Because fans should be critical, too

The End is Nigh…

A few weeks ago, the total views on this blog surpassed the 100,000 mark. By normal Internet standards, this probably means very little, but who cares what the overall Internet thinks? As far as I’m concerned, I never expected this little project would get even a hundred views.

I never got the chance to celebrate this personal best because my mind has been elsewhere. And I don’t just mean the usual suspects (i.e. school, the occasional spell of depression). Lately, I’ve been thinking heavily about my future. I am ready to start moving on to bigger and (hopefully) better things. And one side effect of that will be to put this blog to rest.

When you think about it, I’ve essentially accomplished my original mission: review every single episode of Avatar: the Last Airbender to clarify my stance on the series. Certainly a more than a few reviews could use some rewriting—in fact, they’ll all be revised and edited for the sake of professionalism—but really, this blog could have finished after I wrote about the season finale.

The only thing that kept me writing on this blog was Book One of The Legend of Korra. That season was honestly a godsend: there were so many levels of wrong and insanity within it that I’m still finding new angles from which to criticize it (if the Korranalysis is anything to go by).

But here’s the rub: I also also went out of my way to buy both the DVD and the “Art of” book. Why would I want to own something I apparently hate so much? What’s going on here?

After seeing the Book Two premiere, I know the answer. It parallels something Roger Ebert said in his review of Stealing Harvard, in which he actually had something more positive to say about the infamous Freddy Got Fingered:

Seeing Tom Green reminded me, as how could it not, of his movie “Freddy Got Fingered” (2001), which was so poorly received by the film critics that it received only one lonely, apologetic positive review on the Tomatometer. I gave it–let’s see–zero stars. Bad movie, especially the scene where Green was whirling the newborn infant around his head by its umbilical cord.

But the thing is, I remember “Freddy Got Fingered” more than a year later. I refer to it sometimes. It is a milestone. And for all its sins, it was at least an ambitious movie, a go-for-broke attempt to accomplish something. It failed, but it has not left me convinced that Tom Green doesn’t have good work in him. Anyone with his nerve and total lack of taste is sooner or later going to make a movie worth seeing. “Stealing Harvard,” on the other hand, is a singularly unambitious product, content to paddle lazily in the shallows of sitcom formula. It has no edge, no hunger to be better than it is. It ambles pleasantly through its inanity, like a guest happy to be at a boring party. When you think of some of the weird stuff Jason Lee and Tom Green have been in over the years, you wonder what they did to amuse themselves during the filming.

Substitute Book One of Korra for Freddy Got Fingered, and Book Two for Stealing Harvard, and this is virtually how I feel. Book One, despite it’s many, many, many story problems, was an extremely well-made show with a singular vision. How many television animations can you say that about? Creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko are two very talented individuals who had a few too many bad ideas, and followed them through with supreme confidence. This confidence runs through every aspect of the show, making the good stuff fantastic, and the bad stuff excruciating. This duality of quality is where the criticism of Book One truly stems from. The criticisms wouldn’t have been nearly as sharp and aggressive had it been a run-of-the-mill cartoon.

And that’s what Book Two feels like: run-of-the-mill. It’s bad enough that the writing has not improved: not only did I not care about what was going on in the episodes, I could barely even follow the plot. So much of what we’re supposed to know and feel is communicated through dialogue, and not particularly pleasant dialogue either. Returning characters are shallow versions of their former selves, which means new characters are barely given a fighting chance to establish a single interesting dimension. (There are exceptions: Varrick and Eska are largely saved by their respective voice actors, John Michael Higgins and Aubrey Plaza, both of whom are brilliant comic actors.) Whatever worth while ideas are in this new chapter (like the notion that Aang’s favoritism towards Tenzin left his other two non-Airbending children very resentful) lose their potency when explored with such vague yet heavy-handed writing.

On top of all that, the animation is horrendous. The things that made Book One so visually exciting (the CGI, the three-dimesional “camera,” the attempt at actual animation acting) have disappeared with Studio Mir and former directors Joaquim Dos Santos and Ki-Hyun Ryu. What we have provided by Japan-based Studio Pierrot is basic anime quality. Even the animation in Avatar, limited as it was, had more vitality and expression than this (not to mention the narrative coherence to help the show rise above its technical limitations).

And that honestly sums up anything and everything I could say about Book Two. It doesn’t even feel like a series anymore. I feel like I’m watching someone drag a corpse on stage, but no matter how well they make it move, I’ll never be convinced that it’s alive (especially when it’s decomposing before my very eyes).

I’m done with this series, and I’m not going to pretend otherwise and write an entry week after week about how much I dislike it. At this point, obligation is driving these such entries rather than passion. And that’s just no fun. (Besides, isn’t it a little unhealthy to be so focused on a single show and/or work? It’s not like I’m trying to write the Avatar equivalent of Revolution in the Head.)

So exactly should I go from here?

Well, for starters, I would like to finally set up a blog devoted entirely to the art form of animation, especially since I’m currently attempting to hone whatever skills I have as an animator. The same principle would hold if I started that music album blog. (I might even base them on tumblr.)

But here’s the real deal: because of the general reception of the Korranalysis—I mean, it got me on a podcast—I’ve seriously been grappling with the decision to make more videos on other animation series and/or films. The video format certainly doesn’t allow as much nuance and intimacy as the essay format, but it has it’s own pleasures and advantages. Plus, it can get out to much more people.

But all these potential endeavors would basically mean the end of the Avatar blog. I’m perfectly OK with that. There is nothing new I write that I haven’t read before. Then again, I’ll always need to come back and revise something.

So consider this a pre-goodbye of sorts. I’ll make my final decision very soon.

P.S. The Korranalysis will be completed, so don’t worry about that!


38 responses

  1. rosemon

    What a nice, thoughtful entry! Though I don’t understand how you could like Eska, since she’s such an abusive brat who lashes out when her (boy) toy gets taken away. Her voice acting was horrendous (even if they wanted a robot voice, it’s still stupid), nothing funny about it to me. Varrick at least scores some points for helping Bolin get away from that crazy girl.

    October 2, 2013 at 12:01 am

  2. amonymous

    Perhaps it was all the critcism that bryke got for book one that caused them to be not so ambitious on this one

    October 2, 2013 at 2:55 am

  3. rosemon

    But Bryke doesn’t care about critcism, they choose to ignore the critics, they think they did a great job, and they wrote book 2 before book 1 even aired/finished.

    October 2, 2013 at 11:21 am

  4. 😦 Sorry to see you feel that way Marshall. I’ve personally been enjoying the first few episodes but whatever. And for the record, the animation studio will return in episode 7 and continue for the rest of the series. It probably doesn’t matter at this point but here ya go. I wish you the best in whatever you do and even though i don’t necessarily agree with all that you say i still enjoyed watching and reading you stuff.

    October 2, 2013 at 12:10 pm

  5. Ian

    Its been a fun ride Marshall (avatar anyway) and I look forward to what you have in store. Ill stick with my idea that you should do some reviews of cowboy bebop. There is just SO much to disect and analyze it would be so cool to hear your thoughts.

    Anywho I cant wait for the Korranalysis to be done and I really cant wait for a revision of the Boiling rock(my personal favorite episode of Avatar)

    Thanks for all the insightfull commentary and I pray for your future successes, Im also going into animation as well and would love to bounce ideas to your highly critical mind 🙂

    October 2, 2013 at 2:44 pm

  6. amonymous

    I still think you should watch the rest of book 2, so that you can keep doing the podcast. Its a pretty good gig that you landed.

    October 2, 2013 at 3:54 pm

  7. Alan

    You have no clue how much your blogs mean to me. I am sad to see you stop but it’s for the best. I want to let you know that there are people who appreciate what you’ve done and I wish you luck with your future.

    October 4, 2013 at 10:45 pm

  8. rosemon

    Don’t feel too bad. You are not the only one quitting this show. Now the latest episode of Korra’s second book has 1.103 million viewers, the lowest ever. I don’t have any hope that future seasons will get better, since Nick ordered more seasons right after the book 1 premiere (4.6 million views) got popular, so they don’t have an accurate view of how fans see it. So now while book 2 airs, books 3 and 4 are already being recorded and finished (so any writing problems will not be acknowledged). Do you think Nick will still cancel the show? Or fire Bryke?

    October 8, 2013 at 8:21 am

    • Amonymous

      Dickelodeon has already invested too much money in this show to cancel it

      October 8, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    • The ratings are low because of the constant switching of time-slots. The ratings were actually starting to go up until they changed it yet again.

      October 9, 2013 at 11:11 am

      • amonymous

        yeah, i have no idea why dickelodeon changed the airing time from a saturday morning where it was getting high ratings to a friday night deathslot

        October 10, 2013 at 6:11 am

  9. It was also because of them that they were only given one season instead of multiple ones at the start. You would think Nickelodeon could see what they have here, a sequel series to a VERY beloved series that would bring in the ratings. Idiots.

    October 10, 2013 at 9:58 pm

  10. rosemon

    You’ll probably be even more glad to be dropping the show after the Sting has just come out. The newest episode has Bolin sexually assaulting his co-star while she’s bound to a table in the new propaganda piece against Unalaq and the Northern Water Tribe (presumably a joke about how he can’t tell reality from acting) and Asami inexplicably kissing Mako while Korra’s “dead.” If I were you, I would have dropped this show right after the finale, since from interview it looked like book 2 would just be a repeat of book 1 anyway. Though this new episode’s forced kisses and abusive undertones raised such a ruckus on the Internet that it was impossible not to hear about it on the entertainment reviews.

    October 15, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    • What do you mean a repeat of book 1?

      October 16, 2013 at 12:18 pm

  11. Amonymous

    Marshall what did you think of “beginnings” part 1 and 2? I believe they were easily the 2 best episodes of korra ever

    October 23, 2013 at 10:42 pm

    • Dem episodes were fucking amazing.

      October 25, 2013 at 7:42 pm

  12. Rhaegar Targaryen

    Marshall watch beginnings 1 and 2. Even standalone they are great.

    October 28, 2013 at 6:56 am

    • You’re the third person to say so, so I’m officially convinced.

      I’ll find, I’ll watch, I’ll review.

      October 28, 2013 at 5:31 pm

      • Dman

        If you’re looking for a place to watch the, you can try

        Also, here’s a link where you can download all the episodes, in case Beginnings pushes you to catch up on the series (It also has ATLA episodes).

        October 28, 2013 at 8:20 pm

      • Actually, the second half has been pretty damn stellar. It’s literally some of the best stuff in the entire Avatar franchise.

        November 13, 2013 at 9:23 am

      • And by second half i mean the second half of the season.

        November 13, 2013 at 1:34 pm

  13. Amonymous

    I find this website to be quite useful as well

    October 29, 2013 at 4:17 am

  14. Ben

    Beginnings Part 1 & 2 were very strong episodes in the whole franchise. The quality was impeccable.

    October 30, 2013 at 11:42 pm

  15. rosemon

    When is your next Korranalysis coming, do you think?

    November 3, 2013 at 8:36 am

  16. Grindal

    Hey Marshall I’m sure you’ve got more relative things to deal with but I sincerely hope you’ve been watching Korra through all the way. It has felt like a new show since ‘Beginnings’, especially since Studio Mir has come back, and episodes 11 & 12 were some of the best of the whole franchise. I fully agree that elements of this season earlier were unbearable, but from my point of view they have completely turned it around (and managed to make a respectable Korra and Mako at the same time, though at the expense of Bolin). Let’s hear from you.

    November 16, 2013 at 9:15 am

  17. Dman

    Marshall, you HAVE to watch season two of LOK. I don’t know, after Beginnings it is like the show took a complete 180 turn, and started producing great episodes. And I know you complained about the animation, but after from Beginnings on (with the exception of episode 9), Studio Mir returned and the animation has been amazing. The second half of Legend of Korra has produced some of the be episodes in the entire Avatar franchise. I highly recommend it.

    November 16, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    • Amonymous

      even if you dont like the story, the animation and the music in the finale were definitely the best in the whole franchise

      November 16, 2013 at 9:55 pm

  18. Gormgwrm

    I’ll have to agree with the other posters. “Beginnings” is a beautiful pair of episodes, and the episodes afterwards show a level of ambition that makes the show more than watchable. Mostly, it’s just a little bewildering that the episodes from the first part of the season coexist as part of the same show, let alone the same season, as some of those in the second part.

    November 19, 2013 at 4:23 am

    • Amonymous

      i’m guessing it was due to the return of studio mir who did beginnings part 1 and 2 and episode 10-14

      November 20, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    • Grindal

      I like your point about the ambition of the show. It’s almost like Mike and Brian weren’t there for the first six episodes, and were then shown them and told to make the best possible thing out of it. Sure, this means that some of the early problems in the season with character are slightly present as well as an inability to properly pace everything, but there is a stark clarity and relentlessness, especially in the last four episodes (watch them as a four-parter and the transition is seamless). All in all, my only explanation for the first half is that for they weren’t focusing on it a great deal, as they claim they are already starting post-production for season 3. I’m excited to see where they’ll go from here.

      November 22, 2013 at 1:40 am

  19. Ian

    I agree with what people are saying above, they’ve really out did themselves with these last couple episodes. From beginnings onward they’ve been great. The bending looks more fluid like you wanted and the animation has actually improved in the character animation. Just Bolin grabbing Korra for a group hug and seeing her face go from surprised to happiness was adorable. Korra developed amazingly, along with Tenzin. And while some arent happy with bolins character arc, the climax was worth it. The only real complaint I have is that Unaloq PAILS in comparison to Amon, Azula, heck even Ozai! Other than that, a great season.

    November 20, 2013 at 9:15 pm

  20. rosemon

    In the meantime, it seems that Bryke are still their old, conceited selves. Like they seem to be aware that people are upset, but they don’t understand the core issue of why people are upset with LOK.

    November 22, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    • What is the core issue exactly?

      November 22, 2013 at 11:46 pm

    • Amonymous

      To be fair, a lot of the legitimate criticisms of the show have been drowned out by vitriol from the fandom. If i was a creator of this show and all i saw was constant vitriol, even the constructive criticism would become unbearable. That’s one think Marshall’s blog has definitely done right, by keeping the critique professional.

      November 23, 2013 at 4:01 am

    • JMR

      I’m getting so sick of listening to Bryan talk. Every time he opens his goddam mouth I lose more and more respect for him. Mike by and large seems to stay in the background and not have as easily wounded an ego, but he’s always still there next to Bryan nodding along.

      I’m calling it though, Bryke (again, particularly Bryan) are going the road of Shyamalan. Their first big project turned into a major hit and now they’re absolutely convinced that they shit gold and puke rainbows and that anyone who doesn’t like it just can’t understand their genius.

      I can see it in the way that they insisted on writing the first book of Korra alone, the way that any criticism of the show somehow boils down to people being sore loser shipping fanboys/girls in their minds, the constant, repeated, “People don’t like it just because it’s different from ATLA!” whining, trying to fill in what should have been key information in the show using blog posts and then getting all condescending when people aren’t on the same page as them.

      It’s a load of bunk, and all it does is make me realize more and more just how important the other people on the staff were to the success of ATLA.

      November 24, 2013 at 10:50 am

  21. rosemon

    Bryke know nothing about a good love story. They made a mean-spirited video years ago criticizing one of the most popular “fan couples” from ATLA, claiming that WOMEN (remember they think all fan girls are crazy & catty if the Promise Comics are anything to go by) who thought Zuko and Katara might have made an interesting couple were doomed at life and were wrong from believing that Katara might choose anyone other than their obvious Nice Guy ™ self-insert main character, yet they think Mako and Korra are soul mates and see no problem with the way Mako cheated on Asami. Something about the way he wrote, “They get mad when we just try to have FUN with a little romance,” just sounds like whining. Do they honestly consider female-on-male abuse fun? Do they think Korra and Mako arguing all the time was fun? Did they think the way Bolin kissed his tied-up co-star was FUN? Do they think the way Mako strung along two girls again (like last season) was FUN? None of the love subplots were fun, they were either irritating or despicable. Bryke seems to think that they are being criticized because nobody likes romance, but in reality, fans hate the romance because Bryke suck at writing it. Makes me want to cry out, “Blaming the fans for not liking your work…what are you, five? ” Besides, people have many other problems with LOK other than the romance, but criticism of the love plots is inevitable because they take up so much space that it’s impossible to ignore.

    November 24, 2013 at 7:49 pm

  22. I honestly feel like the second half of season 2 redeemed the entire series, Some of the best stuff the series has had.

    November 25, 2013 at 10:59 pm

  23. Ian

    Um…Hey Marshall, you still around bro? Everything going alright in turner land? Let us know please cause no updates has gotten us worried about ya.

    December 20, 2013 at 4:35 pm

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