Set decades after Avatar, Korra opens with the new Avatar journeying to Republic City and exploring the world which sprang up in the wake of Aang’s defeat of the Fire Lord. Now, benders from different disciplines live together in a seemingly modern metropolis which feels like both San Francisco and New York depending on the day. Korra receives a dose of culture shock upon her arrival and discovers her education is nowhere near complete. Over the course of the first book, she encounters the world of professional bending, an anti-bending hate group, and learns the peace her predecessor forged is a tenuous one.
Intended as a one-off, 13-episode story, the first book is somewhat rough. But it also hints at the shape the series will ultimately take with Korra’s conflicts becoming more questions of spirituality than raw physical strength. Korra herself exemplifies this. Energetic and athletic, she has mastered the bending disciplines of water, fire, and earth and excelled at their more physical expressions. But with airbenders in short supply, her training in that art falls to Aang’s son Tenzin. He quickly finds her a difficult pupil. Her difficulty with her airbending studies leads to her befriending Mako and Bolin, a pair of brothers using their powers in a professional bending sport. She also meets Asami, who quickly becomes a valued friend and ally, even as it seems she may be sympathetic to the Anti-Bending hate group.
But with its second season, the show begins to find a greater story for its more modern world, namely: the notion of balance between the material world and the spirit world. The major conflicts of each subsequent year revolve around that balance as Korra’s journey to understand the metaphysical side of being the Avatar has real, solid consequences. The concept coalesces in the third and fourth seasons with a major change to the status quo of Republic City and a few other surprises for the characters.
And as with Avatar, Korra also shines with its characters. Korra, Mako, Bolin, and Asami make for memorable lead characters with remarkable minor characters like Bumi and Jinora stealing scenes and becoming interesting focal points in their own right. The villains may not stand out as distinctly as the heroes – indeed, I forgot Korra’s uncle from the Northern Water Tribe was one of the season two antagonists – but it makes a certain amount of sense as they all represent a blindspot in Korra’s thinking and awareness of the world. Her real struggle is to see that subtler reality and how she can protect it.
The voice cast is uniformly great. Janet Varney anchors the show as Korra, revealing strength, naiveté, goofy charm, sadness, and understanding all along the way. David Faustino and P.J. Byrne play Mako and Bolin. Faustino’s role is somewhat thankless, as Mako is very much a straight shooter (who upset the fans at seemingly every turn), but Byrne’s Bolin is a scene stealer almost from his first appearance. J.K. Simmons gives Tenzin a great authority, but an occasional insecurity when he must confront a situation outside of his airbending mastery. The generation between Aang and Korra is also represented by Mindy Sterling as Lin Beifong; daughter of Aang friend Toph, she is introduced as gruff police officer with the perfect quip for almost any occasion. There are also superb recurring characters like John Michael Higgins’ Varrick, a semi-corrupt industrialist whose antics and vocal performance never fail to delight.
On the Blu-ray release, each episode of the series features an audio commentary from creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko and various members of the cast and crew. They offer interesting tidbits into the genesis of the show, how they wanted it to differ from Avatar, and occasionally make interesting allusions to a certain feature film they had a passing involvement in. Voice cast like Varney, Faustino and Seychelle Gabriel (the voice of Asami) also offer their impressions of the show and the fan response to certain developments. Mako’s decision to date Asami in the first season led to him becoming quite disliked in the first year, a topic Faustino and the creators come back to with regularity. In later seasons, other writers and the sound team offer their thoughts on the show as it evolved. As the tracks seem to be recorded well after the episodes initially aired, they have a lived-in honesty about them as the participants know how the series is being received. They are also quite lively and worth the time to listen. Sadly, the DVD release features commentaries on only select episodes.
Other bonus features include storyboard comparisons, a strange two-part “Making-of” mockumentary featuring puppets, a look at how an episode evolves from script to finished animation, a season 1-2 recap, a three-part flash animation story about Mako and Bolin’s childhood called “Republic City Hustle,” and footage from the 2014 NYCC Comic-Con Panel celebrating Book 4 of the series. All are nice inclusions – particularly for the strange image of a puppet version of Tenzin – but The Legend of Korra: The Complete Series is worthwhile just to relive Korra’s journey once again.