Today we're going to talk at length about a television series that serves as a sequel to a very well-loved cult hit that was set in a richly imagined fantasy universe and benefited from excellent characters and intelligent writing. In its three seasons, it also did everything it could to school people who were skeptical about the kinds of things you could do in a series like this. So the sequel series had a lot to live up to.
Set many, many decades after the original series, the sequel explores how the imagined world of the original had changed in all that time, and how those changes affect the various fictional peoples - including a few relatives and descendants of the characters in the original series. Meanwhile, the series focuses on a whole new and, in many ways, very different cast of heroes and villains. During the production, the creators of this sequel series must have felt like Odysseus sailing between Scylla and Charybdis -- except all of Scylla's horrible heads are screaming, "IT'S TOO DIFFERENT FROM THE ORIGINAL!!!" And there are equally angry voices calling out from the giant Charybdis whirlpool, "NO, IT'S TOO SIMILAR!!!" Fortunately, almost all of those voices shut up once the series found its groove.
So yes of course I am talking about "Star Trek: The Next Generation".
But I am extremely happy to report that the same can all be said for "The Legend of Korra". Yes, even the part about the series finding its groove. Because here we are only four episodes in and this series is already off the chain, as the kids say.
I will try to describe a few specific reasons why without spoilers, but the point is that both "Avatar" series are excellent and you should watch them. Like right now. Like, instead of reading this. There isn't a new episode scheduled for this weekend so you have time. Do it! (Let's not acknowledge the live-action movie, except for the fact that it so conveniently serves as the best-ever argument against live-action adaptations of animation.)
The first episode (hopefully still available streaming on Nickelodeon's fantastic homepage for the series by the time you read this) was preceded with a prologue that gave out just the very minimal amount of information for kids new to the "Avatar" universe to catch up. After that's over with, the series proceeds to do exactly zero hand-holding, which is incredibly refreshing. As it happens, this is indeed a sequel series in the "Star Trek" sense: it is set in the same world and a few of the characters from the first series show up here and there, but they mostly give the new main characters a lot of room.
And Korra is a hell of a character. I've seen her described over and over as essentially the exact opposite of Aang in every meaningful way. From the beginning, Aang was the kind of character you expect as your protagonist in an Epic Hero's Journey (TM); brave and enthusiastic, but also apprehensive and not exactly excited to confront the main villain anytime soon. Korra could have very easily have been "Aang with a uterus", but thank the spirits she is very definitely not. She's feisty, overconfident, and relishes in her God-tier powers. She's in way over her head but she's still absolutely ready to save the world... except that the world of "Avatar" is technologically complicated now. As a consequence, it has lost its mysticism and finesse. Mastering the elements isn't such a huge deal as it once was.
This is essentially the story of a person who is an incarnation of God born into a world that is simply not impressed and it it airing before Noon on Saturday mornings and that is awesome. (It's also a very interesting theme given that "Avatar" takes place in a world where spirits are absolutely real. Huh.)
While enough digital ink (and spit and sweat and blood) has been spilled on this point on the message boards I frequent (sometimes admittedly to the point of tedium) it is also well worth mentioning that this is a Saturday morning cartoon set in a world where maybe one out of every ten humans is capable of manipulating part of nature. There hadn't been much exploration in the original series of how much it would genuinely suck to be a person with no powers in a world where people can chuck mountains and lightning at each-other. Well, to put it succinctly, that there is the main conflict of this series.
And without ruining a major plot point, I also love, love, love how the writers take something that a lot of fans decreed as a silly Deus ex Machina in the finale of the original series and make it the reason the main antagonist is so threatening in this one. Fantastic.
The animation is gorgeous, absolutely breathtaking in the action scenes we've seen so far. There are moments that remind me of both "Cowboy Beebop" and "Tokyo Godfathers". And, of course, there is this, which is as good a note to end on as any:
Honestly, if you don't want to watch just to find out the context of this scene I do not understand you.
Sketch of the Day!