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Tag: Aang

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The Legend of Korra: Change – Review & Analysis

[SPOILERS, PLEASE WATCH THE SEASON IF YOU HAVE YET TO COMPLETE IT]

It’s been over a month since the Venom of the Red Lotus aired, signalling the conclusion of Change and I have yet to give my input on a series that is very dear to my heart. In many ways, my attachment towards the Avatar universe has stopped me from writing up this review, since I feel like anything short of ‘perfection’ would be a great injustice to Bryan Konietzko, Michael Dante DiMartino and the audience. I will say I enjoyed Change, it was a ‘breath of fresh air’ after what I personally considered the weakest book in the Avatar franchise; Spirits. There is a clear distinction between the Korra seasons and the original seasons featuring Aang, Konietzko and DiMartino have matured and this is reflected within their increasingly sophisticated plots. Though this book isn’t perfect (what piece of art is?) hopefully I can explore the strengths and the flaws of Change whilst balancing my affection and rationality. Generally this review will explore themes and characters rather than give you an episode by episode summary since you can just watch the book by yourself.

It is important that the characters in a fictional world stand for themes which transcend them as individuals, personally I feel like this is especially true for the antagonist, thus giving deeper meaning to their conflict with the protagonist. When Luke Skywalker fights Darth Vader, it isn’t just a clash of lightsabers, Luke’s victory also symbolises Vader’s redemption and Luke overcoming the tempting powers of darkness. Likewise the Joker mirrors the Batman, both characters are lonely, misunderstood and margalinised by society and when Batman defeats the Joker he is also defeating his inner chaos. This is one strength of Change that I felt was lacking in Air and Spirits, Amon and Unalaq were decent antagonist in their own right. However Zaheer’s polarising set of justice and freedom meant he developed into one of the more entertaining villains in the Avatar universe, allowing the audience to empathise with him on a level that never happened with the villains of the previous books. Whilst one can argue that Amon was more intimidating since his whole identity was clouded in shadows, the ending of book one severely hurt his characterisation. It was revealed that Amon’s main objective was not equality amongst benders and non-benders but his revolutional campaign was a way to amass more power, immediately cheapening everything he stood for and thus relegating him to the role of the stereotypical power-hungry villain. This trend repeated in Unalaq’s characterisation, he hungers for power and is even willing to sacrifice the world to obtain it, once again cardboard cut outs of villains.

Enter Zaheer, slowly but surely Zaheer became my favourite character within book three, maybe it’s my natural affiliation towards air bending, but I think it was his intelligence and charisma that won me over. Zaheer represents the worst of the air nation, he took ideas like isolation and separation to the extreme and his characterisation clearly contrasts against that of Aang. In many ways, Zaheer is what Aang would have become if he passionately believed that the ends justify the means and he had failed to develop a strict moral compass. Aang’s biggest weakness arguably could be his inability to accept responsibility to his failure to fully deattach himself from ‘earthly links’ which ‘hindered’ his journey towards becoming a fully acquainted Avatar, master of the four elements and a force of stability in the world. Aang couldn’t elevate above his emotional bonds, his reluctance to let go of Katara nearly resulted in both their deaths and would have signaled the end of all resistance to the Fire Lord. However when compared to Zaheer, we can view Aang’s flaws in a new perspective, maybe his inability to shed his humanity isn’t a flaw and it was his emotional bond with his peers stopped him from becoming an emotionless robot without the ability to empathise. Through Zaheer’s characterisation this has been one of the few times the show has criticised the air nomad culture, as the original Avatar series offered a very black and white view of reality; fire nation is bad, air nations are good. I believe this shows the evolution of the creators, their texts blur the distinctions between good and bad, of justice and injustice and just like the real world, everything has positives and negatives.

It was sad that Zaheer managed to unlock weightlessness only when P’Li was killed, his last attachment to the world had been cut forever and now he was forever suspended in a state of indifference. In many ways P’Li was Zaheer’s ‘earthly tether’ their private discussion before her eventual demise showed a softer side to Zaheer which remained hidden to the audience and a few scene later that tenderness was ripped apart, Zaheer gained the world but lost his humanity in the process. Maybe that’s why it was so effective when Jinora and her fellow air benders defeated Zaheer, for me it symbolised how communal bonds of affection will always trump individualistic pursuits, that relationships are not burdens but something which gives colour to life.

This was a big reason why I was offended when Zaheer became insane at the book, it was an easy tactic on behalf to the producers to ensure that the audience sided with Korra. But in many aspects this character assassination was exactly what Konietzko and DiMartino inflicted upon Amon, it cheapened everything that Zaheer represented and this moment of insanity contradicts his calm and reversed persona. This was also seen in what I consider the most emotional moment of the book, when Tenzin refuses to submit and states he would rather die than endanger the air nation, the look on Zaheer’s face is blank and emotionless. Surely someone with that much respect for air bending values would cringe or display some sort of reluctancy before attacking someone who is willing to sacrifice everything for their beliefs.* These examples of character assassination were never found in the original three books, Azula and Ozai were both terrifying but in their final moments, they displayed a genuine sense of fear and humanity. I could only wish this was extended towards Zaheer, Ghazan and Ming-Hua.

“The question is not can they reason, nor can they talk, but can they suffer?”

Generally I feel like a major flaw of Change was the lack of back story for Ghazan and Ming-Hua, both Konietzko and DiMartino are more than capable of making the audience empathise with characters, just look at P’Li and Zaheer’s last words. Over all apart from their flashy skills, these two Red Lotus members remained fairly underdeveloped and many questions about their origins still remain. So Ghazan is tough, powerful and overly masculine but where did he develop his skills? Why does he so strongly believe in the Red Lotus? The same thing can be said for Ming-Hua who remains even more of an enigma for me. Thus when it came to their eventual deaths, I felt nothing, two unknown characters were whisked on and off the stage before the audience could properly become acquainted to them.

I have always believed that to build a believe cast of characters, their actions must have consequences otherwise the plot becomes unbelievable and redundant, characters must grow and learn from their mistakes. This was a major issue I had with the ending of Air, apart from the reveal of Amon’s hidden identity, Korra magically getting her bending powers back without struggling to recover them was a slap in the face to the fans. Like Zaheer, the creators of Korra developed her to be the complete opposite of Aang, she’s fiery, passionate and just itching to embrace her role as the avatar, whilst Aang was naive, timid and passive. A large portion of Korra’s identity is built upon her role as the avatar, from a young age she’s relished her ability to bend the elements and his ‘fight now, talk later’ mentality has gotten her in trouble many times. By removing Korra’s bending, Konietzko and DiMartino would have allowed Korra to embrace her spirituality and slowly overcome her rash and hasty personality to become a more balanced and well rounded individual. Instead Korra learns very little from her ordeal with Amon, she may of grown physically, but emotionally she’s the same and her lack of trust in her father and Tenzin at the start of Spirits reflects this. Now I don’t want to just attack Korra’s character, her passionate personality is a welcome change from Aang and it is clear that by the end of book two that she has become a more weary and careful Avatar after her legacy was literally torn away from her body. I just feel Korra would have been even more engaging if the consequences of having her bending removed would have manifested itself in previous books. A criticism of the Legend of Korra is that seasons are more ‘episodic’ with villains and events from the past seasons rarely getting any screen time in the following books. What happened to the Equalist movement? Why was there a distinct lack of spirits in Change? It would have been wise to show the consequences of these events in order to build a more realistic world where the future is intertwined with the present and the past.

Personally I loved seeing Korra in a wheel chair at the end of Change, because finally the audience can see how Korra maintains her identity when she has lost such a fundamental aspect of her personality. Already the changes to Korra were becoming more apparent, especially after book two, she was more cautious and less willing to rely upon force to solve her problems. A major strength within Legend of Korra is how the villains are reflections of a modernising world with concepts bending and the avatar being challenged. Amon’s character was a constant reminder of the inequality between the benders and non-benders, potentially pointing out the flaws behind an avatar who is basically an reincarnated deity with immense physical and spiritual power. As mentioned before Vatuu and Unalaq basically ripped out of Korra’s past, she’s arguably the most isolated avatar since Wan as she can no longer call on her past lives for guidance. Korra can still bend the four elements but her status has been weakened, her words and actions no longer hold the weight of 10,000 avatars before her. After the finale of book three, Tenzin announced that the new air benders would be filling in the role of the avatar as Korra heals, I think her single tear stems from the realisation that her worth and purpose in this world is slowly being diminished in an ever changing environment. This is one major strength that the Legend of Korra has over Aang, the villains are reflections of Korra’s flaws and society’s changing beliefs. Aang was always quite distant from Ozai and Azula and never viewed them more than enemies. Personally this is why I think Zuko is the strongest character in the series, his emotional bond with the villains makes his switch to team avatar so triumphant and rewarding.

In the second last episode Enter the Void, Korra is confronted with a hard dilemma, sacrifice herself to the protect the weak air nation or leave the novice air benders at the hands of the Red Lotus. In the first book, when Korra arrives at a similar situation, her arrogance clouds her judgement and she stupidly challenges Amon to a duel which could of potential resulted in her death. However a more mature Korra chooses to sacrifice herself, she understands that the future of an entire culture is more important than any single individual; even if they are the avatar. That’s why I can not wait to see how Korra rises from her situation, hopefully her physical impairment isn’t just brushed off in the first episode and instead we can explore other aspects of Korra’s personality apart from her overwhelming physicality and her brash personality.

Whilst I can clearly say I am in the small minority, a huge disappointment in book three was the fact that Tenzin did not die. One of my closest friend often jokes “if you want Stanley to care just kill off a few characters” and to some extent this is true. I’ve always believed that when an audience knows that characters can be removed from the plot then the audience feels a sense of urgency and attachment. One major strength of Change was the finale, I was completely absorbed in Zaheer’s plan to poison the avatar and permanently destroy it, I did not breathe for a good ten minutes because the possibility of Korra’s death seemed realistic. This perspective is partly due a fear of death which was very prominent when I was younger, I’ve experienced many sleepless nights as my mind explored my mortality. Thus I see sacrifice as one of the most noble characteristics, humans are fundamentally self fish, so when individuals are willing to perish to protect something they treasure, it’s endearing and extremely emotional.

Aang’s influence on Tenzin is highly visible, Aang’s obligations to the world was often given prioritised over his obligations to his family. Tenzin’s reverence towards the air bending culture is a constant reminder of Aang’s failure as a father, his feelings of inadequacy and regret was transferred to his son, leaving Tenzin the burden of maintaing a lost culture. Tenzin’s sacrifice to preserve the air nation would have permanently removed Aang’s shadow over his character. Instead he would have been able to see to Aang as an equal as he achieved what Aang could never do; revive the air nomads. Personally this was by far the most emotional scene of the entire book, when Korra was dying in the arms of her father, I didn’t shed a tear, she battled Zaheer out of necessity. She had no other choice, as fleeing wasn’t an option with the metallic poison pulsing through her body. In the end Tenzin was faced with a decision, but his actions showed that he was willing to forfeit his life in pursuit of goals which transcended him as an individual.

Jinora’s shadow over her father has also began to increase as she has already surpassed Tenzin in spirituality. Tenzin’s death would have been my third favourite moment in the Avatar world behind Zuko and Iroh’s reunion and Raava’s destruction at the hands of Unalaq. (Q: Have you really made a list of your favourite Avatar moments, A: Most definitely.) His swan song would have helped him escape the constraints of his flaws, which are becoming more pronounced next to Jinora. It also would have been symbolic, the responsibility of air bending being passed down to the younger generation, allowing the air nation to embrace new ideals instead of clinging onto outdated belief systems. Whilst it seems this stance isn’t very popular, it would have immortalised Tenzin; strong, magnificent and proud, much like how Achilles’ legacy resonated strongest after his death.

One major difference between The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra is that the characters in the original series were a lot more engaging. Mako, Bolin and Asami whilst mildly fun and endearing (particularly Asami and the fortitude she showed after her father’s betrayal) are in desperate need of further characterisation. It seems that Mako’s character development has really taken a step back with his role diminishing rapidly within Changes. I hope he rekindles his relationship with Asami in Balance, that felt more natural and realistic then his feelings for Korra, plus I want Korra to balance herself internally before building her external relationships in book four. For me Mako really hasn’t changed or matured after book one, his physical skills have become stagnant and his relationships with the other members of team avatar have deteriorated. I think these flaws are mainly a product of the shorten seasons, The Legend of Korra will have 52 episodes compared to The Last Airbender’s 60. Whilst this has resulted in less ‘filler’ episodes with a more ‘frantic’ and an intense plot, it also means that characters are given less time to develop. Filler episodes like The Great Divide and The Runaway were redundant in terms of story and world building, but it offered insights into the mindsets of our characters. Whilst the conflict might not be connected with final objective of the series, these obstacles challenged our lovable protagonist and causing them to shift their perspective in order to overcome these hurdles.

On a more positive note the bending and animation in Changes was absolutely sublime. I have previously voiced my opinion that bending in The Legend of Korra lacked the authenticity that it had in The Last Airbender, mainly due to the fact that all elements fight like fire benders. There’s a distinct lack of sophistication behind Bolin’s attacks, which includes creating small boulders and throwing them at the opponent, a long shot from Toph’s destructive capabilities. However the bending in Changes was fantastic, I loved the additions of lava bending, octopus water bending** and flying as the sub genre of air bending. Zaheer’s fight with Kya and Tenzin’s fight with Zaheer stand out as some of the best fight scenes ever created for animation. Speaking of animation, Studio Mir really stepped up their animation during the last few episodes, particularly the scene when Zaheer is dogding an enraged Korra.*** I can only imagine the effort that the writers and animation team went through to create such memorable works of art.

I enjoyed book three; Change, in terms of plot and characterisation I felt it was a big improvement from Spirits which seemed confused and unfocused at times. For the first time in The Legend of Korra, there was a truly memorable villain, the Red Lotus were efficient, mysterious and politically active. Zaheer’s voice actor; Henry Rollins deserves recognition for his ability to embed authority and menace into his character. Zaheer also repeats one of the most memorable quotes in the Avatar franchise “Let go your earthly tether, enter the void, empty and become wind” which was responsible for my interest in meditation. Book three’s pace really picked up after the Earth Queen’s assassination (one of the most memorable moments of the Avatar franchise) and the season became noticeably darker. There were some fantastic moments in this book which were previously mentioned like Korra’s growth, the villains and the animation. On the other hand it seems like the writers of Avatar consistently struggle with maintaining the pacing and plot in the middle of the season and this was evident in Change. There’s always a drop off in quality before the finale completely stuns and enthralls the audience. Some of the flaws were more visible such as the lack of growth and development for team avatar and the Red Lotus but I don’t want to end this review on a negative note. Change built on the foundations paved in the previous two books, the plot was fluid and the ambiguity between good and evil was a satisfying change to The Last Airbender’s simplistic depictions of the world.

The Avatar world has brought a lot of emotions to my life and I can say without a doubt that it was partly responsible for fostering my love of literature. Zuko’s internal conflict, Katara’s motherly warmth and Korra’s single tear are all images and memories that carry weight and meaning to me. Whilst Change was far from perfection, similarly it had moments of ingenious and dignity founded within a beautiful Asian inspired world that The Last Airbender established. Despite all the flaws and weak points within the seasons, I can say without a doubt that Konietzko and DiMartino will continue treating their project with the love and integrity that the audience deserve.

Here’s a toast to the final season of The Legend of Korra, may it be wonderful, emotional, heartfelt and memorable.

See you space avatar.




* It is very hard if not impossible to have an ‘original thought’ since our context will always play a part in shaping our thoughts but my comments about Zaheer’s emotionless glare when he’s beating up Tenzin was stolen directly from Marshall Turner’s WordPress on Avatar. Whilst I certain disagree with some of his thoughts and generally I believe that he focuses on the minor details over than the overall picture or plot, I would recommend it for any fans who want to look at this franchise through an analytically microscope. http://avatarreviews.wordpress.com/

** I have no idea if it is really called octopus water but let’s pretend it is.

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Skip to 2:15 if you want to watch the exact scene I was referring to, it also ends at 2:50.

The Lovable Last Airbender: Sokka.

Avatar the Last Airbender (ATLA) is the best television series I’ve ever watched,whilst I haven’t seen every high quality soap operaor dramas such as The Wire and The Sopranos, I can recognise quality when I see quality. I’ve never seen character development quite as in depth as ATLA, every chacter has flaws and distinct traits with different personalities, in fact I can say I care a little too much for these cartoon fictional characters just because how well they were crafted. I’m going to be focusing upon my favourite ATLA character within this blog so it’s definitely going to contain spoilers. For those who have randomly stumbled upon this WordPress and need some motivation to go watch the series, all I can say is ATLA is universally praised for being one of the best television series of all time. The characters is particular are so lovable and realistic and they grow and mature a long with the audiences, always being challenged, always growing to overcome the difficulties.

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Basically the main protagonist; Aang, the last remainant of a once great culture; the air nomads, is the next reincarnation of the Avatar line. The Avatar is a chosen individual who is reborn into the cycles through out the four nations; fire, air, water and earth (Always in that order) and only the Avatar can wield all four elements, their job is to use this power to maintain balance and peace amongst the four nations. However unable to cope with the responsibility Aang runs away during a stormy night, and nearly drowns until he freezes himself in a sphere of ice, until he was discovered by Katara and Sokka 100 years later. This sets up the domination of the fire nation who wages a war of conquest without the Avatar to maintain prosperity. My final statement before diving into the funniest character of ATLA is… Just do yourself a favour and watch the first two episodes of ATLA, the characters only need one occasion to hook you in and they do just that, the material arts is amazing, the creativity is amazing, the story always has the audience engaged and the characters… The characters are so realistic, they are so engaging and just completely lovable.

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“It’s pretty much my whole identity, Sokka, the meat and sarcasm guy.”

Oh Sokka, how you under estimate yourself, the ATLA would of been completely different without you and 100% for the worst, though we could of said this for every main character in the series. From Katara’s motherly and warm love, to Aang’s innocence and transformation into a man who accepts his responsibility, to Toph’s toughness and strength to the tortured backstory of Zuko, a boy banished by his father and constantly reminded of his fall from grace. Why did I instantly feel attached towards Sokka? A brave water tribe boy who constantly seeks to protect his loved ones and fill in the hole left by his father. It’s because he’s the underdog of the story, the boy whose not very powerful, can not bend nor has much influence, he’s only filled with the love of his family and friends and seeking out justice.

The best thing about Sokka and Katara’s characters is how their strength and morality shines despite being put through such a tough and unstable childhood. Katara’s mother sacrifices herself to protect the identity of the tribe’s last waterbender; her daughter. Thus Katara became the emotional leader of the family, trying to fulfill the role of her mother through her gentle and compassionate warmth. Sokka’s father who left to fight in the war, gave him the burden of being the oldest male in the tribe, thus his feelings of inadequacy that seems to plague him with moments of self doubt. He’s a young confused teenager who attempts to protect his tribe and be the “man of the village” without any role models to lean upon, he’s in a position of strength yet he fears he will never live up to the leadership of his father.

Despite the trials and tribulations in both their lives, the two character’s gain their strength from their past, they accept the fact it meant they had a challenging and puzzling childhood, but they appreciate that their maturity gave them the ability to help Aang on his quest. Katara’s role of the motherly, loving character gets transferred into team avatar, she’s the emotional core of the group and clearly the most mature. She comforts Aang during times of stress, in fact she’s probably the only person on earth that can calm Aang from violently entering the avatar state. Sokka on the other hand developed his warrior mentality, his “never say die” attitude, it gave him the ability to persevere and survive despite being stacked against great odds. From being the only person to stand in front of Zuko’s ship when the fire nation attacks his tribe, to being the planner of the “Black Day invasion” Sokka’s mixture of heart, passion and comedic relief makes him totally human.

Sokka also struggles with his lack of power, he can’t bend, he can’t “glow it up” like Aang, he doesn’t inspire morale amongst men like his father and he wasn’t even deemed a man untilhe passes a water tribe ritual at the end of book 1. Apart from Zuko, the fallen prince, Sokka probably goes through the most character development, from being a sexist, immature teenager to a well established warrior who leads his group through intelligence. I just love how Sokka is willingly to charge into battle against fire benders, willing to support Aang’s mission to defeat the fire lord, but feels uneasy meeting his father and his water tribe soldiers because of his feelings of inferiorty to a father whom he completely worshipped and idolised. It’s perfect, he feels like an actual human being.

Loyal and quick to protect those whom he loves, Sokka’s brotherly attitude is shown when he tackles Aang for accidentally burning Katara. Whilst quickly joined Katara on her quest to save Aang after he sacrificed himself to preserve the sibling’s home from Zuko.  In fact one can easily seen the similarities between Zuko and Sokka, whilst Zuko’s life definitely shares the most parallels with Aang’s, it is clearly the role their fathers has on both boys. Both try to live their life in an attempt to please their father and both have been neglected by their idols, Sokka’s because of his father’s duty to the war and in Zuko’s case because of his father’s cruel banishment. Sokka aims to become a warrior and a leader of men like his father whilst Zuko tries to regain his honour through the completion of an almost impossible task;capturing the Avatar. This touches upon a major theme within ATLA, how humans are complex individuals who can never be categorised as black or white. Would Sokka develop into a strong, funny character if his father hated him and his sister was killed a long with his mother? Abolutely not. Would Zuko be a tortured anti-hero if he was born into another culture which didn’t stress military strength and honour? No, the past and history of the characters influences the outcome of their personalities and that’s very important for character development. It gives signifiance to their struggles, it means every plot or story line has the ability to influence a character either positively or negatively in ATLA and that’s what so strongly engages the audience.

Despite all these positives attributes, Sokka isn’t without his flaws. he’s quick to judge and hard headed. His past experiences meant a core element of his character was based upon his hatred of the fire nation, whilst previously it was a necessary attitude in driving the team to defeat the fire lord. The team’s experiences as a whole lead them to see fire citizens from all walks of life, in fact Sokka’s teacher who taught him the art of swordsmanship was from the fire nation. Slowly but surely fire nation citizens turn from “jerk benders” to human beings. More character growth? I love it!

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“Space sword.”

There’s so much more to say about Sokka and the gang from ATLA, I know I’m repeating myself but I’ve never seen characters so developed and it’s so detailed especially for a children’s show. Sokka stands to represent the every day underdog, funny, charming and loving. Sokka stands as my favourite character in the entire ATLA, he’s the comedic relief and the recipient of slapstick humour. Kudos to you Sokka of the water tribe, kudos to you Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko for creating such a rich rich universe and kudos to you Jack DeSena for bringing the man, the myth, the legend to life.

If this hasn’t made you fall in love with the funniest character in ATLA, then have no fear…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_WupXyyAivs

Chingy out.

The First Avatar: Genesis.

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GOOD LORD HAVE MERCY. Those four words accurately summed up my interpretations of episode 7 and 8 in season 2 of The Legend of Korra, Nickelodeon hit a complete home run the one hour long episode Avatar special. Not only were the episodes visually pleasing with the Asian inspired water colours and water colour landscapes, but the voice acting was superb. (Love to Steven Yuen and April Stewart.) Watching the two episodes was like having a one hour long sexual explosion within my brain, so intense that it has disabled various of my bodily functions like my ability to urinate.

Firstly let’s just give Nickelodeon a round of applause, I thought season 2 was getting boring, the characters didn’t intrigue me like Aang’s cast of lovable and unique personalities. The story line was unquestionable with quite a lot of large plot holes left unfulfilled, bending the four elements lacked their distinctive styles and all fights looked like UFC matches. But this episode really set the bar high for this season and thank the good lord we didn’t have to endure another episode of the creepy serial rapist; Eska. In fact I don’t think I’m living in the moment but this might be my favourite Avatar episode of all time, yes it sits in front of Aang defeating Ozai, yes it sits in front of the invasion of the black sun and maybe even in front of Sokka meeting Foo Foo Cuddly Poops.

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“I’m Sokka the meat and sarcasm guy.”