Saturday, June 16, 2012

My thoughts on Avatar: The Legend of Korra thus far


Warning: TL;DR, spoilers and super nerdy rant.

Note: What I have written below is all personal opinion, and you're welcome to discuss/argue with me. Try to change my mind if you'd like. I'm open to other interpretations and justifications, because the way I'm seeing Korra isn't how I wanted to see it after I saw the first episode in April. :( I'm also not trying to make anyone feel bad who happens to love this show! I love(d) it too, and I'm trying to see past its flaws myself.

Let me preface this post by saying that I have really enjoyed most of Avatar: The Legend of Korra thus far. I still consider it one of the best animated shows being aired right now, even despite my criticisms. The world in which the story takes place is well-designed, gorgeous, and believable in an Earth-paralleled fantasy setting. I adore the steampunk vibe, and the technological achievements between the original series and Korra are awesome. The Avatar franchise as a whole sets the bar for intelligent, family-oriented, animated series, and I hope other studios look to it for future inspiration.

With that said and having just watched episode ten, I have to say that I'm starting to feel like the show simply isn't holding my interest like the original series did. Here is why.

1. Lack of satisfactory development from almost every character--Tarrlok, Tenzin, and Lin aside. After discussing this troubling realization with concurrent friends and fans, the only explanation we could come up with (barring poor writing, which I refuse to consider) is the pacing and comparatively short series length to the original. While the original Avatar series had plenty of "filler" material (especially in season one, yeesh), the series overall felt more complete. The occasional downtime allowed viewers to delve into the desires, needs, and fears of the characters--uninhibited by the shadow of a plot ready to swallow them up at any given moment. With Korra, the plot is constantly being shoved in our faces every second of each 23-minute installation, with little to no time for viewers to develop a bond with the characters. In this case, because of the two-season cap on this series, it would appear as though the writers had to make a choice: sacrifice the plot for character, or sacrifice the characters for plot--in which they clearly chose the latter. And it frustrates me like you wouldn't believe.

I'm especially disappointed with Bolin and Mako's lack of development. Ten episodes in and I still have no idea what Bolin or Mako want (other than to be pro-bending champions, which is fairly shallow and now totally irrelevant considering where the plot has taken them). This past episode had only a couple uninspired lines by Bolin. Hell, even the loathed Meelo had more screen time than Bolin, which is just plain enraging. More on my hatred for Meelo later.

2. Korra just isn't very engaging as a main character. To be fair, I didn't find Aang to be very engaging until well into season two, but there were other characters (such as Zuko, arguably the second main character of the series) who easily made it up for Aang's slow development. Don't get me wrong; I like Korra. I love her design and her tomboyish personality. Again, after ten episodes she hasn't made much progress. Next to none, really. She's weak, easily defeated, caught up in a laughable love triangle I couldn't give two shits about, and constantly causing more problems than solving them by her presence alone. In fact, at this point there is no reason she should even be in Republic City--she's currently not even being trained by Tenzin which was why she moved there in the first place. Realistically, she would have been sent away to a safe place as soon as her first interaction with Amon went awry, and surely after being kidnapped by Tarrlok. As an Avatar-in-training, the danger and risks are way too high for her to stay there. She can't defeat Amon; she has tried to stand up against him but has failed multiple times. She can't access the spirit world or the Avatar state yet. What can she do? She may as well be considered three regular benders in the body of one person as opposed to the Avatar, master of all four elements. Which makes her about as useless as a team of pro-benders in the face of extremely overpowered adversaries.

And as an obligatory side-note, I'll come out and say that Lin is way more interesting than all of the characters in Korra combined, excluding maybe Tarrlok or Amon. Though impossible for what the writers wanted with this series, I would have much rather seen a series with Lin as the main character. Alas.

3. The love triangle in this show is being dealt with poorly. I'll preface this statement by saying that I absolutely loathe love triangles for many reasons, the most relevant reason being that, more often than not, they are executed poorly. I can't really think of a true love triangle that left me satisfied. The Mako/Korra/Asami triangle is yet another unsatisfying love triangle. Because believe it or not, I actually really like Asami as a character, and I feel like she's been given way more development in comparison to even a main side-character like Bolin. Simply put, Mako deserves neither Korra nor Asami. Mako is so underwhelming as a character that I honestly couldn't care less about him. His personality is flat and derivative. And as the icing on the cake, the neglectful way Mako has been treating Asami in these more recent episodes has been cringe-worthy at best, lowering my already dwindling respect for him.

I guess I should admit here that I found Bolin and Korra as a much cuter couple with a lot more chemistry. But it seems as though the writers are bent on making Bolin fade into the background and forcing chemistry on two characters who I personally don't think have any. Ah well.

4. Meelo. The fact that a character so obnoxious and un-charming exists in any Avatar world makes me clench my fists and desperately wonder what went wrong. It's really not just the fact that he is hideously designed or that almost everything that comes out of his mouth is unfunny, plain stupid, and/or playing to the lowest common denominator of humor; I'm more concerned with the fact that he's inexplicably in the show way too much. In this past episode, he had more screen time than Bolin. And I have no idea why. If I hear or see one more air-bending/fart joke I fear the series will be beyond saving as far as I'm concerned. Do even children find this funny? Every time Meelo comes on screen, I regret telling people how great this show is, and I mean it.

4 lived to tell about it:

63ce50ec-b8c2-11e1-8c0f-000bcdca4d7a said... Reply

I definitely think the short season is the cause of many problems. The entire show will be as long as 1 season, and 1/3 as long as all of ATLA. Hopefully Nick will give the writers more seasons, but for now, I'm happy to see what they can do with 26 episodes. After all, many an anime has done amazing things with a single season.

I disagree about Korra though. She is somewhat static, but I think she was interesting enough to begin with. She's rebellious, but usually only when there is an injustice, and I like that she totally understands her own shortcomings with airbemding and the spirit world (the one scene where she was crying about not being able to contact Aang showed a lot about her character, imo). I think the second season will bring more growth to her. Also, I see the reason for her being in Republic City is because that is where the most imbalance is in the world, and even though she's not a full-fledged avatar, it's still her job to bring balance (Aang also had to try to hep the world before he was even remotely ready). Also, Sometimes the avatar has to focus on the problem at hand. Kyoshi's job was to protect one peninsula/island, and I think Korra's job is to protect one city. It is probably smarter for her to run away for now, but I also don't think doing so would fit her character.

But Meelo..... yeah. Apparently the character designer specifically wanted him to be "ugly". I think they succeeded.

King of the Eyesores said... Reply

Thank you for the response! I enjoy having discussions with calm, intelligent people, even if our opinions differ.

I agree that a lot of the pacing issues I am experiencing are due to the series' length. While I have no doubt the writers have the capability to write something truly astonishing, I just haven't seen it yet is all, and it's making me nervous. For a show 1/3 the length of the original series and already half-done, they need to hurry up with the character development; from the original post I'm sure you know how I feel about the characters' (lack of) development so far. They don't have much time now to build up these characters into lovable heroes reminiscent of those in the original show. The plot and world of Korra is engaging and great; it's the characters I'm worried about at this point.

I think my original post gives a much more acidic tone regarding my impression of Korra than I actually meant. I've had no real problem with her throughout the series (other than her lack of progression overall as the Avatar thus far) and I feel like the writers have done a good job making her a vulnerable human as opposed to some all-powerful being. I do like that she hasn't experienced much of the spiritual side of things as well; I have a good feeling this will be approached with more depth in season two. But again, I'm worried that her character simply won't live up to the original series characters, and it's frustrating because I know it's possible. But I guess we'll have to withhold judgment until season two? :)

I like your point that her job is to protect the city. She certainly feels like it's her job, and I think it provides a little more insight to her character. I just feel like the people around her would realize that they need to protect her because her death would be the worst possible thing to happen in the world at that time. After her experience with Tarrlok and multiple experiences with Amon, they have to realize that she can't stay there without terrible consequences! Honestly, the only way I think I'll be satisfied with this is if something terrible does happen (i.e. she loses her bending). It would certainly open up tons of opportunities for all of criticisms to be wiped clean. Fingers crossed!

(As far as Meelo goes, wouldn't it be ironic and ridiculous if there was some kind of epilogue at the end of the series in which Meelo is grown up and he's absolutely gorgeous and refined like Tenzin? I would laugh hard and tip my hat to the writers for being the best of trolls.)

Kylie said... Reply

Omg, you've totally voiced most of my opinions about what could be improved upon with this show. I HATE Meelo; there is absolutely no reason for that baby to look like a ventriloquist doll in clown makeup, and the other Airbender children are way preferable, even though Ikki-types really wear me out. But I basically want to adopt the nerdy oldest daughter, I forget her name.

I agree that Bolin and Korra were way more adorable together, and Mako needs to redeem himself ASAP or else GTFO. I too love Asami, and I hope that her recent jealousy doesn't turn her into a villain character, because she's just so awesome. However, I must say that love triangles are not going anywhere anytime soon. They're the easiest (and to be fair, most expected by readers/viewers) way to instill conflict in any plot containing a romantic element. Maybe try to seek out ones that you like more. You're probably forgetting some. Yuki/Kyo/Tohru? But Yuki fell out of that fairly quickly...
Ahhh. I miss you my dear. I must admit that I really love this new season and am hungry for more, but yes, I do hope they go somewhere with all this. And I agree, Lin Bae Fong is THE BEST. BEST. BEST character in the show. I hope we see more of her, all the time. Come to think of it, Toph was my favorite too. I got chills in the scene when she invented metal-bending, and declared (paraphrasing): "I AM THE GREATEST EARTH BENDER THAT EVER LIVED!"

King of the Eyesores said... Reply

OH MAN, I had no idea you were watching Korra too! That's awesome! Now I get to rant and rave about the show with you--yay!

Yeah, I really don't know what the writers were thinking when they decided to write in Meelo as one of Tenzin's kids. He is fucking annoying, hideous, stupid, and is only there to provide pointless flatulent humor. Never have I wanted a child dead so badly. The eldest, Jinora, is by far the best; I actually like her quite a bit, and I wish that she could have more screen-time to distract me from the fact that Meelo exists. Ikki is kind of annoying at times (and pretty ugly to boot), but her high energy is something I can deal with in small doses. I find my overall distaste for 2/3 of the only children in this series kind of troubling; they dealt with "children" characters in the original series so well! Though I guess the youngest character we really dealt with was Toph, and she was ten years old--the same as Jinora. The Legend of Korra affirms my position that the creators of both series really excel at writing older characters (Iroh in the original, and Tenzin, Lin, and Tarrlok in Korra, for example) and for that I have to applaud them! Being able to create believable, interesting older characters for a younger audience is a special skill. I just wish they could infuse some kind of viewer interest in their very young characters. Even Ikki and Jinora are a bit one-sided--but then again, a lot of the characters of this series are pretty one-sided at the moment. All I'm really saying is that Meelo could have been a likable character and comic relief provider without the low-brow humor. Because at this point it's just embarrassing to watch.

As for your point about love triangles: I understand why they're prominent in media, but I just don't get them. Most people can't pull them off well and as a reader, I'm never satisfied with them because, in my mind, one of the characters is always going to be slated as "not as desirable" as another, which then frustrates me more than anything. For example, in The Hunger Games (which didn't have much of a love triangle--it was more like a semblance of one) I absolutely hated Gale and loved Peeta. So the choice for me was simple, and I was only frustrated when Katniss couldn't seem to make up her mind. But you're right: if romance is a focal point of a story, a love triangle is an easy way to rouse audiences because they have to choose a side. It's just not something I would ever be willing to do in my stories. I've found that writing about the struggles and advancements of a complex relationship between two fascinating characters is more romantic than two people fighting over another. But maybe that's just me. ;)

Toph and Lin are easily the best two characters in both shows. End of story.

At any rate, I MISS YOU TOO KY. Are you in the Bay area yet? Also, are we going to do the writing challenge sooooon? Yes/yes? Let me know so we can keep each other honest and focused, okay? LOVE YOU.

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