After a wait of nearly a year and a half, The Legend of Korra has returned to the delight of one of the most dedicated fanbases in entertainment today. A sequel series to the hugely successful Avatar: The Last Airbender, Korra was originally supposed to be a 12 episode limited series before Nickelodeon decided to grant creators Bryan Konietzko and Mike DiMartino another three seasons. I found the first season of Korra, while a worthwhile successor to the first Avatar series, to have a good amount of nagging flaws. Almost all of these issues could be tied back to Konietzko and DiMartino, who served as head writers for all 12 episodes, trying to cram too many storylines into the short season, leading to an incredibly rushed ending and unpolished and uneven characterization throughout.
Luckily the increase in episodes gives the Korra crew much more freedom for plotlines and characters to evolve, an improvement immediately noticeable in tonight’s two-part season premiere. Korra is the avatar; in a world where certain people known as “benders” can control the elements (water, fire, earth and air), only the avatar has the power to control all four. The avatar is also seen as the bridge between the spiritual and physical planes, and Korra’s lack of spirituality will be the driving force of conflict for this second season. Taking place six months after the end of the first season we find that Korra is visiting her home in the Southern Water Tribe along with her firebender boyfriend Mako and his earthbending brother Bolin. They are there for a massive festival to celebrate the spirit world, something Korra’s uncle (and leader of the Northern Water tribe) Unalaq is not too pleased about. Unalaq feels that the superficial festival mocks the spirits that their culture is based off of and has led to many recent attacks on tribe members by angry dark spirits. His misgivings prove to be true as a spirit attacks Korra at the festival and nearly defeats her, causing her to decide it’s finally time to embrace her spiritual side.
Incredibly the animation, arguably among the best ever for an American television series, has gotten even better with this new season. With vibrant colors and silky smooth movements, no other show boasts such impressive fight scenes. Never has water flowed so beautifully and fire burned as brightly as Korra fights the dark spirits which plague her home. The music is just as impressive as before, with music duo The Track Team offering a haunting, solemn score to compliment the bleak blizzards of the South Pole. Voice acting for the second season has ramped up as well, adding onto the already fantastic cast of Janet Varney (Korra), J.K. Simmons (her airbending teacher Tenzin), and David Faustino and PJ Byrne (Mako and Bolin respectively). Now we also have Aubrey Plaza (Korra’s deadpan cousin Eska), Linda Edelstein (Tenzin’s sister Kya) and James Remar (Korra’s father Tonraq) rounding out the cast.
The two episodes that make up the premiere function as one seamless episode, with the main story being Korra and friends attempting to reach the very tip of the South Pole where the spirit world and real world are closest linked. Meanwhile subplots for these episodes, and hopefully for the rest if the season, are shaping up to be better off than the “pro-bending” plot of the first season which had five episodes of build-up that wound up taking time away from developing the main plot rather that making for an interesting interweaving storyline. Bolin is getting wrapped up in a comedic plot dealing with shady businessman Varrick (John Michael Higgins), while Tenzin takes time off from helping Korra to spend more time with his family. As these storylines evolve and eventually intertwine with one another, the benefits of giving the writers much more time to flesh them out will become apparent.
The episodes end with a rather spoiler-ridden scene, but one that gives me great hope that the new season is going to hopefully fix many of the issues present with the first season. Bryan and Mike have already created one of the all-time greatest animated series in Avatar: The Last Airbender, they could have easily retired young and spent the rest of their days raking in money from Nick’s continuous merchandise flow. Everything that Korra was, is, and will be is a testament to their willingness to explore characters and stories that push the boundaries of their comfort zone. Every facet of the show has been turned up to 11, and it’s up to them to see how far into overdrive they can push the show. Fast paced, breathtaking to look at, and damn hilarious at times, Legend of Korra should be appointment television every Friday evening for anyone with a functioning brainstem.