I do this regular assignment for my classes called the “Media Recommendation”. The object is for each student to spend a couple minutes recommending his or her classmates either check out or avoid some form of entertainment. This year, I am teaching three classes and in each class there’s been a recommendation for either Last Airbender or Legend of Korra. Each time, I asked the class which of the two shows was better. These students grew up with these shows, and I am just coming along as an adult. Consensus seems to be that Last Airbender was the better show, but there was a lot support for Korra.
All I know is, just judging by the first episode, it is a very different show about a very different Avatar.
The opening credits alone set things up as different, and not just because the voice cast includes two Oscar winners. Granted, J.K. Simmons has been doing animation for a while, so that isn’t that surprising. But Eva Marie Saint as elderly Katara? That’s a cool get.
Regardless, the show opens with Simmons’ Tenzin, a more serene and older character, explaining the set-up instead of the younger, more hopeful Katara from Last Airbender. It makes a difference. So does the setting. Unlike the entire world of Last Airbender, most of which was set as a more technologically lacking, agrarian society, Korra is set in Republic City. A fifth kingdom had been established by Zuko and Aang, made up of the Fire Nation colonies in the Earth Kingdom with Republic City as the capital. Looking like something out of the early 20th century, Republic City has cars, skyscrapers, and metalbending cops led by Toph’s daughter Lin. Aang and Katara’s youngest Tenzin is, from the looks of things, the chief Air Master of the City if not the world itself.
And then there’s Korra. The new Avatar was going to come from the Water Tribe, and she is nothing like Aang. By the age of 17, she’s already mastered water, earth, and fire. Air is a bit more problematic. And, it turns out, Tenzin comes to see her just to say he can’t stay because the situation in Republic City is too delicate right now and he can’t spare the time. He also has three unruly kids with their own distinct form of unruliness with a fourth on the way and a wife who wishes the next one isn’t a bender of any kind and takes after, well, her.
Given some of the things happening in Republic City, that is a rather ominous statement.
Korra, however, really wants her training now, and with Katara’s blessing, she sneaks into the city with her polar bear-dog mount Naga. Once there, she stops some protection racket types but ends up arrested herself because Chief Lin doesn’t care who she is when she causes more property damage than the crooks she nabs. She also observed some Equalists, mysterious masked men and women who champion against bending with their masked leader Amon looking on from…somewhere as Korra gets a press conference to announce that she’ll be on Air Temple island training under Tenzin.
Korra looks to be very different than Aang. Aang was gentle, goofy, and immature since he was, well, a kid. Korra is also immature, but in a different way. She’s a brawler, ready to throw down at the drop of a hat and a much more physically-oriented Avatar than Aang ever was. There’s a lot of new characters here, and none of them seem to match up to the old ones (aside from Naga being the pet like Appa or Momo). The end result is this may be a more politically-minded show dealing with smaller issues rather than a huge war that a couple kids need to stop. The fact that the main characters are clearly older than Aang and most of his friends were (with the possible exception of Sokka and Zuko) when they started says we should expect something different. And since there was never anything like Republic City in the previous show, I know I’m going to be looking forward to this one.
Let’s see what an Avatar who thinks with her fists first can do.
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