Let me start by saying that I’m a fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender. It’s a well written series with strong characters, exciting action, and good pacing. In this, it set a high bar for the first season of Avatar: The Legend of Korra to clear. Yes, I know – It is its own show. However, it is directly built off of the foundation of lore established by Last Airbender. I can’t really sever Legend of Korra from Last Airbender and I’m not going to try.
While the first season of Legend of Korra was good compared to its competition, it didn’t quite measure up to Last Airbender by my reckoning. That’s not to say it’s a bad show or that anyone who likes more than Last Airbender is wrong. For me, there were weaknesses in the writing and character development that were hard to ignore. There are many other reviews to point out the strengths and flaws of the show and give an in-depth analysis. I’m not going to retread much ground except to point out what glared to me.
Korra, as a brawn over brain character, never really appealed to me. I can see the attempt to recreate the technique that created Toph (my #2 favorite ATLA character), by simply converting a male character archetype to a female appearance and leaving the personality intact. However, the punch first and ask questions later type in any gender doesn’t endear itself to me without some other magic ingredient to add a little complexity. What that is, I’m not exactly sure. In addition, I couldn’t quite accept that Korra was truly Katara’s student. When I saw that she was trained by Katara, I expected plenty of crazy awesome waterbending from Korra. Instead, she was more a firebender with an earthbender’s mentality. Only her costume gave any hint to her elemental origin.
The love story for the sake of a love story could have been left out. Korra could have just been friendzoned and stood on her own. Mako sliding in on Bolin’s interest was a douche move to pull on his brother, especially after scoring a wealthy beauty like Asami. He just came across as an irredeemable jerk and the sort of person I wouldn’t give the time of day to. Asami was awesome and felt like the strongest character in team Korra, despite having daddy-issues as a personality trait. She overcame her obstacles without needing a deus ex Aang to solve her problems. Yeah, I don’t like the ending to the first season. It could have been handled differently. Either let Katara or a descendant of Ty Lee’s techniques figure it out or don’t take the bending block route, if having Season 2 being about Korra regaining her powers was not what the writers wanted.
Speaking of techniques, wasn’t lightning bending a master level skill? Why were the Equalists pissed off about the benders if the benders powered the city? If there were firebenders producing electricity for the city to use, were there waterbenders making sure that the water and sewer systems functioned? Were there earthbenders creating stable foundations for buildings? Why would the Equalists throw a fit about people having special abilities, if those special people were being used as living utilities, exhausting their chi for the benefit of the city? Where was the tyranny? Writers, show, don’t tell!
I could go on, but the little lore-breaking bits and lazy writing soured a show that could have been greater than it was. Was it because there were only twelve episodes? No. That’s on the writers to make sure that they fit their story in the time allotted. I’m also a fan of Madoka Magica, a brilliantly paced show that fit into the twelve episode span. I know that a great storyline can fit into that small frame.
Was it because there were only two writers for the first season of Legend of Korra, instead of the team that created Last Airbender? Quite possibly. I suspect that DiMartino and Konietzko might also suffer a bit from the same creative malady as Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek. Great worldbuilders and idea generators, but not so good on characters and plot. They make the guiding framework for other writers to shine within and that’s where they’re strongest.
I hope that Season 2 makes up for the weaknesses of Season 1 and Korra comes back strong in writing. There’s so much potential there and it’s so hard to watch something not quite make it. Maybe my Star Trek reference above will hold in another way and the successor show will surpass it’s predecessor despite a confused start.