It is never a good sign when you start the review of a story — whether it is a book, a film, a TV series or even just an image — by talking about and worse still, comparing it to its predecessor. For a story to be considered a great story (or at least good), it must be able to stand on its own merits and faults, regardless of everything that has come before and anything that will come in the future. If it can’t do that… Well, it isn’t doing something right.
So allow me to start this review of Legend of Korra Book 2: Spirits by briefly talking about Avatar: The Last Airbender (ATLA). Those who watched it all those years ago probably remember ATLA with fond memories. And how could they not? It’s one of the greatest stories to be shown ANYWHERE during the 2000s, with interesting characters, a great plot and a nice balance between drama and comedy. It made us laugh. It made us scared. It made us cry. Above all, it made us care for these characters, to emotionally invest in their lives and stories. At the end of the day, that’s what makes a story great.
I wish I could say the same for The Legend of Korra.
The first season, known as Book 1: Air, started pretty great, but the way the writers ended the story ruined it for many people. It felt too easy and like a lost opportunity of what could have been an astounding character arc for Korra. Instead we got Book 2: Spirits, introducing the big bad of the season, her uncle Unalaq (though we don’t realise this until a little later). The main conflict of this season seems to be at first between the Northern and Southern water tribes and the colonial-sort of rule the former has over the latter while Korra attempts to prevent a civil war and, once the fight starts, to get help from Republic City. But it is later revealed that this is nothing compared to the real threat.
In the hour-long special, The Beginnings Part 1 and 2 (of which I talk about here), we learn about Avatar Wan and how he defeated the dark spirit Vaatu during the Harmonic Convergence by fusing with the light spirit, Raava. We also learn that Harmonic Convergence, which occurs every 10,000 years, is about to occur once again. Thus Korra has to get ready with her battle against Vaatu.
While the plot sounds pretty awesome, the execution of the story left much to be desired of, with characterisation being one of the worse aspects of the season. Korra, in particular, was painful to watch for the first six episodes, as she remained the ever stubborn girl, always thinking thinking with her fist instead of her head and never listening to those trying to help her. Bolin didn’t fare any better either, becoming more of a butt monkey than ever before, as if the writers were trying too hard to make audience to laugh — which rarely works.
This could attributed to the script, with many lines feeling awkward and certain actions (or lack of them) feeling unrealistic in certain situations. The voice acting felt forced many times, though this is more the dialogue just not being that good most of the time rather than the voice actor’s own talent, but it certainly didn’t help the way the characters were seen by the audience.
Hell, even the animation sucked at times, not helping matters.
But what hurt the show the most was the lack of focus in the story. There were too many plot points to follow. On one side we had Korra’s family troubles between her father and her uncle, while on the other we had Aang’s children, Tenzin, Kya and Bumi, and their own own issues with each other and their personal relationships with their father. This hurt the pace of the show as scenes were rushed instead of settling them properly in the viewer’s eyes and themes such as family relations were not explored as well as they could have, as was the case in Tenzin and his sibling’s situation which to me, remains unresolved.
You can have amazing action shots and dramatic scenes that end in suspense. You can also have clever dialogue with the most beautiful animation seen in history, but this is all for nothing if you can’t make the audience believe your characters are real. They don’t even have to be likeable or even connect with the audience on a personal level. If you can’t make them care, chances are they won’t stick around long enough to see all the other amazing things you’ve prepared. This is where the writers of The Legend of Korra have failed.
It wasn’t all that bad, however. Yes, the first few episodes were painful too watch, mostly because of how Korra was portrayed this season, but once we learnt about the first Avatar in the two-parter The Beginnings (of which I talk about here) and the true threat in the season was revealed, the show became more focused, the animation became a lot better (especially in the fighting scenes) and so did the dialogue. It was fun.
Is it worth watching? I suppose. If you watched ATLA and the Book 1 of Legend of Korra and you want to know what happens next, then go for it. But if you’re new to everything that is Aang and Korra, do yourself a favour and watch Avatar: The Last Airbender.