*SPOILERS* If you haven’t seen Avatar: The Last Airbender all the way through, you really should watch it before reading this. I don’t care if I spoil Legend of Korra for you.
I just did a quick search on my blog, and somehow, I apparently have never talked about Avatar: The Last Airbender. Which is just inexcusable because it’s absolutely one of the best cartoons ever made. There are few shows that have sucked me in more than this one.
You should know that my love for Avatar isn’t just nostalgia goggles talking. I wasn’t even allowed to watch the show when I was a kid because my mom didn’t like the Eastern mysticism aspects of the show (I showed it to her a year or two ago, and now she loves it too). I watched it the first time when I was 16. I also recently rewatched it with The Boyfriend a few months ago, so it’s pretty fresh in my mind.
Like most fans of the original show, I looked forward to Legend of Korra, which told the story of the next Avatar, an older teenage girl named Korra. It was… dull. In it’s first season.
Compared with Avatar, it was a huge disappointment for me, especially as the series went on. I want to talk a little bit about why I believe that A:TLA is way better than LoK (I’m going to abbreviate them from now on).
My first point is an issue of organization. This is a somewhat nitpicky complaint, but it’s so obvious that LoK was only ever supposed to have one season. The first season is not great, and not even the best of the series (I’ll talk about that later), but at least it had a definite ending. The villain was dead, and Korra’s struggles and relationships were resolved.*
If it had been just one season, it would have been a little disappointing, but I wouldn’t dislike the show as much as I currently do. But after that first season, it was so popular that I guess that the network thought they could make some money off a few more seasons. That’s what the later seasons felt like, a cash grab. Each season had a new villain or set of them (there were some good ones, don’t get me wrong) and a new issue to deal with and no cohesion.
Now contrast that with the original show. From the beginning of the first season, the problem was Firelord Ozai and the Fire Nation. That recurring villain and threat helped to tie the seasons and the show together. Watching A:TLA is like watching an epic told across a number of episodes. Watching Korra was like watching a bunch of short stories that kinda connected.
A:TLA did have multiple villains in each season too. In fact Ozai wasn’t even the most visible villain** until the third and final season. For the first season and a half, it was Zuko, and for the second season and some of the third it was Azula (both Ozai’s children, by the way, for those of you who haven’t seen the show and ignored my warning). There were a few different more minor villains, but most of the time, both the minor and major villains eventually led back to Ozai. This led to consistency in A:TLA that LoK never had.
Speaking of characters, that leads me to my next gripe with LoK. Despite having four seasons, one more than the original show, the characters were far less interesting and entertaining.
Let’s start with Aang from A:TLA and my least favorite character in Legend of Korra: Korra. Okay, that’s a lie. My least favorite character is Mako, but Korra’s more important, so I’m going to talk about her first. I really hate to compare Aang to Korra, but they were the main characters in both of their shows. I think the biggest problem with Korra is a problem of motivation and conflict.
The thing that made Aang interesting to watch was the that his personality conflicted heavily with the world he was thrown into. Aang was a sweet, innocent cinnamon roll of a monk who just wanted world peace and to have fun with his friends. He’s thrown into a world that is dark and war-torn, and he’s told that his mission is to stop a 100-year war, by force if necessary. Almost every situation he finds himself in forces him to measure his principles against reality.
Now let’s look at Korra. She a tough bad*ss who’s thrown into situations where she has to punch things. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out which of these two situations would be more interesting to watch. The lack of contrast between her personality and the forces around her are part of the reason that I think the second and third seasons are better than the first and fourth. In the middle seasons, she was trying to deal with the spiritual side of being the Avatar, which at least was conflicting with her personality.
My biggest problems with the character were actually more based on how she was written. One of the dumbest scenes of the show was the defeat of the best villain of the series, Zaheer, by a bunch of children without the hero. That’s right, Korra didn’t even get to defeat the villain in season 3. It’s just sooooo unsatisfying. Seriously, you have no idea how much I hated that ending.
Whereas the last season of the original show was the culmination of everything we’ve been waiting for with a massive amount of character development (mostly in the form of Zuko’s adventures), the last season of LoK was… boring. And Korra didn’t even SHOW UP for a few episodes. It was like the show forgot about its main characters for a few episodes of the final season.
I’m going to end part one of this post here because it’s getting really long. But I wanted to say a quick word about the writing. I don’t think that the writing in Legend of Korra was particularly bad. In fact, I think there are some very good moments.
I looked up who did the writing for most of the episodes, and compared what they did on the original show. To my surprise, I didn’t hate the episodes they wrote in A:TLA. In fact, Tim Hendrick (LoK seasons 2-4), wrote one of my all-time favorite episodes, “The Puppetmaster,” Joshua Hamilton (LoK seasons 2-4) wrote the second part of “Boiling Rock,” and Katie Matilla (LoK seasons 3-4) wrote “The Beach.” These are all great episodes (not that Avatar had any truly bad episodes, just less great ones).
They are clearly skilled writers, but I think that the problem might have been that they didn’t have the plan or the vision to keep Korra going for four seasons. I just wanted to acknowledge that I didn’t hate the writers before I continue to tear apart their creation in the next part.
*Quick sidebar: the ending of the first season of LoK is one of the few great things about the series. Not many cartoon shows have the guts to kill their villains by way of murder-suicide. It was gutsy, and I appreciate that.
**I mean that Ozai wasn’t a very visible villain literally. In an excellent example of how to make a villain more mysterious and ominous, the show creators didn’t even animate Ozai’s face until wayyy far into the series.