Although The Legend of Korra doesn’t officially air until April 14, 2012, Nickelodeon did fans a solid by posting the first two episodes online for a short time. I was able to catch the episodes before they were taken offline, and I was very pleased with what I saw.
The series takes place 70 years after the events of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Avatar Aang has died, and so a search begins for the new avatar, a search that results in a young woman named Korra, a waterbender. Headstrong and impetuous, Korra has mastered three elements: she only needs to master air before assuming her rightful place as the Avatar. Those plans go awry when her airbending teacher, Tenzin (who happens to be Aang’s son) is unable to teach her because of other pressing matters and tells her to wait. And so Korra sets off to Republic City to find Tenzin and ensure her instruction.
Republic City, however, is not what she expected and she quickly makes a mess of things with the local authorities. Furthermore, Tenzin is not pleased with her impatience and finds her to be a less-than-enthusiastic pupil: her headstrong nature is completely at odds with the peaceful, contemplative mindset needed to master airbending. Korra’s relationship with Tenzin is strained further when she discovers Republic City’s favorite past-time, pro-bending (a competitive sport for benders). Tenzin sees pro-bending as a mockery of bending, which he considers a spiritual practice, but Korra is thrilled by its action and intensity and soon finds herself on a team.
Meanwhile, all is not well with Republic City itself. An anti-bender movement led by a mysterious masked figure named Amon has been gaining traction in the city. Though we only get glimpses of this conflict in the first two episodes, it’s clear that this will be the primary conflict in this season, and Amon will be the primary antagonist. (Given the original Avatar series’ moral complexities, however, I expect that Amon and his movement will turn out to be more than meets the eye.)
Production-wise, The Legend of Korra looks fantastic and sports a nice blend of Western animation and anime aesthetic. Attention to detail throughout the series is good, and I appreciated all of the little touches that added depth and substance to the series’ world, e.g., the metal cables used by Republic City’s metalbending police force to traverse the city. Little things like that shows that someone has been thinking through the world and how it ought to “behave”. And though steampunk is sort of played out by now, it makes sense to give The Legend of Korra a steampunk vibe. In the original series, the world had some mechanical devices and seemed on the verge of a larger technological breakthrough, so what we see in the new series is the logical progression.
As much as I liked the new series’ setting, I do hope that Korra and her allies venture out beyond Republic City’s streets: I’d like to see how the rest of the world has changed and evolved since the original series. I’m also curious as to how The Legend of Korra will treat the more spiritual aspects of bending (which became very important towards the end of the original series). Right now, it seems focused on the awesome, kick-ass aspects of bending, which is understandable: you draw viewers in with scenes of action, not meditation. Also, I hope — and have faith — that Tenzin is used, not just as some fuddy-duddy foil for Korra’s adventures, but as an actual wise, mentor-like individual.
Overall, I enjoyed this glimpse of The Legend of Korra and feel like it’s doing a good job of maintaining continuity with the original Avatar series while forging its own path. On a sidenote, I hope that Nickelodeon makes all of the series’ episodes available online for those of us sans cable television. I certainly don’t want to wait any longer than I must to watch more of it.