Because fans should be critical, too

I Can’t Believe It’s Almost Over…

It’s a bit strange to think that, in just a few days, The Legend of Korra will come to an end. After four seasons and two-and-a-half years, the spin-off of Avatar: the Last Airbender will no longer be around.* No more new episodes to tune in to, on the Internet or otherwise. No more adventures of Korra, who only just started to grow on me this season. No more relevant updates from creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, who will probably forever be caught in the existential trappings of a hardcore fandom and anime conventions. No more bizarre developments to bitch and moan about (like that Giant Mech Suit, which I’ll talk about in a moment). No more missed/wasted opportunities to tell a good story within the confines of an American animated children’s program.

I’m actually tearing up just thinking about it.

To alleviate (exacerbate?) my grief, I started leafing through the “Art of” book for Book One of Korra. Every new page made me more wistful than the last. Here I am going through the selected concepts, ideas, sketches, background paintings, key animation sheets, etc., of what will probably be the last great traditionally-animated television show ever produced (and it wasn’t even that good). How did a show with the potential to revolutionize what could be done with American animated children’s programming devolve into such a joyless and pretentious enterprise? How did we go from the Equalists (who, for all their dirty tactics, made some damn good points about the marginalization of Non-Benders in the Avatar universe) to a Giant Mech Suit straight out of C-grade anime?

And let me make this absolutely clear: I hate Kuriva’s Giant Mech Suit. It fails on every possible level. Aesthetically, it doesn’t match up with the mostly traditionally-animated atmosphere of the series. Viscerally, it lacks any sense of weight and scale necessary to make us feel its terrifying presence. Thematically, it’s silly and obvious. Dramatically, it reduces the human drama to a video game.** Intellectually, all bets are off: Kuvira is most definitely crazy, and beyond redemption and empathy. Emotionally, it’s void: how am I supposed to be invested in something I don’t believe has any right to exist in this universe? How am I supposed to relate to the characters if they can’t even relate to the gravity of their own situation? Not one character seems bothered that a giant robot being controlled by an evil dictator—on the face of it, a gruesomely nightmarish idea—is going to destroy their city. Wouldn’t the very sight of such a monstrosity cause even a hint of shock and awe? By comparison, Seth Rogen’s reaction to the giant, well-endowed demon of Hell in This Is The End was more plausible. Yes, a Seth Rogen comedy about the apocalypse was more believable than this new development in a serious fantasy drama. (And you know what? I bet Rogen’s new film The Interview will contain a much more nuanced portrayal of an evil dictator than we have here in Kuvira.)

Are my tribulations unfounded? Could the last two episodes actually save the series from utter disgrace? Have DiMartino, Konietzko, and company found a way to redeem the many missed opportunities and mistakes they’ve made up to this point?

I honestly don’t think so. History certainly isn’t on their side: every single season finale of Korra has been horrendous, and they’ve gotten worse each season (though I’ll give Book Three a pass because it finally helped humanize Korra in my eyes). First, Aang gave Korra back her Bending when she was in no position to deserve it. That happened in the last three or so minutes. Then, there was the completely nonsensical (or “spiritual,” as Konietzko called it) fight between a giant blue Korra and a giant red Unalaq. That lasted almost an entire episode.

Now here’s a Giant Mech Suit that Korra must find a way to take down (only because she promised Dante Basco that she would). Two episodes to go? What’s going to happen? Will Korra become the Blue Giant again and wrestle it out with the Giant Mech Suit? While that’s happening, will the others and Bataar, Jr. sneak into the suit, find Kuvira, and distract her with Bataar, Jr.’s presence? Maybe Bataar, Jr., having nothing else to live for—he betrayed his family, and now his own lover just tried to kill him—will initiate the second known murder-suicide in the Avatar universe by destroying himself, Kuvira, and the Giant Mech Suit. Maybe Blue Giant Korra will deliver an uppercut that sends Kuvira and her Giant Mech Suit to spend their remaining breathes in outer space. (Now I’m just getting silly.)

If this wild speculation tells you anything, it’s that I hungrily await these last two episodes of Korra. Good or bad, redeeming or damning, tear or rage-inducing, whatever they are, I’ll be tuning. I don’t know if it’s for completionist’s sake (I mean, it’s only two more episodes), or masochism, or plain curiosity to see how much worse (or better!) it could actually get, but facts are facts: for two more episodes, I am a faithful viewer. Only when it’s over will I be able to adequately evaluate what exactly it was I was faithful to.***

*On television, anyway. As far as I know, they’ll still be making Avatar and Korra comics as long as they make money from devoted fans.

**In all fairness, while the Giant Mech Suit itself is beyond idiotic, from a strictly formal standpoint, its reveal was absolutely brilliant. Despite their flaws as storytellers, DiMartino and Konietzko are masters of the element of surprise. Maybe they learned it from working with M. Night Shyamalan.

***On a completely unrelated note, happy 40th birthday, P.J. Byrne!

Take Two:


14 responses

  1. Good thoughts. It really depends on the ending in how the series will look as a whole. I find the ending in any story as the most important factor in a story’s worth most of the time. A good ending can usually save an average story and a horrible ending can usually ruin a decent story. Anyway, I’m really starting to think Avatar was Bryke’s masterpiece and LOK was more like an experiment to gain experience in their respected interests. Mike before LOK was a wannabe writer that had only written a few spec scripts. I do look at him as more qualified as a writer because he’s been described by Bryan as a bookworm that was into creative writing beforehand so he has some credibility. He’s also read books to gain knowledge about story structure and storytelling. Bryan on the other hand was never a writer and it shows when ever he trys to talk about it in interviews. Bryan has more talents as art director and so he uses it for that. That’s probably why Legend of Korra has been so inconsistent. Mike has definitely improved as a writer. The episode ,”Korra Alone”, was written by him and was probably the best episode in the series. But he also has his weaknesses as a writer, like endings; a weakness that he’s had sense the Avatar days. So i really think the ending could go both ways. Just hope it’s the right one.

    December 16, 2014 at 12:33 am

  2. Clander

    If there’s anything the horrible last 3 seasons of Korra have made me realize is that Book seems a little bit underrated now. Book 1; even with it’s cruddy ending and stupid love triangle crap was still fun, entertaning and in some places very grown up. Book 3 feels somewhat similar in my mind. It had a relatively good start but then just got dumber and dumber. The only real interest I think I’ve had in Book 4 so far was Korra alone and even then it could have been better. Then there’s season two but I don’t even want to think about what went wrong there at the moment. Basically I think that while Book 1 had some bad failings it’s still the most solid and I will return to it once in a while to enjoy a nice little story.

    December 16, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    • You didn’t like book 3?

      December 16, 2014 at 9:13 pm

      • Clander

        I should rephrase. I like the first half of book 3 or so. After a while it just gets kind of boring to me, though it still has stand out moments that I like.

        Though nothing in Book 3 can compare to how bad Book 2 was am i rite

        December 16, 2014 at 10:01 pm

    • Dman

      My thoughts exactly. Book One is still my favorite book of Korra. It was the only book where I felt the characters were real people (even though the animation probably helped a lot with that). Plus, I loved Amon.

      December 16, 2014 at 10:38 pm

      • I wonder why it seemed like that in book 1 and not in the other books. What does a writer have to do to make character come off as real?

        December 16, 2014 at 10:53 pm

      • Altair's Accord

        Amon is still somehow the best villain of Legend of Korra, despite getting less episodes than any other villain in the series, and getting screwed over by that awful, awful ending and terrible childhood crap. Everyone else just kind of fights for second place (yeah, I even sorta liked Unalaq, mainly by virtue of his voice actor).

        I think part of the reason why Book 1 seems so good compared to the others, is because it’s the only book that feels completely different from Avatar: The Last Airbender. Plot-wise, setting-wise, tone-wise, and even character-wise and conflict-wise. There was some awesome-as-heck Fullmetal Alchemist shit going on there in its best moments.

        By Book 2, however, the show just fell back into the old style, including even trying to constantly evoke nostalgia via Zuko, Toph, the locations, the themes and so on and so forth. Which would be forgivable if it were a great show, but it wasn’t, so in addition to coming dangerously close to retreading old territory, it was just plain boring.

        Splitting the books with a new plot for each one was a mistake, IMO.

        December 22, 2014 at 1:39 am

  3. If you want a great hand-drawn animated series, give “Gravity Falls” a spin. It’s the best thing since “Avatar.”

    December 18, 2014 at 12:56 am

  4. daciio

    Yup, it’s kinda sad to think that Avatar as an animated show will be over in just a few hours. Might as well give my thoughts on the series like everyone else:

    Book 1: definitely my favourite. Despite its flaws, it was the most entertaining and visually pleasing one.

    Book 3: quite decent. It gave us one of the best Avatar villains and also Kai (personally my favourite character from LoK)

    Book 4: boring so far. The only episode that really stood out was Korra Alone (and maybe Operation Beifong too). I’m hoping for a great finale, but I don’t think Bryke can come up with anything magnificent enough to redeem the season as a whole.

    And what do you mean there was a Book 2?

    December 18, 2014 at 1:59 pm

  5. “will initiate the second known murder-suicide in the Avatar universe by destroying himself”

    Which was the first known murder-suicide? Jet? Iroh? Someone please inform me.

    December 18, 2014 at 7:19 pm

  6. Ian

    My reaction after watching that finale

    Wow… um…. very very pretty music, great fights, still love Su, what happened to Kai, No Bolin/Korra resolution, and Korrsami is cannon…and I hate that. Anywho! I still love book 1 and 3 so Ill always have that 🙂

    Marshall, get in here and give me your thoughts my man!

    December 19, 2014 at 2:30 am

  7. Brian

    Well… that was quite a disappointing ending… though seeing Korrasami canon was kind of a guilty pleasure for me. I don’t think I was expecting much, though.

    December 19, 2014 at 10:44 am

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