Avatar: The Last Airbender was one of my favorite cartoons growing up. Sort of a Harry Potter-type fantasy epic based in Eastern cultures and philosophies, it told a complete story with a clear beginning, middle, and end, creating a vibrant universe and characters who matured along with the target audience. It was all-ages entertainment at its finest, something you could show to anyone of any age and they’d get something out of it. When the show’s creators, Mike DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, got the greenlight for a follow-up series, The Legend of Korra, it was cause to rejoice, especially after a certain Shyamalan bomb threatened to tarnish the series’ good name. The first season of Korra, while not reaching the heights Airbender reached, showed a lot of potential, with more morally ambiguous conflicts and a striking 1920s-inspired aesthetic, only truly disappointing in the rather forced love triangle and awkwardly rushed season finale. Unfortunately, the long wait for a second season has so far resulted in something… not that good. It has introduced a few fun characters (Kya, Bumi, Varrick) and recently had a great stand-alone episode, but the overall story’s been fraught with serious problems. It pains me to see a show get worse in its second year, but unless things pick up in the second half of the season, Korra‘s second season is going to go down as horribly disappointing. With the show on a brief hiatus (new episodes resume November 1st on Nickelodeon), here’s my list of actions that need to be taken to save the show.
But first, one action that I know has been taken to save it:
Getting Back Studio Mir
Last Friday’s two-part episode, “Beginnings”, was by far the best of the season so far. Part of the reason why has to do with its stand-alone nature, divorced from the plot and character problems the main storyline has been building up, but one thing which can be replicated in the rest of the series is the stunning quality of its animation. Airbender and the first season of Korra both featured breathtaking cinematic visuals, but most of Korra‘s second season has been boring to look at, with characters barely moving and even backgrounds being blandly indistinct. There’s an easy place to pinpoint the blame: the first six episodes of the year weren’t animated by Studio Mir, who did the previous season, but Studio Pierrot, the group best known for cheap-o work on Naruto and Bleach. Fortunately Nick was able to get Mir back to animate “Beginnings” and episodes 10 and onward of this season, as well as future seasons. We have one more Pierrot episode left before we’re back to Mir’s standard of quality.
I don’t know if they plan on doing the following, but they should:
Address the Consequences of Last Season
From their tumblr pages, it would seem Mike and Bryan have spent time thinking about the political fall-out from the defeat of the Equalist movement’s leadership at the end of Season 1. Too bad little of that thought’s been illustrated in the show itself. We see Republic City has a president instead of a council, but we haven’t really seen how the Equalists’ concerns have been addressed. Not that much attention is needed, just enough to make the entire conflict of the previous season not feel like an afterthought.
Drop the Damn Love Triangle
I have to say, I cheered when Mako and Korra broke up this season. I’d been waiting for that moment for a long time, mainly because Mako was such an unlikeable jerk last season, but also because Korra’s been such an annoying idiot this season. But then as a result Mako had to get back with Asami, the girl he was being such a jerk to last season. Let’s face it: the romance in this show is has always been a weak point and the more we see of it, the more I’m sick of it. DON’T force Mako and Korra back together. DON’T try to make Mako/Asami a thing. Asami was one of the more interesting characters last season and this year she’s barely done anything except exist as a plot device, seemingly only hanging around because of the badly-written romantic tension. So why should she be hanging around?
Friendship: Remember It!
One of the main strengths of Airbender was the Gaang, the group of friends traveling together to help Avatar Aang learn bending and defeat the Fire Nation. Korra attempted to get some of that spirit of camaraderie with its Pro-Bending subplot early on, but this season, there doesn’t really seem to be much connection between the characters at all outside of the love triangles. Mako and Bolin are brothers but their relationship as siblings feels barely there compared to Katara and Sokka; Asami’s been completely lacking any sort of strong friendship with any of the characters this season. When the characters barely care about each other, it gets harder to care about them individually.
Give Bolin Back His IQ Points
Bolin’s probably the most likeable of the teen characters at this point, but he’s still frustrating. Making him a propaganda movie star this season is pretty funny in concept. In execution, it’d probably be better if he wasn’t experiencing seasonal IQ loss comparable to Homer Simpson. Seriously, the guy doesn’t even understand the concept of acting now? Also, his “marriage” subplot with Eska has become a painfully one-note joke by now. There better be some serious pay-off.
Have Korra Actually Learn Things
The ending of Season 1, rushed as it was, did seem to at least promise a new spiritual awakening for Korra. No such luck; she still hasn’t grown as a character since the first episode. If anything, this season she’s been acting rasher and more frustrating than before. There seems to be some acknowledgement Korra needs to change if she’s going to be likeable protagonist. The way they’re going about it so far, however, by giving her amnesia, is about the most hackneyed way they do it. My hope going forward is that, even with the lazy amnesia device, when she regains all her memories she has to do some tough work admitting her mistakes, actually learning something in the process. And whatever growth happens this year, Mike, Bryan, ABSOLUTELY DO NOT PRESS THE RESET BUTTON FOR THE NEXT SEASON!