In the aftermath of The Legend of Korra‘s seventh episode, “The Aftermath,” I was chatting with some friends about the series and determined its biggest problem.
In a nutshell: Mako and Bolin don’t have the depth of the characters from Last Airbender. They’re kind of just the goofy guy and the serious guy.
But it’s a more layered issue than that. I get the sense that since the characters are older than they were in Airbender, we’re seeing them almost fully formed, whereas we got to see Aang, Katara, Sokka, and Zuko grow into themselves.
With the twelve episode approach, though, Korra is definitely going for a tightly packed, streamlined narrative over creating relationships between the core cast that make us want to be their friends, which is a desire I had with Airbender more overwhelmingly than any other piece of fiction. I wanted to hang out with all of them. Here, I don’t really get that. I want to see where the story is going.
And on that front the show is really successful. The conflict with the equalists has way more nuance than the war ever did. Azula was a great villain because of who she was and the way she acted. Amon, on the other hand, is insanely compelling because of what he’s trying to do and why.
Korra and Tenzin are also great characters, and Lin has really grown on me as well.
But I have to admit at this point that Mako is boring and Bolin’s humor works when it works (about half the time) but when it misses the mark he’s just annoying. And Asami is…fine, I guess.
Essentially, this means that whenever the younger characters interact, it’s not that enjoyable because Korra herself is the only one of that core group who really feels fleshed out.
The villains and the other adults are all wonderful (and luckily we spend a lot of time with them) but the Avatar’s peers, so far, seem to be the show’s biggest weakness. And if that’s the case, I’m forced to admit that no matter how great the series looks, how exciting the action is, or how incredibly involving the actual storyline may be, The Legend of Korra, at the end of the day, won’t be able to conjure up that sense of magic you get when you’re watching a group of characters who feel like genuine friends. A feeling that makes you wish you were right alongside them. In that regard, The Last Aribender is still untouchable.
That said, I still have to say I absolutely love the show. It reaches crazy heights, and every week has something great (although the less said about “The Spirit of Competition” the better).
The fact that I don’t feel like I’m friends with the characters is by no means damning criticism, because frankly it’s only happened in Airbender and Harry Potter to the extent that I’m describing. And it felt more personal in Airbender than anything else because that was my thing (or so it felt) whereas everyone was into Harry Potter. It was just lightning in a bottle scenario. Avatar the Last Airbender is my Star Wars.
I’d say the biggest things we can learn from Korra (so far): How to build on an already established world. How to create compelling villains. How to tell a story people want to keep watching. Why story and conflict are great to advance at a lightning pace, but character development needs breathing room.
And most of those thoughts were hashed out before the most recent episode, “When Extremes Meet” which was easily one of the two or three best installments yet, if only for the last four minutes and completely unexpected ending. If next week is the flashback-intensive episode it’s almost guaranteed to be, I think we might be in for something amazing.