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The Legend of Korra Season 2 Review: Spirits
What's The Story?
What We're Reviewing:
- What the Future Holds
The Legend of Korra has been a unanimous worldwide success. The successor to animated masterpiece Avatar: The Last Airbender has reinvigorated the Nickelodeon company name and generated a new host of Avatar fans. While the show has garnered a great deal of accolades and revenue, it’s important for the audience (and creators of the show!) to recognize that Korra’s second adventure has had its successes, but has also been far from perfect. Our heroine Korra has returned after over a year of studio production, ready to resume her role as the Avatar, master of the elements and human conduit to the Spirit World. Let’s take a look at The Legend of Korra Book 2: Spirits!
There’s a new animation studio in town: the Japanese Studio Pierrot is now working alongside Studio Mir, the animators of Book 1. When the first few episodes of Spirits aired, the changes weren’t very notable; while facial expressions seemed more pronounced, environments and scenery overall seemed a bit mellow. Maybe it was the blue hues that emanate from the frozen climate of the Southern Water Tribe that bog the animation down, but one part of the show was transcendent: the spirits themselves.
Every time one of these mystic creatures appeared, you couldn’t help but admire their designs and feast on their splendid colors. The spirits as a whole were so vibrant that I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s why the rest of the animation felt so stagnant – to better capitalize on the spirits’ presence.
However, the studios really made the second half of Spirits look fantastic. The story of the original Avatar, Wan, in particular, has become a fan favorite among Korra fans, and I believe a great deal of it has to come from how vividly the world of the past is painted. I use the word painted purposefully because it’s so descriptive; the environments of Wan’s world are drawn with swirling patterns, populated with radiant characters, and filled in with beautiful watercolor colors. As the spirits become more involved in Korra’s story, the more opportunity the animation studio has a chance to shine. The second half of Spirits is a visual feast, aesthetically pleasing its audience in nearly every way.
Almost all of your favorite characters from Book 1 returned for the sequel, and most of them have either shown some complex development or puzzling regression.
Allow me to elaborate. I believe the best example of Spirits’ character problems are found within Korra herself. If you remember the end of Book 1, you recall that Korra loses her bending abilities after a skirmish with Amon, the chaotic revolutionary who wanted to make benders and non-benders equal by stripping the benders of their control of the elements. After moments of internal struggle and loss, the previous Avatar and hero of The Last Airbender, Aang, appears to Korra from a spiritual connection and returns her powers, effectively making her the Avatar again. Do you think a period of such emotional trial and spiritual turmoil sticks with our heroine?
Well, no. Apparently not.
Spirits has such an agonizing start because Korra doesn’t seem to have learned anything from Book 1. She’s still as impatient, arrogant, and snappy as she was when she debuted. I’m not one of the Avatar fans that dislikes or even hates Korra, but what was the point of anything happening in Book 1 if she wouldn’t learn from it? In particular, she just seems so nasty in the first few episodes of Spirits. When she decides to take on a new trainer in her uncle Unalaq, she completely abuses her prior master Tenzin for being washed out and useless while he remains respectful and composed. Korra also continually takes out her anger on her boyfriend Mako, whom she’s supposed to treasure. In a humorous light later in the season, Mako is surprised by how gently old flame and fellow team member Asami interacts with him, saying that he’s not used to a girlfriend showing him respect. Ouch.
Of course, much like everything else in Spirits, Korra’s character improves dramatically once Wan debuts in the series. She begins thinking more critically and speaking more delicately; one can’t help but wonder if Korra is so abrasive at the beginning of the season so her growth later down the road appears more significant. However, I wish they could have found a more elegant way of accomplishing it; some beginning sections of Spirits were almost insufferable.
To end this section on a positive note, many other characters are extremely likable (although fan-favorite tough girl Mei Ling appears to have had some serious brain issues during the six month gap between Book 1 and 2). The backstory of Korra’s father Tonraq is fascinating, nearly Shakespearean. Eccentric businessman Varrick is absolutely hilarious; his erratic performance gave dull episodes such life that I hope he remains a recurring character in the seasons to come. Mako becomes more adult in Spirits, his brother Bolin becomes funnier, Tenzin’s interactions with his family are wonderful and revealing, Korra’s cousins Desna and Eska are great and Wan is, of course, among the best Avatar characters ever. I hope the writers are able to maintain the overall development of the show’s cast into the next season of Korra.
Story (SPOILER Warning!)
Ugh. Where to begin? There’s so much going on in the first half of Spirits that it’s difficult to evaluate it. You’ve got the threat of hostile spirits looming overhead, a civil war brewing in the south, a dirty cop story in Republic City, the separate love stories of Bolin and Korra, the journeys of Tenzin and his family, and the Bolin/Nuktuk mover arc all going on at once. Simply put, the storytelling of Spirits is an absolute mess until Korra encounters amnesia after a dangerous encounter with a violent spirit. Then, things become far more complacent.
The backstory of Wan, the first ever Avatar, is arguably the best part of Book 2 and its emergence allows the rest of Spirits to start focusing. Once the stage is set and objectives are known, Korra and the rest of Team Avatar are able to shine. The group’s journey into the Spirit World, a skirmish with Unalaq’s troops in the South, the family battle between Mako/Bolin against Desna/Eska, and the clash of the light and dark Avatars are action-packed, concise, and rewarding.
In particular, the ending of Book 2 has me very excited about what the rest of Korra’s adventures will bring. After finding the strength to defeat Unalaq, who pairs with the dark spirit Vaatu in an attempt to rule the world for ten thousand years, Korra finally decides that she can be her own Avatar and that the loss of her previous lives may be more of a benefit than a hindrance. With the borders between the spirit and human worlds now broken, it’s now up to her to ensure that spirits and people can live together peacefully. With all the knowledge we’ve learned from The Last Airbender and season one of The Legend of Korra that the role of the Avatar is to be the bridge between the human and spirit worlds, it’s very fitting that Korra’s duty is now to unite the inhabitants of both realms. Not only has her character become independent, but so has her new duty as the Avatar.
And finally, finally, the story of Mako and Korra’s relationship seems to be over. A major problem of Spirits has been its tendency to revert to things we’ve already seen in Book 1. Korra starts off nasty? Check. Love triangle? Check. Break up only to get back together? Check. I loved how the writers seem to have decided to break up Mako and Korra for good. Not only does it show commitment to their own era of telling Korra’s story, but also allows for their awful love story to end. Korra’s aggressiveness and Mako’s deductive patience rarely seemed to keep the characters in sync; by the end of Spirits, they’re both mature enough to recognize it. The permanent changes in the physical landscape as well as the development and growth of our protagonists show promise that future seasons of Korra will learn from Book 2's mistakes.
So What Comes Next?
Book 3, Changes, has already been announced by Nickelodeon, as has Book 4. Changes is supposed to deal with the interactions between humans and the newly arrived spirits, and I’m looking forward to what the creators will do with the new world. Xenophobia? Prejudice? Cultural exploitation? There are a number of themes the writers could go with that could clearly relate to our own world, and I’m personally very excited to see what they’ll do.
Thanks for reading my review of The Legend of Korra Book 2! If you like American football, I have a number of other articles you may be interested in. I’ll see you next time with my next review!