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'The Legend of Korra: The Art of the Animated Series Book One—Air' - Advance Hardcover Review

Paging through The Legend of Korra: The Art of the Animated Series, Book One: Air reminded me with each amazing sketch, character drawing, and spectacular painting how much I love this show, and I find myself once again bursting to tell everyone who hasn’t seen it to go out and watch it right now.  Goosebumps were a common occurrence when I watched The Legend of Korra.  The animation and environments were incredible, filled with real, fully-fleshed out, human characters moving fluidly through a solid and exhilarating story, a story that wasn’t afraid to be dark, and to deal with intense, troubling situations and emotions.  All of the elements that made The Legend of Korra one of the most riveting and poignant shows on television, and I mean the entirety of television, not just among cartoons, are on full display here, and one can understand how such a phenomenal show came to be: it was through hard work, creative ingenuity, and tireless talent, wrapped up in a team of artists, designers, and animators (storytellers all) that truly respect, trust, and believe in one another, and each one working toward the same goal of animated and storytelling excellence.

I will pause for a moment of back story in case you are unfamiliar with The Legend of Korra or the world of Avatar in general, as some of you may be.  The Legend of Korra takes place seventy years after the original series Avatar: The Last Airbender ended.  The original series dealt with Aang, a young boy who was the fabled Avatar, one who has the abilities to bend (manipulate) all of the elements: earth, water, fire, and air.  Everyone else, if they are able to bend, can only bend one of these elements, and so the Avatar is to be the one to unite all the different bending nations in harmony.  It is infinitely more complex than that, but that provides the main, simplified thrust.  In Korra’s case, she is the new Avatar, capable of bending all of the elements save for air, which she has been unable to master.  She moves from her secluded Water Tribe village to bustling Republic City to learn airbending under the training of Aang’s son, Tenzin.  Here in Republic City, Korra makes friends as well as enemies, the most prominent being Amon, a non-bending revolutionary who can forever strip someone of their bending ability.  There are a plethora of deep, rich characters in this series and the themes and ideas explored, some of which are remarkably adult and complex, are astounding, and stick with you long after the show has ended.   

One of the wonderful things about this book is while it is full of stunning artwork from sketches and character expressions to paintings and full-blown illustrations, there is also a commentary, provided by creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, with added insight from co-executive producer Joaquim Dos Santos, who also worked as a director, artistic director, and whose art can be found throughout the book. Dos Santos, along with fellow director and artistic director Ki-Hyun Ryu, were brought in on the ground floor to develop The Legend of Korra, this stalwart team of four having made animation history earlier with Konietzko and DiMartino’s Avatar: The Last Airbender.  The notes and comments that accompany the images are engrossing and let you in on just how much work, creativity, and skill went into creating and realizing The Legend of Korra.  The writing informs and adds to the art, and peels back even more layers to relate the difficulties and the joys of creating a new world in the Avatar universe, and I found myself unable to just peruse the drawings and pictures as I was sucked into the story of creation that was being told alongside the images, and by the creators themselves no less.

The Legend of Korra: The Art of the Animated Series, Book One: Air is a beautiful book.  Over 140 pages and bound in a superb hardcover, it is literally bursting with ideas, imagination, and gorgeous artwork on every page.  There are double-page spreads, splash page paintings, and no space is wasted.  Characters, locations, themes, and action are all explored in this book, and all in wonderful detail. And, there is no shortage of artwork and discussion about the setting and look of The Legend of Korra.  Fusing the 1920s, the Industrial Age, and steampunk into one world, and then combining them all with a uniquely Asian look and feel was a remarkable undertaking, and the art and stories in this book show just how much of an undertaking it was.  The progression of ideas from concept to final product found in this book are incredible, as well as encouraging, because it shows that it took hard work and time to craft this world and its characters, it didn’t just come out of their heads in its complete form.  One of my favorite things was the characters’ expressions, and recognizing so many of those looks as being some of the most memorable from the show.  It is a testament to the skill of the animators, who were able to bring to life such detailed, specific ideas with such intense realism, while running the spectrum from comedy to drama to action.  The book is dedicated to the artists and crew at Nickelodeon and the artists and animators at Studio Mir, and you know, from Konietzko and DiMartino’s introductions at the beginning of the book, that they fully realize and appreciate the skills and talents of everyone involved in making The Legend of Korra such a powerful, standout show.    

Published by Dark Horse following the success of a similar book detailing the art of the original Avatar series, this art book is a marvel.  An absolute treat and must-have for fans of the show, and a source of inspiration for aspiring (and even already successful) writers, artists, and all around creators who are looking to blaze new trails and build new worlds in their various genres and fields of interest.  This is a coffee table book that will not stay closed, because once your friends lock eyes on it, whatever conversation you were involved in will halt, and an entirely new, entirely engrossing discussion about the spectacular world of Korra will start.  You’ve been warned, but if you’re anything like me, you welcome endless discussions about a show as fantastic as The Legend of Korra, and with this book you are able to see beyond your television into the inner workings and early development of the show, enhancing all discussions from this point on.  Diving into the creation of the world of The Legend of Korra and seeing the art and ideas that informed and transformed into the moving images that ended up on Nickelodeon, you realize only truly talented individuals, each with their own areas of expertise, yet all working as a unified, ego-less team, could bring this world to life.  This a world that I long to return with new adventures and characters, and before I was through this book I knew that would happen, but it may take some time, because while this team’s creativity is boundless, so is their dedication to creating the best stories, characters, and art possible, and that is an aspiration worth waiting for.  I’ll just read this book over and over in the meantime.