Hey, everyone! For those who are new, I spent the last three years covering every episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender. So as part of this year’s Summer TV Binge, I’ll be covering the first book of the sequel series, The Legend of Korra! And there’s no better time, as not only has the fandom has been reignited with Avatar’s arrival on Netflix, but Korra will arrive on the service next Friday, August 14th!
While Avatar: The Last Airbender is my forever-favorite piece of media of all time, I’m a pretty big fan of Korra, too! I eagerly watched each episode as it aired, but I only did one full rewatch about two years ago, so I’m excited to dive deeper into the show.
With all that said, let’s get started!
1. So much has changed!
With this single 22-minute episode, the show creators had a bevy of tasks to accomplish: not only did they have to establish the new characters and world, as any show pilot must do, but Korra also had to establish how things changed in the last 70 years since Avatar ended. This includes the fates of beloved characters, the state of global society, and the changing architecture and fashions and technology.
Something to keep in mind is that Avatar comics didn’t exist yet. The original show ended four years prior, and the only new Avatar content since then was the abysmal live-action movie. Putting it in that perspective, this episode had a nearly overwhelming amount of backstory packed into it. I remember watching this episode when it first aired and having trouble keeping up: “Wait, so Sokka’s dead? What about Toph? Are Korra’s parents significant? Whoa, it’s Aang’s son and a new family of airbenders! Wait, he has two other siblings, too??”
But in truth, you don’t need to memorize all those facts upfront. All of that is fun breadcrumbs for fans, and they’d only gain greater significance later. Korra is the real star of the show.
2. “I’m the Avatar, and you gotta deal with it!”
As far as iconic character introductions go, you don’t get much better than this. From when we first see her as a child, Korra is a headstrong, powerful badass, ready and willing to take on the world. By the time the Order of the White Lotus (another great callback to the original show!) has found her, she’s already figured out the basics of bending water, earth, AND fire.
A few early scenes feature characters calling her quick and powerful, but impulsive and spiritually unbalanced. That’s something I always love about the characters in the Avatar universe: every character has their yin and yang, a drawback for every strength. Korra’s downsides are apparent from the very start, and they’re featured in a way that makes you excited to see how she develops, as opposed to getting frustrated with her. (Though future episodes may show how this show can toe the line in that regard.)
3. The Last Airbenders.
In this episode, the only character besides Korra to get significant screentime and development over multiple scenes is Tenzin. That makes sense to me: being Aang’s airbender son, he’s the most significant bridge between the series besides Korra. He arrives with a full world unto himself: a flying bison, a wife and three colorful airbending kids (plus one in the oven), a mother (Katara!), a supporting character in Republic City (Toph’s daughter Lin!), and an entire island dedicated to airbending culture. He has a specific and well-defined relationship to all of these, and he’s also built as a foil for Korra.
Even in their few interactions here, you can see the potential for future conflict between Tenzin and Korra. He’s the more reserved, spiritual, responsible adult, playing directly against all of Korra’s misplaced young bombast. For the two leads of this episode, I think they prove an entertaining duo and carry tons of potential for the future.
4. Welcome to Republic City!
Just as Tenzin is a foil for Korra, Republic City is a direct contrast to the quiet life Korra had been living in the South Pole. What I find especially interesting is how Korra and Tenzin are opposites of their locations, yet they’re also directly influenced by them. In the face of fast-paced city life, Tenzin slowed down and embraced his spiritual airbending roots; in the face of a slow-paced village life, Korra developed an insatiable restlessness.
So what happens when you throw the headstrong Korra into the city? Action, confusion, wonder, and misunderstandings. It’s a great sequence overall, introducing the equalists, the triad, and the metalbending police. Since so much is being thrown at us, we don’t get a ton of time to explore any one of those things. But it doesn’t matter, because it’s so much fun, and we know it’ll all get developed in due time.
5. Jazz and Architecture.
The entire production design for this episode deserves note. (Really, it deserves an entire book… and it has one! “Art of The Legend of Korra: Book One!” Highly recommended! This isn’t an ad, I swear!) Back when Book Two was about to air, I had some friends over to binge-watch the entire first book, and one friend, who had never seen the show, was going to school for architecture at the time. She was amazed at the way the show used Asian architecture, the specificity of each building and the city planning, and it sent her on a weeks-long research journey about Asian architecture. I can’t exactly go that in-depth, but I think that story is a great testament to how much thought was put into every aspect of this show from the start.
As for what I could notice: the background paintings are all done in a unique format, all based on the work of background painter Fred Stewart, whose digital paintings use visible, thick strokes and complimentary colors for a more washed-out style, and which give the show a very distinct look, no matter the location. (Note that Emily Tetri was the other background painter on the show, but her paintings were done in Stewart’s style.) I also really enjoy Jeremy Zuckerman’s music direction, going from an “epic folk-tale” feel for Korra’s solo scenes to a quick, jazzy theme as she evades the law in the streets of Republic City.
I’m sure future episodes will provide a lot more chances to dive deep on this stuff. As it stands, this was a fantastic introduction to a brand new show, while respecting and building directly off the original.
This show is a blast. I’ll see you all next week for Korra’s first airbending lesson!