Bryan Koietzko’s and Michael Dante DiMartino’s Avatar: The Last Airbender ended its run in July, 2008 and holy shit, has it really been almost 4 years? For fans, the wait for the sequel series, Legend of Korra (they’ve lost the Avatar branding due to James Cameron being a prick) has been nothing short of agony, but ever since the first teaser images were released, we’ve had nothing but absolute faith that this show was going to be awesome.
The first episode (which won’t make its television debut until April) has been released online by Nickelodeon as part of a promotional deal involving a reward for giving the show support via Facebook. And Avatar fans everywhere can be happy to know: Your patience has been rewarded.
Legend of Korra picks up a hundred years after the end of The Last Airbender storyline and follows the development of the next Avatar: a hot-headed, impulsive and confident teenage girl from the Southern Water Tribe named Korra (Janet Varney). Having already mastered water, earth and fire bending, Korra travels to the metropolitan Republic City to train under Tenzin (J.K. Simmons), the son of former Avatar Aang, in the art of airbending. She immediately finds herself caught-up in the political intrigue festering in the city, namely an anti-bending movement headed up by the creepy revolutionary, Amon (Steve Blum).
Legend of Korra was originally conceived as a 12-episode miniseries, but a huge outcropping of support from the fanbase inspired Nickelodeon to give it an additional 14 episodes, with more to come, I’m sure. Legend of Korra wears it’s miniseries status on its sleeve, though, but not in a bad way.
It took two episodes for The Last Airbender to complete its narrative set-up, while Legend of Korra does it all in one. Regardless of the hectic pace, you’re unlikely to feel any sort of compression and it certainly doesn’t do any level of injustice to the characters or the setting. The world of Avatar is just as lush and enchanting as ever and every character, no matter how inconsequential, is still brimming over with their own manner of charm and personality.
The first thing you’re likely to notice about Legend of Korra is God DAMN is this some pretty animation! The production values on this series are amazing (likely stemming from the original miniseries format) and even watching the thing streaming through a tiny box on my computer monitor, I couldn’t help but drool at the detailed visuals. And it wasn’t even the art design and action sequences I liked the most, but the meticulous amount of attention made to the body language and expressions of every single individual. As much as the scripting and the acting, it’s the highly detailed and often-hilarious ways these characters move and react that imparts them with so much character and personality. They really come to life and after only 20-odd minutes, Korra already feels as well-rounded as any of the fully-formed characters from the end of The Last Airbender. That’s an impressive feat, to say the least.
The industrial revolution has hit the world of Avatar, mirroring the one that hit our own but adjusted to match the fictional universe it’s taking place in. While some found this off-putting in teaser videos, I found it to be one of the freshest things about Legend of Korra; this is a very different world from The Last Airbender with lots of crazy new avenues to explore. The faux 1930s design aesthetic is employed in more than just the environmental visuals, but extends to the music and the behavior of the incidental characters, too. The traditional orchestral music accompanies the episode during it’s opening in the Southern Water Tribe, but once we hit Republic City, we’re bombarded with a roaring jazz ensemble that ratchets up the action. There’s even a small part for a classic “lovable tramp” character who talks with a hilarious W.C. Fields impression.
From the instant the episode begins, Korra is shown to be Aang’s polar opposite in every possible way, once again assuring the viewers that they aren’t in for a retread of characterization from The Last Airbender. She’s impetuous and sassy, but in a way that’s entirely likable and not irritating or off-putting. I really like her character design, too; it’s very masculine and atypical of what you normally see in female leads in animated series.
Katara makes a short appearance at the beginning and it’s a bittersweet thing to see her in her twilight years. Her son, Tenzin, has a gaggle of kids of his own and a very stuffy demeanor that’s amusing when played off of Korra’s antics. We also get to meet Police Chief Lin Bei Fong (Mindy Sterling), the daughter of Toph and the woman in charge of a metal bending strike force. She doesn’t care much for Korra.
Legend of Korra will be making its proper television premier on April 14th, just in case you want to wait. I, however, feel like I’ve waited long-enough and couldn’t keep myself from watching the version Nick put online. As was thoroughly expected, Legend of Korra had a great premier episode and by all appearances, will be maintaining the level of quality set by The Last Airbender. But you didn’t need me to tell you that. And just because you’ve all been so good, here’s the leaked episode, for your viewing pleasure: