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Gazetteers :: The Legend of Korra

Posted by Kristin on August 20, 2012

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The Gazetteers are a group of like-minded nerd girls who are artists, engineers, and writers. This series isn’t about us telling you how awesome or misunderstood girl nerds are. We’re not about gender-bias; we’re about sharing ourselves, our fan love, our culture, and writing about the nerd world as we see it. We are nerds, we are Gazetteers!

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The Legend of Korra

Book one of The Legend of Korra has come to a close, and its season break has left a lot of questions and concerns in it’s wake. Korra was not just a sequel of sorts to Avatar: The Last Airbender, it was almost a completely different world. With Avatar‘s great success as an animated show touting incredible animation, complex and beloved characters, and a cross-generational fanbase – Korra had a lot to live up to. The two shows can’t help but avoid comparison and contrast, and neither can the title characters. How does Avatar Korra, compare to The Last Airbender‘s protagonist, Aang? How does Korra perform as a strong female lead in general? She’s in the exciting position of being a role model to young children, boys and girls alike.

A lot happened in this first season, and in a very short period of time. Korra was originally conceived as a miniseries and season one was just half the length of a regular season of Avatar. Yet they managed to pack in a ton of action, new characters, plot, relationships, and expanded lore of the Avatar universe into a brief period of time. Did Korra live up to the hype?  Is it the next big thing in animated television?  Us Gazetteers decided to sit down and share our collective thoughts on the show.  Join Kristin, Kaymonstar, and Gazetteer newcomer, Selan (profile here) as we answer some of the more common questions about Korra, as well as some bizarre ones that have been floating around the internet.

Overall thoughts on The Legend of Korra compared to Avatar: The Last Airbender?

Kristin: Overall I loved it. I thought the animation was beautiful and captivating. I loved how in the beginning they made me hate certain people but it turned around and those characters became the ones I loved and respected the most. I loved the story, the flashbacks, and the whole feel of it. There were a few faults, but they were ultimately forgivable. What’s more, you could have never seen an episode of Avatar and still been completely immersed in the world of Korra. Korra wasn’t created for the age group that Avatar was. It seemed more like Korra was made for the people that initially watched Avatar, and had grown since then. It’s a grittier show that went to places that they wouldn’t have been able to previously, which helped with storytelling.Korrais easily one of my favorite animated shows to date.

Selan: With Korra I feel like the creators took everything that they learned from Avatar, from animation to characterization to storytelling, and applied it to this show. At the same time, they took some risks and tried new things–most obviously, they went to a much shorter miniseries format and they switched from a traveling-the-world narrative to a story that focuses on one location in greater depth. While the miniseries format did hinder their ability to develop characters as fully as they were able to in the previous series, overall I think they did a fantastic job of it. I’m not sure how I would compare it to Avatar though… I still prefer Avatar, but Legend of Korra is  a very different show. It’s difficult to put one over the other.

Kailyn (Kaymonstar): I thought Legend of Korra was pretty fantastic. I never really watched too much of Avatar but I always liked what I saw, I just fell out of watching it. (Made it through Book One and then started to trail off.) As far as Korra goes, the animation style definitely was a huge leap forward. The attention to detail was a lot better. They did a great job bridging that gap to the age groups too. Avatar was more childish, though it handled a lot of adult themes etc. very well for the age group it was geared for. That said, when it came to Korra I felt like it really paid attention to the original show’s demographic’s growth as people. I loved the characters. There are parts I feel were too rushed, but like it was previously said by Selan and Kristin, the short amount of time that it had to tell this fantastical story was limited.

Who do you think was the most developed character?

Kristin: This is a close one, but I’d have to say Asami by far. She really goes full circle. I mean, when she first pops up she seems too good to be true, maybe even a throwaway character. But then the story starts developing and she starts to shine. Overall, I believe the writers put a lot of love and respect into that character. She lost everything, and I mean everything, but never once lost her grace, composure, or morality.  Close second is Lin Beifong.

Selan: I’m going to go with Korra. Asami is really well-developed too, but I would have liked to see more of her struggles and there wasn’t really enough time for that. Maybe next season we’ll see more of her. Korra went from being hotheaded and rash to learning how to think situations through and wait until the right moment to act. She learns to pay attention to the people around her and gets in touch with her spiritual side rather than just listening to her muscles all the time. Sure, they could have done more with her, but that can be said of all the characters in this show.

Kailyn: This is a pretty tough one for me. If it was just “Which is your favorite character” then yeah hands down Asami, and I could list 100 reasons why. But the most developed would be the one who had growth as a character and not just stuff that feels like it’s been there all along.  As the main character, Korra is to be the most developed by default. The story demands it. Which also for me means it felt forced and slightly unnatural. If we’re talking about fully realized characters I think Tenzin would have my vote for the most fully realized character. Also Lin. Pretty much most of the main adult cast.

Who do you think was the least developed character?

Kristin: This is a tie for me. I seriously think Korra was incredibly underdeveloped as a character. In the beginning, she had real promise to be a rich character in general. She was so talented, yet incredibly rebellious, and had a lot to learn. Within the first few episodes they started to touch on that but then POOF- no more airbending training, and Korra’s core struggles with discipline were over. Her character development was sacrificed for story time. Granted, the time they had to work with was much less than Avatar, but to cut out the main character’s development was a missed opportunity. Korra needed more depth and more story time. Instead, they wasted time on gags and needless fluff. In theory her major character arc has resolved, but she’s not even a particularly good Avatar. She was strong but didn’t show any of the elemental mastery that other benders possessed – not even with waterbending!

Bolin also started strong and ended up weak. I was really excited to see him develop. He had such a good heart – was warm, funny, caring, and just seemed to really embody a lot of the soul the previous Team Avatar had. Then, halfway through, he just slinked into the background, appeared for occasional comic relief, and that was it. Most of the time for character development went to Mako at that point, and it wasn’t necessary.

Selan:I agree on the Bolin thing. I love Bolin, but after a couple of episodes they just left him by the wayside and only gave him focus when there was a joke that needed telling.

Kailyn: Bolin. They started going somewhere with him and then once they got to the Makkorra he lost all his screen time. He had a lot of potential and I’m sure if they had more space he could have been an even better character, used for more than one-liners.

Would a society without bending would be ideal or a society with benders and non-benders coexisting?

Selan: Co-existing, obviously. Society in the world of Avatar has evolved with bending, and I think people would find it hard to cope with not having benders around. Remember, that benders play a big role in public transportation in large cities such as Ba Sing Se and the Northern Water Tribe capital and in mail delivery in Omashu. They help generate electricity in Republic City and play a part in powering tanks, airships, etc.

Obviously, a lot of these things can, and probably will, be replaced by machines over time, but that doesn’t really mean that benders won’t have any role elsewhere. Those sorts of talents can make a lot of jobs easier.

A lot of the friction between benders and non-benders comes from the apparent dearth of jobs available to non-benders, and the fact that benders often use their powers to push non-benders around. But things like that will always exist, bending or no. There will always be people with some sort of unfair advantage over others, whether it be a financial or skill-based. Inequality exists in the real world, after all.

Bear in mind though, that most of the jobs that use bending are menial ones. Factory work, pushing monorail cabs around, etc. Skilled labor doesn’t necessarily require bending—swordmaking, for example, architecture (though bending can help with the actual construction, it will not design a building), writing, art—none of these are exclusive to benders. One of the richest men in Republic City, Hiroshi Sato, was a non-bender.

I guess what I’m saying is, the Equalists were mad about a lot of things, but the idea that getting rid of benders was the solution is a silly one. Benders and non-benders alike have a place in the world, and the existence of benders does not invalidate the existence of non-benders. The current socio-economic state of Republic City may make things tough for non-benders at the moment, but that seems to be a recent development and will likely go away over time.

Was Korra’s animal guide Naga was as essential to her development as the Avatar as Apa was to Aang?

Kristin: No, I do not.

I do feel that you could sense the bond between Naga and Korra, and I thought that was really special. But the bond Aang had with Apa was something else entirely. Their friendship and love they had for each other was incredibly touching. I cried like a little baby when Apa was reunited with Aang after he was kidnapped by sandbenders. Let me add emphasis to that sentence… CRIED LIKE A LITTLE BABY. Aang wouldn’t be the person he was without Apa. Legend has it that Airbenders learned airbending from the Sky Bison (Firebenders from Dragons, etc.) and so that alone was an interesting layer which tied Aang’s bond with Apa not just as a pet, or companion and friend, but in a lot of ways as a teacher as well. Apa also took Aang to all the places he needed to go to learn the different forms of bending, without Apa Aang couldn’t have become a fully realized Avatar in time to stop the Firelord. Of course, Korra had the luxury of not having to deal with all that headache of travel. With the bending world united, traveling across the world to find different teachers didn’t need to happen.

Naga just seemed like a loyal companion, and she wasn’t even there half the time. And if she wasn’t there at all I think Korra would still be the same person she was. Naga was a loyal friend to Korra and was there when she needed her most. But so was Mako, Asami and Bolin. I feel an Avatar’s animal guide is supposed to do more then just be a pet and a pal.

Selan: I feel like Naga was probably important to Korra at some point in her life. I can imagine Korra growing up in the South Pole, with very little contact with people her own age due to the White Lotus’ influence, and Naga is her only friend in the world. The two of them sneak out all the time, exploring the polar landscape and so on. We don’t really see any of that though, so as far as we know for sure, Naga’s just this loyal pet who doesn’t really affect the story.

Kailyn: I don’t think she was necessary. I think Naga was just a way for them to add a similarity to the previous series to help you relate to it. I don’t dislike Naga, but if you take her away you wouldn’t loose any elements of the storyline. However, we definitely wouldn’t have that gif of her smacking down the Lieutenant.

Was Korra stuffing her bra at that party?

Selan: I can’t believe people have conversations about this. Seriously- heated arguments over whether it was an art mistake or whether Korra was padding her bra.

Most of the time when we see Korra, she’s in activewear. For fighting, training, running around chasing Equalists, that sort of thing. She’s dressed for action. So she binds her chest. We already know Katara did this—we’ve seen her bindings on numerous occasions—so it’s not a stretch to assume Korra does too. She would have to, same as any female who wears a sports bra to work out.

So no, she wasn’t stuffing her bra at the party. We were just seeing her without her bindings.

Kailyn: This reminds me of one of Jenna Marbles videos. Boobs are malleable so they can be squished down so that they don’t kill us when we do activities. I don’t think Korra would pad her bra.

Do you think Korra was a stronger or weaker Avatar compared to Aang?

Kristin: So far, Aang seems like the stronger Avatar, but we haven’t really seen what Korra can do yet. I think she can surpass Aang, but she has a long ways to go.

Selan: Aang. He had to go through more hardship and had more chances to act on his Avatar responsibilities. So, by the end of the show, he’s not only mastered his Avatar powers, but also he’s got a good grip on what he’s supposed to do with them. Korra’s on her way, definitely, but she’s not there yet.

Kailyn: Too soon to tell. I think that she kind of got the Cliff’s Notes to the Avatar State instead of having to go through trials and tribulations. I think Korra is a stronger person than Aang, which could definitely have an impact on her ability to handle the Avatar State quicker than him.

Was there anything that really bothered you about the show?

Kristin: What bothered me the most was how Korra had practically NO elemental mastery of any forms of bending. Not even her native water bending was particularly great. Meanwhile, common citizens that were working in a electric factory were spamming lightning like it was nothing. I remember when lightning bending was a HUGE deal. It requires immense skill and dedication. In fact I don’t remember seeing anyone other than members of the royal family capable of using it. So why are common benders able to wield such incredible power and the Avatar couldn’t wield it as well? Out of everything that bothered me the most.

Selan: The romance subplots. Gosh. I’m all for shipping, but the story was too short for that stuff to really work. In the end we get this sort of half-developed romance and we get some “I love you”s at the end and we’re expected to be satisfied with that? No thank you. I really hope that next season fleshes out the relationships a bit more–Asami’s relationship with Mako now that they’re not dating anymore, her relationship with Korra, Korra and Mako’s relationship, everything with Bolin, etc. Then again, I really hope said relationship stuff doesn’t interfere with next season’s story too much.

Kailyn: The thing that bothered me the most was the really weak wrap up of Asami and Mako’s relationship. I don’t mind the triangle stuff, but there is a time and place for it. Granted, they are teenagers, but sometimes it feels like it had too much of a presence. The least they could have done is have some kind of closure for Mako and Asami’s relationship instead of just jumping to a falsely happy ending.

How did Korra not having the Avatar State change the course of the story?

Selan: I’m kind of glad she didn’t go all glowy-eyes all the time. The lack of an Avatar State let her get into trouble and have to find other ways out. There were a lot of scenes in this show that would have gone in a much more boring direction if Korra had been able to tap into that power and wreck up everything. Oh, Equalists are attacking the Pro-Bending arena? Glowy eyes. Problem solved!

What do you think is in store for season 2?

Kristin: I think there will be a ton of relationship drama, because there was a ton of relationship drama in season 1.

I also truly think that Amon will come back, the ending seemed too tragic and definite. I don’t see them letting him get off “that easy” if you can say that. I think he will come back but he won’t be Amon, it might be from some other angle.

Selan: I’m trying not to speculate too much because I don’t want to hype myself up. I know that the plan is to have more focus on the spirit world though, and that there will be backstory. I’m hoping for a lot of worldbuilding goodness where we learn more about the spirit world, its relationship with the physical world, and the importance of the Avatar in keeping balance between them.

Kailyn: I’m excited to see what they do with Asami. I want her to be the Tony Stark of the group. And I’m really excited to see how the spirit world comes into play. I’d also like to see how the rest of the world had developed over time other than just the Water Tribes and Republic City. I love things with wide open stories where people travel from town to town. IE: Slayers, Trigun, Avatar. I do like that they centralized the first season but it felt too claustrophobic. So I hope we get some more breathing room in the future.

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