Seventy years have passed since the end of the first series, and from the main cast only Katara survives. The new Avatar, Korra, has mastered the arts of water, earth, and fire bending, but has yet to learn air bending. When Katara's son, Tenzin, cannot move to the Southern Pole to teach Korra airbending, Korra decides to travel to Republic City to learn from the only existing airbending master.
Republic City was founded from the fire nation colonies in the earth kingdom, by Aang and Zuko as a symbol of the unity of the people of the world. But not everything is well, as Korra discovers when she arrives. Gangs of mafioso bandits harass the people, and an anti-bender cult known as the Equalists has been stirring up unrest among the people.
To make things worse, Korra is unable to master even the most basic airbending, and Tenzin's strict training regimen rubs her teenage need for freedom wrong. Against Tenzin's orders, Korra becomes involved with the brothers Mako and Bolin, and their pro-bending team. Pro-bending is basically dodgeball, but played with water, earth, and fire.
Using this new style of fighting, which emphasizes mobility, Korra is able to use what Tenzin taught her about air bending to help her team win the game. The ending provides good closure, while hinting at future trouble to come.
A lot of hype has gone into this series. While I can't speak for all fans of the original series, I know that I was both excited for more Avatar, but terrified that it wouldn't be as good as the original. And while it's too early to decide whether I like Korra or Airbender more, I can at least judge whether Korra is a worthy follower based on the first two episodes.
First, the good parts. The animation is absolutely beautiful, even though the Avatar art style is superficially based on some anime styles, it still applies a Western element to that style that becomes a near perfect fusion of the two. In fact, it becomes difficult for me to watch some lower budget anime after watching Korra. The animation is fluid, just like the original, but with a nice layer of "big budget polish" that the first two seasons of Airbender didn't necessarily have.
Talking about Airbender, there are a few little references to the first series, in the first episode. Enough to give existing fans the fanservice they crave, but not so much that new viewers would be lost at all. Though, TELL ME WHAT HAPPENED TO ZUKO'S MOM DANGIT!!!
But Korra can't survive on nostalgia alone, especially nostalgia that hasn't had twenty years to mature. It needs its own cast, now that the first cast have almost all been killed off. Does Korra's cast hold up to Aang and his friends? Well, that's hard to say with only two episodes to go on, but we learn enough to make some early judgements. First off, and this was the biggest draw to me, J.K. Simmons as Korra's airbending master Tenzin. This guy:
As the wise magic martial arts master. "Color me sold," said I all those months ago. And Simmons, like the professional that he is, delivers. While Tenzin is no J. Jonah Jameson, he's still a great character. He's a hardass, with a bit of a temper underneath his stoic exterior, and somehow still provides most of the comedy for the first two episodes.
Korra herself is better than I thought she would be. She's still the typical rebellious, hotheaded teenager, but with a level of maturity. While she does eventually let her frustration get the better of her, Korra initially accepts Tenzin's orders. It's a nice touch, since while Korra likes to do things "her way" she still has some of the discipline that a lifelong martial artist needs.
Tenzin's kids are a lot of fun, though I'm not a big fan of the two youngest. The eldest provided me with one of my favorite lines af the episode.
Korra's teammates, Bolin and Mako are basically Sokka and Zuko if they were brothers. Bolin promises to be a fun character, but mostly because he's very much Sokka. Mako on the other hand is very much like early Zuko, and not all that interesting, except to play "spot the romantic interest." Though, in fairness, Zuko got some major development in Airbender and I wouldn't be surprised to see Mako get the same thing. Though it doesn't help that the few lines Mako gets don't get the best delivery from...David Faustino? Bud Bundy!?!?!?
Okay...I thought he was being voiced by some newbie VA, but...uh...Faustino is experienced, so I don't know what's going on here. I guess I can only say that while I wasn't impressed by Mako at first, I can only wait and see where he goes from here. His character is fine, he has an underlying layer of humor to his dark and brooding character, but for some reason some of his lines didn't get the best delivery.
Great animation, and good characters are all well and fine, but not everything is peaches and cream here. There are a few underlying problems...okay, just one, but it's a big one!
Maybe a minor point, but I don't think so. The escapist element of the series is dampened by the modernization of the Avatar world. That, and I'm absolutely terrified of the shipping wars to follow. Kataang vs Zutara was horrible, and that was when the creators were being very obvious about who would end up with who (suck it Zutara). I dread to imagine what they could do when they're deliberately trying messing with shipping. They've already proven to be major trolls, (JUST TELL ME WHAT HAPPENED WITH HER!!!) so it isn't unbelievable that they would play puppet master with their viewers.
So please, for the love of everything bright and wonderful, do not let this happen! Just enjoy the show, and enjoy whatever they give you, rather than trying to draw conclusions from the smallest interactions. The shipping wars happened because viewers thought they knew how to predict what would happen, that they knew what small interactions meant. Obviously they didn't, so please, leave those kinds of predictions to the professionals. Like me. (I may be incredibly poorly paid by adsense, but I'm still paid so I count as a professional)
Other than those minor complaints, this really was a great way to start off Korra. There was enough fanservice in the first episode to make fans happy, but the second episode abandoned that fanservice and became its own thing. So we enjoyed the little bits they gave us enough to enjoy the rest of the show. A great start and I look forward to more.