The Legend of Korra: The Complete Series:
When Avatar the Last Airbender debuted on Nickelodeon back in 2004, it was met with near universal acclaim from critics and audiences alike. Thanks to its diverse cast of characters, spectacularly choregraphed battles, and exhaustive world building the series resonated with adults and children of all ages. Avatar's widespread appeal wouldn't just be limited to the small screen, having transitioned into a variety of media including comics, consul games, and even a live action movie (the less said about that the better). Though the series told a comprehensive story across three seasons, the world of Avatar was ripe for further exploration.
When the Legend of Korra premiered, it was instantly clear that while both series existed within the same universe, the tone and animation targeted a marginally mature demographic. Set 70 years after the events Avatar, the Legend of Korra added further to its narrative, incorporating technological advancements such as automobiles and mecha, offering a steampunk feel that gave it a distinct feel from its predecessor. The shift in tone also enabled the writers to explore the characters and the world in ways previously unafforded to them by the restrictions of a YTV rating. Avatar was no slouch when it came to tackling complex themes of romance in a time of war, destiny, and the struggle to find a place in the world. The Legend of Korra took these themes and deconstructed them in ways previously unheard of for an animated program.
The series follows the current incarnation of the Avatar, Korra, a water bender whose prodigious skills and impulsive nature quickly propel her on a quest of exploration of the world around her. Korra is brash and rough around the edges, making for a remarkable contrast to many leading heroines. Joining her are the pro bending brothers Mako and Bolin, as they strive to maintain the balance amid growing restlessness due to the rise of Anti-Benders known as equalists led by the first season's big bad Amon. Rounding out the group is Asami, a technical wiz who exhibits as much ingenuity and skill despite lacking the ability to bend. Creators Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko do an admirable job of establishing the world and mythos for those coming in without having viewed the first series while building upon what came before.
Split between two arcs, season two continues to expand on the politics that govern the different regions of the world, this time focusing on the conflict between Southern and Northern Water tribes. The second half of the season digs deep into the lore of the Avatar as Korra learns of the origin of the Avatar cycle stemming from an ancient conflict that threatens to destroy both the physical and spiritual worlds. The early portion of the season has been criticized as suffering from disjointed pacing, uneven characterizations, and a one-dimensional antagonist. Fortunately, the writing picks up toward the latter half of the season, setting up an epic battle that has lasting consequences for the rest of the series.
Season three is titled Change and for good reason. The barrier between spirit and physical world has been broken creating conflict for Korra who must act as a medium between spirits and humans. Another ramification of the previous season sees a portion of the populace awakening latent air bending powers, driving Korra and crew to seek out the greenhorn benders before they can do any harm to themselves or others. Along the way, they encounter a quartet of villains led by the pragmatic Zaheer, determined to kill the Avatar and end the cycle once and four all. Each member his skilled in a specific element of bending, putting them on equal ground with Korra. The season represented a return to form for the series after season two's slight dip in quality thanks to quality animation beyond the standards of even today's toons and the writer's renewed focus on characterization and altering the status quo.
The final season rejoins our heroes several years after their climatic battle with Zaheer and his followers. Korra is still scarred from the traumas she experienced and has taken a leave from her duties as Avatar. In the intervening time, a charismatic soldier named Kuvira has taken it upon herself to unite the world through forceful means, establishing her own brand of strict leadership. Emphasis is placed on dangling plot threads from the three prior seasons, with the unification the physical and spirit worlds as well as the displacement of the Earth Kingdom playing key factors as the season moves forward. It all builds to a grand crescendo as Korra and Kuvira engage in an intense showdown with the fate of the world hanging between them.
Each successive season sees the animation take a leap forward in quality. Characters move with a fluidity rarely seen in modern television animation. Fights scenes are intricately choregraphed with instances that exhibit an almost rotoscope quality here muscles flex with the slightest movement and characters have a real sense of depth to them.
Complementing the animation is the music, composed by Jeremy Zuckerman. Each piece perfectly fits the scene, with softer notes echoing a more solemn tone while action scenes hit a fever pitch. Background music is reminiscent of jazz, fitting given the era the show is depicting.
Legend of Korra is a fitting successor to Avatar: The Last Airbender. Creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko have left an indelible stamp on animation that all other shows should be measured. The characters are charming and relatable and worth becoming invested in. With each successive season the plot developments continue to build and provide the characters chances to develop and grow in ways that feel real. For animation enthusiasts like myself, this is a series to be treasured many times over.
The Legend of Korra: The Complete Series is packaged in a thick amaray case that fits into a slip cover depicting Korra in her Avatar state. As far as I can tell, the discs are the same that were released in the season sets. The series is presented in widescreen, maintaining its original broadcast ratio. Considering the show is only around five years old, it should come as no surprise that the set looks fantastic. Colors pop and line work is crisp. This arguably one of the better-looking shows in the last ten years.
Along with the standard 5.1 English soundtrack, there are Spanish Stereo options, as well as a French Stereo track for the first season.
A smattering of Bonus Features are spread across the discs. The audio commentaries from creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko along with various members of the cast and crew provide the meat of the extras, discussing plot elements essential to the story and their favorite character moments and inspirations. They are laid back in tone and not especially informative but are still worth a once over.
Rounding out the supplemental materials are brief featurettes focusing on brief animatics and parody videos in which the animated characters are replaced by puppets in faux sit-down interviews. They are cute but are irrelevant and probably not worth a second watch.
The Legend Of Korra is a worthy addition to the Avatar mythos. While Avatar: the Last Airbender was a milestone in animation, the Legend of Korra easily stacks up, and even surpasses it in some aspects. It is all too rare for a children's animated program, one that relies on traditional animation no less, to reach the levels of maturity without sacrificing the creative input that goes into crafting a world of this scope. One can only hope for future explorations of the Avatar universe, because this is one adventure worth revisiting.