By: Michael Dante DiMartino & Bryan Konietzko (writers)

The Story: Just your classic tale of an ice-country girl in the big, magic-weaving city.

The Review: Cartoons and comics have a lot in common, particularly in how they’re often dismissed by mainstream audiences, rarely appreciated for the merits of their mediums.  While anime has long established itself as an art form, people are only just now beginning to recognize the storytelling potential of American animation.  We may not be ready for straight-up dramas with no sci-fi/fantasy frills attached, but at least we know cartoons aren’t all action and slapstick.

Among the great animated series that embody this evolution, you almost have to name Avatar: The Last Airbender as one of the majors.  It may have started out as a bright, polished cartoon geared toward kids, but over the course of three seasons, it offered thoughtful socio-political commentary, complex plotting, credible character work, and even some rather disturbing psychological and moral issues.  Quite simply, it radically reinvented itself, to great success.

For that reason, I had to take a step back after watching The Legend of Korra and consider what it might become from what it is now.  The show has a similar tone to Avatar during its “middle” period, when it began to become more than a kids’ action-adventure cartoon, but hadn’t quite reached the mature heights it would achieve in its third season.  Korra and her supporting characters start out older than Aang, Zuko, or Katara ended up, and the very intro shows that culture, society, and politics will play major parts in the series’ thematic developments.

Yet there seems less room for surprises than when Avatar debuted.  Korra fits neatly into the archetype of a precocious youth whose adventurous spirit runs against the restrictions of duty upon her.  While likable, she doesn’t project the kilowatts of charm Aang and his pals did, and neither do her show-mates.  Brothers Bolin and Mako serve as functional foils, but they come in very familiar package: one is outgoing, boisterous, full of good humor; the other is introspective, restrained, almost brooding.  Guess who’s meant to be Korra’s major love interest?  It’s quite annoying the show so clearly sets up Mako in the tsundere mold; I predict as much eye-rolling in their interaction as with Miss Martian and Superboy’s during early Young Justice episodes.

One aspect where the show doesn’t shirk is its world-building.  Some decades after the events of the original series, the world of Avatar has changed drastically, in its technology, values, and bending principles.  Taken together, you can see a clear resemblance to Japan’s Meiji period, a fun mixture between traditional Eastern and Industrial Revolution aesthetics.  Now that the wars among countries have ended, bending has moved away from pure military applications to more utilitarian and recreational purposes.

A few points worth mentioning here, but probably not so much later on. Avatar really set new standards for American TV animation, and it proves in these two episodes that they have not let the grass grow under their feet in their few years’ absence.  The martial artistry is as brilliantly conceived and executed as before—even more so, in fact.  The fluidity of the characters’ movements and elemental manifestations easily rivals and surpasses the effects on many anime series.  It’s just beautiful, heart-pumping stuff.  The voice-acting is fine, though the actors don’t bring quite the sparkling personality as the original Avatar actors did even in the pilot.

Conclusion: Plenty of potential to be found here, but also plenty of room to grow.  I have my doubts this series will match the epic quality of its predecessor, but it definitely makes for an appropriate and enjoyable sequel.

Grade: B+

-Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Polar-bear dog may be one of my favorite animal hybrids since turtle-ducks.

– I’m sorry, but Meelo (Tenzin’s son) is just plain creepy.  Judging by his already potent crazy eyes, he has a troubled future ahead of him, I’d say.