Posts Tagged ‘Bryan Konietzko’

Sam is joined by Sean and Miguel to talk about The Legend of Korra finale and the series as a whole.

Legend-of-Korra-The-Last-Stand-10

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Two years and four seasons, with plenty of bumps along the way, and here we are at the end of Korra’s legend. At least the part that’s animated. We’ve seen Korra grow in so many ways – as a person, a woman, and as the Avatar. From adorable prodigy to well-intentioned, though naive and hot-headed, teenager to mature adult, Korra’s journeybook four has been fraught with multiple crises. But in her persistence and resolve to prove herself Korra, and by extension her creators, have given us a story of triumph over insurmountable odds; one that embraces mature themes of class equality, spirituality, revolution, and the price paid for being guardian to an advanced world. While The Legend of Korra owes its very existence to the popularity and fantastic storytelling of Avatar: The Last Airbender, the sequel series has, in my opinion, exceeded the legacy of its predecessor, carving out its own space as an iconic piece of Western animation.

Created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko in 2012, Korra was originally a one season exploration of the world created in Avatar: The Last Airbender through the eyes of the next Avatar in the cycle, a girl from the Southern Water Tribe named Korra (Janet Varney). Had the show only run for the one season, I’m sure we would have looked at it as a fun trip back into the realm of fantasy where people bend the elements and the Avatar thwarts yet another nefarious plot in order to restore balance. The subsequent seasons, however, became the show’s proving ground. After some backtracking in season two, Korra forged ahead with an agenda that challenged the status quo of storytelling in animation and what is ostensibly viewed as “children’s programming” while still being an entertaining and engaging action-adventure fantasy series.

korra-all-the-avatarsThe Legend of Korra is a multifaceted show that defies simple categorization. Over the course of four seasons we’ve seen this work to the show’s advantage as it essentially grew up under the scrutiny of a generation steeped in internet culture. Avatar: The Last Airbender began and ended before Twitter, Tumblr, and a number of websites were in heavy rotation, but Korra was born within the epicenter of social media and the blogosphere, a place where representation and visibility were, and still are, of the utmost importance. But even with a woman of color as the lead, Korra wasn’t a guaranteed success especially in an environment where anything with a female lead was considered “tricky” or some kind of magical unicorn never to be seen twice. Two years later and the attitude of viewing audiences have towards properties like Korra has changed for the better and yet remained frustratingly the same. DiMartino and Konietzko, or Bryke as they’re affectionately called, aren’t responsible for all matters concerning representation, but they still took it upon themselves to make certain that Korra resonated with her audience despite consistent network interference. By ending the series with Korra and Asami (Seychelle Gabriel) holding hands and staring lovingly at each other as they enter the Spirit World for a much-needed vacation, The Legend of Korra solidified itself as a program indicative of its time and place. Having a queer woman of color in the lead role of a Korrasamifantasy action series put Korra in the unique position of taking a small, but still huge, step forward in the nuanced portrayal of women of color and the LGBTQ community in Western animation and children’s programming. Yes, I’m well aware that anime has been doing this for quite some time.

The uniqueness of the show also stems from a combination of storytelling and character development that, again, isn’t seen a lot in Western animation. For instance, the show follows patterns reminiscent of Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey”, but goes to even greater lengths to examine those tropes through the lens of Eastern storytelling. From the beginning, Korra has been a character who embraced the call to action. In fact, it was the central conceit of the pilot and the starting point for the series as a whole. Korra is a more proactive character in her approach to being the Avatar; where Aang tried to find the peaceful route first, Korra was always ready for a fight and the storytelling reflected those traits. Avatar: The Last Airbender was all about the overarching plot of Aang and friends going up against the Fire Lord while The Legend of Korra had contained arcs for each season, which allowed Korra to go up against multiple villains. The advantage for Korra lies in the character growth achieved through her battles with Amon, Unalaq and Vaatu, the Red Lotus, and Kuvira. It’s also another means of showing that the hero’s journey is hardly a linear model with a definitive beginning and end. If legend-of-korra-series-finale-korraanything, the hero’s journey is an ongoing process with multiple starts and stops along the way. The destination is still important, but the journey matters more in the long run and Korra’s journey has been all about growth and change in a world going through the same process.

As a character, Korra has an inherent connection to the struggles of the world she protects. Throughout the series her internal doubts and conflicts are reflected externally. Season one was about elitism and equality in a technologically advanced world, season two the lack of spiritual connection as a result of these advancements, season three the chaos of adjusting to rapid change, and season four the need to control in order to combat the turmoil of chaos. All of these hardships belong to Korra but they are just as present in Republic City, the four elemental nations, and in her enemies. This grounds Korra and gives her personal stakes in the fate of the world regardless of her position as the Avatar. Even if she turned away from the problems facing the world they still live within her. That’s incentive enough to act, but Korra’s peace of mind only appears to be fulfilled when she and the world are in balance.

Season four was a dense playground of themes and ideas, the most poignant being the Buddhist philosophy of suffering. At the end of season three, Korra is poisoned and nearly killed by Zaheer (Henry Rollins). She survives but is broken by the latest in a long line of battles. For three years she attempts to regain her strength and force herself into readiness, but only by accepting the trauma, and learning from her enemies, does she truly begin to heal. Suffering leads to perspective and wisdom, which ultimately allows her to triumph over Kuvira (Zelda Williams); not through the awesome power of being the Avatar but through sympathy and empathy. It was the worst kept Legend-of-Korra-The-Last-Stand-10secret that Korra and Kuvira were reflections of each other. Hell, Bolin (P.J. Byrne) practically spells it out for the audience and I’m fairly certain that the name Kuvira was chosen to be just similar enough to Korra so we wouldn’t miss it. The point being that the similarities between the two in attitude and demeanor forced Korra to go beyond her training as a fighter and find another angle of approach. While the two have some intense and amazingly animated battles thanks to Studio Mir, their conflict ends only when Korra offers a sympathetic ear, something that season one Korra wouldn’t have considered because she didn’t have the experience needed in order to understand Kuvira’s position or her plight. By resolving the situation as peaceably as possible, Korra comes into her own as the Avatar, and the person, she wants to be.

What is specific to Korra, but still a point of connection between her and the audience, is the idea of relevancy. The entire series hinges on a single question: Does the world still need the Avatar? By series end, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” All the mecha suits, spirit kaiju, and political haranguing aside, Korra is still relevant, still necessary to the world around her. But just as importantly, Korra and other shows in the same vein are needed and necessary to the viewing audience. Korra offers something we don’t see as often as we want in the television landscape: a place where women are valued.

beifong womenI’ve written before about the amazing cast of female characters in Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, but the final season of Korra presented a plethora of women offering sage advice or kicking ass – both in Toph’s case. While Korra had plenty of male teachers and enemies, seasons three and four tipped the scale in favor of the show’s female characters. It doesn’t make Tenzin (J.K. Simmons), Mako (David Faustino), Bolin, Bumi, or Kai irrelevant, but it shows that the creators wanted to celebrate women as heroes, villains, mothers, sisters, friends, lovers, leaders, scientists, spiritual guides, and everything else under the sun. The fact that Bolin’s hero is Toph still makes me happy because it isn’t often that we see male characters on television, animated or otherwise, showing unabashed hero-worship for a female character. Bolin, more than any male character in the series, has been the ultimate cheerleader for women. He’s the first to believe in Korra, laying out all of the qualities that make her amazing, he worships Toph, and he defends Kuvira’s cause because he wants to see the good in it before the reality of his situation sets in. Through Bolin, Bryke found their own surrogate to tell the male audience that the Avatar universe is a world of celebration for women and men. Yes, it’s a realm of fantasy, but fantasy has a way of influencing reality.Bolin and Mako

Is it a feminist agenda? Of course, but the seeds have been there since Avatar. Making the next Avatar a woman as well as the reveal that the Avatar is a literal avatar for Raava, the female spirit of light and peace, are choices on the part of the creators to enrich their world as they see fit. By emphasizing the importance of the feminine spirit alongside the extensive female cast, DiMartino and Konietzko have crafted a realm where girls and women are equal in every way. The Legend of Korra accomplishes this without ever having to explicitly state the obvious in-universe compared to the first season of Avatar that went a long way to get the point across that women could fight just as well as men. The women of Korra are, without question, active agents in their world. Youngsters like Ikki and Jinora make just as much impact as the older Lin (Mindy Sterling) and Suyin (Anne Heche) Beifong. Age doesn’t denote skill or importance, giving girls of all ages in the viewing audience a contrasting image of how to define their own value and self-worth as they grow up.

So what’s next for Korra? Not sure. Hopefully a comic book is in the works a la the continuing adventures of Avatar: The Last Airbender that bridged the two series. After the series finale and the ending that will definitely be talked about for some time, it’s clear that there’s plenty of unexplored territory to cover. As Korra says to Tenzin, she’s not done learning. But if this is the last we see of Korra and company, then it’s definitely a legend worth telling.

Cast-edited

Sam and Miguel have a chat with the voice of Korra, Janet Varney. While Legend of Korra is the topic du jour, they also cover the auditioning process, voice over work in general, and Janet debuts her impression of fellow Thrilling Adventure actor Marc Evan Jackson.

Links to Janet:

The JV Club
Janet’s Website
Follow Janet on Twitter

Into music: “French Kiss” by Mrs. Howl

Okay, I’ve had the weekend to mull over how I feel about the Season Three finale of The Legend of Korra and Season Three in general.

Here goes…

 

 WooHoo

 

OHMYGOD! That was amazing. Not only was the finale – a one hour block consisted of episodes 12, “Enter the Void”, and 13, “Venom of the Red Lotus” – one of the strongest, most action-packed, and gut-wrenching pieces of animation produced by the series creators and Studio Mir, it’s proof that Korra will indeed live up to her title, experiencing the trials and errors, and Pyrrhic victories of being a legend.legend-korra

For starters, a little background.

If I’m being honest, and I usually am, Book One: Air and Book Two: Spirits suffered from uneven storytelling, which happens on any series. Certainly Avatar: The Last Airbender wasn’t perfect either; highs and lows occurred throughout all three seasons. And while Air was a great introduction to Korra and the societal unrest of Republic City, Spirits meandered for the first half of the season as it tried to recover from the rushed ending and last-minute pickup from the network. Thankfully, Book Two recovered at mid-season, ending on Korra’s game-changing decision to keep the spirit portals open and reunite humans and spirits once again. The consequences of her decision, however, fueled all of Book Three, the aptly named Change.

By keeping the spirit portals open after Harmonic Convergence, the unintended byproduct was the creation of new airbenders. Committed to helping Tenzin rebuild the Air Nation, Korra and company travel to the Earth Kingdom to find other airbenders. Unfortunately, one of the new airbenders is Zaheer, leader of the Red Lotus. Imprisoned for trying to kidnap Korra as a child along with his three equally powerful cohorts, combustionbender P’Li, armless waterbender Ming-Hua, and lavabender Ghazan, the group escapes and sets about completing the plan they’d attempted thirteen years ago: kill the Avatar and restore the world to its natural order of chaos.

Okay, now for the awesome stuff!

The-Legend-of-Korra-Book-3-Team-AvatarThis has been one of the best uses of an ensemble cast since the first season. Even while we were introduced to new characters like the members of the Red Lotus, Lin Beifong’s half-sister Su, leader of the Metal Clan, and the return of an old friend in the elderly Lord Zuko, the season never felt overcrowded. Each character got a chance to shine in his or her own way, not just through their fighting styles and bending abilities, but as emotionally maturing people. As much as the show is focused on Korra, her friends and enemies are fully realized and there was never a moment where while watching one group I wished I was watching someone else. I especially loved how Team Korra became a stronger unit. Sure there was awkwardness because of Mako’s failed relationships with Asami and Korra, but the two girls showed great maturity by becoming friends, teaming up and kicking butt like they’d been at it forever. Yes, there was still squabbling, but it felt more like a family than petty in-fighting. Everyone was engaging and entertaining, showing the combined strength of the writers, directors, and animators to deliver a fantastic third season.

The villains, by far, are some of the best to come out of the world of Avatar. The members of the Red Lotus are charismatic, thoughtful, clever, funny, and none of them slack on the fighting. For crying out loud, Ming-Hua is an armless waterbender. An armless. Waterbender. How they show her utilizing her abilities is nothing short of brilliant. All of the Red Lotus are formidable on their own, but together they’re a force to be reckoned with. At the same time, the philosophical blueprint that Zaheer follows makes for a mature look at how a “villain” can perceive theirRed_Lotus own actions as heroic. He’s definitely the smartest opponent Korra’s faced and its that intelligence and skill that keeps your eyes glued to the screen. You want to like the villains this time around. Actually, you do like the villains and you understand their point-of-view. Like Zuko or Azula, a little part of you is rooting for the bad guys. Then you realize they wanted to poison and kill a four-year-old. Yeah…But, hey, they’re still awesome and I’m not even kidding when I say that Zaheer and P’Li’s romance was genuinely touching and tragic.

Lastly, the animation, all done by Studio Mir, is top-notch. It’s why something like Avatar and Korra can never be completely replicated in live action. The animated environment is more expansive, more fantastical, than anything that can be captured on film with actors backed by CGI. None of the fights felt wasted or superfluous. It wasn’t bending for the sake of bending, it was bending for the sake of storytelling. Lin and Su’s fight over their unresolved issues, the release of each member of the Red Lotus, and the training of the new airbenders all facilitated character development. And they definitely saved the best for last. The finale features the best fights of the season. Korra, with platinum cuffs on her wrists and ankles, still shows how skilled she is even while hindered. When her father shows up to help, it’s an effective team-up complete with leapfrog bending attacks. And the end fight between Zaheer and Korra in the poisoned Avatar State is unlike anything that’s been used in the series thus far and shows how much more sophisticated animation has become. The different perspectives achieved as Korra and Zaheer fly around and battle each other is breathtaking in its scope and scale. I can only imagine what’s cooking for next season.

 

Animation

 

And now for the analytical stuff!

From the beginning of Book Three there was a feeling of purpose and focus for Korra, the series and the character. After the battle with Vaatu and Unalaq in Book Two, Korra lost the connection to her past lives, making her the first Avatar since Wan to lack guidance from her predecessors. Instead, Korra had to draw from her own experiences – and the advice of her friends and mentors – to make decisions based on what she believed was something the Avatar would do. Understandably, making decisions as the Avatar comes with its own insecurities and worries about whether one is doing the right thing and, as the series has shown, Korra’s biggest fear is failure. This is a girl who, from the age of Strong Korrafour, had practically mastered bending water, fire, and earth. Her struggle to master airbending in Book One and her lack of a spiritual connection in Book Two exposed her fears of failing to live up to Aang’s legacy as well as the legacy of the Avatar. Her need to fulfill the primary of duty of restoring balance thematically ran through the entire season and, surprisingly, managed to incorporate the plots of the previous seasons in a way that actually feels organic.

In a very strange way, it looks as if everything really has been leading to this point. After giving herself up to Zaheer in order to save the airbenders from being wiped out, Korra is poisoned so she’ll go into the Avatar State as a means of protecting herself and give the Red Lotus the opportunity to end the Avatar cycle by killing her. As she fights off falling into the Avatar State, she begins to hallucinate Amon, Unalaq, and Vaatu. Her previous foes taunt her, repeatedly telling her that the world doesn’t need an Avatar and she should just “let go”. Thankfully this didn’t turn into another Frozen parody, but the writers tapped into Korra’s longest-running opponent: the very world she’s trying to bring balance to. All three seasons have, in some way, stressed that not only is the Avatar unnecessary but that Korra has failed every step of the way. And in Korra’s mind, yes, those failures are real. She barely managed to stop Amon, she lost her connection to the past Avatars, the President of Republic City kicked her out because she couldn’t stop the infiltrating spirits, Ba Sing Se is in chaos, and as far as she knows the airbenders and her father are all dead. Instead of rebuilding, her actions have created more problems.Tear

It’s why I feel that the ending of this season, when Korra sheds a single tear when Jinora is made an airbending master, is about Korra believing that, as the Avatar, she’s a failure. Korra has always prided herself on being strong, something she sees as a positive asset for the Avatar, but after facing off with the Red Lotus she’s left physically and spiritually depleted. It’s made even more obvious when she has to witness Jinora’s ceremony from a wheelchair. Though I imagine Korra is happy for Jinora, she’s essentially watching the young girl who has a stronger connection to the spirit world, who helped her find Raava when she thought the spirit of light had been lost to Vaatu, and showed tremendous bravery and leadership in saving Korra from Zaheer become a leader among her culture as Tenzin vows that the new Air Nation will help Korra by acting as surrogates to restore balance while she recovers. Though well intended, Tenzin’s commitment to helping the Avatar practically reinforces what Korra dreads – she’s not necessary or needed.

So what can we expect from Book Four? Well, as far as I’m concerned, they should call it Balance. Both Korra and the world are in disarray and I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the next season showed Korra dealing with some sort of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Other than that, I’m just looking forward to what they do next.

The only thing I want to know is: WHAT HAPPENED TO SOKKA AND SUKI?