Avatar: The Last Airbender was an insanely successful Nickelodeon show that ran from 2005 to 2008. It told the story of Aang, the eponymous last airbender (someone who can manipulate air), who also happened to be the Avatar, the only person who could bend all elements. The show’s three seasons were an incredible mix of humorous, dark and simply amazing storytelling. When you rewatch the show, you only grow to appreciate it more when you see how the writers set things up in Book 1 (Season 1, for the uninitiated) and pay them off in Book 3. When it ended, my world was thrown out of balance. Then, everything changed when The Legend Of Korra was announced.
Korra would be a sequel to the original show and it would tell us the story of Korra, the Avatar that succeeded Aang. She’s as different from him as you can be without being Azula and this gives the show an edge on most spinoffs/sequels that simply try to emulate the parent show and end up feeling like a copy. Almost every good thing about the original can be found on Korra: complex storytelling that explores themes that no other show for children even comes close to (the first season dealt with terrorism and an Occupy Wall Street-like movement) blended with heartwarming moments and some of the funniest moments TV has to offer. Also, amazing music, animation, voice acting…I can go on and on praising the show but as our friend Anton Ego so wisely said, negative criticism is fun to read and to write. So here’s my one big complaint about Korra.
Watching Aang’s story as fascinating because around episode 4 from Book 1, we already know he has to master all four elements before the end of the Summer when Sozin’s Comet will give unlimited power to the Fire Nation, giving them the chance to conquer the rest of the world. And although there are a lot of filler episodes that don’t advance that story in particular, the ticking clock is there and there really is a sense of an overarching story. We see the characters evolve and grow and although every season tells a different story, they’re all part of the same big story. The writers take a few episodes to present the new settings and characters and then we go back to focusing on Aang’s quest of learning to bend all elements to defeat the Fire Lord.
We also see Zuko’s journey, which is arguably what elevates the original show to the level of praise it receives. Zuko starts out as the antagonist but as we slowly learn more about him, we start sympathizing with him and he starts changing. in Book 2, he’s more of an anti-hero and by Book 3, when he was most people’s favorite character already, he steps up to be a hero. I don’t remember ever seeing such an interesting and pronounced character arc in TV (Except, of course, Walter White’s transformation in Breaking Bad).
And so we get to the problem with Korra. Originally designed as a 12 episode mini-series, Nickelodeon expanded the episode order to 52. These will be divided in 4 Books, each telling a contained story. And while I’m sure we’ll see the characters growing and evolving, I fear there won’t be an overarching story that connects everything. Book 1 wrapped everything up and when Book 2 started, it took a few episodes to set up the conflict. People could start watching at the beginning of Season 2 and understand everything and while that’s not a bad thing, it’s also not as rewarding to fans as watching what feels like a part of a bigger story.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore Korra but after rewatching the entire original series, I feel it could be much better if there was something connecting all seasons. And while repeating the same trick would feel cheap, I wish the amazing showrunners would’ve come up with something as compelling as watching Zuko’s journey parallel to Aang’s.