It should come as no surprise that we here at No Flying No Tights were waiting for the sequel to the beloved Avatar the Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra, just as eagerly as any of the legions of fans of the groundbreaking original series.  (We will not speak of the abominable live action film.)  The new series has appeared in numerous What’s Making Us Happy This Week posts, and as a result we all started a longer chat of how the show is living up to all the buzz and the legacy of its prequel.

Now that we’re six episodes in, read on for our reactions!

SPOILER ALERT: Be aware, there are some speculations and spoilers in this post.  Nothing major, but just in case.

Thanks to Emily, Michael, Sheli, Andrew, Jennifer H., and Jenny for joining in on the fun.

Emily: Korra seems a worthy successor to the original… other opinioms here maybe?

A small observation: I noticed that as Republic City is a multicultural city, more diverse, that there have been more diverse naming influences as well. In the original, I noticed more Chinese refs, but I’ve been noticing more Japanese and some Korean names in the new one.

Michael: I absolutely love Korra. It’s one of the best most interesting things on TV. It’s action packed, but not in a way that sacrifices good character moments. I feel like every episode is trimmed down to being the best it can be. It’s a perfectly streamlined show that is at least as good as the original series. But that’s just my opinion. Anyone else wanna throw in their two cents?

Sheli: Korra – astounding! I’d make it my weekly happy if we were allowed to have standing orders.

As wonderful as Avatar Aang is/was, Korra is more my type of character. I like brash characters that run sarcastically into danger (hence, Sokka was the BEST of characters). It’s not that Aang was bad, he just felt too young to understand the gravity of the situation for a lot of the series. Which totally helped the humor of the show….and was a perfect fit….hm.

Basically, it’s really hard to to definitively say which is better. In the end, though similar, they’re different stories. Which means we end up fighting on which one is closer to perfection, and that is an amazing problem to have.

Andrew: Yes! Loving it! I’ve been actively harassing friends and family into checking it out. Just like Sheli, I would gladly make Korra my happy over and over again. I really like the new style, which shows a great advancement from the original series, right down to the jazzier music.

They’ve clearly put some good thought into what their original world would look like with the passage of time. It’s too early to make a call over which series I like better, but I will go ahead and say that Korra, in all her awesome, will have a hard time beating out Aang in my eyes. I’m enough of a hippy idealist that I *really* dug Aang’s optimism, good will, and idealistic pacifism. His generally easygoing nature made it that much more meaningful when he realized he absolutely believed killing Ozai was wrong and insisted on finding another (totally rad) way to deal with the problem.

Jennifer H.: I will admit to losing interest in Airbender, but my son and I have been watching Korra and love it. I like spunky female characters.

Robin: I’ve been really enjoying The Legend of Korra, but I have also been struck by how much it is a show for an older audience than the original Avatar the Last Airbender.  I don’t mind (as, you know, I’m an adult) but I’ve noticed that a few folks are disappointed in how it has less humor, less immediate quest-y action, and just generally is concerned with issues that are more mature.  Conspiracies, political power struggles, and a debate about terrorism vs. freedom fighters is just not as straightforward as the original, very clear quest structure.  I personally love it, but I can see why fans expecting more of the original are taking some time to warm up to the show and its plot.

That being said, this latest episode really knocked my socks off with Lin Beifong’s absolutely badass fight sequences.  Duuuude.

Sheli: It definitely is more serious from the get go, but I don’t know how much that matters?

Any kids I’ve talked to (I work in a kids library) are pumped for it. Some gloss over the implications of older themes (Korra being terrified, the machinations of politics) and just care that there’s kick-butt fighting, an awesome sense of justice, and adorable (and sometimes giant) pets. But since I also work with teens, I get to talk to them about the depth of the show.  Korra has really Pixared their story, to the point where all ages take away exactly what they want from it.

Not only that, but Legend of Korra seems like the natural evolution of the story. A tale of a power struggle after the loss of an avatar make sense. No matter how hesitant some fans may be with Korra, I think they would be very displeased if Korra’s story went the same way Aang’s did, or if Korra was eerily similar in personality to Aang.

Besides, it’s not like the first story wasn’t dark, there was just a combination of Aang’s unfailing smiles and blanket amnesia that let them stay away from telling harsher stories till the climax. That, and changing the setting all of the time meant that Aang and co. did not have to deal with long-term implications of any community. It’s very brave for Korra to stay in one place.

Basically, I’m just loving every second of Korra (the humor! all the leading ladies!) and have a difficulty seeing problems. That, and I’m firmly in the camp that kids are smarter that most cartoons give them credit for, and I’m delighted to see that Korra doesn’t back down from that challenge.

Robin: Sheli, I totally see all your points, and as I said, I don’t have a problem with it.

I also, however, have talked to my teens, and while they unreservedly love the show (and are waiting on tenterhooks every week for more episodes) I have noted them commenting on how it’s slower, not as funny, and not as immediately winning for those reasons.  I’ve heard the same reservations from adult fans, and I think it does come from the tone of the story more than anything else — it’s more serious more quickly, and more mature.  It’s not that its bad, so much as its different, and not necessarily what some viewers were expecting.

I don’t see that as a drawback, personally, but I have seen that reaction, and I wondered if other folks have either felt that or heard similar reactions.

As a reader who adores the Chaos Walking trilogy and is currently devouring Bitterblue, it should come as no surprise that I like stories with more politics, and more shades of gray, than many readers, so I’m personally just fine with the complexity and political machinations.  I also have confidence that the creators will handle it all with the aplomb and creativity they’ve always shown.

Andrew: I’ve not heard anyone complain about the slightly older, more serious tone, but I’ve really only talked to other adult fans about it. It’s been a while since I watched the last season of the original series; is Korra really much different in tone than the last handful of those episodes?

I think Sheli’s right that much of the difference comes naturally from the differences between Aang and Korra. More difference crops up in the transition from an essentially feudal society to a multicultural republic (an explanation any disappointed ten year-old is going to buy right into, I know). Basically, they’ve put some respectable effort into actually letting their world and its people evolve over the time they’ve skipped between series and the changes they’ve made dictate changes in the type of story they tell. It’s human nature to simultaneous want a sequel that gives us more of the same and a sequel that gives us something new. The smart artist ignores the pleasing-everyone trap and keeps true to their vision.

Or, alternately, some suit at Nick said, “It’s been seven years since the original series started. The eight year-olds who got hooked those first episodes are now 15. We need Korra to skew older.” Not quite as pleasingly organic an idea, but the fictitious suit isn’t wrong.

Frivolous side note: two weeks ago something in the episode made me pause the DVR to tell my wife how happy I was going to be when the cabbage man got a callback (I think it was some minor character mentioning their grandfather). Did you catch who sponsored the music on the radio in this week’s episode? Cabbage Corps! Please oh please show us a Cabbage Corps logo so that I might put it on a t-shirt! And then find an excuse for a vignette about how the cabbage man was driven to develop some sort of delivery truck that could transport his cabbages more safely.

And a quick google search reveals several plot theorists suggesting that the cabbage man, out for vengeance over all his squished produce, founded Cabbage Corps with the express purpose of developing technology that would give non-benders an edge and then used that technology to set up the Equalists. I honestly don’t know how I’ll feel if that turns out to be true.

Michael: I’m actually having a real problem with the fandom automatically assuming that any non-bending character is automatically an equalist and that either the Satos are funding them or Cabbage Corps is (or both). The wildest theory (well wildest plausible theory) I heard is that Amon is Sokka and he faked his death and now is out for revenge. I mean, come on. Sure he got amusingly picked on by his bending friends, but to assume he’d become totally evil flies in the face of all his characterization. Much though I love my fellow fans, I wish that they’d calm down and think before posting.

Bryan Konietzko's storyboard art of Amon

Andrew: It is hard not to think Amon must be someone we know, either a new character or, hopefully, someone from the original series. So that naturally lends itself to wild speculation. My current guess is Jet – nonbender, anger issues, unclear possible death – it could work!

Jenny: I’m so loving Korra!

The decision to acknowledge the passage of time within the show’s setting–and all the emotional, social, and technological changes that brings–just makes the world-building that much richer and more believable.  The Far-East-flavored Prohibition-era feel generated by the music, architecture, fashion, and technology melds wonderfully with the series’ original mythos and cultural contributions to create something unique and engaging.  Add to that the quality production values, writing, and casting, and you’ve got one swell, shiny show that appeals, as did its predecessor, to a wide audience.

Background painting by Emily Tetri

I, too, think the decision to skew a little older this time around was partly a nod to the original show’s audience having grown up a bit in the interim and partly a deliberate effort not to repeat themselves creatively (except, perhaps, in the success department, which they are clearly, happily doing).  The change surprised me at first, but it makes sense that everything about the show keeps moving forward, and it took no time at all to get me on board.

I keep trying to think of one thing that particularly stands out, but it ALL stands out.  Obviously, it’s very pretty (those backgrounds! those action scenes!).  And while the humor may be toned down since the original series, it’s definitely still there and just as wise-a**, sharp, and silly (e.g., Bolin = giggle factory! the pro-bending announcer doing a play-by-play on the situation in the booth! and Cabbage Corp.!).  And then there’s the casting / acting, which is more than worthy of the excellent writing.  (I must say, as much as I love hearing Steve Blum’s gravelly purr when he’s playing lazy, crazy, kick-puhtootey heroes, the way he turns that same quality into a cold, steely, violence-concealing growl as a legitimately scary villain makes me inordinately happy.)

As for Amon’s identity, I really hope he’s not anyone we know.  Sokka?  No way.  Jet could fit, but he had a hard enough life and change of heart in the first series.  I’d hate to see him still angry.  And as a victim of brainwashing, himself, it’d just be sad to see him doing that to others.  The cabbage man theory cracks me up, though.

Robin: Speaking of excellent voice acting, how much am I loving J. K. Simmons as Tenzin?

Jenny, I admit it took me a minute to identify Steve Blum, but then I literally facepalmed.  How could I forget his lovely growl?

Also of interest: I highly recommend checking out the Avatar the Last Air Bender Annotated tumblr, which features all manner of details and shows the research of both Avatar and Korra.  It’s fascinating, and illuminating.

Also also: Follow series co-creator Bryan Konietzko.  You will not regret it.

  • Robin B.

    | She/Her Teen Librarian, Public Library of Brookline

    Editor in Chief

    Robin E. Brenner is Teen Librarian at the Brookline Public Library in Massachusetts. She has chaired the American Library Association Great Graphic Novels for Teens Selection List Committee, the Margaret A. Edwards Award Committee, and served on the Michael L. Printz Award Committee. She is currently the President of the Graphic Novels and Comics Round Table for ALA. She was a judge for the 2007 Eisner awards, helped judge the Boston Globe Horn Book Awards in 2011, and contributes to the Good Comics for Kids blog at School Library Journal. She regularly gives lectures and workshops on graphic novels, manga, and anime at comics conventions including New York and San Diego Comic-Con and at the American Library Association’s conferences. Her guide, Understanding Manga and Anime (Libraries Unlimited, 2007), was nominated for a 2008 Eisner Award.

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