The Legend of Korra: Book 4 - Balance is the last season (or "book") of the four part series which began in 2012 (with Book One - Air). The series revolves around the Avatar Korra. Throughout the nation of this universe, there can be only one Avatar. The Avatar is the individual who can master all of the four primary elements: Water, Earth, Fire, and Air (ultimately bringing balance and unison to the people).This season takes place three years after the events that concluded Book 3. Korra is no longer working as the Avatar and has disappeared on her own. She has suffered an illness and become infected by poison which resides deep within her from when she battled her former component Zaheer. Zaheer poisoned her body before he was defeated by Korra. Though it was believed that Korra was completely healed after the cataclysmic showdown, some of the poison remained. Korra must learn to overcome and rid herself of the poison inside of her before she can return to the people as the Avatar. To find herself healed, Korra travels within the spirit-world and does some soul searching along her journey to recovery.
Meanwhile, a new radical leader named Kuvira has started to traverse the land and overtake all forces while attempting to take command of the people. She wants new "leadership" for the people: leadership that she feels can only be provided by her now that the Avatar is missing. Kuvira aims to "unite" everyone across all the land but is actually forming a new dictatorship and fractured world where the people become even more divided. The last hope resides within the rebels who decide to fight her dictatorship and try and protect the heir to the Earth Kingdom throne: Prince Wu. As the season progresses, Korra regains her abiltiy to serve as the Avatar and must help her friends defeat Kuvira from overtaking the Earth Kingdom. Things become especially complicated when Kuvira unveils a mecha-army as well as a mysterious weapon which can cause mass destruction.
Though some elements are kept from Season 3, this is certainly the season that feels most unique to itself without drawing as much from prior years. Each "Book" does act as a unique unit and eventually builds to a conclusion that feels akin to individual feature films, but the previous seasons of the show are emphasis less this go around. Everything just jumps forward. This ultimately leaves viewers wondering about what happened in the three-year gap but things generally seem to flow well as the series bounces into new territory and with characters now older (and occasionally more mature) than before.
As far as the story of the final book, this season primarily explores the rise of the dictatorship from Kuvira and the attempts the heroes make to try and stop her. It all builds towards a big showdown taking place in the Earth Kingdom and which features giant robots, mass chaos, destruction, and hand-to-hand combat between Korra and Kuvira. It's practically non-stop intensity (save for a clipshow episode entitled Remembrances which was unfortunately unavoidable due to budget cuts by Nickelodeon - to the tune of an entire episode).
The thematic backdrop underlining the entire season is about compassion, forgiveness, and acceptance. These are elements explored through a variety of characters. Korra must face understanding her ex-component Zaheer in order to rid herself of the poison he gave her. Korra must find compassion and sympathy for Kuvira in order to have the strength to defeat her. Bolin must come to terms with his mistakes with helping Kuvira (who he believed was actually helping the people at the start of this season) and make up for these mistakes with his girlfriend Opal. Lin Beifong and Suyin Beifong must learn how to reconcile their family history and find acceptance for each other. Asami Sato must come to terms with her father's mistakes and find forgiveness. These are some of the central thematic character elements that are explored during this final season. As far as thematic materials go, Book 4 - Balance is one of the best seasons yet.
Unfortunately, the last several episodes are so focused on the action-adventure element that some of the character building feels sidetracked and less emphasized when compared to simply having impressive animated action sequences. Though half of the final episode is devoted to an epilogue conclusion (at around ten minutes of the material) it feels too brief following all the sequences of high octane action. Though most characters continue to make appearances this season there isn't as much of a focus on the supporting cast, either (including less time for Tenzin and others) and one might get the impression that not enough lines of dialogue and character-based action was given to properly send-off the entire cast of characters after four seasons.
Though I sometimes felt the writing could have been better for the last few episodes of the show, when it came to the art itself the series has never looked better than it does during this season. Animated primarily by Korean animators at Studio Mir, the series has an ambitious style that resides within every episode. The artwork is so detailed, so fluid, and impressive that viewers should easily be able to tell that an immense amount of effort was placed in the animation.
The action scenes are flawlessly executed. The use of slow-motion in a few key scenes was well handled. The way the computer effects were rendered with the animation worked seamlessly. A lot of the success of the series is because of Sudio Mir's amazing contributions to the animation and this season is no different in that respect. I strongly felt Studio Mir outdid themselves with the final season and have delivered some of the best animation seen throughout the entire run.
Even with some minor areas where the season wasn't quite up-to-par with previous outings, the season still managed to be an excellent adventure and one that fans will surely find entertaining. The conclusion has a reasonably satisfying quality to it (even if it doesn't reach greatness) and is something that will certainly leave fans with things to think about.
Creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko are excellent showrunners and seem to have tried to give the conclusion as strong of an ending as they felt was possible for The Legend of Korra. If I felt it wasn't as strong as it could have been, I also found it to be an enjoyable and satisfying end to a great series run. Fans will absolutely want to see this series through to the action-packed end.
The Legend of Korra - Book 4 is presented on Blu-ray with 1080p MPEG-4 1.78:1 widescreen video. The series has received a proper progressive presentation for this set following season three's inconsistent interlacing problems caused by some minor encoding errors (despite the encoding being in 1080p ] on that season as well). This is the greatest looking set of the four seasons and is also the best looking season since the first season. The bit-rates are pleasing: consistently high throughout the presentation. The series colors, depth, and clarity remains impressive during the entire season. The only drawback is some remarkably slight banding, which barely makes an impression on the presentation. This set contains near-perfect Blu-ray PQ.
The release contains a boisterous 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio presentation with strong dynamics and clarity. Like previous seasons of The Legend of Korra released on Blu-ray, this set has an effective presentation with regards to the audio. Dialogue is easy to understand and there is importance given to the sound effects and the music. Optional English SDH subtitles are provided for the deaf and hard of hearing.
There are a number of supplemental materials on this set which are exclusive to the Blu-ray release. Like previous released season sets of The Legend of Korra, you won't be able to get everything supplemental unless you purchase the Blu-ray edition.
While the DVD edition does include 4 audio commentaries for the season, commentaries are provided on each episode of the season on the Blu-ray version so fans will ultimately get an additional 9 episode commentaries which feature the creators, cast, and crew (including a commentary on the series finale).
The Legend of Korra: 2014 Comic-Con Panel Featurette (35 min.) features the creators and voice-actors for Korra, Mako, and Bolin discussing the series. Early auditions are played back between the three voice-actors and demonstrate their wonderful timing. Sketches are shared by the creators to demonstrate the design effort made towards production. Everyone talks a bit about their feelings on the series coming to an end and the importance of the fan-base. This is an excellent supplement for fans of the series.
The Legend of Puppetbender Presents: The Making of a Legend: The Untold Story - Part II (8 min.) is a comedic sock-puppet behind-the-scenes featurette with sock versions of characters from the Korra universe discussing the "making" of Korra.
Kuvira vs. Prince Wu is a short commercial spot from Nickelodeon which compares the villainous Kuvira to the goofy Prince Wu.
Republic City Hustle is a webisode prequel which shows viewers the back-story between Mako and Bolin as teenagers. It presents a part of the show which was discussed previously without ever being seen during the actual series.
The animation is rougher during these miniature episodes and is nowhere near as polished compared to the main production. The writing and characterization is good and the VA's continue with their parts. Each part lasts only a few minutes but this is a worthy (if brief) supplement. (Only Part 1 is included on DVD. Every part is contained on the Blu-ray.)
Lastly, the set contains an exclusive mini-poster featuring a design by co-creator Bryan Konietzko. The design is of the spirit world connected Korra.
Final Thoughts:The Legend of Korra is one of television's best animated programs. It is intelligent, action-packed, and highly entertaining. Even though this final season isn't a perfect last outing it contains a number of exciting moments and works as a superb stand-alone story. Fans of previous seasons of Korra should find plenty to still enjoy in the final season.
Hopefully audiences won't really be saying a final "goodbye" to new adventures in the Avatar universe. This is one of the most unique universes ever explored in television and one can't help but hope for future installments to continue to be made and set in the airbending world. Few television series (animated or otherwise) reach the level of creativity on display with Korra from start to finish.