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TV

Legend of Korra, Five Years Later

Five years ago, The Legend of Korra first aired on Nickelodeon in the US, as a sequel series to the much-beloved Avatar: The Last Airbender.  While not the critical smash that A:TLA was, for me Korra stands up well as an amazing piece of storytelling, with gorgeous visuals to boot.

In case you’re not familiar with either series, the world of Avatar takes cues from ancient Indian, Asian and various indigenous cultures around the world.  The twist is, some people are born with the ability to ‘bend’ earth, fire, air or water, and there is always one Avatar that can learn to bend all four.  When the Avatar dies, their spirit is reincarnated to the next nation in a cycle (in the same order of elements above).  As you might guess, A:TLA follow an airbender Avatar (Aang), and The Legend of Korra follows his immediate successor, Korra who is a waterbender.

Right away, the new series made sure to show us how different Korra herself would be from Aang.  Aang had started out as a reluctant hero – he had run away from the Avatar responsibility, she dove in head-first.  Aang had been contemplative and looked to solve problems peacefully first.  Korra would often punch first and ask questions later.  In fact, it’s one of Korra’s central issues she has to overcome, as that sort of personality is diametrically opposed to airbending principles.  Throughout the first season (Book One: Air), Korra struggles to connect with her spiritual self, butting heads with Aang’s son Tenzin as he tries to teach her to airbend.  It’s very parental, and it’s something most tweens and teens can relate to.  In fact, if there’s one thing that seemed to bother some fans that grew up with Aang, it’s that the new show definitely skewed older with the issues that were tackled.

One of my favorite things Legend of Korra did was realistically advance the world from the previous show.  On Avatar: The Last Airbender, we saw the beginnings of industrialization.  There were rudimentary mechanized vehicles and ships, and it would’ve been easy for the show to just stick with that, but they went full industrial revolution in Republic City.  The problems facing the world also matured.  Book One’s villain, Amon, made you take a hard look at how you treat the ‘others’ in your life, especially when you have more power than they do.  Book Three and Four swung the pendulum between chaos and order, showing how bad things can be at both ends of the spectrum.

I am the solution – Amon

Another aspect I love about Legend of Korra is how the relationships grow over time.  Sure, it starts out with typical teen angsty love triangles, but it ends with a some amazing friendships and even a same-sex couple that goes about as far as Nickelodeon would let them.  And that develops over years, by overturning the media tendency to have women be rivals for the affections of whatever men happen to be around.  Korra and Asami have every reason to dislike each other, but end up close friends, and finally more.

Legend of Korra does what any sequel or continuation should do – it deepens the lore, pays homage to the past but isn’t beholden to it, and only serves to improve the Avatar legend.  If you never gave Korra a shot, you owe it to yourself to try it now.  The first three books (seasons) are available on Amazon Prime for free though you do need to buy Book Four (which is totally worth it).

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Books Review

Book Review – Rebel Genius by Michael Dante DiMartino

Rebel Genius is a new book from Michael Dante DiMartino (of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra fame), and if you are a fan of either of those shows, you’ll find a lot to love here.  In fact, if there’s one negative to the book it’s that it hems a bit closely both to what DiMartino’s done before and some other classics of the fantasy genre.

The story follows Giacomo, a 12 year old orphan who is also an artist.  In Giacomo’s world, art is outlawed, and artists gain a birdlike companion creature (not unlike the daemon concept in the His Dark Materials series) with special powers tied to the creation of art called a ‘Genius’.  When Giacomo gains his genius, he goes on the run and falls in with a mentor who has a hidden studio where he teaches other children how to use their gifts.  They are opposed by both the Empress Nerezza (styling herself the ‘Supreme Creator’) who hunts down artists and destroys their Geniuses, rendering them zombie-like, and another renegade artist, Ugalino, who has made a Tulpa – basically a homonculus, or a living statue of immense power.  He wants to tear down the world and remake it in his own image, and to do so he seeks the Sacred Tools – said to be the three items God used to make the world.

All of this is well-trod ground for DiMartino – a group of almost-teens or teens with special powers set out on a journey to save the world.  You’ll notice that I said they were opposed by the Empress and Ugalino – as usual for DiMartino, the good/evil aspect of the antagonists is fuzzy.  You may not like what they do, and disagree with their methods, but they have a reason for what they are doing.  The other kids tend to fall into tropes but I trust DiMartino to twist those expectations around (Sokka didn’t stay a misogynist dip for long).  We see some of it by the end of this first book.

The idea that art is magic is kind of precious, considering that DiMartino himself is a creative person.  Sort of like how so many writers write books about writers doing stuff.  But it’s easily forgiven as the Renaissance-inspired world is interesting.  There’s a lot of talk about ‘sacred geometry’, and Zanobius is very obviously Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, which may drive some readers to go investigate classic art, which is never a bad thing.  If you have a kid in the target range, Rebel Genius is a worthy purchase.  Just don’t expect it to stray too far from the formula that DiMartino and Konietzko made (admittedly excellent) use of before.  Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.  It’s currently scheduled for release October 4th.

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Review TV

TV Review – Voltron: Legendary Defender Season One

I know for a fact that I watched the original Lion Force Voltron when I was a kid.  I’m fairly certain I had the toys, too.  But I wasn’t a Voltron obsessive, and I’m hard-pressed to remember much more than the barest bits of the show now.  You know, five lion bots, “and I’ll form the head”, a few of the names, that’s about it.  So for a long time I wasn’t falling all over myself to watch this new Netflix series Voltron: Legendary Defender.  The initial trailer, though…

…that was enough for me to notice, and start doing a bit more digging.  Two things cemented my interest:  the animation studio, and the names of the folks work on this.  Lauren Montgomery, Joaquim Dos Santos, and Tim Hedrick were all deeply involved in Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra, and wrote or directed some of the best episodes (Hedrick with The Puppetmaster, for instance).  Studio Mir is animating Voltron, and their work on ATLA and especially Korra is amazing.  Their use of color and lighting are first-rate, and fits well here.

As for the story, I don’t want to spoil it, but it does involve a group of misfits discovering the Voltron lions, and having to learn to work together to fight back against the evil empire that is conquering the universe.  It sounds basic, but what elevates it is the relationships between the characters.  The season one story focuses mostly on Shiro (Sven in the 80s Americanized Voltron), who had been captured by Zarkon and the Galra (the bad guys) and escaped, Pidge, whose father and brother were with Shiro when he was captured, and who will do anything to find out what happened to them, and Princess Allura, who along with her right-hand man Coran are the last surviving Alteans.  Her father built Voltron but then hid it away, which is one mystery explored this season.  The other is how Shiro escaped captivity – he doesn’t remember despite being gone for a year.  Some of the others (Keith, Lance, Hunk, even Coran himself) can shade into comic relief territory – but much like Sokka developed from a dope to an effective fighter and teammate, you get the feeling there’s depth to everyone that’s going to be revealed in time.  The main villains (Zarkon, the witch Haggar, and Commander Sendak) are suitably scary, and Zarkon in particular has secrets of his own sure to be explored in future seasons.

The voice cast is very solid, I’m especially attached to Kimberly Brooks as Allura.  Steven Yeun, Tyler Labine, Josh Keaton, Jeremy Shada and Bex Taylor-Klaus voice the Voltron Paladins, while Rhys Darby performs as Coran.  Neil Kaplan, Cree Summer and Jake Eberle are your villains.

All in all I enjoyed the heck out of the first season (all on Netflix as of June 10) a ton, and am dying to know what’s coming next.  Worth watching even if you don’t have kids who are interested.

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Review TV

The Legend of Korra – Civil Wars

I thought Part 2 put a solid finish on the various Civil Wars storylines.  Korra learns just how deep Unalaq’s lies and manipulation go, and Tenzin bonds with Ikki, and in doing so has a moment with Kya and Bumi to boot.  The Bolin/Eska situation is still less funny and more painful, but at least it generated some funny moments from Varrick.  “No honey?  We’re in a BEAR for crying out loud!”

One thing fans need to realize is the Avatar is NOT a pacifist.  Aang was, but you’ll recall that other Avatars have killed (or allowed someone to die) if it meant balance would be restored.  There’s more than one way to solve problems.  We’re trying to compare Korra to Aang, and considering everything he accomplished by 13, it’s hard to come out better when you look at it like that.  It’s the same thing in the Kya/Bumi/Tenzin storyline.  They must feel like they are the only ones who see the warts on Aang, as a dad and not just as the Avatar.

The Ikki and Tenzin interaction was so cute, and I thought did a great job of giving some younger fans insight into the family conflicts that might otherwise go over their heads.  And baby sky bison!  With what amount to My Little Pony names!  Glad Ikki got some spotlight time where she wasn’t just being a silly energetic kid.

There’s still something strange here.  It’s almost like, having been told all this time that this season deals with spirits, we’ve barely seen them.  I think now that we’ve got Unalaq exposed as the villain that he is, we may see more spirit action as he seems to think he can unlock the North Pole spirit portal himself now.  There’s a lot of plot that hasn’t happened yet, which is strange considering how far into the season we are.  I enjoyed this episode a lot though.  Can’t wait for what’s next.

Categories
Review TV

The Legend of Korra Book 2 – A Rough Start

Spoilers, if you must know.

I meant to write these weekly, but hey, there’s a ton to process here!  The first two episodes set the stage six months after the defeat of Amon.  Korra can airbend, Mako’s a cop on the fast track to detective, and Bolin’s remade Fire Ferrets are terrible.  Asami is barely keeping Future Industries afloat, looking to make a deal with an eccentric businessman.  Everyone comes together in the Southern Water Tribe for the Solstice Festival, including Korra’s parents, her Uncle (and Water Tribe Chief) Unalaq, and his twins, Desna and Eska.  Unalaq throws a huge snowy blanket on the proceedings when he decries the Southern tribe’s lack of spirituality, and then offers to take over teaching Korra about spirits.  Seems there are marauding spirits that normal bending has trouble defeating, but he can ‘calm’ them.  Korra decides to let Unalaq teach her instead of Tenzin.  Feels! as the fandom says.

Part two, The Southern Lights, has Unalaq taking Korra to the South Pole to open a ‘Spirit Portal’, with the idea that this will help settle the spirits that are angry with the Water tribe.  There is drama when Korra finds out that her father, Tonraq, had been banished from the North when he and some troops destroyed a forest and angered spirits there.  Also, Tonraq and Tenzin worked to keep Korra safe (or trapped, in her mind) as a child in the White Lotus compound.  She sends him away.  Korra does manage to open the Portal, and the Southern Lights are restored.  We also see Tenzin and Pema taking the family on their ‘vacation’, starting at the Southern Air Temple, with Kya and Bumi tagging along.  Jinora seems drawn to Grandpa Aang’s statue, and another one, a very very old one.  The episode ends ominously, with Northern troops of Unalaq’s entering the Southern capital to help it “get back on its righteous path”.

This week’s episode, Civil Wars Part 1 (note the plural there), shows how the Southern Water tribe reacts to Unalaq’s ‘help’.  Not well, you can imagine.  He blocks the port, leading some (including Varrick, the businessman working with Asami) to agitate for rebellion.  There’s a ton of family drama everywhere, with Korra first thinking her father was one of the rebels who attempt to kidnap Unalaq, to seeing her uncle arrest her parents not long after she helps rescue him.  Back with the airbender family, Ikki runs off after Jinora and Meelo pick on her.  This leads Tenzin, Bumi and Kya to go searching for her, with some uncomfortable conversations about Aang’s parenting style.  Bumi and Kya think he favored Tenzin, you see.  Speaking of uncomfortable, Bolin has some trouble with Eska – he wants to dump her, but can’t.

There is a ton of interesting set up here, and I’m hopeful that the next episode, Part 2 of Civil Wars, begins the payoff.  Korra had JUST convinced Unalaq to give the rebels that tried to kidnap him a fair trial instead of just detaining them (real world parallels much Bryke?), but now that it’s her parents?  I love that Jinora’s going to get some face time this season, she seemed to get the short end of things with Ikki and Meelo being the more active kids in Book 1.  My personal theory is that the spirit portals were closed to help KEEP the balance between the spirit world and the physical/real world, possibly dating back to the first Avatar who we meet later.  From the Book 2 trailer, we see Wan Shi Tong and his library – researching the portals?  Or the first Avatar?  I can’t wait to find out!

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Featured TV

The Legend of Korra Season Finale Preview

Well, it seems like the show has barely started, and we are already at the season finale.  This Saturday at 11am, we see the endgame with Amon and Korra.  From the previews, it’s clear that there is a HUGE battle involving battleships, planes (launched from General Iroh’s ships?), airships, and who knows what else.  We see Mako being ridiculous again, having a deep, meaningful moment with Korra while I presume Asami is in the next room over stewing.  The hobo in the bush makes an appearance, sheltering Team Avatar and showing off a makeshift town under the city with benders and non-benders living together.

Here’s a recap of recent events:  Tarrlok’s bloodbending was found out, and Korra escaped when Amon and his thugs found Tarrlok and took his bending.  Amon and Sato attacked Republic City with airships and attempted to capture all of the remaining Council members, but Tenzin again fought off the chi-blockers sent to subdue him.  It seems airbending might be the best defense against the Equalists, as they have little information on how to fight back against it, and the blasts of air can keep them out of hand to hand range (where they could actually chi-block Tenzin).  All the more reason to hope Korra breaks through with that for the finale.

Lin Beifong, with the help of Tenzin and Team Avatar, rescued her de-bended metalbender cops, and then helped defend Air Temple Island during the attack by Amon.  The airbender kids helped ably, aiding my theory that the Equalist chi-blockers have no way information on dealing with airbenders.  Tenzin takes his family on Oogi and tries to escape, but is pursued by airships.  Lin Beifong, in a touching sacrifice, leaps off Oogi and begins wrecking the Equalist blimps (Beifongs hate airships!).  She is captured, and Amon takes her bending away.  I admit, this more than anything affected me.  Lin became one of my favorite characters these past few weeks, and seeing this hurt.

But they couldn’t leave fans with that heartbreak as the only thing to carry them forward to the finale, so there is one more scene.  A flotilla of ships, called in by Tenzin, and the general in charge…named Iroh.  Voiced by Dante Basco, Zuko’s grandson leads the fleet and will be key in helping to liberate Republic City.

My predictions for Saturday’s episode:  Team Avatar, after some relationship drama underground, perpetrates some guerilla attacks from within Republic City while Iroh’s ‘United Forces’ fleet attacks from the harbor.  Korra will break through with airbending, and faces off with Amon.  He attempts to take her bending, but she finally goes into the Avatar state and resists it.  There HAS to be a reveal here of who Amon is, as you don’t keep someone behind a mask for this long without it meaning something more than “I was burned by a firebender”.

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TV

The Legend of Korra: WHOA

Note:  bigtime spoilers here, if you aren’t fully caught up.

I watched episode 8 today (both times it was on!) and am completely floored at what’s happening here.  The show is moving through plot at a breakneck pace, and just when you think they might take a breather, BOOM, Tarrlok and Korra fight.  And for Tarrlok to somehow bloodbend without a full moon, well, something is definitely up.  This page has a very interesting theory on what is happening in the flashbacks (though he extrapolates a bit much, and I don’t think everyone in the room is being bloodbended or is that bloodbent?).  My thought for the next episode is Beifong rescues Korra, but not until she finally gets some real meditating in, and gets some plot info from Aang in spirit form.  Or at the very least sees the whole picture of what she has seen only bits and pieces of so far in those flashbacks.

Other random thoughts:

  • I love the airbender kids.  The fartbending was a bit much, but Meelo and Ikki were both fun.
  • The Asami/Korra dynamic is great, though I would’ve thought Asami had noticed something between Korra and Mako earlier, so Ikki’s spillage wouldn’t be such a big reveal to her.
  • It was good to see Team Avatar be effective, seems so many times they’ve been disabled or defeated pretty easily.
  • Moving the show up to 20’s era society makes things quite interesting.  Will benders be like the samurai, with ever-dwindling prestige in society as it becomes more technologically based?
  • We need Katara back in the mix, I think.  Perhaps she will teach Korra how to defeat bloodbenders.
  • Is it Saturday yet?
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Featured Media Review

The Legend of Korra

This is a notice to those of you who wax nostalgic about the cartoons of your youth, and claim nothing they make these days can compare.  I bet you’re not watching The Legend of Korra, the follow-up series to Avatar: The Last Airbender, on Nickelodeon.  A:TLA was well known for being an excellent show, and not just for kids, and The Legend of Korra seems no different.  If you don’t know what the deal is, basically this world has ‘benders’ who control one of the classical elements of Fire, Earth, Water and Air.  There is always one bender, however, who can learn to control all four, and they are the Avatar, destined to keep balance in the world.  The previous series followed Avatar Aang and his quest to re-unite the nations and tribes after Fire Lord Ozai tried to take over.  The Legend of Korra skips ahead 70 years, with a Republic established and relative peace.  The new Avatar, Korra, is a powerful but hot-headed young woman from the Southern Water Tribe.  She follows Tenzin, Aang’s youngest son and her would-be airbending teacher to the capital, Republic City.  She’s in for quite a culture shock, as Republic City resembles a modern-day metropolis, with a wide mix of benders and non-benders from all tribes…and a building anti-bender sentiment amongst certain people.  Behind all of that, there lies an even greater threat to bending itself.

The makers of the show have successfully advanced the world as you might expect, taking the Steampunk elements and moving them forward to exist in a 20’s to 30’s sort of world.  The first cars are appearing, they use newsreels to do the “last time on” montage at the beginning of each episode, and Korra has to deal with the media.  Korra herself is a very interesting heroine.  She’s tough and wants to do good, but frequently leaps before she looks (sometimes literally).  She has real fears and feelings, and with an older Avatar, they writers can bump up the maturity level of the storylines a bit.  This keeps up with the age of the kids who grew up watching Avatar: The Last Airbender, while keeping it accessible enough for new fans.  I’m enjoying the show immensely, to the point where I’m actually worried about the characters.  The danger they are all facing is terrible, if true (I have theories!), and I don’t want to see them hurt.  Previous knowledge of A:TLA is helpful but not required, and you can go through the Nick site for Korra to get some of the background.  Hit up the comments or the forums if you want to discuss the show!