The Cycle of the Avatar Begins Anew…

Never have I grown so attached to a television show—or indeed, any fictional media that I can recall—as with Avatar: The Last Airbender. It was to me what Star Wars was to kids growing up in the late seventies, and of the two I truly believe Avatar to be superior. I’d go so far as to say it may very well be the best version of the hero’s journey ever told: An earnest, funny, exciting, and all around brilliantly-made series whose creators, Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, combined everything they love about stories both East and West to craft a stunning narrative journey that anyone can enjoy.

Not bad for a Nickelodeon cartoon.

That M. Night Shayamalan was able to so completely extract everything that made it appealing with his theatrically released, live acti0n atrocity is a testament to his astounding incompetence, but that’s a rant for another day. This, happily enough, is a time for celebration.

I (through what might be called illicit means; sorry Viacom) recently viewed the pilot to The Legend of Korra, the hotly-anticipated sequel series to The Last Airbender. To say I had high hopes is, of course, a gross understatement, and I’m thrilled to say that Korra, in its first twenty-two minute episode, shows the potential to be just as gorgeously animated, well written, and all-around wonderful as its predecessor.

Set seventy or so years after the original series, it stars Korra, the waterbending Avatar who succeeds Aang and who I’m very pleased to say has already emerged as a very different sort of protagonist. She’s hugely confident, bold, and eager to live up to her responsibilities as keeper of balance to the world. Where Aang was pacifistic, Korra is confrontational, and her first fight (with some thugs extorting an old man for protection money) is one that she instigates.

Aang was a great center to his show, but the designated hero who struggles with his destiny is never my favorite character. Korra already has the potential to be far more interesting, a fact the creators seem aware of. While the Airbender premiere introduced us to Aang through Katara and Sokka, this time we get Korra’s perspective right off the bat; the two other main characters don’t even show up in this episode.

We do, on the other hand, meet Old Katara (exactly like you’d expect her to be), Aang and Katara’s son and airbending master Tenzin (voiced by JK Simmons, as if I needed another reason to watch), his three kids and pregnant wife (making the airbender count at least four, so clearly the title of the first show was a blatant lie), Toph’s daughter and chief of police Lin Beifong (excessively confrontational, but hopefully they’ll flesh her out).

The two most exciting things about Korra, though, are the setting and the conflict. So many fantasy series don’t bother to advance the technology along with the timeline, but if anything I was surprised how far things in the Avatar world had progressed. Republic City is a thriving metropolis more akin to the sensibilities of the 1920s than the burgeoning steampunk inventions seen in the first show. The absence of the war apparently led to an industrial revolution, introducing automobiles and radio to a world still recognizable as the one viewers loved so much. It’s jarring at first, but I think ultimately we’ll come to love it.

The episode ends with a brief glimpse of the central villain (at least for this first season), Amon, the masked leader of an antibending movement known as the Equalists. Once again Korra goes the opposite route from Airbender, with the hero having to quell a revolution instead of inspire one. That’s what I suspect is the goal anyway, and a bunch of nonbender terrorists sound like fantastic, thought-provoking adversaries who probably have some valid grievances against the way Republic City functions.

The official premiere is less than a month away, and having seen how it all begins I’m more excited than ever. All the trust I had in the creators of this show has only been buoyed by a pilot that skillfully reintroduces the familiar but changed world of the Avatar and sets up a story that has the potential to be as deeply fulfilling as the last.

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