It's been 70 years since Aang saved his home world from the dastardly machinations of the Fire Lord and, wow, have things changed.
No longer is this Nickelodeon playland the mystical, medieval place it was in Aang's time, pulling cultural and spiritual threads from ancient Asian and Inuit civilizations. It's gone modern now, resembling a fanciful 1920s-era civilization in which motorcars and grainy movies coexist alongside the world's ever-present magic.
But it's not exactly a peaceful coexistence.
At the time of this review update, The Legend of Korra has romped through all four of its planned seasons (or books), each of which encountered its own unique conflicts. At the center of each: the headstrong Korra, the newest incarnation of the Avatar. While there are lots of folks born with the ability to manipulate and weaponize ("bend") the world's core elements (earth, air, fire, water and spirit), only the Avatar has the ability to bend them all. It's a big responsibility, and she hasn't always felt up to the task.
For a while, in fact, it seemed like she completely abdicated her preordained role, vanishing for years. But she's always returned to save the day, be it putting down a group of anti-bending forces called the Equalists in "Book One: Air," or quashing a militaristic dictatorship from the Earth Kingdom in "Book Four: Balance," Korra's always come through—even though the cost has been high at times.
The Legend of Korra feels exactly and nothing at all like its popular predecessor, Aang's Avatar: The Last Airbender. While the sense of storytelling is similar (its anime style and humor, for instance), the actual story is quite different. The characters are older, for one thing. Korra's an older teen for most of the series and well on her way to commanding her powers; the free-spirited Aang was 12. Instead of presenting a rollicking, travel-based adventure story, Korra creeps up on an urban cloak-and-dagger thriller.
The language is nearly always pristine. The violence is E10+ video game level, about the same as you'd find in a typical rerun of an old G.I. Joe cartoon. Our heroes are courageous and, often, self-sacrificial, and even though they sometimes rebel against authority, they often come to learn that their elders have lots more wisdom to offer than they might've originally thought. Given Nickelodeon's penchant for undercutting parental authority and delivering inappropriate laughs in its live-action comedies, this animated adventure reads as one of the channel's cleaner shows.
But there are other morality- and spirituality-bending concerns.
First, a reaction to attraction. While these teens sometimes batted their eyes at one another, relationships remained relatively chaste throughout most of the series. But in literally the very last minute of the very last episode, Korra and her long-standing female friend Asami walk into a "spirit portal" holding hands, then turn to face each other, smiling. It's a pretty innocent scene. Or so it might seem to some. Writes The Daily Beast's Melissa Leon, "There was no kiss, which (I guess) could have allowed viewers to interpret the hand-holding as platonic, but … the show's writers, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, made it explicit: Korra and Asami are bisexual." Here's what DiMartino and Konietzko said: "[We wanted to] make it as clear as possible that, yes, Korra and Asami have romantic feelings for each other." DiMartino wrote on his website, "The moment where they enter the spirit portal symbolizes their evolution from being friends to being a couple."
On the spiritual side of things, Korra assumes that most viewers are already familiar with Avatar's ethereal essence (as it dove deeply into Aang's reincarnation and his exploration of supernatural powers while fleshing out Eastern religious themes, introducing spirits and demigods, etc.). Which means it spends a little less time dealing with such otherworldly underpinnings. But that's not to say the underworld's all been blown off the map as if by an airbender. It's just been transplanted into a more steampunk scenario.
"The Last Stand"
It's the climactic showdown between "Team Avatar" and Earth Kingdom dictator Kuvira, who mans a gigantic doomsday machine. Handsome firebender Mako and his younger brother Bolin battle engineers and take down the robot's engine, with Mako risking his life to do so. (The two drag the engineers to safety before the engine room explodes.) Korra battles Kuvira, who means to kill her if it's the last thing she does. But when Kuvira's plans go haywire, Korra puts her life on the line to save her longtime foe.
Korra and Asami hold hands and give each other a "meaningful" look as they travel to the spirit world for a vacation. (It's a gesture the show's writers say hints at lesbian attraction.)
Violence and war is everywhere, though no one seems to die. People flee from nuclear-like explosions. They dodge fire, earth and loads of metal blades, sometimes crashing into things painfully. The robot tears its own arm off and throws it. Then a massive gun triggers a "natural spirit portal," and creatures called "spirits" come out of it to frolic in the suddenly park-like setting.
After an Equalist attack takes out Republic City's arena, Korra and her pals discover that carmaker Hiroshi Sato—father of Asami, Mako's girlfriend—is in league with Amon. Asami did not know of her father's apparently evil designs, and when Sato asks her to join him and turn her back on her friends, she zaps him with one of his own power-draining gloves … but not before she says, "I love you, Dad."
Korra and her allies take on a phalanx of platinum cyborgs, using their magical abilities to fight clinking, clanking foes. (Several people are knocked out during the skirmish.) Mako and Bolin trick, knock down and then tie up a guard.
After failing to uncover Sato's plot early enough, the head of city security decides to resign her post and fight the Equalists "outside the law." Korra eavesdrops on Sato. Asami invites Mako and Bolin to live at her father's mansion without first asking. "It's easier to ask forgiveness than permission," she says. Korra apologizes to Asami for thinking she was "prissy."