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A Review of "Legend of Korra Book Two : Spirits"
And so the second season of Legend of Korra ends, leaving on what I believe is ultimately a satisfying conclusion. Not having the best of beginnings, it still managed to explore the magical world it had set up in its second part. So let us take another dive into the world where people can bend the elements, and spirits are lurking at every corner.
The First Episode
This season started out with an enormous amount of new characters and places being introduced, all apparently to set up the new storyline. In just the first episode we get to see what has happened to all the characters since the last season, Tenzin's and Korra's families come into more focus as Tenzins siblings and Korra's uncle and cousins are formally introduced. We then get Tenzin's idea of traveling to the Air Temples, the trip to the Southern Water Tribe and the festival they have there, which is a good occasion for establishing some of the conflicts between the characters which will drive the season. Bolin gets a creepy love interest in new character Eska, for example. Varrick the eccentric businessman is also introduced and an angry spirit attacks.
This is a lot for one episode, but it does not feel too rushed, although I do believe the show in general could have benefited from the longer seasons of the Legend of Aang series, in which everything just moved along at just the right speed. Shortly after, Korra has managed to alienate his father and Tenzin, who leaves with the rest of his family. Here, the speed at which everything is moving seems to work against the show, maybe a couple of minutes for Korra to explain why she wanted to leave with her uncle Unalaq would have made it feel less rushed.
So Korra leaves with her friends, uncle and cousins for the spirit portal, located somewhere in the icy no mans land. Only after the portal is opened is it revealed that Unalaq, the shady man who from the beginning seemed evil, is in fact evil. In a way the plot twist worked, as it was so obvious I was certain they were not going to go for it.
Unalaq now establishes himself as the main villain for most of the season, and I would say he is the weakest main villain of we have seen in the series so far, perhaps with the exception of general Zhao. For most of the show he does not have a clear goal, but he is not a compelling enough character that you want to theorize about it. He is also quite distant for most of the season, staying at the South Pole while Korra is elsewhere, and he does not have that threatening presence that Amon or Ozai had. He is just a mediocre villain.
And it is now that everything stops. While the plot had been moving at full speed now it suddenly starts feeling sluggish and at times uninteresting. It really feels like “Legend of Korra”'s creators had trouble with moving everything into place, and so we spend several episodes setting it all up. Bolin gets a movie career, Mako has problems at work thank to a terrorist plot, and while it may all have been needed, it does not manage to be truly engaging. In fact, a lot of the characters turn quite unlikable and stupid as they are forced to move against their nature in favor of the plot.
There is one exception. Tenzin has several moments with his siblings, and a lot of it concerns avatar Aang, the main character of the last series and their father. The picture of Aang as perfect certainly falters, and the feelings of having been unfairly treated and inadequate of being Aangs son that all his three children have seem really genuine. For some episodes, these moments where the best part.
But then it finally moves. We get the “Beginnings” episodes, which explores the life of the first avatar, Wan. The animation is amazing, based on old Asian drawing styles. The story seems like a classic legend about a poor man gaining powers and defeating evil. And the spirits teased in the season title is shown, being strange and funny and everything else. It is really enjoyable, and even if you have never watched anything else from the series, I would say watch it. Plotwise, the episodes reveal that evil spirit Vaatu will try to escape from his prison soon. It is said that the spirit which lives inside the avatar called Raava is Vaatu's opposite, and neither can exist without the other.
And finally things move. Korra realizes that she need Tenzin, and that she needs to get to the spirit world. She apologizes to the airbender, and they attempt to travel to the world of spirits. Ashamed, Tenzin must admit that he does not know how to travel to the spirit world. But his daughter Jinorra does. Meanwhile, it is revealed that Unalaq wants to help free Vaatu, but we still do not know why.
The episode in the spirit world is amazing, and the drawing style is really taken up a notch. Many references to Aangs travels is made, including the fan favourite Iroh and the Spirit Library. Finally Korra seems willing to learn, and her annoying stubbornness is diminished. And the spirits are again funny in a way that makes me think of Spirited Away. And the spirit world is beautiful, they do some interesting things with the angles of the shots to make it really seem magical.
However, Unalaq captures Jinorra and forces Korra to open the other spirit portal, which assures that Vaatu will escape. Jinorra is lost, and Korra must return and explain to Tenzin that she lost his daughter. The face she has at the end of episode 10 tells so much of sadness and grief.
After a sub plot with Bolin's movie carrier is finished, the team is finally united and the travel to the South Pole to save the world. They force their way to the spirit portal and Tenzin and siblings try to find Jinorra, who is lost in the spirit world.
Final Fight in the Spirit World
For Tenzin's subplot, it is brilliant. Tenzin did not get much character development in season 1, but this season makes interesting, pitiable and admirable all at the same time. He travels to the Fog of Lost Souls, where everyone goes insane, and battles his own insanity. After having been put down so much he finally manages to do something right, and wins against the fog and saves his family.
Korra has to make on last attempt at stopping Vaatu from breaking free of his prison, but it would not be much of a finale if the evil spirit is not freed. Not even with the help of her friends can she stop the fusing of Vaatu and Unalaq into one being, making him a dark avatar. Disappointingly, this new being does not have any other elements than water, so we do not get a real avatar vs. avatar fight. I would have really liked to see that.
Korra loses, and for the second time in two seasons her avatar powers are stripped from her, and her connection to the earlier avatars is severed. Then we get a bit of a deus ex machina which allows her to tap into her own energy by meditating in the Tree of Time. But it leads to a pretty awesome final battle, where Korra regains her avatar powers by discovering that Raava has been reborn inside Vaatu.
Still, the ending is pretty bitter-sweet. Korra loses her connection to the earlier avatars, and it does not seem that they are coming back. More disturbingly, by the logic of Raava coming back to life, should not Vaatu do the same, inside Raava?
Korra also makes a grand decision here at the end. She decided to leave the portals between the human world and the spirit world open. Uniting humans with spirits turns out to have been Unalaq's goal, and it is a good one, had it been explored more. I really wish they would have gone into that in earlier episodes.
So we are left with two halves of a season, one mediocre, one really good. The animation and fighting scenes are better across the board, the things the characters think to do with their magic is amazing. The emotions, especially with Tenzin's subplots and the ones towards the end, feel genuine and really pulls you in through great storytelling. And “Beginnings” are an amazing two-part episode, well worth the watch. In the end, I would say “Legend of Korra: Spirits” is a good