Review: ‘Legend of Korra: Rebel Spirit’

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Book 2 of Legend of Korra, the animated kids show about elemental fighters, premiered this past Friday with two episodes: “Rebel Spirit” and “Southern Lights.”

I’ve been an avid fan of the Avatar franchise since the first iteration premiered in 2005, so I’ll be keeping tabs on the latest season surrounding the new adventures of Korra and Team Avatar II.

First off, I have to say that the writers handled the exposition for the premiere perfectly, focusing more on the new season rather than trying to explain what everyone has been up to since Book 1.

Sure, we got a snapshot of what everyone has been doing: Bolin has been training his own pro-bending team to no success, Mako is a policeman, Asami is trying to save Future Industries from bankruptcy, Republic City disbanded the council in favor of its first President and Korra is still working on her airbending with Tenzin on Air Temple Island.

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In no time, however, we are taken to the series’ next big adventure, which takes place in the South Pole. I was wrong in my initial guess that the season would be taking place in the North, since I was shocked to see how advanced the Southern Tribe has become since Avatar: The Last Airbender.

You have to credit the creative team on how versatile they let themselves be in terms of story. While A:TLA spent a significant amount of time exploring the Earth Kingdom and the Fire Nation, LOK has favored stories surrounding the Northern and Southern Water Tribes.

Take, for example, the villains of last season, who were both waterbenders from the North. Book 1 was essentially the story of two estranged brothers seeking power in their own way, coupled with political storytelling involving the conflict between benders and normal people.

These are all themes A:TLA never explored, so LOK is now free to tell us more about this mysterious world we all love. This season, we have been promised to learn more about the Spirit World, another underserved concept in the Avatar universe that the premiere paid a lot of attention to.

And it’s great.

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“Rebel Spirit” wasn’t the most exciting episode, since it spent most of its time introducing us to new characters and introducing the conflict at hand: dark spirits. We find out that Korra’s father, Tonraq, is the brother of Unalaq, the chief of the Northern Water Tribe. We immediately find that the two don’t see eye to eye, as Unalaq chastises the Southern tribe for neglecting the spirits.

I love this storyline because it has only been teased since LOK started, and I’ve been curious about how the 100 Year War really affected the people of these broken civilizations.

As Unalaq points out, the Southerners’ secularism has led to an imbalance that is manifesting itself into dark spirits, which are attacking people at random. Unalaq brings Korra over to his side after demonstrating his ability to waterbend the spirits into placidity (which raises a ton of questions like “Is this the spiritbending that  Aang was able to do?)

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I love how this storyline fits so well with what we already know about the Northern Water Tribe from all the way back in Book 1 of A:TLA. If you recall, the Northerners were heavily influenced by the spirits, as evidenced by their devotion to the Moon and Yue’s knowledge of the oasis.

I’m also glad that this season is taking us in a different direction than the previews hinted at. The trailers gave me the impression that the bulk of Book 2’s conflicts would be between Korra and these dark spirits. Instead, the real story is shaping up to be a civil war between the water tribes, which is revealed at the end of “Southern Lights.” I’m sold.

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Now, let’s talk about what doesn’t really work so far. First, the character motivations seemed pretty “off” for the most part. With the exception of secondary characters like Bolin and Asami, everyone behaved very oddly and uncharacteristically.

Korra, who is normally very cautious and independent, submitted to Unalaq quite quickly, which contrasts to how she acted with Tarlakk in Book 1. She was very annoying when interacting with Mako and Tenzin, showing a severe lack of maturity. It seems like the growth she showed last season was only temporary, and she hasn’t really grasped the psychological aspects of airbending yet.

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Tenzin’s flawless map.

A nice touch, however, is how Korra’s Avatar State is significantly weaker than Aang’s or Roku’s. She used it as a power-up several times, and it was pretty much useless. This was never the case with Aang, who was literally unbeatable when using it. The reason is clearly because Aang used it as a last resort, while Korra is more prone to violence.

Tenzin and Tonraq (Korra’s father) were also acting very oddly. They gave virtually no good reasons for why they were so against the motivations of Unalaq. Sure, the guy is cryptic, but he made extremely decent points. By the end, he was validated, and Tonraq was still unable to recognize that he may have been wrong.

Speaking of Tonraq, his animosity towards his brother makes no sense. We find out that he was actually banished from the North because his disregard for the spirits led to the tribe’s near-decimation. For some odd reason, he seems to resent his brother Unalaq, who cleaned up Tonraq’s mess and saved everyone. Bolin even assumes that Tonraq hates his brother because he took the title of chief from him, but it seems like the guy absolutely deserved it.

Jinora stumbles upon the statue of the first Avatar.
Jinora stumbles upon the statue of the first Avatar.

I guess we’ll find out why Tenzin and Tonraq are so anti-Unalaq. It was just frustrating how they showed complete disregard for the very real problem of dark spirits attacking people. They simply said “no” to Korra and Unalaq, rather than give an alternate solution, and it was just difficult to watch.

Next, the action was very sub-par. Normally, the animation for fight scenes and dialogue is very consistent. This time, however, the action is noticeably different, favoring more classic anime styles. I didn’t like it, honestly, and prefer Book 1’s style. This is only a minor complaint, and I’m aware that it is a result of a studio change.

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Overall, I still loved the premiere and am excited about the direction the series is taking. Bolin stole every scene along with the hilarious Eska, Desna, and Varrick. Plus, it’s great to see that Tenzin and his siblings will have their own adventure apart from Korra in the Southern Air Temple. If you haven’t already, check out this fantastic series.

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