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The Legend of Korra: Where Did it All Go Wrong?

By on December 17, 2014

By Justin Carter

Do you remember the first TV show you watched that ended? I mean one that was on while you were growing up, one that you watched episode after episode, and then one day, it just ended. Everything wrapped up in a nice little bow, plenty of callbacks to recurring gags or themes, everyone shows up for their one last hurrah.

I don’t remember the very first show I watched from start to finish as I grew up, but one of the most significant ones was Young Justice from last year. It was a show that I liked very much, that had the misfortune of being in the hands of network executives who didn’t realize that they had a great thing on their hands and proceeded to mishandle it with the skill of an intern being asked to use the copy machine after drinking straight rum for four hours. It took them something like two years to air the first season, and the series as a whole has been hit with hiatus after hiatus after hiatus. The series finale ended with original Kid Flash Wally West dead and Darkseid closing out the final minute. What made this finale more painful than others is that there was a lot of potential left for the universe. The comic shared continuity with the show, but that was canned months before the show wrapped. As a whole, Young Justice didn’t get the treatment it deserved, which brings us to Legend of Korra.

Korra probably sounded like a great idea during the opening pitch to Nickelodeon. With just a sentence, “Let’s make a sequel to Avatar: The Last Airbender, one of the greatest and one of our most popular cartoons of all time,” people will clamor for it quicker than a Friends reunion episode. People my age, born in the early to mid 90s, have basically grown up on some top animated action series like Samurai Jack, Justice League, Batman Beyond, and the like. Some of us also loved the hell out of anime like Dragon Ball Z, so Avatar having awesome fights and great animation was like cake on top of ice cream. The Avatar universe is large enough that there was more room for something, even after that colossal trainwreck that we won’t mention lowered the love for Avatar by a few notches.

The first season had its issues, but overall it was pretty good. It’s probably the only season out of the four that didn’t suffer from being jerked around by the people at Nick, and it shows. There were no delays, no issues with the animation studio, and more importantly, it had a consistent airing schedule. New episodes every Saturday morning with a rerun on Sunday, easy as that. Season two went from Friday nights to Saturday mornings for no reason, and the animation was, to be nice about it, a steaming pile compared to season one’s fluidity. It was handled by another studio for the first half of the season, and it was especially noticeable because nobody blinked. Seriously, go through some of the earlier season two episodes and pay attention to the characters’ eyes. It’s unnatural. Even ignoring the animation, the story and the characters ended up killing the thing. There were some good ideas, particularly giving insight into the very first Avatar, but ultimately executed about as well as someone performing open heart surgery, blindfolded and wearing Beats headphones blaring 2004-era Linkin Park at full volume. The less said about it, the better, except that Mako is and will remain a giant dick.

Season three was a significant improvement for the series. The aftermath of season two with spirits in the human world caused Korra and New Team Avatar to search for new airbenders, which definitely gave the series a breath of fresh air it needed. The story wasn’t as big in terms of scale compared to book two, no dark spirits or world-ending threat, just four benders who wanted to kill Korra and cause order through killing off royalty. The characters were taken in new and interesting directions, and it looked like Korra and Asami were going to get together after Mako dicked them over last book, which frankly I am all for. Everything seemed smooth sailing until the show was yanked from the airing schedule, causing people to wonder if it was going to be canceled. But in their defense, Nick certainly didn’t give off any good signs by airing the first half of the season two episodes at a time. That’s something you do when you just want to breeze it by and toss it out the door, and certainly not what you do to a team that helped launch a successful franchise just eight years earlier.

While the move to digital is greatly appreciated, if only because the finale wouldn’t have resonated as well as it did with a banner for an upcoming episode of Spongebob, a smoother transition would’ve helped. It would’ve been smart to announce that before the season had ended, but a leak had them burning off the early episodes like they were plagued with death. Which was a shame, because aside from a bit too much vagueness surrounding the villains’ motivations taking up most of the season, it was actually really excellent and fixed most of the issues held over from season two. So one would think that the switch over to digital would mark the end of Korra’s problems, but nope, there was still one final nail in the coffin. Nickelodeon slashed the budget for the show which roughly equated to an entire episode, so the creators Bryan Konietzko and Dante DiMartino were stuck with either doing a clips episode or letting go of a significant number of their staff. Naturally, they went with the clip show episode.

What sucks here more than anything is that this show and this franchise deserves better. Me and plenty of other people my age loved Avatar and were eager to see Korra when it first came out. It wasn’t perfect starting out, but there was potential to use this not just to bring in kids who never watched the original series, but to make the franchise as big as Spongebob, the anime fantasy equivalent to Harry Potter. But Korra has gotten barely anything in terms of merchandise. No clothes to speak of, no toys, just some plushies, a soundtrack, an art book, and a video game that while it has some good mechanics, is ultimately not good. Oh, but there are mouse pads and coffee mugs, too, so how’s that for some merchandising?

With the one-hour series finale coming in a few days, I think back on Korra the series as a whole. There are a lot of things I like–the voice acting, the action, the humor, the feeling of everything feeling both new and familiar at the same time, subtle callbacks to the previous series. But then I’m reminded of the stuff that nearly made me stop watching the show, like the pointless love triangle that practically dictated the first half of the series, how season two made some of my favorite characters unlikable and made me watch season three with hesitation, how a show about a young woman of color trying to discover how she fits into the world and live up to enormous expectations. Maybe that’s meant to be a metaphor for the whole show.

In summary, Legend of Korra doesn’t end as a legend of the title character, more a legend of strife. For the enemies she faced, the PTSD she was grappling with this season (and possibly still is), and the show’s development. I don’t know if Konietzko and DiMartino plan on returning to the Avatar universe again years down the line, but I honestly wouldn’t blame them if they chose to end things here. Just the past year for Korra has left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. And this taste isn’t one I can just bend out of me.

One Comment

  1. Marcus Green

    December 19, 2014 at 1:41 am

    I can’t really agree with all of your assessment of Season 2. The first half before Beginnings is animated poorly but Beginnings was absolutely terrific. It was definitely a wobbly season and the finale had a Deus Ex Kaiju Korra but I was ok with it overall.

    Season 3 was amazing and I will accept no other verdict on it. The garbage with Nick doesn’t affect the show’s quality. Season 4 is a step down from Season 3 but so far it’s still above 1 and 2 for me.

    Also, you’re second to last sentence in the second to last paragraph doesn’t make sense.

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