Jul 02

Cartoon Review – Avatar The Legend of Korra Book 3: Episodes 1 – 3


Against my better judgement I decided to watch the premier of Avatar The Legend of Korra Book 3. I hated almost everything that happened in Book 2, that it resolved the equalist conflict magically off-screen, that Mako and Bolin had useless and annoying subplots that overtook part of the season, and the villain became more one dimensional as the season went on till he ended up as an 80s cartoon villain at the end. So I vowed not to watch the next season, which lasted up until a week ago when I sat on the fence about it till I decided ‘what the hell, nothing else is coming out.’

What did I think of it? It’s a lot better than season 2, but not without its share of problems. Spoilers on the first 3 episodes below.

Episode 1 begins three weeks after the end of Book 2. Republic City is dealing with the aftermath of Korra letting the spirit world and the human world coexist. Huge vines are enveloping buildings and places that have a connection to the spirit world. Korra tires to stop them but can’t, and she gets blamed for this by the Mayor and the press.

It’s actually a really good character moment for Korra. She sees that people are losing their homes and livelihoods because of her decision and she questions if it was the right one to make. She’s showing some growth and maturity from her rash and impulsive days for the past two seasons. There is no easy answers, no quick fix, and she has to reluctantly tell the Mayor that this is just how the world is now and they all have to find a way to live with it.

Then there’s the main plot of the season, airbenders have started appearing again. Because of the events of last season some non-benders have started gaining the ability to airbend. Including Tenzin’s brother Bumi. Korra has to talk down a new airbender from a bridge because he can’t control his bending and is hurting everyone around him. Why he felt the safest option was to climb to the top of a bridge isn’t explained, but Korra just talking to him and getting him to calm down was a good sign of her growth. Although she told him she couldn’t take away his bending, which is a bit off since the entirety of season 1 says otherwise. That could’ve been handled a lot better.

At the end we see that airbending has also awakened in a mysterious prisoner of the White Lotus. He uses it to break out of his near impenetrable prison, swearing death to the Avatar. He’ll be our main villain for the season.

Overall I really liked this episode. There was clear building on what the previous season had done, with a clear presentation that it is a complicated situation with no black and white solutions. My favourite part was seeing the friendship between Korra and Asami, and that they talked about their relationship with Mako like adults, where there wasn’t a “what! He cheated on me with you!” moment. Instead Mako is feeling very uncomfortable around both of them and is uneasy whenever Korra tires to treat him like a friend. I do like seeing Mako suffer.

Onto episode 2. Korra, Tenzin, and the rest of Team Avatar are off to try and find new airbenders from around the world. Meanwhile the main villain is breaking out some of his co-conspirators from other White Lotus prisons. That’s the entire episode.

For some bizarre reason Tenzin and the others find it baffling that people don’t want to uproot their lives and leave their families to live in airtemples like nomads. It was fun seeing the first guy they ask quite rightly tell them he’s not leaving his wife and children for them, but Tenzin kept banging on about how important it all was and that the future of the Air Nation depended on him. Which didn’t make me sympathise with him given how thick headed he was being. But we got a montage of him trying to convince random people in stereotypical ironic ways. Which made him look even more dumb.

At the end they manage to get one volunteer, who’s an orphan thief kid named Kai. He promises to change his ways, but that’s obviously not going to happen, at least not as fast as the Avatar Team seem to think it will.

That’s really all there is to this episode. There’s not much there to talk about. The prison breaks were fun to watch, but that’s about it. Seeing the team just thinking people would join them on their quest was a little ridiculous as it went on. Then again these are a group of people who will just go off gallivanting across the world, so they probably wouldn’t see why someone wouldn’t also do that. I’m not sure how Mako and Asami could just take an extended vacation from their jobs. Mako had a token line about it, but Asami runs a large company that can somehow get along fine without her despite it being in financial distress last season. Also they seemed to forget that their first recruit to the new Air Nation was the guy from the last episode, so he disappeared off-screen very quickly. Though thank the writers they left Tenzin’s annoying brat son behind when they went on their world tour. I’ve had enough of him for two seasons and am very grateful he is now long gone from the main plot.

Finally there’s episode 3. They go to Ba-Sing-Se, the Earth Kingdom capital to meet with the Earth Queen and ask her for help in finding more airbenders. Meanwhile Kai runs off to pickpocket everyone, Mako and Bolin get stuck in the poor end of the city and randomly bump into ALL of their long lost relatives, and Korra and Asami must do a side-mission for the Queen. Also ex-Firelord Zuko shows up to exposit about the escaped criminals and show off the final prison they’ll be after.

Definitely a lot more happening this time, though sadly part of it is a Mako and Bolin subplot. It’s nothing bad; I just couldn’t care about any of it since the show still hasn’t made me care about them. Bolin is still the dumbest thing to walk the Avatar landscape, and Mako is bland practically empty character. If the episode was meant to make me hate the new character then job well done, because Kai is the annoying perfect thief who is so awesome at pick pocketing. He slips away for ten minutes before anyone on Team Avatar go “wait, where did the new airbender go?” Because it’s not like they’re a small group who would notice if the newest member wasn’t among them when going into the Earth Kingdom Palace. However these plots do reveal something far more interesting, that the Queen is secreting away the new airbenders to use as a private army, and Kai is their new recruit. That’s a good hook for the next episode. Hopefully the prison will straighten him out and make him less irritating.

The Queen is fairly blah. She’s meant to be annoying and royally fussy, with obvious “we’re making her obnoxious so you can hate her properly when we reveal she’s evil” scripting. They’re even reusing the Dai Li plot of spiriting away citizens from season 2 of Last Airbender. Though the side-mission with Korra and Asami protect a tax shipment from a gang of Mad Max types was a cool fight scene even if it achieved nothing. But generally I’d take pointless Korra/Asami scenes over pointless Bolin/Mako scenes any day.

The return of Zuko was the definite highlight. They even do some more ‘Zuko is terrible at small talk’ bits that feels like some of the classic comedy bits from Last Airbender. I’m sure he’ll be in te next few episodes and I really hope he sticks around for most of the season.

Overall these three episodes are good, but the latter two drag things down a bit. The saving grace is the villain plots are interesting and I really do want to see where they go. I was more interested in the aftermath of the spirit world interacting with the human world than the airbender plot. Though thinking about it now they’ve done another ‘shove it under the rug’ on us like they did with the equalists. Spirits, the main things that were supposed to be in the world again and a change in the world from the last season, don’t show up after episode one and aren’t mentioned again. Maybe that’ll change later on, but given both the track record and the way things are going I wouldn’t hold my breath. While new airbenders are a consequence from the previous season I’d have thought ‘spirit world mingling with human world’ might have had a bigger impact on the world rather than just being localised in Republic City. Not like they couldn’t have cut the down the montage of finding airbenders in episode 2 and had Team Avatar deal with a spirit problem somewhere which leads them to Kai. Kai could’ve caused the problem with the spirits by stealing something, but then we would’ve had to lose the scene where Korra tries to drag an airbender out of his mom’s basement, or the airbender carnival act. Those would be such a huge lose for the story and that timeless humour.

If you’re going to have a character make a major change in the status quo at the end of a story you need to have it have an impact in future stories. Otherwise that major change is meaningless and might as well not have happened. We’ll see how this plays out for the rest of the season, but right now I’m disappointed but not surprised.

There’s one other big flaw I noticed in these three episodes, the pacing. Watching them all together was fine, but thinking about them individually shows how weirdly paced they are as 20 minute episodes. Episode 1 is dealing with the aftermath of Book 2, character development from Korra, and set-up for the season arc. Episode 2 is faffing about, with some really cool fight scenes from the villain prison breakouts, but that’s it. Episode 3 is Ba-Sing-Se is secretly evil, again, and Mako/Bolin get some family time. This doesn’t feel like three episodes worth of story and would definitely be worse off shown in weekly instalments rather than in one group. Hopefully the airbenders imprisoned plot hook means things will be picking up in the next episode, and the entire season isn’t paced like this.

Not to be down on these episodes because I did enjoy watching them and thought they were a lot better than season 2. Things are definitely looking good for the season, even if it’s entirely without fault, and I will be watching more of it.