"The Legend of Korra" Takes the "Avatar" World to New Heights Review

As popular as Avatar: The Last Airbender was with kids, teens, and 20-somethings (who'll we'll just say are still kids at heart, I guess), it still suffered from rough animation, cheesy voice acting, and was modeled after the popular Japanese cartoon model of a group of youngsters with fantastical abilities going on a long journey. It was above average cartoon fare, but just barely. As of last year, however, easily the best thing about Avatar: The Last Airbender, and the world it created is that it gave us The Legend of Korra. The Legend of Korra improves on virtually every aspect of The Last Airbender with better animation, a tremendous voice cast, more mature themes, and a story focused on the long-term with a surprising dark and somber streak to it. Simply put, The Legend of Korra is one of the best "kids" cartoons to come out of this generation.

We put "kids" in quotes because really the minimum age necessary to really follow along with the tale of political intrigue, revolution, and betrayal is probably a very mature 10 or 11, with the ideal age being teens and above. Which makes sense considering the kids who enjoyed the more childish The Last Airbender in its original run would now be about that age and able to handle the more serious themes The Legend of Korra lays out. This is an Avatar continuation that isn't afraid to offer up some disturbing imagery, but it makes sure to balance it with some great deadpan comedy writing that it's cast consisting of lead Janet Varney, P.J. Byrne, and J.K. Simmons deliver perfectly.

As far as the story goes, it's been two generations since the last Avatar Aang passed away, and the newest incarnation of the Avatar is none other than a precocious little girl who grows into the fiercely independent Korra (Varney). Upon growing restless as she studies the art of bending fire, water, and earth and desiring to finally master air, she sets out to the metropolitan bastion of the world known as Republic City so she can study under Tenzin (Simmons). Her arrival in Republic City comes at a time of civil unrest as a revolutionary group known as the Equalists, led by the fanatic Amon (Steve Blum), who has the incredible ability to strip any bender of their ability. Korra faces this threat while balancing her studies with her recent addition as the waterbender for a professional bending league team with firebender Mako (David Faustino) and earthbender Bolin (Byrne). As the Equalist menace grows, Korra, Mako, and Bolin gain new allies and face betrayal by others as they seek to stop Amon's eradication of bender culture.

The Legend of Korra improves on the original in virtually every way, though there is a definite diminishment in the amount of awe this time around. This manifests in both the story and richer but darker animation, and in place of that wonder is a sense of despair and terror thanks to things going from bad to worse to horrible up until about the final episode of the season. And while the title of the season "Air" gives you some indication as to what will save the day in the end, the writers do a decent job of getting there in a way that defies those expectations. It's not often that an action-packed animated series can legitimately surprise, but The Legend of Korra smartly avoids a number of obvious plot points (though not all of them) and instead goes to places that make you genuinely wonder if there's a way the characters can survive without requiring a deus ex machina to save the day. The show succeeds at that, and it also sets expectations fairly high for the next season.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

A series of animatics for what the series' animators consider the best scenes and audio commentaries on each of the set's episodes are the most basic extras, while the featurette The Legend of Puppetbender Presents "The Making of a Legend: The Untold Story - Part 1" is easily the set's highlight.

"The Legend of Korra - Book One: Air" is on sale July 9, 2013 and is not rated. Action, Adventure, Animation, Fantasy. Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Ki Hyun Ryu. Written by Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko. Starring Dee Bradley Baker, JK Simmons, Pj Byrne, Janet Varney, David Faustino.

Jul
16
2013
Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.

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