The first six episodes of Legend of Korra (LoK), the highly anticipated sequel series to Avatar: The Last Airbender (ATLA), have now aired, so we are exactly halfway through the promised 12 episodes for season one. (New episodes every Saturday morning, 11/10 central on Nickelodeon). I’m definitely loving it so far. Since the Avatar is 16 this time instead of 12, there are less of the silly childish elements that ATLA was peppered with. (For example, there are animal characters, but they don’t feature as heavily as Momo and Appa did.) The maturity level also reflects what series co-creator Bryan Konietzko was quoted as saying in a Wall Street Journal article in May, “I’d say the show is more sophisticated than the original series but it has the same balance of tones we’ve always liked with humor, action, drama, scary stuff and romance.”
The bending world has certainly changed in the 70 years since we last saw it imagined on screen, but it’s just as enthralling, exciting, and fun as all the promotional information made it sound.
One of the things we see within the first moments of episode 1, “Welcome to Republic City,” is that the esteemed White Lotus society is still intact, (and “master” Katara is now member). They seem to be tasked with authenticating claim of new Avatar. In ATLA, I think Aang’s fellow air-bending monks recognized him as the new Avatar without the opinion of an objective party like the Order of the White Lotus. But, maybe that’s one of the things that changed while Aang was frozen in ice and there was no Avatar for 100 years.
One of the moments that I loved the best in episode 1 was when master air-bender Tenzin’s eldest daughter asked Katara a question that ATLA fans have been dying to know: what ever happened to Ursa, Zuko’s mom? For years Zuko thought she was dead, but in the final episode he learned she was exiled, and might still be alive. We didn’t get to hear Katara’s answer, since she was only able to respond to her granddaughter with “Well, Jinora, it’s an incredible tale–” before being interrupted by Jinora’s younger sister, Ikki. It felt like a wink to the fans of the original series, and I hope it’s an indicator that we might still get to hear the story in an upcoming episode, but I won’t hold my breath. In the same article mentioned above, co-creater Michael DiMartino teased, “That question will be answered in some way, but not necessarily in the show. That’s all I’ll say.”
Of course, there is no shortage of references to the original show that will delight fans like myself without being confusing to newcomers. Chief Lin Bei Fong, (Toph’s daughter), is a hard-ass police woman with a squadron of metal-benders under her command. (Toph, season 2 addition to the gAang in ATLA, invented the higher-intensity form of earth-bending known as metal-bending). We don’t really know much about Toph’s daughter yet, except that she definitely inherited her mother’s brusqueness, and I’m wondering if we are ever going to learn the story behind the parallel scars on her right cheek. We did learn in this latest episode (“And The Winner Is…”) that she and Tenzin were once an item, and we also saw Chief Bei Fong and Korra start to work together in episode 6, despite getting off on the wrong foot in episode 1.
My favorite new LoK twist on the old bending world we know and love from ATLA is the introduction of pro-bending. It makes sense that such an impressive physical activity would become a sport, and it is a great way to include awesome action sequences without having to put the characters in mortal danger or perpetually on the run from bad guys. Now that I think about it, bending was a sport in ATLA, because Toph was the earth-bending championship. But the pro-bending in LoK incorporates three elements–Water, Fire, and Earth. (There are only a handful of air-benders in the world right now; Tenzin, his children, and Avatar Korra, who hasn’t really mastered the element yet.) Pro-bending was the biggest surprise to me when I watched the first epsidoes, because in the trailer they only showed the bending arena from a distance, and I thought it was some sort of table. The color split down the middle did make me think it might be for some sort of match, but I was thinking more like the Fire Nation’s Agni Kai. So when I realized what it had actually meant, I just couldn’t help but marvel at what a great idea that was, to put a new yet natural twist on the bending world.
The biggest mysteries in the new series so far is, who is Amon, masked leader of the anti-bending Equalist movement? Does he really have the power to take away bending, and if so, is his ability the same as Avatar Aang’s was? I don’t know who Amon is, but I do have a theory about who is financially supporting him.
We were told by show creators Mike and Bryan, long ago during promotion for Korra before it aired, that the cabbage merchant’s legacy would be “present in some form”. I initially suspected the poor guy, who was always getting his stuff knocked over by the rambunctious benders in ATLA, might be behind the anti-bending movement in Republic City when it was first announced as part of the show’s synopsis. Then, in the latest episode, (“And The Winner Is…”), we’re given a clue that my theory may be right. While Korra and her fellow Fire Ferrets are practicing for their upcoming pro-bending match, the radio in the background squaks, “You’re listening to the music hour, brought to you by Cabbage Corp., Republic City’s trusted name in technology for over fifty years.” (Watch the clip with the radio blurb I’m talking about here). That seems to be a pretty obvious clue, to me. Especially considering that Amon and his Equalists used a taser-like technology to overpower the benders at the pro-bending final match. My guess is the cabbage merchant started investing in the development of technology that would give non-benders the same advantages as their bending peers, or else take away benders power so that everyone is “equal” and nobody gets their cabbage cart repeatedly overturned by reckless benders, which is pretty much the party line the Equalists have been spouting so far. I wonder if we will see my theory confirmed, or if this little radio mention is an Easter egg for the fans and the extent of including the cabbage merchant’s “legacy.”
As far as predicting what else we might see in the remaining six episodes, we haven’t really seen much of Korra working on her air-bending, (which is what she is supposed to be doing in Republic City), so maybe she will need to bust out some air-bending at a later, climactic moment. We haven’t really seen much of Korra developing the spiritual side of bending, either. In the first episode, “Welcome to Republic City,” one of the White Lotus members overseeing the young avatar’s training admonishes, “Ever since you were a little girl you excelled at the physical side of bending but complete ignored the spiritual side. The Avatar must master both.” Korra replies, “I haven’t ignored it, it just doesn’t come as easy to me,” but we really haven’t seen her make an effort in the direction at all, apart from participating in meditation sessions with Tenzin and his children. (And by participate, I mean that she seems to be the only one who can’t sit still.) She has been seeing what appear to be quick flashes of visions, that I think are memories from Aang, but I’m sure they will be explained later too. I don’t think we’ve seen the end of romantic interactions between Mako and Korra, even though Mako is currently dating Asami.
We haven’t yet seen many references to Zuko aside from Jinora’s question about his mom and the fact that he and Aang founded Republic City together, which we were told in voice-over during the extended opening sequence of “Welcome to Republic City.” I’m hoping we hear more about Zuko, and I would also love to learn whatever became of Sokka and Suki. I had a soft spot for their bravery as non-bending warriors who were always going up against powerful bending enemies like Azula without flinching.
There are some really great fansites out there that were developed for ATLA and are now quickly incorporating LoK resources as well. The two that I like best are avatarspirit.net and dongbufeng.net; they both have hundreds of screenshots for each episode, and dongbufeng.net has full transcripts for each episode while avatarspirit.net hosts forums where both bending series are actively discussed, dissected, memed, and adored. There is also an official LoK tumblr page that releases promotional clips for upcoming episodes, and I think there is an official Facebook page, too.