(SPOILERS TO FOLLOW!)
I recently finished the animated TV show, The Legend of Korra, and I have to say overall it is just as great as its predecessor, Avatar: The Last Airbender (ATLA). While, I want to discuss both shows on this post, Legend of Korra (LOK), is more prominent in my mind and will bear the weight of this blog. I will discuss four elements of this show and ATLA that make the show a groundbreaking series: Animation, Characters, Worldly Themes, and Overarching Story.
Animation: LOK has stronger animation than most shows current or past, due to its attention details (the distinct clothing of every character, including minor ones) and its fluidity in its fight scenes. While I argue the fight scenes of LOK could be its own category the animation of the show is not only beautiful but brilliantly crafted to support the world of the show. This craftwork is most accurate in the Two-Parter Beginnings that uses Hua Guo painting styles to flip not only bending but the world of the Avatar series into a rich environment that is distinct and similar to the modern world simultaneously. Furthermore, this craftwork is also displayed in the fight choreography and direction of the one-on-one bender fights, specifically in the 3rd Book. In this Book, the villains are as equally talented benders as the main cast which calls some of the most creative fighting I have ever seen in medium of entertainment bar none (special shoutout to my personal favorite Su v. Lin). Lastly, the animation's lighting highlights the themes and emotions surrounding the characters - sickly green during the poisoning sequence or darks shadows during Amon's takeovers- to create an emotive tone that elevates the series.
*ATLA Animation: The biggest note of animation for the original series is the concept of bending itself along with the nifty elemental nation design. Most of the characters wore clothing that aligned with their element in a variety of flourishes (The Dai Li v. Toph's, Sokka and Katara v. Hama, Aang's airbending outfits v. the creative fire nation citizens outfits at their school). On the note of bending, the pure creativity of how bending looks is enough to cement one the avatar universe as one of the finest in fiction - highlights go to Azula's blue fire, metal bending, and how water is manipulated through its states of matter.
Characters: People will lament the loss of the old characters since they are huge zealots of Gaang fandom, but the new cast will grow on you by the end.
*Korra -Korra herself is completely different than Aang's innocent curiosity. Korra's is a full-fledged teenage female filled with angst who grows into a stalwart lady who has to face more personal and damaging demons than Aang does. While Aang is the first time we saw the Avatar and far more humorous, Korra is a completely-developed protagonist who goes through all the throes of being both a damaged and strong female lead. As such, she is a much more mature character study than Aang and I thoroughly enjoyed her growth.
*Bolin -I think Bolin is one of the best characters written in a show live or animated. It takes utter brilliance to make a character hilarious, poignant and awesome all at the same time. A well-written character like Bolin only comes along once a show:think Omar or Stringer Bell, Gus Fring, Claire Fisher, Peggy Olson. It's where a character's development makes sense while never losing who they are. Bolin's struggles with love, family, heroism, and bending are a pure delight to watch as you'll be laughing one moment then tearing up the next. That is the mark of a well written character.
*Mako - I think Mako is the weakest of the main characters because he loses a lot of steam in the later seasons as the focus shifts from his lead romantic partner in Book 1, to deuteragonist in Book 2, to good support guy in Book 3 and 4 (minus his awesome fight with Ming Hua of course). As such, he ends falling flat towards the end and while you enjoy seeing him around, his best moments on early on (especially in Book 2 when he is a beat cop with his own episodes essentially) and he never fully develops as well as Bolin and Korra. Side note: Mako is one of the few characters who ends with no one.
*Asami - For purely the ending alone (talk about progressive), Asami should get a lot of credit. While she wavers in her importance from Book to Book, I'm happy that they keep her non-bending self important. Whether it's Pai-sho, father-daughter woes, her martial arts skills, her creativity or as most prominent in Book 4 her budding relationship!(That is the one spoiler I just can't reveal!). As such, I find Asami a highly different character than the other non-bender of the Avatar universe, Sokka. While Sokka is arguably the funniest character in the whole series (and for that matter, in any show period), Asami's role in LOK is to represent another strong female personality in the show - from failed Bechdel test lady who argues with Korra over boys to overtly skilled and independent female lead. I think the fact that both Korra and her exist in the same show is one of the most progressive female characters I have ever seen.
*Lin - While I could go on forever about the myriad of characters in Korra, I think the villains and Lin are the only other people who need a bullet point. Lin is one of my personal favorite characters because she breaks an abundance of conventions that I can't help but root for her. While her best Books are definitely 1 and 3, she remains prominent throughout. She is a woman scorned by sister, mother and ex-lover, but she runs a tight ship with her police force. Furthermore, she's not only a female lead, she's a middle aged unwavering female lead, which I haven't really seen since Sarah Connor in T2. While, I think she has some of the most fun bending to watch (the airship fights and the battle versus her sister), I think her character development is beautiful because of how unique each of her relationships is with the rest of the cast. Watching a woman, with pains far deeper and more buried than you would ever find on another kid show, come to terms with her grief is the mark of phenomenal writing.
*The Villains -Before I go into this discussion, I want to clear the ATLA villains out of the way first. For as great as ATLA is, character-wise, only Azula's crew and Long Feng with the Dai Li are worthy adversaries. Ozai gets some backstory but feels more like a Big Bad who stays on his throne all day. This is different than Long Feng who is a wonderful subversion in keeping Ba Sing Se under wraps and the unrelenting cruelty of Azula combined with her skilled but heel-face turning Ty Lee and Mai.
Anyways, the Villains of LOK are some of the best the world of animated television has to offer outside of Unalaq....:
**Amon - Before the reveal, Amon is arguably the biggest example of how LOK is more mature than ATLA. Amon represents a logical political faction that wants equal rights, no more bending, and more prominence in Republic City. He uses propaganda, subterfuge, terrorism, and simulated rape & executions. He's pretty dark overall, be he is well meaning in his ideals.
**Unalaq - I find Unalaq to be quite weak because he is another evil water bender and while he brings in Vaatu (the leader of Darkness) and has a kaiju battle as a character he doesn't offer much intrigue and only has one really intriguing moment when he duels his brother.
**Zaheer and the Red Lotus: First of all, the other 3 Red Lotus benders offer amazing skills: supreme water bending, lava bending, and combustion bending. Meanwhile, Zaheer utilizes offensive air-bending along with severely poisoning and damaging Korra. However, Zaheer and the Red Lotus are well meaning in that they want no governments to promote anarchy. Furthermore, Zaheer himself is a shoe-in for Buddhist ideals.
**Kuvira - Outside of Azula, she is one of the only female antagonists. As such, she has extreme metal bending skill, a Hitler complex and a deep-rooted past of abandonment that heightens her need for control. I find Kuvira one of the most skilled benders in the whole Avatar universe. Along with this, she has a whole lot of layers in how she relates to the characters.
In conclusion, LOK's rogue's gallery is not only formidable, but multi-faceted with grey moralities that have well-intentioned ideals.
Other ATLA characters not mentioned: Toph, Katara, and Zuko. All characters appear in LOK!
*Toph - Toph is a fan favorite who comes in Season 2 and becomes a part of the Gaang to stay. She is brash, blind, the first metalbender and remains skilled in the LOK series. I argue that her daughter Lin is her LOK counterpart and I personally like Lin more. While, I enjoyed Toph tremendously, I don't think I had as much fan worship as others. However, she does have layers in wanting to be a brawler when she comes from royalty (I wish more was done on this).
*Katara - I personally love Katara, I think she goes through some of the best character development in the series. From a boorish brat to a skilled waterbender/healer/bloodbender(oh!) who is also a wise adolescent. The strength of Katara is in her relationships whether it is the ups & downs with Katara, her brother's push & pull, her personality clashes with Toph, and most importantly her full circle opinion of Zuko. From absolute calling out for death to full-blown trust in one of the best fights from ATLA (Azula v. Zuko).
*Zuko - My personal favorite from the original and maybe, my favorite in the series besides the well written Bolin & Lin or hilarious Varrick. Zuko is the zenith of character development from being the starter villain with a troubled past to the conflicted wanderer in Book 2, to the ultimate redeemer in Book 3. He not only completes his redemption cycle, but he is conflicted and nearly justified in his actions based on his past. Furthermore, his episodes are some of the best in the series with my personal favorite being Zuko Alone. Also, his skill level is great not only with firebending, but with his sword skill level too.
Stay tuned for Part 2 in which I discuss the overall plot and the worldly themes!
In the mean time, I don't care who you are, check out both of these shows.