So much more thought-out than Ozai ever was. He was mysterious, dark, threatening, collected, calm, and he actually came across as a genuine ADULT VILLAIN and not just an immature "mwahahaha" stereotype bullcrap kind of deal. And I for one enjoyed his backstory and felt it created an interesting dynamic and motive.

+ Production. Animation. Sound. Music. Casting. All of it was damn awesome. The voice actors were great, the music was amazing, the animation was above what you'd expect from a TV show, framing was awesome…As a piece of animated media, the thing looks and sounds fantastic. Great work on the production team's part. They should all be proud of what they've accomplished.

+ Bloodbending. I loved that the series did some things in a creative way that evoke such dark, twisted stuff. I expected bloodbending to play a role in this season, and was pleased with its importance. Such a great way to adhere to a restriction on gore/violence, and yet imply so much brutality. It makes me cringe to watch the bloodbending in certain scenes.

+ References. Have to love all of the ways Korra referenced its history, whether with a statue or a phrase or a character's name. Would be nice to see more concrete details on the lives of the adult Gaang, but what we got was enough to tide us over for now (especially with these comics going on).

+ Republic City. Ba Sing Se was pretty cool, but Republic City easily has more personality and life to it. You revisit consistent locations and can actually get a sense of what parts of the city places are located. That just wasn't the case with Ba Sing Se. Republic City is the most developed location in the Avatar universe now, and I really enjoyed it.

+ Episodes 1-4. These were just fantastic. Each one set up themes and characters so smoothly and sensibly, and each episode had a purpose both in its plot progression and thematically.

+ Variety of genuine characters. Korra/Mako/Bolin/Asami are all teenagers. Jinora/Meelo/Ikki are younger kids. Tenzin/Lin/Amon/Pema/Tarrlok/etc. are adults. And everyone acted THEIR AGE, flaws and strengths thereof in tact. That is impressive and rare in a cartoon, to capture such a wide breadth of ages and yet present each one coherently and authentically.

+ Darkness. Loved the darkness, the gray areas of morality all around. Loved Tarrlok and Noatok's last scene. One of the most poignant and powerful scenes I've ever seen in an animated TV show ever. Period.

+ Showing instead of telling. The series did a great job in MOST cases of SHOWING us a lot without forcing too much exposition. The flashback bits of the adult gaang are a great example. I feel like we learned a LOT about those characters as adults in such a brief time. Again, the earlier episodes of Korra did an amazing job of setting up the world and its characters through the actual narrative itself.

And now the things that most irritated me with Book 1 of Korra.

- Episode 5. Mako. Romance. Ugh. I started off not liking Mako. Then I got some sympathy for him. Then I just got sick of him. And all of the romantic crap revolving around Mako. I know that Bryan and Michael don't try to target a specific audience when they can help it, but GOOD GOD does the Mako love triangle stink to me of Twilight/teenage fangirl/squeee/drama bullcrap. Episode 5 felt like a waste of time IMO (funny and well-produced as it was) that at least set up the theme by the end of 'hey, teenage romance is dramatic bullcrap, let's put this all behind us' only to totally disregard this notion and CONTINUE to fester in silliness.

- Makorra. Specifically, I take issue with Makorra. Not because "OMG IZ NOT MY SHIPPU." That doesn't matter, I couldn't give a shit about shipping. I like pairings that make sense, though, because good storytelling begets relationships that make sense. But Makorra makes very little narrative sense. All they share in common is arrogance and an affinity for shooting fire at people they don't like. The two didn't get along, never really spent time enjoying each other's company, Korra was an uppity, arrogant little bitch about insisting that Mako OBVIOUSLY liked her (seriously, she was so full of herself), and then ultimately Mako became this wish-washy, pseudo-two-timing…URGG. And he acted like he was in his right to be like that! What pisses me off most is that Mako just randomly, our of nowhere, got all obsessive over Korra. In front of his own girlfriend. For WHAT reason? He hid the truth from her, and he was trying to juggle two possible girls. And he was REWARDED for it. What bullshit idea does that promote? I can get why Korra would have a CRUSH on Mako. But seeing MAKO of all characters utter "I love you" after all of these flowery words that have no narrative backing to them? It's depressing to me. It rung so hollow and it stung me to my core as an Avatar fan, personally. I saw more realistic chemistry between Masami/Borra than I ever did with Makorra. I saw more realistic chemistry between Tokka and they didn't even go out on a date ever, or kiss, or anything.

Basically, someone please tell me why the FUCK I should like Mako as a boyfriend and lover, and why I should give a damn about any of the teenage romance that occurred. It came across as mostly forced and wedged in just for the sake of being there to me, while just the implications of Tenzin and Lin's previous history was itself so much more fascinating and mature in how it was presented.

- Korra's character development. It started off great. It became more subdued and subtle in later episodes, which was fine, that made sense, I liked it. You saw all of these hints of Korra trying to grow up in small ways. Perfect. Then it was all chucked away in the finale. She never truly exercised patience. She never learned that being the Avatar isn't all about fighting. She pretty much abandoned what progress she made with Tenzin's training, relied on violence and force, unlocked her airbending for no Goddamn reason that ever explained, was given the Avatar state as a fucking present for disregarding everything she supposedly learned but tossed away, just…ugh. It's so disappointing to me when I actually start dwelling on it. Her entire character arc was set up opposite of Aang's, to learn to find PEACEFUL resolution for all of this political/social crap, and yet in the end she just relied on force and still got her way. Thematically, it's not only inconsistent, but it promotes a positive aura around selfish disregard, and the idea that being reckless is totally cool and fine because Jesus Aang will make it all better when you start throwing a tantrum (and arguably contemplate suicide for no fucking good reason).

- That finale. Plotholes. Just. Grah. Here's what the finale whiffed away, IMO. It took away all drama and meaning of Lin losing her bending, both because it was magically given back to her pretty much right after, AND Tenzin's family still got caught. For some reason. Bolin was further subdued as comic relief when he could've made something of himself. Asami was given a pretty half-assed breakup from Mako that stunk so much of "Hey, I'm gonna keep it vague just in case I still want you later." Iroh was fun but his presence felt kind of forced, and half of his dialogue felt a little too "we're trying to milk nostalgia." Bumi's fleet was intercepted — how? Why? What did it matter? Amon had paint on his face. Why? What about his lip being all weird, what was with that? Amon's a powerful as hell bloodbender, so why were Korra and Mako able to push past him? How did Aang's spirit even fix Korra's bending problem? Why could she airbend but not bend other stuff? So many plotholes. So much character development tossed aside.

- Dropping the weight of character development/themes. I've said it tons of times before, but I can't stress enough how much it disappoints me that such a talented team, talented writers and storytellers, were able to build up so much potentially powerful narrative momentum…only to let it flop over in the final episode. Again, production-wise, it was fantastic. And I don't know if it's Bryan and Mike, or Nick, or who it is, but Korra's first season suffered an even worse deus ex machina (by far) than the original series did. It flies in the face of every episode until, like, episode EIGHT built for itself. Even in episode EIGHT they were still making a point to compare Korra to Tarrlok in that she relied on pushing and shoving to get her way. And she didn't change. I don't like promoting narcissism. I get that Korra is like that, and that being strong and tough and pushy CAN have its benefits and all, but as the overarcing end theme of the story in Book 1, it fell apart, and I'm left confused and baffled as to what the actual MESSAGE of Book 1 was supposed to be. What am I supposed to take away from Korra's story as I go off into my life from here on out? The first eight episodes promoted an idea of maintaining balance, letting go of petty matters, being patient, setting aside personal desires for the greater good, seeing both sides of the coin, political inequality, all of these great themes…but in the end it was like, "But fuck all dat shit 'cuz EXPLOSIONS AND PUSHING PEOPLE THROUGH WOOD AND WINDOWS DAWG!" They even showed Korra trying to resolve things in a social way, by revealing Amon…and then just randomly ditched that idea for shock value with the face paint and the airbenders. Amon started as a villain with reason and logic, you could get behind him, but in the finale that, too, fell apart.

Did I mention that there were various lines of dialogue in the finale that even called ATTENTION to its inconsistency or lack of character development? Like Bolin and the "I'll just stand over here in silence now." Or Korra and "We SAW them escape, we SAW THEM" and stuff like that. Reminds of Toph and her "worst field trip ever" only that was a little tongue in cheek and this was…I dunno what it was.

Mako was still a selfish dick who relied on violence. Bolin remained only comic relief. Asami at least got some resolution, if it was a bit rushed and Hiroshi as a character kind of flipped over like a coin as soon as we learned of his intentions. They even DREW him more evil-looking. Lin's sacrifice was pointless and lost all of its weight. Iroh felt tacked on. Tenzin had a baby, which was cute, but…what was the point? Will that become a point later on, or…?

Just. So. Much. In the finale, it just leaves me, as a writer, confused. I felt unsatisfied, baffled, even put-off by the hollow, forced romance, and the deus ex machina, and just all of it. It hurts, this feeling that when I actually critically analyze this show I actually really love, I have so many problems specifically with how it concluded and how inconsistent it was with everything it set up for itself.

As a viewer, I loved Legend of Korra. As a writer, I still love MOST of it, but as a writer, I cannot ignore these problems, which are amplified BECAUSE of how amazing so much of the season was, and because of how amazing I know this team is.

So to Bryan, Michael, and the Korra staff, as conflicted as I am about the writing in the finale, I have truly loved the first season overall, and hope that in the episodes to come you'll maintain a more consistent pace.

  • Mood: It's Hot
  • Listening to: SRU Themes
  • Watching: Legend of Korra
  • Playing: Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy
  • Drinking: COFFEE, beer
Add a Comment:
shango266 Featured By Owner Jul 19, 2012
Yes, I SOOOOOO agree with everything you have said. Amen.
What hurt me most about this was that I had a friend who I had been convincing for AGES to watch LOK with me because it was so awesome. So he finally agrees on the day that the finale came out, and we watched it together. So the first thing he ever saw of LOK was the finale, which was so shit, and I just had to sit there and watch this disaster. Needless to say he hated it and will now never watch the earlier episodes, which as you pointed out, are actually fantastic.

I miss Aang!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Bored-Wizard Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2012
Agreed. I don't have anything to add, you pretty much said it all.
btomimatsu Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I could not agree with you more! The series had a great beginning but then it became so bad! Character development was basically thrown out the window, there were so many plot holes in it (or at least I felt like it) that a truck could be driven through, and it seemed that the spiritual aspect of being the avatar ceased to exist in the series. I felt like it could have been done so much better.
Datalover101 Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
I agree with you completely, thank God I finally found someone who agrees with me! There was just SO MUCH wrong with the finale and some parts of certain episodes. I hated how they changed Amon into something he originally wasn't, why couldn't he actually be a non-bender? That was my main problem with that, and I know it isn't a really big problem.

I cried my eyes out when Lin got her bending taken away, like crazy. Then she got her bending back right after?! What!? My tears were for nothing? It just made the evil feeling of getting your bending taken away seem like not such a big deal! Whenever I saw benders getting their bending taken away by the equalists, it sent shivers down my spine! Then they basically just say, "Okay Korra you have the power to fix all of this, go do it in five seconds!" Just takes all of the emotions away.

I also hate how Korra got her air bending! It seemed pointless and not a big deal....she didn't earn it like Aang earned his bending. When Korra lost her bending I was actually ecstatic! I was like, "Oh my gosh! So much awesome character development can happen now! This is going to be interesting!" I mean, an Avatar who can only bend one element? That sounds really interesting, let's see what happens. But nope, the awesome possibility of development was ripped away and Korra got her bending back one minute later......

Then on top of it all Mako and Korra kissed. I've never liked Makorra, or Mako in general. So I was practically ripping my hair out. Why does Korra still like him? He treated both her and Asami like dirt.

Thanks for writing this review! ^_^
NinjaKasuga Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2012
I don't have much else to say since between notes, emails and such you know we're on the same level on feeling how Book 1 or Korra ended. I'm going to love the series but it sadly is going to carry that taint of it's flaws that became so very glaring with the Finale.

Amusing instead of being mad at the creative team, I'm more inclined to wonder who at Nick only offered them twelve episodes to work with. Really? The sequel to one of their most successive shows ever and they don't give it a 20-26 episode season like the first series? Wow and yeah some TV series are just twelve-thirteen episodes like Doctor Who, but such shows have like what 45min to one hour timeslots, as opposed to twenty-two minutes to get every ounce of story in.

An oddity to gripe about but in hindsight I saw that only having twelve episodes would be a burden on the LOK team in terms of trying to tell a decent story and build the world and characters.

One can hope book 2's writing will be for the better and maybe some of the stink of the narrative flubs will be addressed and fixed.

One more amusing commentary, totally agreed on the Makorra pairing, smells of Twlight regarded Teen/Tween romantic dramabomb BS. Amusingly though after the finale ended I was actually surprised to see dozens of fervorant Makorra shippers "nuke their own ships" out of disgust for the pairings handling, which in of itself was a pleasant surprise showing some shippers had standards regarding their ships and even if they got the one they shipped it was so badly done they decried it. Rather nice considering to this day there are Zutara shippers who childishly insist that pairing should have been or could have worked in cannon when...well we know it wouldn't.

And I'm waaay off topic....insomina does that. As always Eddy a wonderful journel/blog piece of your thoughts and I always enjoy reading them. Now to attempt to be off to bed with my ass, g'night all!
Mimykitty Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2012
I completely agree with this. Every word. :clap:
When I was first watching the finale on the day it aired, I loved it, it was so intense and everything happened and then Aang popped up and it was all extremely exciting and hard to handle. I was excited and confused and just extremely emotional.
Then, after I watched it, I fangirlled on Tumblr, the way I always do, and once the fangirlling on Tumblr had died down a bit, people started to write essays about the poor writing, the plotholes, the way things could have been better and was all very rushed.
I rewatched the finale the next day with my brother, because he didn't see it the first day and wanted to see it. My brother and sister went nuts over it, freaking out and talking about how cool it was that Aang had came and saved the day and that Lin had her bending back, and since I was able to watch it on a much calmer level for the second time watching it, having already seen it once, I was able to fully realize just how much they screwed up and how much better they could have done.
I'm a writer myself, it's my goal to become a published author one day and honestly, I agree with you completely. As a viewer, I was intrigued and couldn't stop fangirlling, but as a writer, I was extremely disappointed, and started thinking about how - and I hope this doesn't sound conceited, because I promised I'm not trying to be - I probably could have written a better season finale than that myself if they had hired me for the job.
Greenpool75 Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2012
I agree with you all 100%! I think they should have just ended the finale at Noatak and Tarrlok's last scene, then it would have left something to build on in the next season. What really bothered me was how Korra got all of her bending powers back and the ability to restore people's bending. All she did was cry. It also frustrates me that she unlocked her airbending with FORCE and ANGER, when air is more of a spiritual element, so like you said, Tenzin's training basically went to waste. In my opinion, she shouldn't have gotten her bending back , then she would have gotten some major character development and possibly changed her attitude and learned how to be patient and not attack every problem with a heads-on approach. Then there's Asami and Bolin, who instead of developing into wonderful characters,(which they already are in my opinion) they are merely used to develop the idea of Makorra (which has been repeatedly shoved down our throats). They should have left the whole romance thing alone and focused more on the main problem at hand. As an aspiring writer, the season finale just felt like it was rushed.
Whew, that's a lot of words.
Mimykitty Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2012
Yes! I agree. That was my main complaint. They should have just left Korra without her bending. Then she could have had so much room to develop and realize that she was still a worthy bender, even without airbending. It would have been so much better.
I know. Asami and Bolin are my favorites, and they really deserve better development than what they got. They could have been written so much better, and it would have made everything so much better. Asami sacrificed so much for everyone, having to fight her father and all that, and Bolin had his heart crushed by Korra and had to pretend he didn't care.
And ugh, I really dislike Makorra too, for breaking the hearts of Asami and Bolin, because they're my favorites. It just wasn't fair at all. Mako and Korra didn't even have a little bit of development. It was, "I hate you." "I think we're meant for each other." "Just kidding, I hate you again." "I love you now!" Ugh ugh ugh. Not good at all. I could have written the Makorra story better, and I don't even ship it.
Greenpool75 Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2012
I applaud you. I wouldn't mind Makorra, but he is still unofficially dating Asami. And this pairing left Bolin and Asami heartbroken, which is why I strongly dislike the pairing. Asami went from a strong, independent woman to a female side character and Bolin went from a sweet and funny guy to the comic relief, and getting shunned by Mako (and practically everyone else) for trying to be optimistic and then he says, "Okay, I'll just go stand over here in silence." It's like WHY?! That's Bolin's way of cheering up people!
Mimykitty Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2012
I know. I hated how Masami never got truly broken up. She deserved to at least have a solid breakup scene.
I know! Bolin was the best! It just made me so sad. I wish they could redo the finale and take all our suggestions to heart.
Greenpool75 Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2012
Or maybe Book 2 starts out with Korra waking up and it turns out the season finale was just a dream :D
Mimykitty Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2012
LOL, I would like that.
Greenpool75 Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2012
It was nice talking to you about The Legend of Korra! :)
(1 Reply)
NinjaKasuga Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2012
I fanboyed myself when I saw the first airing, and later after a talk with a friend about it and how turned off he was about it I fired up the DVR for another peek and yeah.... my initial fanboying felt rather hollow.

Those of us who write be it amateurishly or professionally, and take the values of good writing seriously...the finale was a heart breaking wreck, especially given the people who created LOK are capable of so much more, it's....bleah all's been said.
Mimykitty Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2012
Absolutely. I agree with you. c:
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July 12, 2012


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