Search This Blog

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Story So Far: Korra Book Two

The Legend Of Korra - Book Two: Spirits: Six months after the end of Book One: Air, Korra believes she has has mastered airbending, Mako works as a policeman, Bolin fares poorly in pro-bending with the new "Fire Ferrets", and Asami tries to keep Future Industries afloat. With Tenzin, the friends visit Korra's and Tenzin's family in the Southern Water Tribe. After Korra's uncle and tribal chief Unalaq easily repels an angry spirit's attack, Korra chooses him instead of Tenzin as her spiritual teacher. (Source: Wikipedia)
Spoiler warning: Contains spoilers up to "A New Spiritual Age", which aired November 8th.
For a series that was initially never going to continue beyond its original first mini-series of a season one, Korra's season two is doing a solid job of showing that an Avatar: The Last Airbender sequel series can center around someone that isn't Aang and still be wildly successful. Audience reaction to Korra as an Avatar has always been divided, but she still draws in viewers, and in recent episodes, she has grown beyond her usual "punch first, question second" persona from Book One.
Add in a lot of political intrigue, industrial espionage, and trips through the Spirit World, and Book Two: Spirits is a winning entry in the greater Avatar 'verse.

The last time I blogged about Korra, Korra had just broken up with Mako, failed to rally support from the President for the Water tribe rebellion, and had ended up being attacked by a dark spirit, which left her washed ashore on a Fire Nation beach, dazed and confused and suffering from amnesia. If you thought Book One was hard on Korra, Book Two has being doing its best to top all of that.
Meanwhile, Mako continues investigating the attacks in Republic City and realizes the cause of them might be closer than he previously thought, Bolin is still working as a film star in a series of propaganda films, and Asami is working with Varrick to bring back Future Industries from the brink of collapse. 
Oh, and Tenzin is still a sour puss grumpy face, although he's slowly relaxing while in Vacation Mode, and his siblings are actually helping.
I am constantly astounded by how good the Tenzin subplots are, especially when they involve his siblings Kya and Bumi and how they've all dealt with being the sons of Avatar Aang. I also enjoy watching Tenzin evolve as a father, realizing that he's been neglecting the care of his children in order to train Avatar Korra.
Speaking of Korra, I know that one of the complaints about season one was how blunt and brash her attitude was. Everyone expected an Aang-like Avatar, and they got Korra, who used her bending to solve all her problems and once threw someone into her polar bear dog's maw to get them to talk. However, it seems that her recent trip through the first Avatar's memories have made her mature mentally and mellowed out her usual hot temper. And it really does work for her character. She's still Korra, only now she's thinking with her brain instead of her fists.
I mean, Korra actually apologized to Tenzin for abandoning him for Unalaq's teachings, who ended up being an evil douchebag intent on releasing the dark spirit Vaatu from his ancient tree prison. Although in Korra's defense, it's not like she knew all of that would happen. Korra's problem is that when she puts her trust into someone, she puts her trust in them 200%, and when they break that trust, it breaks her - and that's why Korra puts her trust in so little people, because it always ends up badly for her.
During the last couple of weeks, Legend of Korra has walked us through the history of the first Avatar and what the Spirit World looks like. This other world is brought into brilliant, majestic illustration by Studio Mir (Studio Pierrot animates all other episodes) in a style reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki and the Mononoke anime series, with a hint of classic Japanese artwork. Studio Mir is actually a Korean animation studio and their work on Korra is pretty much their breakout title - and hopefully not their last.
I found the story of the first Avatar, Wan, immense and emotional. It brought us back into a world where humans lived on the backs of mythical beasts who gifted them with the power of the elements and spirits were the enemy. Wan, as the first bridge between spirits and humans and the one bearing the light spirit Raatu, began the endless line of Avatars whose job it is to keep balance in both physical and spiritual realms. Naturally, Korra now has to make sure Wan's good work doesn't go to waste thanks to Unalaq's meddling with the spirit portals.
Meanwhile, back in Republic City, your dear blogger cackles as all her beliefs about Varrick are proven right. Not only is he a war profiteer and creator of propaganda and yellow journalism, it looks like Varrick has been engineering the conflict behind the scenes so his company can benefit monetarily from the chaos. Called it, y'all. Varrick is a fascinating character, veering between clownish buffoonery and almost sinister moments of cunning, but always able to maintain his outward persona of a Howard Hughes-esque crazy billionaire businessman.
Was Varrick's shtick all part of an elaborate ruse to take over all businesses in Republic City? Considering what has happened to poor Mako, I'm learning towards a yes. Because frankly, it's obvious that Mako was set up to be arrested, especially since it came right after his confrontation with Varrick. It certainly doesn't help that his police co-workers have been against him from the beginning; it wouldn't surprise me if they were being actively bribed by Varrick, since Varrick has openly endorsed bribery in the past - and to Bolin, who probably thought nothing of it and certainly thought nothing of Mako's claims that Varrick isn't all madcap innocence and crazy inventions.
I think the latest episode, "A New Spiritual Age," has been Book Two's strongest episode to date. It took us through the vast vivid realm of the Spirit World, reunited us with several memorable characters from ATLA, showed Korra and Jinora in all new ways, and ended on a vicious, emotionally charged cliffhanger that has me clamoring for next week's episode like never before. With Jinora's spirit trapped in the other realm, Unalaq that much closer to releasing Vaatu, and Korra feeling utterly defeated, the Avatar Team has never been at a lower point this season.
If Korra wants to beat Unalaq before the Harmonic Convergence occurs, she's going to have to do something that is the complete opposite of what she has been doing: bring in her friends closer and rely on them for assistance. We saw Korra break her recent streak of acting alone when she called upon Tenzin for guidance into the Spirit World. I'm sure she'll return to Republic City to call upon Bolin, Mako, and Asami - although she may be taken aback by what has been happening to her adopted city in her absence. And I'm still hoping that General Iroh will come back for at least one more episode!

There are so many questions I want answered before season's end. Why does Unalaq want to release Vaatu? What is Vaatu's story? Why can Jinora enter the Spirit World but not Tenzin? What is Varrick actually up to? And why is Bolin so soul crushingly dense? Okay, that last one will probably never be answered. But this latest episode of Korra has really reignited my love for the series. I can only hope the remaining episodes live up to the promise of this "New Spiritual Age".