If you were a bender, what kind would you be? No idea what I’m talking about? Let me bring you up to speed.
Back in 2005, Nickelodeon introduced a new cartoon series starring a child hero, Aang, known as the Avatar (not to be confused with James Cameron’s movie, Avatar). Aang had been trapped in an iceberg for 100 years while the world descended into chaos. See, the Avatar brings balance to the world with his or her mastering of the four elements, which also happen to be the names of four kingdoms that make up Aang’s world — earth, fire, water and air.
While people in each kingdom might be able to bend just one, if any, only the Avatar controls all four elements. (Think: really cool battle scenes with fire benders flinging flames out of their feet while earth benders toss boulders at them.) Over the three-season run of Avatar: The Last Airbender, each season followed as Aang learned another element, culminating in a satisfying showdown with the bad guy, Fire Lord Ozai.
The show was a rousing success for Nickelodeon and a favorite around my house. Yet after watching the dismal live-action movie version of The Last Airbender, directed by M. Night Shyamalan, we were a little wary of a new Avatar.
Still, we were ready and watching when The Legend of Korra premiered April 14, 2012 on Nickelodeon (new episodes air every Saturday night). After watching the first two episodes, I was ready to write a stellar review, but the latest episode has me wondering if some of the playfulness that made the original fun to watch over (and over and over again) might be lost on this more grown-up Avatar.
The Legend of Korra takes place 70 years after the events of the first series. Korra, a teenaged water bender, is the new Avatar. Korra is everything Aang wasn’t. Unlike Aang, who avoided fights, Korra looks for a fight. She also easily mastered water, earth, and fire bending.
The series starts with Korra’s quest to learn airbending under a master who happens to be Aang’s son, Tenzin. (I won’t give away any spoilers about Tenzin’s mother.) Korra leaves her home to travel to Republic City to learn airbending from Tenzin. But, of course, there are dark forces at work in Republic City, where most of the series takes place. The masked evildoer, Amon, wants to do away with bending.
So while Korra is just beginning to understand what it means to be the Avatar, she’s also trying to figure out the real identity and plan of the anti-benders. As the Nickeloldeon description puts it: “As if being a teenager wasn’t hard enough on its own!”
While it’s not really a sequel, The Legend of Korra includes enough nods to the old series to keep previous fans interested. For instance, at one point Korra asks Tenzin to explain what happened to one of the characters from the old Avatar series (the big cliffhanger left unanswered by the finale). As he’s about to respond, one of his children interrupts him — and there was more than one groan from the Avatar fans watching with me who really wanted to know the answer.
So far, The Legend of Korra promises to be just as good, if not better, than The Last Airbender. At Comic-Con 2010, the series creators, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, revealed some interesting insights, including the fact that Korra wouldn’t be thematically more mature than the old Avatar and would still include plenty of humor.
They also pointed out that the show is designed to be more of a mini-series. In their words, “While we really love the filler episodes — those are some of our favorites — this thing is just lean and mean. It’s a really cool driving story.”
My hope is that the series has enough breathing room to include the humor and fun that made the first Avatar a favorite for fans, and also that this cartoon won’t fall into the confusing backtracking of the most recent X-men cartoon reincarnation.
But enough of my evaluation, the real question is, will kids like it? (Especially so you don’t have to keep watching Big Time Rush reruns!) My third-grader gave The Legend of Korra two thumbs up. Her summary, “Of course I like it mom. It’s Avatar. And this time it’s a girl!”