Airspeed’s Editorials – Korra Book 2 In Review
My second editorial was Korra Book 1 In Review so I think it is fitting that just after recording a podcast about Book 2 Spirits In Review I also post an editorial about it.
Korra Book 2 In Review
I will start by saying I will write this with a similar goal to what my Book 1 post was about. Showing how good Book 2 actually was, I see an awful lot of negativity about certain aspects of Book 2 Spirits and while it is not perfect I feel it does overall get a more negative rap than it should. So this post is to point out some of the good points and also zero on on what I think the actual issues were with the Book.¬†So in this post my aim is not to tell you all that you should not criticise the show, but rather to put Korra Book 2 in perspective and really look at it from a balanced view point.
I will start by comparing Book 1 and 2. You all know that I loved Book 1 and really only had issues with the ending and some underutilised characters. With Book 2 I think it is not quite as consistent as Book 1, but it does have so many more stronger moments. Beginnings Part 1 and 2 and the Finale alone have more amazing moments than Book 1 as a whole IMO. Not to say Book 1 is not a strong book, it is, but like comparing Book 3 and 2 of Avatar The Last Airbender it is a fair point that Book 3 has many more intense/epic moments than Book 2 while Book 2 is really good throughout. Book 2 Spirits also for me had a much stronger ending than Book 1 Air, Book 1 set up nothing really going into Book 2, while Book 2 used a really strong character moment in Korra deciding to keep the portals open to set up Book 3 Change, she changed the world, a simple yet effective and strong way to set up the next book. Like Book 3 of ATLA Book 2 Spirits has some of the best moments of its series, it also has some of the weaker moments also. It is these strong and weak moments combined with some other points that I will explore in this editorial.
For me the biggest criticism of Book 2 that I have a hard time really getting, is why so many fans disliked Korra in the first half of the Book. I think everyone universally loved the ending moments showing how powerful she is even without Raava, but the amount of times I saw posts about her calling her a “brat” “stupid” or that she “has a bad attitude” was a bit over the top in my mind. It comes back to the point I made in my last editorial. If you asked me to describe Korra as a character in just a few words I would say: Fierce, Determined, Driven and also Bullish. These are 4 words that I feel define Korra as a character, these same qualities are celebrated and championed in the finale, Tenzin talks about how strong she is as a person and that is shown also when her cosmic representation of herself also represents her key character traits perfectly. A giant, strong and powerful version of herself. The finale celebrated the positives of Korra’s character, these traits like all character traits have a flip side too, her fierceness and bullishness also means she can be very stubborn about things and too quick to jump into things without thinking. I understand why these moments from Korra annoy people, but these moments are part of who she is, some character traits are so key to a character that asking them to change (as many of the people who disliked Korra in the early episodes of Book 2 have said) is turning them into a completely different character. That is not what anyone wants, asking Korra to analyse every situation before acting is basically asking her to become Mako (who does think things through and analyses things). Just accept that every well written character has positives and negatives attributed to their personality type, Korra is strong, powerful and driven she will always try to do something even if she does not know what to do. That is who she is and I hope it is who she remains. I feel she has already had her moment where the ragged edges of these traits were smoothed out. In Book 1 she attempted to get over her fears with Amon by doing what she always does fighting, this gets her into a bad situation, she gradually learns to think a bit more, but never to the point where her personality is fundamentally changed. I loved the subtle character development she went through in Book in in relation to this.
Now some specifics about Korra and her personality. Many fans were annoyed at how she treated her father and Tenzin in the early episodes, but I completely understand where she was coming from and was honestly confused as to why people were so angry at her. She was lied to her whole life by her father and mentor, their decision kept her away from the world, their decision is the reason she has such trouble in these early episodes making the big decisions, she had never had to growing up and so she makes the decision to start making decisions herself. Add to that finding out that her father also never told her about his past and you can see why she feels so angry, she has been betrayed by people close to her. Lets also not forget they also never told her about all of the spirit attacks too, this is after Tenzin respects her as the Avatar at the end of Book 1. They don’t allow her to make her own decisions, this is shown throughout the first 2 episodes with Tonraq constantly talking over her and proven at the end when a key moment for Tenzin is him respecting any decision Korra makes with regards to the portals. She is rightfully angry at them, those are big lies. You also hear people calling Korra stupid for not seeing that Unalaq is using her, but given everything that happens early in Book 2 I completely get why she becomes his student, he was the only one telling her the truth, allowing her to develop and really believing in her even if much of what he said was an act, it was important at that time to Korra. Add to that that Korra making these early decisions were CRUCIAL in where she ultimately develops, despite everything Unalaq did and that he never cared about Korra, he did teach her some important things and allowed her to make key steps in her spiritual journey. I think it was a perfect decision that Unalaq is defeated by 2 things he teaches Korra himself, finding the light in the dark and the light/dark bending technique he introduced her too. Sure she was used by Unalaq, but she could not have saved the world otherwise. You can see that she is not perfect too, she could have handled it better, but she is not perfect, at the end of the day she made up with her parents, she showed them that she will always need them, but that she does not need them to protect her like she did when she was young, she showed Tenzin that she can make her own decisions. Korra developed a lot this Book, but Tenzin and Tonraq did also, they made mistakes just like Korra did. Blame is a two way street here, Korra was not 100% at fault just like Tenzin and Tonraq were not. They did honestly want to protect Korra, but they did it in a way that gave her no freedom or voice of her own.
Even when she is dealing with President Raiko and the decision to try and save her parents, you understand her position. Korra as a person HAS to do something to save her parents, she is never going to be the character like Raiko and Mako to wait for peace talks to eventually happen, she has to do something. This leads to her arguing with Raiko and Mako, but it is her parents lives on the line, so you get why she is not thinking everything through. Korra is not fully right, but she is not fully wrong either. When Raiko says things like he has no stake in the SWT, he is not fully right, he has 1/3 of his cities population protesting or watching the protest about it, the same protest where a bombing occurred. You get why Raiko does not make a decision, he does not want to lose his job or put his city at risk, but because Korra did something she is seen as the bad guy, but is being inactive in a time of conflict not equally as bad. Did Kuruk not get punished for being inactive as the Avatar, Raiko had this happen to him, he did not help Korra to attack the spirit portal and potentially stop Unavaatu from ever forming and his city nearly got destroyed. I spent less time blaming one or the other for what happened and more time enjoying a fascinating character interaction: An Avatar eager to be active vs A President not willing to make a choice.
It may be a bit of “Mai syndrome” (Mai Syndrome is where you dislike a character solely because you personally dislike a certain character trait and not because they are actually badly written, Mai is in the name because many people dislike her because she shows no emotion. IE they would not like to know someone like that in real life and thus they dislike a character like that instead of judging them on the quality of the writing) ¬†when it comes to people disliking Korra at times, where you many not like to be around a person like Korra in real life at these bad moments, but she is not badly written, it is just who she is naturally coming out. One final example, in K214 Korra is without Raava, Tenzin has just explained to her how powerful she is on her own, but she still has doubts and is unsure, she spots what is happening with Unavaatu in Republic City in The Tree Of Time and immediately decides she has to do something, she doesn’t think about what she has just been through, she just knows that she needs to help and can help. That was a big Korra moment for me, she is the Avatar and wants to help people.
I will end my thoughts on Korra by talking about how much I loved her ending character development. I adored the decision to celebrate Korra herself as a character without Raava. She is strong because of who she is not what she is, same applies to every Avatar and person pretty much. It is a great message about teaching Korra to accept herself and be confident about herself and not just feel strong because of Raava, Wan showed us that he was the same person before he became the Avatar as he was afterwards, just with the power to change things. The way this also linked into the Tenzin and Korra conflict was so well done with Tenzin learning from Aang and then teaching Korra the same lesson, he had a journey to take just like Korra before they were reunited. Korra did not end the book developing past a perceived flaw, but by accepting who she is with open arms. A great message, something Book 1 did not have too often a good message.
I have talked about a positive and defended a negative in Korra, now to balance that out a negative of my own. Asami’s story simply disappeared half way through the book. We open Book 2 with Asami going into business with Varrick, this develops slowly over the first few episodes up until she signs over most of the power of the company to Varrick, he has tricked her, really serious, she has lost the one big thing she wanted to succeed at. It does not go anywhere from there, we get no resolution as to what happens with Future Industries. Does she get it back now that Varrick is a wanted criminal? Does she now own Varrick’s company because they were in business together? We get no answer to it at all, yet it was part of the plot. The answer is that Asami’s plot turned into a romance plot with Mako and then disappeared, I will talk about the romance later on, but it says a lot that by the end of Book 2 we neither know Asami’s involvement with Future Industries or Mako. We don’t know what is up with the two things set up for her. She had a solid story in Book 1 with her father, Asami really needs some good screen time in Book 3. The only good thing to come from this was that her story was not integral to the main plot and that she did still remain useful to the group by her piloting skills.
Back to positives. Mythology and World Building, we got both of these in spades with the Beginnings two parter and the visits to the spirit world. Allow me to list off just a few things we learned
Origin Of The Avatar, origin of bending, more info on Lion Turtles, Formation of the nations, The Tree Of Time, Harmonic Convergence, Spirit Portals, ¬†details about bending and how you enter the spirit world, how emotions effect the spirit world, general balance between light and dark in the world etc.
In short we learned a lot of stuff and all of it was fascinating, it was all intriguing and important, we were not just bombarded with history and facts, it all played a role in the story and just added to the universe. I have seen some people criticise Beginnings because it is disconnected from the rest of the Korra story, I disagree completely. Korra watches the tale of Wan just like we do, she learns everything we do, she now knows about Harmonic Convergence, she knows the Avatar Spirit is Raava and her enemy is Vaatu and why Unalaq wants the portals open and most of all she understands more than ever the importance of the Avatar through witnessing the creation. It also starts her plot of forging her own path as the Avatar as in the final battle she tries to replicate everything Wan did exactly and when it fails she has no back up plan, through Tenzin’s advice she with the help of Jinora save the day and she makes her own decision. Just as Wan decided that the portals needed to be closed, Korra decided now was the time to keep them open again, she then gives a speech about forging your own path. While help from the past Avatars can be great, sometimes you have to do something on your own. A great way to completely reverse fan reaction to the Book 1 finale where even though Korra earned it, it was Aang who restored her bending, now in Book 2 she wins the day with out any Avatar or even Raava.
While I am mentioning Wan and Raava, I need to mention that I absolutely loved their relationship. Th Origin of The Avatar has always been a favourite discussion topic of mine, but the one thing I had never really thought about was “What was the relationship like between the first Avatar and the Avatar Spirit!” I was simply thinking of the two beings as parts that go together to make the first Avatar when they are both unique characters of their own. So meeting Wan and Raava was a big experience for me and it was done so well in so few episodes. The decision to have Raava be the character to develop and not Wan was great, not that Wan was presented as a perfect character, he like Korra has his flaws, just nothing that needed to develop to make him the Avatar he had that all along. Wan cares about others more than himself in a time when humans and spirits only care about themselves even Raava to some extent did not care about humans or what was damaged during her battle with Vaatu, he wanted better for the world and inspired those around him, he was a troublemaker yes, but his did what was right and did everything he could to make up for his mistake with Vaatu. Then Raava to see that the Spirit of the Avatar actively disliked him and other humans was fascinating, she accuses all humans of only caring about themselves without understanding the situation humanity was in at this point. She learns from Wan to respect humans while he learned himself to respect spirits. It is a great dynamic, time and time again we see Wan willing to put himself at risk for peace and balance, his desire to stop conflict was immense. Most of all she learns from Wan to never give up, this is reversed perfectly at Wan’s death. He has not brought peace and balance to the world and has lost hope for the world, it is Raava who then tells him not to give up and gives him hope when she starts the Avatar Cycle. For me this relationship of any in Avatar so far was the most emotional to me, even though we only see them together for about 20 minutes when Wan dies I was really upset, I couldn’t believe how emotional Wan’s death was nor how emotional the origin of the Avatar would be. My 2 favourite episodes of Korra or ATLA are Beginnings Part 1 and 2, they had so much expectation and managed to be better than expected.
From a hugely positive point to a negative one. The romance was quite simply all over the place this book. Everyone was annoyed at how Book 1 went down and then we got Book 2. Before I give my full thoughts I want to preface by saying that I honestly do enjoy shows I watch having romance in them, to the point where I criticise shows that have none when they probably should. Romance happens in real life and thus should happen in shows, so I will always give Korra a lot of credit for going all in with romance, because when it gets it right it is good and adds to the show. The problem with Book 2′s romance was that there were to many problems, not writing problems, just problems presented with relationships. Nothing was stable at all. We end the Book with Mako and Asami kind of a couple and that is it. This Book had 4 break ups and 1 get back together with zero stable relationships at the end. Stable is a key word because really that is what we want, we ship characters because we want to see them interact in a relationship not how they deal with constant break ups. I will say that a lot of the scenes were pretty well done all considering, but they remain frustrating because we don’t want to see our characters at odds over relationship drama.
Mako and Korra is the main ship going into Book 2 and early on I was really enjoying them together as a couple, they were having little issues and then getting past them until a major argument about what to do about getting help for the south. They break up in the heat of the moment with no real build up, that is fine as I thought that both characters would grow to realise that they did just break up over one thing, but instead the next real scene between Mako and Korra about their relationship was a second break up saying that they love each other, but cannot be together because of reasons that were never stated. It would have been a really good scene if Mako and Korra had actually had even 1 moment together where they realised in between break ups the stuff that they say to each other. To me I was confused and shocked by the scene because the second confirmation break up really did come from nowhere, there was no moment of realisation between the two where they realise they don’t work as a couple, so you end the book expecting them to get back together despite what they say to each other. The shipping this book is confusing.
Eska and Bolin is the other ship which goes from comedy, to kind of abusive, to comedy, to real feelings and then sudden we cannot be together scene. The two also have 2 break ups, one with Bolin fleeing from the wedding and then when the two after admitting they do like each other realise they got caught up in the moment. This relationship was done so much better than Mako and Korra because it did make sense. You were shocked when the two broke up so it made sense when after all the drama ended that they realised they said what they said because they got caught up in the drama. Unfortunately because of two back to back “I will always love you , but we cannot be together” scenes this one also gets caught up in the confusing shipping, and what were they even doing with Mako and Asami getting back together. All that did was distract from Mako’s big moment of being proved right and distract from Asami’s business story. They badly need to settle down the shipping going into Book 3 and pick a ship and stick to it.
Moving from my biggest negative to a positive that took me a while to come to. Unalaq, I was not really sure what to think about Unalaq for a long time while Book 2 was airing, it was not until the Korra Roundtable podcast for Harmonic Convergence when one of my fellow hosts made a point about the difference in humanity between Tonraq and Unalaq during their scene together that it all came together for me. Through that point, Unalaq really clicked into place for me and went right up my favourite new character list. What I had failed to realise was that Unalaq’s key point was not about him being a bad guy and when he revealed it or not, it was about the fact that he is a human who left his humanity behind, he is the one person this book who did not develop through dealing with his family, he cut all of his family ties to go all in with Vaatu and the Dark Spirits. It explained everything for me, once he says it to everyone that he wants to become the Dark Avatar, everyone realises that this will make him lose all of his humanity even Tonraq who has so much reason to be angry at his brother, he even says that he does not consider him a brother any more earlier on, but he changes when he hears this, Tonraq still has his humanity and cares for his brother despite everything he has done, but Unalaq only cares about the spirits, he was willing to hurt his brother, kill his niece and children to help Vaatu. That is why he is a villain, but he is not a raving madman as you would perhaps expect from this type of character, he is intelligent and is right about a lot of things. I loved the decision to have Unalaq’s advice and even some of his ravings be what the world needs, he may have gone about it down the path of evil, but he was one of the only people to see that now was the time for people to think more about spirits, he gives Korra the advice that she needs to find the light in the dark. I think he is a very under-appreciated villain, he may not be as charismatic as Amon or Tarrlok, but the idea of a human completely on the side of spirits against humans was great.
Especially in tandem with Vaatu, their attitude towards humans proves to be their downfall. Vaatu despite being defeated by Wan and Raava, only saw Wan and the idea of a human-spirit combination as a tool for more power, he failed to see the human factor in the Avatar that Raava learned from Wan. Every time Vaatu spoke to Korra he referred to her as Raava, he completely looks down on and ignores humans only seeing Unalaq as a way to become as powerful as the Avatar, when Raava is ripped out and destroyed he and Unalaq ignore Korra as if she was just a vessel for Raava with no power of her own and that is their downfall. Unalaq and Vaatu’s not caring of humans results in their defeat, Korra on her own just a human defeats them using the advice and technique Unalaq gave her before. It is such a fitting turn of events.
I would be here all day if I was to write about everything I want to, so I will limit myself to just a few more quick points.
-Lin Bei Fong, I really appreciated that the writers made Lin flawed, it was so needed for her character, the simple idea that she has this entrenched mentality where she will only listen to senior officers and not to rookies worked well with Mako. It was a short arc, but it was something for Lin to move past, as shown when she fires the two idiot detectives and promotes Mako. Many say it was the writers making Lin look like an idiot to big up Mako, but 1/Lin was never presented as a master detective, 2/ she showed us in Book 1 with her early treatment of Korra that she can stubbornly hold on to these types of mentalities until someone points out to her that she may be wrong. Plus she still got her Trademark “Bei Fong Awesome Moment” when she saved the president from the airship.
-Jinora pretty much becoming a main character was very well done. It makes so much sense that Tenzin’s oldest child is gradually becoming more and more of a main player, making her Korra’s spiritual guide and how this tied into Tenzin’s destiny and his role as Korra’s guide was a perfect way to make you really think about Jinora on a new level, not just part of a trio, a character of her own. ¬†She was really important too, at the end she plays a crucial role in helping Korra beat Unavaatu, though it could have been explained better what exactly she did.
-Bolin at last got his big moment and character focus we were waiting for. His big moment was probably one of the best character moments we have seen in Korra too. Not only becoming a hero on the big screen, but in real life too when he saves the president and becomes a movers star, it is such a strong moment for him, well worth the wait.
-Change. This Book was not afraid to change things drastically, the obvious one being that the Avatar Cycle has in essence been reset, Korra is now the first in line of the second age of Avatars with her connection to the previous ones now gone. One of the best dramatic moments of the book and also one of the saddest, I think we all, like Korra, felt every one of those blows as the past Avatars were destroyed. There is still a glimmer of hope in that only the connection to them was destroyed not the past avatars themselves, so it could be a plot point towards the end of Korra, but for now we are seeing a changed Avatar no past lives to help Korra, just Korra and Raava. Add to that what Korra’s decision means for the world and you have so much change happening in this Book, Book 2 did what Book 1 did not, it set up the next book and given that Book 3 is called Change, Book 2 has executed some perfect set up.
Now for some closing thoughts.
I loved Book 2 Spirits, I also loved Book 1 Air just like I also love Book 1 Water, Book 2 Earth and Book 3 Fire. So why is it that as soon as every book of Korra ends I get the feeling that a decently sized percentage of the fandom disliked the book? It confuses me, in that it always only happens at the end. I have hope and don’t put too much stock into it as Book 3 Fire was once disliked by this percentage of the fandom and now you would be pushed to find that many fans who really dislike it. Book 2 Spirits is still the new thing right now, in time like has more or less already happened with Book 1 Air, I think more and more people will come to see just how good Book 2 spirits was.
I had the highest expectations I have ever had for anything Avatar related going into this book and I came out a very happy fan. For me that makes Book 2 Spirits a success. Korra is one of the best shows on tv right now, it is easy to forget that when we compare it against itself and ATLA, but Korra is that good, why don’t we talk about how good it is more often?
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