Of Circles and Squares: Musings on the Video Reviews, DiMartino and Konietzko, and the Creative Process
The Korranalysis videos will be on hiatus until I can secure a new editing software (hopefully within the next week) and learn the software well enough to actually maintain and improve the quality of the editing in the reviews. This will be good for me because I get to revise the next two parts and make sure they’re the best they can be before I even attempt to record and edit.
So far, I’m quite happy with the reception of these video reviews, especially after the extraordinary mediocrity of the first part. The criticisms of that video—including the more harsh ones that were probably all from that deplorable Something Awful website—were extremely helpful in shaping the quality of the rest of the videos. I wish part one was just as good as the others (considering it’s the very first video, and thus the deal breaker for future ones). Maybe I’ll go back and completely re-do it.
But at the moment, this hiatus is much needed not only to find the necessary resources to finish them, but also to take a good clean break. As much as I love the video essay format, making these videos is not fun. I have a new found respect for Internet reviewers like the Nostalgia Critic, Red Letter Media/Mr. Plinkett, and Jontron (whose style I’ve most certainly ripped off the most). It’s extremely difficult presenting a concise, well-informed opinion and making it entertaining. I think I’m getting better at it, but there are too many times when I’m sitting there and wondering what the Hell I’m doing this for. Why am I wasting so much time and effort on a series of long, nit-picky videos dedicated to tearing down a series that most people don’t have a problem with anyway?
These thoughts arose again while listening to creators Michael Dante DiMartino’s and Bryan Konietzko’s separate appearances on the Big Pull Podcast. I listened in vain to get their thoughts on the fans’ reactions to their show, particularly to the ending. Since these weren’t solo interviews—each podcast has about three or four guests at a time—the focus was never solely on Korra or Avatar (probably for the better, as the overall conversations were pretty interesting).
Sadly, it never got around to discussing that controversial ending, probably because everyone involved actually liked Korra. Frankly, I always get the impression that the appraisal for Korra is more for the show’s social and cultural impact (STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER FTW!!!) rather than for the actual content, which is problematic at best.
What I was not expecting from listening to these podcasts—particularly Konietzko’s appearance—was to sympathize with them. As grueling as these reviews are to do, my efforts are miniscule compared to the yearly struggles of DiMartino and Konietzko to produce a single episode of either Avatar or Korra. Couple that with the ever-present balancing act of appeasing the studio that funds the show and satisfying their own artistic needs, and you’ve got a classic case of compromise in Hollywood.
And yet, in principle, we’re each experiencing the same obstacles that come with the creative process, which is more “process” than “creative.” It’s best summarized in this interview with director David Fincher, when asked what the most creative part of directing was:
“Thinking. It’s thinking the thing up, designing all the sets, and it’s rehearsals, and then the creative process is fuckin’ over. Then it’s just war, it’s just literally, How do we get through this day? It’s 99 percent politics and 1 percent inspiration.
I’ve had days of shooting where I went, Wow, that’s what it is, that’s what it’s like to be making a movie. Everything’s clicking, people are asking questions, and the clock’s ticking, but you feel like you’re making progress. But most of the time it isn’t that. Most of the time it’s, How do you support the initial intent of what it is you set out to do, and not undercut that by getting pissed off and letting your attention get away on that? It’s priority management. It’s problem solving. Oftentimes you walk away from a scene going, Wasn’t what I thought it was gonna be. Often. But it’s also knowing that you don’t have to get it exactly the way you see it.”
I know where Fincher’s coming from, and I know where DiMartino and Konietzko are coming from. For Konietzko, the complications that come with making television animation are taxing to the point that the joke around their office is, “When are we doing the Circle and Square show, where the Circle hangs out with the Square and they just chill?” And yet, I especially understand him and DiMartino when they say, “It’s nobody’s fault but ours.”
But it should still be noted just how different our working conditions are. In their case, they’re literally managing hundreds upon hundreds of people to create their show. (As opposed to these reviews of mine, where it’s just the “two” of us.) Let’s not forget the pressure from the studio to turn out something profitable. (No one asked me to do these reviews.) And on top of everything, these two have already established themselves with a series that is beloved by so many people around the world. (My first video stinks.)
So in essence: I’m taking months at a time to create a video essay tearing apart something that took years of hardship to produce. (And, as if to add insult to injury, I’m using the fruits of their labor—that is, footage from the actual show—to support my cause.) Is that fair? In a cosmic sense, I suppose not. Then again, if there’s a single word the cosmos has continually refused to acknowledged, it’s “fair.”
Let me put it this way: one very important thing being an artist has taught me is that the amount of labor put into a piece is relative. Certainly it can be appreciated and respected, but if the project in question doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, then it has failed. In the case of film and animation—commercial, experimental, it doesn’t matter—the purpose is to communicate a worthwhile experience to the audience.
And that’s where the key failure of Korra lies. In spite of the wonderful animation, some emotionally resonant moments, and a revolutionary focus on a female action hero, the experience was ultimately not worth it. Most of the thematic and dramatic elements in play cancel each other out so drastically that by the time it’s over, you feel as if you’ve just wasted a great deal of time getting invested over nothing. And you DO NOT waste the audience’s time!
This is why I’m extremely reluctant to watch Book Two. Despite the inclusion of some of the better writers from Avatar (including Josh Hamilton and Tim Hedrick) and the chance to see certain favorite characters again (Lin Bei Fong, Tenzin, Bolin, and Asami), there’s nothing to get me too excited after Book One’s disastrous conclusion. There was no character growth or any genuine exploration of the heavy themes and grey areas that Book One raised, so why should I expect that to change? And they’ll be making forty more episodes of this show? I honestly can’t see things getting any better for this series. As far as I’m concerned, it’s over.
And while I’m on that subject, let me state right now: I have no plans to watch and/or review Book Two and beyond of Korra. After the Korranalysis is good and done, I might do a little something on Avatar, but that’s it. It’s been almost a year of bitching about this show. I’m done. I’m moving on.
P.S. If the time link doesn’t work, start the video at 7:44.
P.P.S. Guess what? Our great pal John O’Bryan was the latest guest on the Big Pull. And he’s written a neat book on weapons in history! And he’s a pretty swell guy! Check it out if you can!