Updated: Jul 7, 2020
All in all, this show is a winner. It expands on the world established in the The Last Airbender and blends it into a more stark reality. Plus, it's got a lot of really important things to say.
Below is a list of some of the things I liked or didn’t like about the show, in no particular order. If you're worried about spoilers, don't read TV reviews. At least not this one. This will still be here for you to enjoy when you're finished watching.
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1. The use of new and old spaces/characters to revisit and add to the narrative
I came into Korra with an already fanboy-status love for The Last Airbender, meaning that a lot of why I wanted to watch in the first place was to see how the world shaped up 70 years after the events of the previous series. I think Korra does this nicely.
We see previous characters through flashbacks and visions in the first couple of seasons (“books”), not to mention through their children, who make up the leadership of the entire series. My favorite recycled character was definitely Toff, who even at an old age is still exactly like the lazy, self-centered little child who invented metal bending and saved the world. What have YOU done lately?
I liked the first season’s use of only two locations, the South Pole (where it all started), and Republic City, a brand new space. While I found myself wanting to see more of the rest of the map here, I liked that they held off on showing new and old fans the previous locations like Ba Sing Se for example.
By sticking to the city through most of the first book we get familiarized with the center of new society and get a brand new flavor to the series than Airbender.
Republic city highlights the new technologies and behaviors that emerged from the peace that Aang and his friends brought. It also highlights the harmony and conflicts of having all the nations represented in one sovereign society. This allows us to visit the other areas of the world in the later seasons with an educated eye for what the world is like. It has been 70 years after all!
2. The invention (and sudden disappearance) of Probending
I loved the addition to this sport into the world of this series. It makes sense in the cultural and historical timeframe of Republic City to have a mass leisure sport that utilizes bending for entertainment.
As much as I loved it, I could see also that it could become a timely and costly distraction from moving the real story along, so I liked that it was relegated to the first season and season 2 premier only.
3. The more mature tone
Our main characters in Korra are older than those in Airbender, and the tone takes this to heart. We have more overt violence and the actual representation of killing, albeit subdued to appease the parents that may see their children watching this on Nickelodeon.
This makes for more villains that are more evil than before, with schemes that somehow make the Fire Nation’s fascist empire seem like a pack of playground bullies. This more mature tone would help the show evolve in another way later in the series, which I’ll talk about in a spoiler-ridden section a little further on.
4. Showing us the history of the first avatar! (*SPOILER*)
This was the episode I was waiting to see all along as an avid fan of this universe.
I liked that the ultimate wisdom in being the avatar came from the first avatar, Wan, who became the avatar by unifying the spirit and human worlds. This is ultimately where Book 2 of Korra was so captivating really.
The struggle between the human and spirit worlds showcased a conflict that was somewhat downplayed in Airbender amidst the very mortal-world issues going on. This episode encapsulates all of the answers for longtime fans and new viewers, showing us how bending was a gift from the lionturtles and never intended to be used by humans indefinitely.
Then we see how Raava became the light spirit power behind the avatar, what previously we only heard referred to as “the avatar state.”
I especially liked the different, almost simplistic animation style used when telling this story. The world looks newer, less dirtied by conflict, and everything has the bright radiance of a world with spirits in it.
It isn’t until the end of the story that we see Wan dying, crying out to Raava that he hadn’t done enough to bring peace, that we see the world take on its usual, shadowy appearance again. It was a stroke of writing and artistic genius to reveal this backstory.
5. Korrasami ***Spoiler Alert!!! Seriously, the next section will give away the ending!!!***
This is definitely the most controversial element of Avatar/Korra and as a long-time fan of Avatar and newly rediscovered one of Korra I didn’t completely know how to feel about the intent or the reception at first. Be prepared, this is about to get wordy.
On the one hand it doesn’t surprise me at all that the series ended by pushing the envelope a little bit for the LGBTQ discussion, even if it was a “children’s animation show.” As both the show’s creators Michael DiMartino and Brian Konietzko pointed out in blog posts after the finale aired, the show has always tackled issues of equality, justice, and relationships, so it seems only fitting that it should end with a nod to Korra and Asami’s romance.
I think my first reaction was one that a lot of people had which was that ending seemed rushed and thrown in out of nowhere. As I thought about it a bit more however, I realized that all the bricks were laid out for this big reveal over the last two books.
The show was obviously hindered by what they could and could not show of a same-sex relationship on Nickelodeon. They couldn’t show something more overt, like the two kissing before entering the spirit portal, to really hammer in the point, which honestly would have felt more cheesy in my mind anyway. Plenty of (if not most) real-life romances don’t have the picturesque kiss shot we see in media or on wedding invitations anyway.
I use this same logic for the seeming out-of-the-blueness of the last two minutes in general. I think that the lack of more overt clues allowed a lot of people, myself included, to overlook any romantic possibilities here.
But again, that’s not how real relationships form. There aren’t always the easy tell-tale signs of connection, and emotional connection doesn’t have to equal physical response.
Konietzko said in response to viewers’ take on their sudden relationship that we may have been looking at Korra and Asami’s relationship through a “hetero lens” for the last two books. I think there has to be some truth to this, especially considering that both creators have admitted that Korrasami was a firm possibility at least since Book 3. I was definitely aware of the two growing closer over the past two books, even picked up on some of the more-than-friendly vibes in a couple of scenes.
But I think it is fair to say that because we are so programmed to think of heterosexuality as the norm that we probably overlooked it as a possibility for Korra because of her previous hetero interest in Mako.
Also to be fair, I do think that many if not most viewers are entering each episode with a mindset of what came before it. Relationships were always more overtly established before being accepted as canon (oh, the BLUSHING), which isn’t something we got here. So, while I do think it is apt to point out our social ignorance where applicable, I also think there was another layer of their relationship not following the established arc that attributed to us not seeing it until the end.
All in all, I liked the ending. This is a case where the “surprise” romance was used artfully and tactfully for social good and to broaden viewers’ (and the show’s) understanding of what relationships are.
Even though we may not have gotten the same heavy-handed clues to Korrasami’s existence as previous couplings in this universe, I think the result is a truer representation of how people find each other and grow to love each other; perhaps especially in a hetero world. I think the finale packed such a forceful punch to the status quo at the last possible second that it warranted the internet explosion that came after it and all these words I’ve written for it here. I approve.
1. The ever-goofy Bolin
I know, I shouldn’t really take this one too seriously and y’all can take this critique with a grain of salt.
I love Bolin. He is the comedic relief for tense situations and his goofiness makes him lovable. The problem I had with Bolin is the problem I ultimately had with Sokka, that they couldn’t turn the screwball down when it just stood in the way of a cool moment.
Towards the end of both Airbender and Korra, their senses of humor became somewhat tiring and distracted a bit from the badassery going on onscreen.
I totally see that there is a point to this for their characters. We see both of them step up and become brave warriors by the end of each series, and their senses of humor don’t have to fall to the wayside just because they are responsible now.
For me though, it got old. I know some of this is simply me being older than the target demo here and I can also concede that characters like this keep the mood light enough for kids to not be depressed for the rest of their lives.
2. (***)The sloppy love triangle between Korra, Mako, and Asami
By the end, it almost makes more sense how this show ends because the relationships we see before are pretty shabby.
First Mako cheats on Asami by kissing Korra, then when he’s with Korra he kisses Asami (granted, after they had “broken up.”) By the end this shit is so muddy I don’t know where any of them stand on one another.
Asami seems to just be kind of left in the dust at the end of Book 1 with no real conclusion to her relationship with Mako before he is with Korra. Then she is portrayed as a kind of damsel in distress toward Mako as her company is failing and she feels all alone.
Then this all leads to a third connection in this whole mess? By the end I’m like, how is anyone even thinking about romance anymore?
3. (***)Book 4’s villain
Kuvira was nowhere near the last baddie I wanted to see. While I liked that they had a prominent female villain to end it, the whole Earth Kingdom Civil War just didn’t amount to what it could have for me.
They did a nice job establishing the power vacuum that had happened in the years that Korra was absent from her duties as Avatar, but didn’t capitalize on it to really show us the evil mixed up in Kuvira’s attempts at being a unifier.
We don’t really see her for all her megalomaniacal glory until the end of the season, when we have all these other things going on (a huge fucking metal soldier!!) and it’s frankly too late.
I had always been pleased with the villains that came before, even thought that Book 3 would be hardpressed to build on the Unavatu dark-avatar conflict from Book 2. Where Book 3 succeeded with Zaheer and Book 4 failed with Kuvira was showing us just how dark this person is despite them having righteous motives in their own minds.