WARNING: Huge series finale spoilers for Avatar: The Last Airbender lay ahead. You have been warned.
Story: There are four nations: water, earth, air, and fire. Some in those nations are born with the ability to bend and control one of those elements. In the events of Avatar: The Last Airbender, a long war between the Fire Nation and the other three nations finally ended thanks to the help of the Avatar (the only person who can use all four elements), his friends, and the eventual ruler of the Fire Nation. Many decades have past and the old Avatar, an airbender named Aang, has died. He, like the many Avatars before, has been reincarnated into someone else. This time it is a water bender named Korra (voiced by Janet Varney). Korra is headstrong and impatient, but after many years of training, from childhood into her teenage years, she become proficient in water, earth, and fire. She is unable to get a grasp of air and the spiritual side of bending. Her training for mastering the element takes place in Republic City, formed long ago by Aang as a city representing the renewed alliance between the four nations. Unfortunately, Korra’s training by Aang’s youngest son, Tenzin (J.K. Simmons), is interrupted when a mysterious man named Amon (Steve Blum) launches a campaign against all benders. Amon is the head of The Equalists, a group which seeks to eliminate all the bending in the world so everyone can be “equal.” Amon’s ways are violent and crazy, however. It is up to Korra; her new friends, who are brothers and fellow benders voiced by David Faustino and P.J. Byrne; her teacher; and the head of local police (voiced by Mindy Sterling) to stop this madman before he takes away the bending of everyone in the world. But with Amon always being one step ahead of our heroes and opposition around every corner, can Korra and her friends stop Amon in time?
Thoughts: I’m one of those guys who went nuts over Avatar: The Last Airbender (the show, because the less we talk of that movie, the better). Nickelodeon gets its share of flack these days for its programming, and children’s shows in general can go under a lot of scrutiny, terrible writing and an overall dumbing down of stories for the young audience being two criticisms. Avatar is aimed towards kids, but it’s expertly written, wonderfully acted, beautifully drawn, and researched with a fine tooth comb. It avoids many of the cliches of children’s entertainment and NEVER talks down to anyone watching whether they be young or old. There are episodes that are pure comedy or non-stop action, but both are always driven by story. Dark as hell stories also crop up. I mean dark, too. How Nick got away with some of the stuff they did is beyond me. It’s quality programming, is what I’m getting at. When a sequel series began airing in 2012, four years after the original show, it had a lot to live up to, but boy does the first season deliver.
Being 12 episodes long as opposed to 20, its compact and concentrated whereas Avatar had time to breath. Avatar had the luxury of standalone episodes and space with which to build tension. Korra has to get straight to the point. At one crucial moment, Korra and co. call for back-up. Avatar would take a few episodes before said back-up arrived – using that time to put pressure on our heroes, to explore characters and their relationships, or to have a standalone episode or two. Korra just has the backup arrive the episode after they’re introduced. Neither method is bad. Korra only feels like it needs a bit more room in a couple instances. Otherwise it moves at a perfect pace, choosing to focus on the central story and characters with little time for anything else.
It’s nice, too, that Korra, with very few exceptions, does not simply repeat the story or successful elements of Avatar. It has its own story, heroes, villains, and messages. The fire nation is not the villain; Korra is very different in temperment from Aang; Korra knows all the elements but air, which we didn’t get to see Aang learn in Avatar because he was an airbender by birth; where Avatar was a road show with new places almost every episode, Korra is centered in one location, Republic City. I hate when writers, studios, and networks are content to retread old ground. I love that the guys behind Avatar and Korra wanted to go in a different direction and that they weren’t happy repeating themselves.
There are a million other show centric topics on which to pile praise: the epic score (seriously, it’s one of the best TV scores I’ve ever heard), the continuation in animation quality, the great fight scenes, the nail biting episodes that make it impossible to turn away lest you miss an important plot development, and all the imagination in further developing an established world. If the next three seasons are this good, then there’ll be another quality show to play for your kids some day.