We review the upcoming Avatar: Last Airbender spinoff series . . .
Avatar: The Last Airbender was one of those genuine surprises that seemed to materialize out of nowhere: a Nickelodeon animated show, heavily inspired by anime and ostensibly aimed at six-year-olds and older, which proved to be unexpectedly emotionally affecting thanks to some well-drawn characters that evolved throughout its three seasons, an epic narrative arch and intelligent storytelling.
Heck! It even got the juvenile humor right without resorting to the noisy hysterics of “standard” anime! Here was a TV series that could easily be enjoyed by kids as well as their parents – all of which makes it so galling that Hollywood in the guise of M. Night Shyamalan managed to screw it up with the ill-judged and poor 2010 live-action movie!
Along comes The Legend of Korra, a spin-off series by basically the same creative crew intended to cash in on The Last Avatar’s audience’s goodwill. It is plainly an attempt to catch the same lightning in a new bottle. Does it succeed? Or is it just a shameless rip-off?
Our answer would have to be: so far, so good. It is difficult to judge a new TV series by its first episode, especially if that episode is only 20 minutes or so long. The pilot however has us optimistic. Sequels and spinoffs always reek of opportunism – do the film-makers even have something new and interesting to say? Signs are however good for Legend of Korra . . . with a few caveats though.
Legend of Korra is set in the same fictional universe as Last Airbender. It is however 70 years later and the times they have a ‘changed. Legend of Korra features a mostly new cast, prime among them Korra – a teenage girl from the water tribe who is the new avatar. (Some characters from the previous show appear in geriatric versions of themselves, mostly to provide a sense of continuity for fans.)
Korra has mastered three of the four elements (Fire, Earth and Water) but has yet to master the fourth, namely Air. This presents a bit of a problem because, thanks to some genocidal policies by the belligerent fire nation several decades ago, there is only one airbender master around, namely Aang’s somewhat stuck-up son.
Korra has some discipline problems (natch) and winds up in Republic City, the epicenter of the Avatar world.
Line we said, things have however changed: technology has progressed and the Avatar world now has the combustible engine and seems stuck somewhere in the 1910s of our era – with loads of air balloons however. Throwing in some so-called “steampunk” elements in to the narrative is Legend of Korra’s biggest innovation and cleverly extends the franchise’s fictional universe beyond the samurai movie aesthetic of the original series. Here is an exciting new visual universe filled with fire-bending gangsters driving Model-T Fords and steel bending cops in huge dirigibles amongst others.
Legend of Korra thus far also manages to get the humor of the original series right. Notice the facial expressions on the mother who has to cope with several small children all with bending powers!
That’s all on the plus side. On the down side, the stakes in Legend of Korra thus far seem pretty small-scale compared to the first series. In Last Airbender we had four mighty kingdoms fighting it out in full-scale war. In Legend of Korra our heroine becomes embroiled in a conspiracy by masked types to undermine the art of bending – so very, um, Ben 10.
Still, the positives outweigh the negatives by far and everyone in our family – including my nine-year-old daughter and my wife – are eagerly looking forward to the next episode. Lightning, it seems, does strike twice!
The Last Airbender: Legend of Korra will premiere on April 14, 2012.
Signs are excellent for this Avatar: The Last Airbender spinoff and it is sure to please fans of the original series. Newbies might be a bit bewildered as it assumes one is familiar with the Avatar universe.