SPOILERS FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN'T WATCHED KORRA'S FIRST SEASON.
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.