Legend of Korra Finale And Series Thoughts

WOW it’s been a while since we’ve had an actual blog post here that wasn’t just reblogged stuff, eh? Yeah, sorry about that, but when you’re a news writer and reviewer as well as a college student, a lot of that stuff takes up your energy and time.

But last night, something big enough in pop culture happened that I feel I had to fire up the ol’ blog editor and talk about it here. I speak not of The Colbert Report endingwhich I haven’t watched yet–but of The Legend of Korra, the beleaguered spinoff of Avatar: The Last Airbender that ended its four season run by premiering the final two episodes online at midnight last night (it’ll air on Nicktoons Network tonight).

Let’s clear things up first: unlike the vast majority of nerds my age, I didn’t really care for Avatar as a kid. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the world and the concept was interesting, but the show just never clicked with me, even when I was in its target age range. It just seemed too episodic and same-y most of the time. Granted, thanks to the entire show being on Amazon Instant, I’ve come around on it, but it’s still a slog for me to get through at times (near the end of Book 2: Earth as I write this).

It was the stellar first season of Korra that made me want to get back into its predecessor. But at the end of the day, I still prefer Korra over Aang simply because her setting–1920s Shanghai/Beijing with steampunk elements thrown in–are more interesting than globetrotting from Village of the Week to Village of the Week, the comic relief, villains and pacing are all very well done, and Korra as a character is far more interesting and sympathetic–a headstrong and confident teenage girl somewhat cocky about being the most powerful person on the planet who grows, changes and deals with great struggle over the course of the show–then a century-and-change old kid who’s always pacifistic. Not to mention she’s very of-the-moment considering we’re living in an age of female main characters.

Now, Korra has not been without its problems. Let’s be clear. The first season, which I like a lot, is rather rushed in spots. The second season is a couple episodes longer than it needs to be and overstuffed with plot. Zaheer, the villain of the third season, is a huge threat but has his menace undercut by a stiff vocal performance from Henry Rollins (yes, the Black Flag guy).

And throughout, the show’s various romance subplots–which, like it or not, are kind of an essential component of a story about a bunch of young adults–have ranged from believable and heartwarming to really undercooked and awful (I maintain that Mako is very much this series’ equivalent to Jason Biggs’ Larry from Orange Is The New Black). But despite all that, the show still holds together for me because of its largely efficient attitude towards self-contained arcs, its gorgeous animation (yes, even in the Seasn 2 episodes by Studio Pierrot that everyone hates) and its dynamite voice cast (the show won a Daytime Emmy for casting for a reason).

It’s a real shame then that, when given a show as entertaining and kinda groundbreaking (like Avatar, Korra takes place in a world entirely composed of People of Color) as this, Nickelodeon dropped the ball and hard. This wonderful post by Carrie Tupper at The Mary Sue dives into it far better than I can, but even I can tell that yeah, maybe taking your critically acclaimed and beloved show and a.) offering basically no merchandise to support it b.) not promoting it at all and then shunting it online and c.) even going so far as to slash the final season’s budget, forcing the creators to make a clip show that nobody wants just so their people can have work is a pretty gross, awful thing to do.

But to their credit, the show’s creators and production crew have always done the best job they can with the hand they were dealt. Nowhere was that more evident than last night’s two part finale, “Day Of The Colossus/The Last Stand.” In capturing the final battle between Korra (Janet Varney) and the crew and Big Bad Kuvira (Zelda Williams) and her giant mecha suit, the animators of Studio Mir went all out in making things as big, explosive and awesome as they deserve to be.

The writers too–the credited ones are Tim Hedricks and franchise co-creator Michael Dante DiMartino–do their best, giving every one a Big Damn Hero moment and, when all is said and done, providing lovely codas to every character’s personal arcs. Combine this with the cast’s typical top-tier work–in particular, comedian John Michael Higgins as goofball Tony Stark Verrick and anime dub veteran Todd Haberkorn as Kuvira’s fiance-turned-pawn Bataar Jr. deserve awards recognition for their work here and this season as a whole–and you have a damn great series finale.

The final minutes of the show, in particular, are amazing.  I know not everyone watched it right at midnight (or couldn’t if the show crashed Nick’s site at one point which it may have), but if you haven’t seen it yet, don’t highlight the following text:

Okay, so the final minutes of “The Last Stand” in the composition, the dialogue, acting and execution, particularly the last shot, indicate that yes, the long hoped-for romance between Korra and Badass Tony Stark Asami (Seychelle Gabrielle) is in fact canonical. Given that–nominally anyway–this is still children’s television, we don’t actually see them kiss. But literally every single thing about these last scenes indicates that yeah, these two are in love.

Is that awesome? Yes. Is that groundbreaking? Inspiring? HELL YEAH. However stupid it is that the scene’s intent can’t be made more explicit, the fact is that Korrasami–as the shippers have called it–is definitely real and that is a great, bold, powerful statement to make.

Heck, between this and the character of Nathan Seymour being canonically confirmed as transgender in Tiger & Bunny: The Rising, similarly the last thing for its franchise, animation has been really damn progressive so far this decade. Could more steps like this follow? And maybe actually be not restricted by nonsensical guidelines? Let’s hope so.

So yeah, great ending to, all things considered, a great television show. Not just animation, but in all of TV; good stuff well worth seeking out. (Also, I still stand by what I wrote here. Deal with it.)

 

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3 comments on “Legend of Korra Finale And Series Thoughts

  1. Josh says:

    I was really enjoying watching the final episode of Korra and then it felt like it all went south, and no, not for the reason so many people are raving about (and what’s hidden above). That actually isn’t what frustrated me about the ending. Things weren’t fully tied up, questions still needed to be answered, and (spoiler) Kuvira does not stay true to her character. What she did was just opposite of her character, you’d think she’d have gone down swinging or have the spirits have revenge for using the spirit vines as a weapon. Things felt pushed and a bit trite during the last few minutes. And (again spoiler with what’s hidden above) seemed to be just a last minute thing that could’ve been played out better and more interspersed through this season. Instead of broadening it out into a subplot it was just tacked on at the end. I felt with such a great series that dealt with some tough topics in a very good way, it ended lackadaisically and lackluster. Others might have different ideas and maybe they’ll do with Korra as they did with the Last Airbender and have a comic that gives more to the adventure.

    • Tom Speelman says:

      Josh,

      Regarding that last bit, Korra comics ARE apparently in the works! So hooray to that. In regards to your comments about Kuvira and the ending, I’ll concede that yeah, a lot of stuff is a little bit rushed. I just want to chalk that up due to the creators having to deal with Nickelodeon screwing them at every opportunity AND probably the fact that they’re not as good as writing tighter, shorter story arcs as they thought.

      Concerning Kuvira, yeah I can see where you’re coming from, but I thought her repentance made sense. It’s an expected thing and, while it could’ve stood to been dragged out more, I was okay with it for what we got.

      Regarding the ending…ok, I’ll confess I was fully on board for that particular plot. But my own feelings aside, if you go back and look at the show as a whole, it’s actually really interspersed throughout and very well built to.

  2. jmhielkema says:

    There is actually nothing groundbreaking or progressive about the show in any way, but it’s nice to see that the mass culture machine believes it to be so, and that it has boosters in the so-called critical press who will swallow it up. A show that ends with a capitalist running dog’s happy wedding and a vague, New Age sense of utopian stasis has no right to brandish itself as somehow advanced or politically sensitive.

    My main problem with both Avatar and Korra is that they bite off political plots they have no intention of actually dealing with, foisting all of the actual plot meat onto family drama. Several events in the finale point to this fundamental problem, particularly having war as a core part of the plot while refusing to actually deal with its implications. It’s pandering that completely dissolves the drama the story halfheartedly coughed up like so much partly-chewed refuse. Death can only happen painlessly and on heroic terms; people dedicated to causes will suddenly shift sides because of nonsensical familial attachments that made them tremendous liabilities and untrustworthy to begin with. It’s sloppy, overreaching storytelling that pretends to be significant or “commentary” but ends up just being an after-school special with giant robots and a façade of political speechifying that ends up embarrassing the writers more than it dignifies them. It was distracting in the final episodes of the first show, but Korra’s problems are more acute because the structure of the story is such that it has to deal with a more contemporary set of problems and audience expectations about how societies work. It takes a true master of the form to produce contemporary-set fantasy/weird fiction that has a semblance of “political” import in the sense of displacing and commenting on rather than just reflecting dominant ideologies. Someone like China Mieville. What the setting does in Korra is just make its fundamental weaknesses more glaring, and they only got worse over time.

    Most of the show is a waste of great animation––not on the scale of something like Atlantis: The Lost World, but close.

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