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Legend of Korra - Book Two: Spirits, The
One of the greatest series airing on television right now (regardless of genre or form) is The Legend of Korra. Korra is the follow-up series to Avatar: The Last Airbender and a creative world has been meticulously brought to life from the same talented creators, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, and the rest of the production's creative team of animators, writers, directors, and everyone else contributing to the success of this blockbuster television series. Cable network Nickelodeon can rest easy knowing that the series is in the hands of an immensely talented group and audiences can sit back and relax watching an animated epic of immense wonderment.
The new saga this season involves a more spiritual element (both literally and metaphorically). The season brings our lead character Korra towards facing her inner spirituality and the energy that she creates through her spirit. Korra must also face down the negative energy of the spirits around her -- literal ghostly beings that are haunting the earth and posing a threat. A bridge that exists between the human and spirit world, which is to be protected from the Avatar, has been transformed and one of the sacred portals has been opened... by Korra herself.
Under the new guidance and training Korra is receiving by Unalaq, Korra opens the portal that acts as the gateway between the worlds. Over the course of the season, Korra must learn a great deal about the spirits and the world they inhibit. Her journey is one of growth and immense skill as she trains to be a great Avatar to help the people. Ultimately she will face down the evil spirit Vaatu: does she have enough strength to save the day for everyone in the battle of good vs. evil?
Korra continues to get some help from her friends Mako and Bolin. The sports bending games take a seat on the bench this season but there a lot of new developments as mystery surrounds Unalaq, a family feud with Korra's father Tonraq unfolds, conflict arises between the southern and northern water tribes, a journey is taken into the Spirits World, and more unfolds with the backdrop of Tenzin, Kya, and Bumi.
Book 2: Spirits is the second season of a planned four-season arc. Book 1: Air (which was first developed as a standalone one-season series) was the previously released season and it was an intense and emotionally rich season from start to finish. Spirits isn't quite on the same level of quality established by Air but it's still a fantastic thrill ride with a lot of great moments and a number of episodes that are absolutely classic and as richly created as anything done before during this series. The immense darkness and rich poetry of the writing isn't quite on par in every episode. This is partly due to the addition of two new writers to The Legend of Korra: Joshua Hamilton and Tim Hedrick. Both do quality work on the series but the lack of having every episode being written by the creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko is certainly felt.
Michael Dante DiMartino remained heavily involved in the story process and wrote 4 of the 12 episodes (1/3 of the season). Bryan Konietzko did not help to write season 2 directly as he was reportedly busy working on other production aspects related to the series and overseeing it in a developmental standpoint. This was a bit disappointing to me as the first season had an amazing story that genuinely felt like a complete book with individual chapters from the beginning to the end. The second season feels a lot more like episodes of a series, where certain plot elements and moments feel as though they were decided upon on the fly rather than during a longer developing period of creation.
Reportedly, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko are working on other scripts for The Legend of Korra (along with their fellow writers) and before the second book finale aired most work had already been completed for Book 4's scripts. Storyboard work has already begun on Book 4. As the animation remains one of the most difficult things about the series to produce successfully, the series work is done on a variety of production levels simultaneously. When tackling getting work done as far as the animation for Spirits goes Nickelodeon made budget costs and hired a new animation company, Studio Pierrot, to create animation for the Book 2 episodes.
It's immediately noticeable that the second season animation quality is not quite on par with what came before it. This changed the original animation team from the original group who worked to create the art for Book 1: Studio Mir and it resulted in some good (if not as great) episodes from an animation standpoint. Line-art was not as fluid and the action scenes were not as meticulously crafted. Everything took on a slightly less refined look even as character designs and some basic design elements remained essentially the same.
Episode 7 onwards, viewers will notice that the animation level picked up considerably as Studio Mir was brought back into the production fold. Mir's comeback actually was on the two-part epic Beginnings episodes, which are a highlight of the entire Book 2 and of the Airbender franchise. This two part story tells the origins of the first Avatar and is a work of storytelling genius, and brings some greater depth and resonance to the season's storyline. Ultimately, it brings about a more philosophical and spiritual undertone to the storytelling and it amazes with what is quite assuredly precise storytelling and some of the best art the series has seen to date.
Studio Mir outdoes themselves with a arc animation it in the same style as Japanese Edo period artwork. Richly organic artwork and as richly beautiful as classic painted works, I was in awe of the sheer beauty of the artwork and it's perfectly in tune balance with the storyline. This two-part triumph was a reminder of exactly how great The Legend of Korra can be at its best.
Book 2 is a cinematic blast of creativity overall. Sprits remains a series with excellent direction, solid music, good writing, and the fun array of interesting characters to keep it moving along. Book 3 recently premiered with the first three chapters of the season (reportedly because an earlier leak which affected things) so not as many fans are aware the series is back on air.
Don't miss out on the newer episodes if you can. The continued adventures of Korra are not to be missed. This wonderful series is intelligent, entertaining, and charming. It is one of the best and most artfully animated series around. I heartily recommend this series as an essential animation.
The Legend of Korra: Book 2 - Spirits presents the series with solid video quality, but it doesn't reach the heights of the Book 1 Blu-ray release. For some reason, Book 2's episode encodings are in 1080i instead of 1080p as during the first season and Blu-ray release. The series is only broadcast in 1080i interlaced so this might have something to do with this change. The season was released with 29.97 fps (frames per second) which then results in a less smooth frame-rate for episodes. Book 2's Blu-ray release is still not a major slouch and has good colors, generally worthwhile bit-rates, and an impressive degree of depth and clarity. Most viewers will be more pleased than disappointed but there are still some things to nit-pick (as detailed above). I would hope Paramount would consider issuing new discs for dissatisfied customers, but I doubt that a replacement program would be created. (For what it's worth: the back of the case does indeed state 1080p, so if a disc replacement program is started I will update the review for readers.)
There are very few compression issues (though some minor banding was present on occasion). I imagine that a majority of viewers will still be pleased with the quality of this Blu-ray set. The Legend of Korra still looks beautiful on Blu-ray - it's just a few notches less impressive than it was before with the Book 1 set. Yet this is still a decent presentation that is much better than what a DVD counterpart can ever provide. Despite some issues, I found Book 2 to have an acceptable and enjoyable High Definition presentation that I would still recommend.
The audio presentation for The Legend of Korra: Book 2 - Sprits is a fantastic part of the series. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 presentations packs a lot of 'oomph' factor with good bass LFE, surround usage, and clear dynamics and separation between all of the speakers while blending together impressively. Dialogue and music clarity is also impressive and notable on this mix.
Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo audio is also provided.
Most of the supplemental materials included on this release are Blu-ray exclusive (so if you are a fan of the series hoping to get a good amount of bonus materials, the Blu-ray edition is the best way to go!): Book 2 - Spirits includes 14 audio commentaries by the creators and members of Korra's creative crew, 15 scene bendings (short scene selections showcasing animatics and a short corner-view of the final scene), Inside the Book of Spirits (9 min.) in which the series creators discuss the making of the show in general and specifically work done for Book 2.
The Re-telling of Korra's Journey (34 min.), which showcases in clip-show format the plot-line and story of Season 1 (to either catch-up new viewers or reacquaint those who haven't seen or remember Book 1 prior to Book 2), Feuding Spirits: Korra's Family (5 min.), in which the creators discuss some of the themes of the season in relation to the battle that takes place between the good and evil spirits and Korra's role in this epic battle.
This Blu-ray release also includes a high quality embossed slipcover that match the style of the slipcover designed for the Book 1 Blu-ray release. It's a nice touch that fans and collectors will appreciate.
The Legend of Korra: Book 2 - Spirits never quite manages to reach the exact same heights of it's almost unbelievably brilliant Book 1 season but this second outing still manages to deliver some hefty adventure, thrilling twists, and a spiritual quest that is far more impressive and notable to find than most would ever imagine encountering with a family-friendly animated program. Book 2's animation wasn't quite as good during the first half of the season but when Studio Mir began animating Korra again (after being uninvolved during the first half) the art was incredible to behold. The story and characters remain the main attraction to this creative and well-made series, and ultimately the season tells a thrilling story that will keep viewers enthralled and entertained from start to finish. The Blu-ray PQ is a tad disappointing but the audio quality impresses and a selection of Blu-ray exclusive supplements help to round out a impressive release.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.