The long awaited sequel to the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender premiered on Nickelodeon last weekend. Officially titled The Last Airbender: Legend of Korra, the new series got off to a powerful start with a premiere that is every bit as beautiful, entertaining, and rewarding as the original. Here are some reasons we think you should give it a try.
1. The Benderverse: A Wonderful, Fully Realized Fictional World
Legend of Korra is written and produced by Avatar: The Last Airbender creators Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, and is set in the same universe as the original series, an indeterminate Asian land that is split into four distinct tribes representing water, fire, earth, and air. DiMartino and Konietzko provide an impressive amount of detail in painting the Bender society; along with their history and traditions, each tribe has distinctive clothing, hairstyles, and styles of movement. Certain individuals are born to be “benders,” and exhibit supernatural powers over their particular element. Like Aang in The Last Airbender, 17-year-old Korra is this generation’s Avatar, an extraordinary young talent who has the potential to bend all four elements. Her quest to master her last element brings her to Republic City to be trained by Aang’s son, the master airbender Tenzin.
The art direction alone is reason enough to watch Korra. The production team has gone all out to create fantastic visual imagery for the show, which includes not only the lovely sweeping landscapes of the original, but also the gritty urban setting of Republic City. Korra takes place seventy years after Avatar, and the world has definitely advanced. Republic City appears to be technologically equivalent to the 1920s; there are automobiles, cameras, and aircraft in general use, but it is still unmistakably the same world. As you can see in the following teaser trailer, the new show has all the beauty and detail of the original and more.
2. You Don’t Need to See the First Series to Enjoy Korra
Legend of Korra‘s first two episodes, ‘Welcome to Republic City’ and ‘A Leaf in the Wind’ (currently available for free download from the iTunes Store ) form an arc that provides an impressive amount of background and exposition without bogging down the story. We meet all the new characters: Korra (and her loyal polar bear dog Naga); Master Airbender Tenzin (along with his wife and three realistically annoying children); Mako and Bolin, Korra’s new teammates on a professional bending team; and the mysterious evil revolutionary leader Amon. These two episodes provide an entertaining introduction for new viewers who have no previous knowledge of the show, and they are also a great way for existing fans to re-acquaint themselves with the Bender universe if they haven’t visited since Avatar went off the air in 2008.
Trust me: Just because Legend of Korra is aired on the children’s network Nickelodeon doesn’t mean it’s a kids’ show. The complexity of the story, the depth of the characters, and the wry humor will be appreciated much more by adults than by young children. One of my favorite scenes takes place at Tenzin’s dinner table, when he expresses exasperation over his lack of success in disciplining stubborn, volatile Korra. “You must promise me your teenage years won’t be like this,” he firmly tells his children, and his oldest daughter Jinora lowers the book she’s reading just long enough to reply flatly, “I will make no such promises.”
Of course, there are still adorable furry creatures, plenty of colorful action, and enough goofy laughs to satisfy the young ‘uns … like Avatar, Korra manages to appeal to all ages. Unfortunately, there are many viewers who won’t give the show a chance simply because of its appearance. My own lack of interest in animé kept me from watching the original series for months until my children (and several older friends) convinced me that it was worth it, and I’m so glad they did. They were right – it’s nothing like Pokemon!
The cast of Legend of Korra is … well, legendary. Janet Varney (Entourage), an established television actress performing her first voice role, does an excellent job as the headstrong Korra. Aang’s son Tenzin, Korra’s long-suffering airbending teacher, is portrayed with warmth and wisdom by veteran actor J.K. Simmons (Spider-Man, Juno). David Faustino (Married With Children) and P.J. Byrne (Final Destination 5) also create distinctive characters as brothers Mako and Bolin, and creepy nemesis Amon is played with appropriate menace by accomplished voice actor Steve Blum (Cowboy Bebop). Even such relatively minor characters as Tenzin’s children are played by top quality actors; his eldest daughter Jinora is voiced by Kiernan Shipka, who does a phenomenal job as Sally Draper on Mad Men.
And finally, the most important reason to watch Legend of Korra …
5. It Will Make You Forget All About the Dreadful Live Action Film
For a fan of the original series, watching Legend of Korra is much more than experiencing a well produced, visually pleasing and compelling story. It’s a chance to wash your brain clean of the memory of M. Night Shyamalan’s atrocious movie The Last Airbender. That dark, muddled, badly acted, and thoroughly awful big screen adaptation lacked every bit of charm, humor, and rich storytelling that made the Avatar animated series so special, and many Avatar fans wallowed in despair in its aftermath. Korra is a rebirth of everything that is magical about the Airbender universe, with the promise of even better things to come. You will be missing out if you don’t watch it.
The Last Airbender: Legend of Korra airs Saturdays at 11 AM ET/PT on Nickelodeon.