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TV Reviews

MPAA Rating
Drama, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Animation, Kids
Voices of Janet Varney as Korra/Avatar; J.K. Simmons as Tenzin/Airbender; David Faustino as Mako/Firebender; P.J. Byrne as Bolin/Earthbender
Paul Asay
The Legend of Korra

The Legend of Korra

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 playworld 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.

For centuries, "benders" (folks born with the ability to manipulate the core elements of earth, air, fire, water and spirit) have been an accepted and even honored part of the world's society. Many serve in the higher echelons of government. Others take their skills into Republic City's arena to compete as pro benders in the city's most popular sport. Much more is expected of Korra, though, since she's the newest reincarnated Avatar. (Aang has passed on.) She's expected to keep the whole world safe and on an even keel, working as something like a cross between Gandalf and the Dalai Lama.

But not everyone's thrilled that some people can bend while others cannot. And some, it's suggested, have been hurt under this longstanding bender hegemony. Rebels, called Equalists, led by a bad dude named Amon, are out to strip benders of both their power and their powers, insisting they want to build a better, fairer world for everyone. Of course, Korra and her sidekicks—the handsome, brooding firebender Mako and earthbending goofball Bolin—know these Equalists aren't actually concerned with equality at all.

The Legend of Korra feels exactly and nothing at all like its popular predecessor, 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 17 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.

Its characters are engaging, the language is nearly always pristine and, while these teens may bat their eyes at one another from time to time, relationships seem—so far—chaste. 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. So 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 cleanest shows.

Which leaves only one last compare-and-contrast issue to explore.

Avatar focused heavily on Aang's exploration of his powers, fleshing out loads of Eastern religious themes. Viewers met spirits and demigods, glimpsed the "spirit world" and learned a great deal about Aang's reincarnation. The martial arts at play were imbued with a strong sense of spirituality.

Korra assumes that most viewers are already familiar with that world, which means it spends a little less time dealing with spiritual underpinnings. But that's not to say it's all been blown off the map by an airbender.

Episode Reviews

"The Aftermath"

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."