After the first book of Korra did little to fill me with optimism and hope for the future of this sequel, Book Two of Korra looked to be more of the same. But after a disappointing first six episodes, The Legend of Korra: Book Two comes into its own. It becomes a rollicking action-fest, an emotional character study and a goosebump-inducing tale that transforms Korra from an unlikeable lead into a redeemed likeable one.
It is extremely difficult to talk about this second book of Korra because it feels like two completely different shows. Whilst the first six episodes are more akin to the infuriating form of storytelling exhibited in book one – for the most part – the second half of this season is truly fascinating. The animation quality persists at a high level throughout but, much like Korra herself, the show realises who it wants to be and what it needs to be after visits its past, its first life and the first avatar.
In the end, Book Two of The Legend of Korra is a revitalising, fun and refreshing instalment in a story that threatened to be nothing special at all. I’m happy to say that I travel forward on this journey in good spirits indeed.
However, just because the second half of the season was so good, I would not be doing criticism a good service by ignoring all the problems at the start of the book. I realised that before Korra lost her memory and became a more experience and intelligent person as a result, I was leaning towards the show’s throwaway plots rather than the main story. Instead of being captivated by the Water Tribes’ Civil War, I wanted to spend more time with Tenzin and Varrick. This shouldn’t be the case.
Thankfully the show finds itself by hard-resetting Korra’s character – let’s hope she stays this way for the remainder of the series – and by learning to tell stories in a fluid manner. It began to tell stories with both character development and narrative development before moving on to both character conflict and narrative conflict. So whilst the first half of the book never mixed the aforementioned staples of a good show, the second half saw them as one and the same and made it into a homogenous product.
ASSESSING THE CHARACTERS
Let’s take the main players of this Book and see how they measured up one at a time:
Korra: Whilst this generations Avatar threatened to be the Twilight-influenced whiny protagonist in the first few episodes, a rampant story, the nullification of a romantic sub-plot and the threat of world domination morphed this character into something new, exciting and admirable. Gone is the naïve and emotional fare that plighted the show in the first season and in is the decisive protagonist we all wanted in the first place.
Mako: I still don’t think the show has done Mako justice yet. Whilst the first season used him as a corner in a maddening love triangle, the second season doesn’t really do anything substantial with the character. It was a nice change of pace seeing him join the police force and unravel an intriguing mystery but it never pierced into his character. He was always opaque and the good-looking Mako we are inherently supposed to like. The problem is we don’t know enough about him to truly know who Mako is.
Bolin: Bolin remains one of my favourite characters on the show simply because you can count on him for a good laugh. He may be narratively neglected like Mako but his romantic/hostage sub-plot with Unalaq’a daughters was surprising and funny all at the same time. The ‘Movers’ sub-plot was actually extremely enjoyable and played more like meaningful sub-plots of worth rather than time sinks thrown in to pad an episode.
Asami: Asami definitely takes a backseat in this book but through her we get more time to spend with Varrick, a terrific addition to this cast of characters. She’s certainly one of the most likeable characters in the show and I’m happy to see her become the Head of Future Industries. Some moments do lean towards a niggling romantic conflict – yawn – but Asami is handled well.
Tenzin: Tenzin’s family and past was one of the best aspects of Book One and I am glad to see the character treated with the same amount of respect the second time around. While his brother and sister come to visit, the show treats us to a deeply emotional story about Aang’s children and what results is a genuinely heart-warming segment of the book that brings Tenzin closer to Boomi and Kya.
Unalaq: Playing as this book’s big bad, Unalaq provided something different from Amon. Whilst Amon was frightening and cool in his design, Unalaq was engaging and cool in his idea. The idea of a Dark Avatar, which we do eventually get for little bit, was enticing and awesome to behold. Having said that, I don’t think Unalaq’s impetus was hammered home enough. Yes he loves the spirits and wants them to inhabit the same world as the humans but why is he choosing the evil spirits. This was never explained and if it was, it wasn’t done well enough.
Right, so that’s characters done. Let’s jump into specific episodes and deliver a single sentence review of each one before my final thoughts.
Rebel Spirit: Hormonal Korra is really pissing me off, like a lot, but this world’s lore is so rich and the childish moments are really very fun.
The Southern Lights: An infuriatingly naïve Korra continues to pull me away from the beautiful animation and otherwise magnetic supporting characters.
Civil Wars, Part 1: Korra continues to be the worst Avatar and character ever whilst supporting plots via Tenzin and his siblings steal the show.
Civil Wars, Part 2: An annoying narrative threatens to throw this show into obscurity whilst Korra continues to be outshone by more interesting ancillary characters.
Peacekeepers: The brazen and selfish Korra is really screeching against the ears whilst the Water Tribe war isn’t engaging enough to give a damn about.
The Sting: This Korra-less episode is one of the best of Book Two so far as Bolin comes to the fore, an intriguing development is made regarding Varrick and Korra may just get a character reset.
Beginnings, Part 1: An aesthetically pleasing lore-building episode provides the best episode of Korra yet.
Beginnings, Part 2: A gloriously galvanising episode that provides newfound hope for Korra’s character whilst revitalising the show.
The Guide: Whilst Mako finds himself mired in predictable melodrama, the new respectful Korra is a breath of fresh air.
A New Spiritual Age: Genuinely heart-warming to see and hear Iroh again as the battle ramps up but this time with tangible tension.
Night of a Thousand Stars: Loving the momentary focus on Bolin and Varrick in what is surely the calm before the storm.
Harmonic Convergence: The inherently loveable Boomi steals the show whilst a part of me wants the Dark Avatar to come to life.
Darkness Falls: A bleak and engrossing war breaks out that twists and turns whilst retaining actual emotional depth.
Light in the Dark: An awesome ending that rewrites Korra from a hormonal and annoying character into a sensible and likeable one.
It’s weird to shift perspective on a show so soon after finishing a disappointing first season but that’s exactly my stance on Korra. The second half the book filled me with hope and hunger to watch more. Awesome and fulfilling moments, emotional weight and actual tension have transformed this show from something that sullied the Avatar brand into something that has enhanced it. I honestly can’t wait for more and I hope that the show continues at this quality for the remainder of its run.
Up Next: Book Three of Korra!