By: Aamir Rasheed
The Legend of Korra first premiered in 2012, a continuation of the extremely successful Avatar: The Last Airbender series, which concluded in 2008. Both have gone on to be two of the most successful animated series to ever air on Nickelodeon. Writers and creators of the Avatar universe Brian Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino have historically wowed us with every new season, but their latest installment to the Legend of Korra series, Book 2: Spirits, which aired from September 13, 2013 to November 22, 2013, was a mark below the bar they’ve previously set. Their latest season is new and unique in its own way, but its formulaic plotlines, rehashing of previous themes, and numerous plot holes will detract from the satisfaction of some viewers.
The Legend of Korra series is set in a world of “benders” and “nonbenders.” Benders are capable of manipulating either earth, water, fire, or air, and most have settled, along with the nonbending members of their families, in regions corresponding to their element. The Avatar, however, possesses a special spirit reincarnated generation by generation into a chosen individual who can learn to master all four elements in order to maintain balance in the world. The Legend of Korra series follows the newest Avatar, Korra.
In Book 2: Spirits, civil war has broken out between the Northern and Southern Water Tribe, and Korra, native to the Southern Water Tribe, must overcome the conflict between her duty to defend her homeland and her duty as the Avatar to remain a neutral, mediating force with the help of her friends.
A review for any Avatar series would be incomplete without a mention of its singular soundtrack. Jeremy Zuckerman, composer for Avatar: The Last Airbender’s soundtrack and the first season of Legend of Korra, has again hit the nail on the head with what some have described as a Chinese interpretation of early 20th century jazz. The soundtrack stays true to the same tribal percussion, powerful violins, signature Chinese lute, and various other ethnic instruments that made the first season’s soundtrack so compelling, but the added embellishments to the melody give Book 2: Spirits’s soundtrack a refreshing and new feel.
Unlike some other animated series, there is significant character development over the course of the season. Korra, for example, must learn to overcome her arrogance when it starts affecting her relationships with her airbending master, Tenzin, and her boyfriend, Mako, all while strengthening her connection with the mysterious Spirit World. Throughout the season, we experience betrayal and manipulation, cliffhangers, and lots of shipping material for dedicated fans who have been following the series since its inception. However, copious amounts of unnecessary comic relief plague most episodes, destroying the emotional trajectory of some of the heavier scenes.
During this season, we are treated to perhaps two of the best episodes presented in the Avatar universe, in which we delve deep into the past to the origin of the Avatar spirit. The animators changed their drawing style to mimic Eastern paintings from the same period of old to bolster authenticity and the feeling of being in a different time period. Furthermore, the backstory the writers present satisfactorily explains many of the aspects of the Avatar world while remaining adventurous and exciting.
It’s unfortunate that this streak of putting the puzzle pieces of the Avatar universe together was cut short. The last few episodes building up to and containing the climax featured contrived or nonexistent explanations for key events. The gaping plot holes will surely rob some viewers of that all-important, necessary feeling of consummation following a season finale. Further adding to the troubling feelings in the aftermath is a huge change to the underlying structure of the Avatar universe that may cause fans to worry for its future appeal.
For those who have been following Korra’s adventure since the start, prepare to be at least slightly let down, if not disappointed, at the end. To those who will be watching an Avatar series for the first time, don’t let this season ruin the greatness, ingenuity, and depth that is Avatar universe – it does not compare to the first season of The Legend of Korra nor the three seasons of the original Avatar: The Last Airbender. Watch those first.
Book 2: Spirits retains many of the characteristics of the previous season that drew us in. However, it fails to reach the golden mean of preservation of the old and innovation of the new, coming off as recycled and contrived. The next season, Book 3: Change, is currently in its production stages. For the sake of the continuation of the Legend of Korra series, the ongoing growth of its fanbase, and above all, the stories and characteristics of Korra, Mako, Tenzin and all the characters that have made them so captivating, fans will hope that the next season will be a change for the better.