K201 – Rebel Spirit and K202 – The Southern Lights Episode Review

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At last after 15 months I get to write some new Korra Reviews. Today I will be reviewing both episodes of the premiere. I apologise for the lateness, from Next week on I hope to have these written reviews out on the Monday after the episode airs. Takes a while to get back into the rhythm of all the stuff to be done with Korra back.

Let’s get into the reviews.

K201 Rebel Spirit

Rebel Spirit

It’s on now!

Written By – Tim Hedrick
Directed By – Colin Heck
Animated By – Studio Pierrot with assistance from Moi Animation

At long last Korra has returned with Book 2 Spirits and I have to say it was a very good return, while the wait for it was long it was well worth it. Worth it because you could tell the amount of time and effort that went in to making Book 2 better than Book 1. While we still do not know the full story of why the wait between Book 1 and 2 was 6 months longer than the wait between Earth and Fire from ATLA, I think it does come down to the confusing situation with the animation studios working on Book 2.

So that is where I will begin. This episode as mentioned above is animated mainly by Studio Pierrot, who are best known for their work on animes like Bleach and Naruto, but what surprised me was that Moi animation where mentioned as assistant animators in the credits. We know that Studio Mir initially did not want to do Book 2 at all as they were busy, so Mike and Bryan brought in Studio Pierrot, it seems like they took a long time to get up to speed on the quality of animation that Mike and Bryan wanted so they eventually managed to get Studio Mir back involved, in part because Mir thought that another studio could mess up their reputation if there was a step down in quality. We know that Mir are doing the second half of Book 2 and all of Book 3. Which means Pierrot are not involved at all and I assume after “The Sting” they will not be on Korra at all, so where do Moi come in?

I think it comes back to Pierrot being an anime studio; they obviously needed some assistance to keep things consistent. Korra is a very difficult show to animate so Moi’s experience on Book 2 Fire, must have been valuable.

With that out of the way, how was the Animation?

I personally loved it, I could definitely tell in parts that it was different, mainly some of the faces seemed anime-esque. I have seen some fans posting pictures of every little mistake and claiming that pierrot are terrible, but with animation there are always mistakes. ATLA has loads of them from all 3 animation studios and Book 1 of Korra has many from Mir. I think the real success of the episode was how the spirits were animated, they have this otherworldly vibe and that comes across well in the unique art style that they have, they stand out as different against everything else on screen. Not to mention their movements are animated in such a way that they seem very different too, they move very suddenly and almost zig zag around. At the end of the day I did not notice anything huge that struck me as badly animated, and for me there was no real step down in quality, Pierrot did a good job.

Now for the characters and story. This episode did a good job at instantly reintroducing us to the world 6 months on, from the newsreel informing us of some big changes to the pre title card scene of the spirits attacking a ship to set up the main plot and finally 4 scenes to show us where our 4 main characters are now.

I found the newsreel to be very important as I feel it more or less resolved a big point from Book 1. United Republic now has a President instead of the council, this is huge as it means that the non benders at last got their say and because they are the majority of the population they effectively chose who they wanted as president. It is a very simple, but effective way to address that while the Equalists were extremists there was still an issue of equality in the city and simply allowing everyone to vote their own leader resolves that. Now we know that President Raiko will be explored in this Book, so we may get to see if he has brought good change to the United Republic.

I was surprised to see the spirit scene happen before the title card because it is the first time we have seen that, but it was extremely effective at setting up that the spirits have been attacking since before Korra returned to the south. It got right into what this book is titled, the spirits.

The 4 scenes that open the episode do a good job at showcasing the change of the past 6 months. Bolin is struggling with what he wants to do with his life and just sticks with what he knows in Pro Bending despite Mako and Bolin leaving the team, I especially loved when Bolin, in the water after the defeat, wondered aloud where Mako was. It showed that he has depended on his brother to do a lot for him and that he is struggling on his own, good set up for his story to find what he wants to do.

Mako is now a Republic City Police officer, which instantly tells us that the makeup of the police force has changed from being metalbender only, this further shows change and equality coming to the city. I do hope they mention at some point why Mako made the decision to become an officer, I don’t feel it is anything huge, but I think it does need to be explained. My own thoughts would be that he was inspired by his time with Team Avatar fighting crime and wanted to do it officially. The scene itself was exciting with Mako really showing off how talented he is with his bending and motorbike skills, DAT 180 FIRE SPIN ON THE ICE!!! Not to mention the gloriously cheesy one liner he gave as he arrested them, showing off the more goofy and fun side of Mako that he never had a chance to show off in Book 1 given all the drama going on.

Asami is now in charge of Future Industries and is trying to rebuild the company’s reputation after Hiroshi soured it by supporting the equalists. It is a simple scene, but it shows Asami’s drive to make the company a success. I love that she is now a pilot and is pushing the biplanes as the next big product. As the scene ends we see a look of concern on her face that told a thousand words, while she is driven she is inexperienced in the business world and needs to build some confidence.

Our final intro scene is Korra on Air Temple Island having and air scooter race against the air kids, she uses the Avatar State to win. I loved this as an intro to Korra’s journey this Book, she has to learn to respect the power and spirituality of being the Avatar, this scene shows that absence of respect. We also get the main focus of the episode here too, Korra not being happy with where her training with Tenzin is going. She has no interest in going to the Air Temples as Tenzin’s 5th child; she wants to move on to bigger things. I was surprised to see Tenzin push this on Korra as he surely knows from Book 1 that Korra only takes things in when there is a practical side to it, like when she got the fundamentals of airbending during her pro bending match. Speaking of Airbending we also learn that Korra has not yet mastered traditional airbending, she seems to have her own style. Airbending attacks use open palm strikes while Korra’s punches were closed fist. I enjoyed the fact that she still struggles with the traditional styles.

I really enjoyed Makorra in this episode. They have 3 main scenes together all of which result in Korra asking her boyfriend for advice to varying results. Just the two confiding in each other was great to see for their relationship, he tells her about his one liners and decides to use her favourite next time, while she tells him of her frustration with Tenzin’s teachings. He tells her the truth that Tenzin is just doing what is best for her, but she storms off as it was not what she wanted to hear. It was a side plot in itself throughout the episode, Mako learning to handle Korra while she is frustrated. The second scene is at the festival when she asks what he thinks she should do about becoming Unalaq’s pupil and he just says he will support her decision, again not what she wanted to hear. I felt so bad for Mako throughout the episode as he was trying so hard to give Korra the advice she wanted, but at the same time I really understood Korra’s frustration. She is tired of others making decisions for her, but is not sure about the decisions herself. The final scene comes after she makes the decision to train with Unalaq and she asks Mako if she has made the right decision, he gets it right this time and admits he is not that good at giving advice but that she made the decision with good intentions and she will have to trust in herself.

These 3 scenes made me really love this relationship, it really works. They are telling each other about their problems and trying to help each other, it is not perfect, but they are trying. We see that Mako is the perfect person for Korra; he never gets overly emotional about things and can really give Korra a balanced perspective on things.

The big moment of this episode was definitely Unalaq revealing to Korra that it was not Aang who made the decision to keep her in the Avatar compound for her training, but rather it was her father and Tenzin. Even before Korra reacted I knew this was going to hit her hard. As much as she disliked this decision she could respect it to a point coming from Aang, but to find out that for 13 years she has been lied to by her own father and mentor and had to find this out from someone other than them, that is a huge betrayal of trust. That decision is arguably the biggest made in her life in terms of the impact it had on her, she had no freedom or friends until she went against the decision and left for Republic City. So she has a right to be annoyed at her father and Tenzin, I know a lot of people are calling Korra a brat for acting like this saying she doesn’t respect her elders, but respect is a two way street, they showed her zero respect by lying to her about it and then trying to defend themselves and not just apologising. The reason she is struggling to trust in her own decisions here, is because of that decision which meant she lived a very sheltered life up until Book 1 and was never given the chance to make up her own mind on things. The one time she made her own mind up she was correct, that being going to Republic City. Book 1 has earned her the respect of being able to make her own choices and Tenzin and Tonraq are treating her like a young child and not the 17/18 year old near fully realised Avatar that she is. Sure they did it to protect her and had good intentions, but it is a key part of the Avatar that they grow up living a normal life and go through normal human issues, all of a sudden Korra is experiencing a lifetime of issues at once and her father and mentor are still trying to control her life. Long winded, but Korra’s reactions are completely justified, sure she doesn’t handle it the best and is very harsh, especially how she dismisses Tenzin, but she is still a teen, a teen in a pressure position being the Avatar.

Speaking of Tenzin he has some nice moments in this episode, like when he tries to talk with the spirit, reminded me so much of Aang. Then he tries to head out to the air temples with his family leaving behind his brother and sister and Katara calls him back saying they are also his family, it was a very emotional speech that had what I believe was an unintentional subtext of making me feel like Katara was going to die soon, perhaps just a bit too emotional, but it was good.

Unalaq is one of the stars of this episode, newly introduced here; he instantly jumps up to the position of one of the most interesting characters in the show. The opening scene with him and THAT LOOK between the two brothers, you know there is a history and an animosity between them. After this we see him tell Korra of how spiritual the south used to be and how he wants that back. He wants to be her new spiritual teacher. Given what happens in the next episode he does manipulate his way into that position, he is the one who tells her about the lie, he is the one who knows what’s what about the spirits and most importantly for Korra he asks her to let him teach her, he presents Korra with this decision and give her the choice, he treats her with the respect that the others should and because of that she does gravitate towards him. The battle with the spirit being the final straw, Unalaq is the only one who can handle himself in the fight against the Spirit; she sees his ability and knows that he is the guy to teach her. What I like here is that Korra ponders over if she made the correct decision, was she correct to send Tenzin away, there is doubt. Unalaq is definitely suspicious in this episode, not only is he clearly manipulating situations to become Korra’s teacher, but there is a very sinister vibe when he gives his speech about how the south is in a state of utter spiritual decay and that the north can no longer just sit idly by while it happens, he is spiritual and seems to think everyone should be. An obvious question to ask would be “If he can send the spirits away, was he the one who brought them there is the first place?, did he engineer the fight knowing he would be the one to save the day and impress Korra?”

While we know Tonraq a bit from Book 1, we really only get to see his character here. He is very protective of Korra to the point of over protection, which while sweet, makes you wonder if he can see that his daughter is no longer a little girl who needs that much protection, if he can see that she is a powerful Avatar who is 18 (I assume at this stage). Throughout this and the next episode he constantly steps over Korra to answer and make decisions for her, which rightly frustrates Korra as she is capable of making decisions herself. It shows in a way that Tonraq has a lack of belief or trust in his daughter.

Continuing the trend of new characters, we meet Kya for the first time and get to know who Bumi is. Bumi is now living on Air Temple Island and has retired from the united forces. This episode doesn’t have too much on these two, Bumi is slightly mad and Kya is pretty balanced compared to Tenzin who is quite serious and means the other 2 can easily pick on him. It showed a nice sibling dynamic that I look forward to more of.

I really enjoyed what we got of Varrick, he is very odd, but really holds your attention when he is on screen as you never know what he is going to do. What should be a serious and possibly boring business scene is turned into an entertaining character introduction, not to mention he instantly likes Bolin for being the one person to tell him the truth and because of this it makes the meeting so much easier for Asami. She was nervous and you could tell as she was very serious, but him liking Bolin got her the deal she wanted. This is all we get of Asami and Varrick in the premiere, but I am interested to see where it goes as it seemed to have all gone perfectly so far. What conflict is coming?

The final 2 new characters are the twins Eska and Desna. Right now Eska is a stand-out character with amazing delivery from her voice actress Aubrey Plaza, but also some great unusual word choice in the writing. She and Bolin make a fascinating and entertaining couple in that she seems to only make him her boyfriend as an experiment to see what an uncultured person is like. Desna I am a bit concerned about as he is getting completely eclipsed by Eska, he just seems to be “that other twin” so far.

So overall a very solid episode to open the Book, it was definitely mostly introduction with all the new characters and starting off some character arcs and the main plot. Unalaq, Tonraq, Eska and Varrick are all great, Desna has potential, but needs screen time. I loved the continuity of bringing the decision to keep her in the avatar compound back and adding the twist that it was not Aang that made that decision and instead Tonraq and Tenzin, it really added a lot of emotion to the episode as you really felt for Korra. If I had any issue it would just be that I felt that the Avatar State felt underpowered when Korra fought the spirit, I get they were setting up the power of the spirit. I hope they are setting up that because Korra is not that spiritual it is not as powerful as it could be and later on in the book we will see the full power of the Avatar State.

K202 The Southern Lights

The Southern Lights

Even Korra cannot believe what she has just accomplished.

Written By – Joshua Hamilton
Directed By – Ian Graham
Animated By – Studio Pierrot with assistance from Moi Animation

This was a really good episode, getting much more into the spirit side of things with the trip to the South Pole, but for me what had me freaking out as I watched was Jinora’s increased involvement which was perfect mystery set up. It added to Korra’s issues with her father while also giving him more character and further setting up Unalaq as the “kind of villain”.

I will begin with Jinora as it has honestly been a long time since I have just gone so all in on a plot set up. This was just enthralling and she was only on screen for about 2 minutes, but what they did in those 2 minutes was so meaningful and suspenseful. I knew from the trailers that she would get an increased role this book, but I did not expect it this early or suddenly as moments before she was arguing with her sister over a book and then suddenly she is sensing things and being drawn towards statues. It started off as a more emotional moment when she looks in awe at the statue of her grandfather, Aang among all the other Avatars when suddenly she turns sensing something across the room and then they cut away, it presented the mystery so well with a few quick scenes. Then when she wakes up in the middle of the night and is drawn to that odd statue, the mystery just grows and grows; I assume it is a statue of Wan, the first Avatar. The statue is unique in many ways, it seems to be out on its own away from the rest, the others are just the person while this one has stuff all around it and symbols on the back, plus its arms are missing and looks to be made of wood. It then lights up when Korra activates the spirit portal, another thing to add to the mystery would be that the statue lights up orange and is the only statue to light up at all. When Korra touches the ice it does send out orange energy for a moment, so the statue lights up in response to the portal activating. How is the statue linked to the South Pole portal, what is calling her to this statue? And for what reason?

The more I think about it, the more I think that it will be Jinora finding out the story of the origin of the avatar from Wan and it will be Jinora who ultimately becomes Korra’s spiritual guide/teacher or at the very least helps her out. I want to know why Jinora? Why is it Jinora being called by the statue and not Tenzin, or if Korra had went would she have been called instead?  It combines great mysteries with a minor character getting a big push as a near main character. She is just so interesting and it was perfectly animated and written, so much so that I was shouting at the screen for them to cut back to Jinora and show me more. For me to say that means it is a complete success, I just hope that they do give her more time on screen as it goes on.

While I am talking about air nomads I will cover the other Air Temple Stuff. WE GET TO SEE THE SOUTHERN AIR TEMPLE AGAIN, IT’S LIVED IN AGAIN!!! It looked amazing and clean again. Given the concept art we had seen before I expected it to still be as it was in ATLA, but I was pleasantly surprised to see it lived in by Air Acolytes. Abbot Shung was voiced really well, he was so well spoken and it was fun to see Tenzin and his family (Minus Bumi and Kya) treated as royalty by him. This fun scene turned fairly emotional when a female acolyte failed to realise that Aang had other kids besides Tenzin and more than that expected them to be airbenders, Kya’s line where she said they were not airbenders was delivered in such an annoyed way that it spoke volumes about how it was for the two growing up. In what had to have been the most famous family in the world with so much expected of them (restoring the Air Nomads) for Aang and Katara’s first kids to not be Airbenders must have meant the two were a bit forgotten, not by their parents, but when Tenzin was born he must have got all of the attention and fame. It in a way explains why Bumi must have done everything he could to rise to the top of the United Forces and why Kya travelled the world to find herself, they needed to find some way to not just be “the others”. So these 3 siblings together visiting the place where their father grew up is bound to bring up memories of growing up and how it was for them, I hope we get to see them discuss their father and mother, could be amazing.

The rest of the episode is focused on Korra, Unalaq and Tonraq with a few scenes with the other characters. What I loved is that this episode uses what is set up in the last episode and expands upon it to almost make this a part 2. Adding Tonraq keeping his banishment from Korra on top of the lie from the last episode was a great decision, because it at the same time explored the Korra/Tonraq relationship and the Tonraq/Unalaq relationship while making Korra gravitate more towards Unalaq. Korra finding out her father was banished from the Northern tribe and that he kept it from her and only told her when pressured by Unalaq is huge for her, she is rightfully angry at her father. He knows he has made a huge mistake and understands her being annoyed, but he is still trying to protect her by warning her not to go to the pole. His next line I think shows why she cannot just allow him to keep making decisions for her; he says that the spirit and material world must remain separate. I could not believe he said this when his daughter, a living example of human and spirit in combination who job it is to keep balance between both worlds, it showed a fundamental lack of understanding of her role, yet he was the one who made the decision on how to train her as the Avatar. I was so happy to see Korra say as much to him and call her father out on his ignorance. It was a moment that reminded me of The Promise, Aang and Roku talk about the future of the fire nation colonies and Roku is adamant that the 4 nations must remain 4 while Aang knows that the world has gone beyond that old style of thinking and he makes the decision for himself as the Avatar to break contact with Roku as his advice is not helping him. In this case Tonraq advises Korra that the 2 worlds must remain separate and Korra knows he is just plain wrong and calls him out on it and given that she sends him away later she has decided not to take her father’s advice on spiritual matters. She is definitely harsh when she sends him away, but I get that she needed a break from her father who despite trying to protect her was just saying the wrong things for Korra at this time.

The flashback about Tonraq surprised me as I expected it to be a few episodes from now, but like all Avatar flashbacks it was executed very well. I liked that it was all from Tonraq’s point of view and Unalaq was a minor player in the flashback, though I suspect if we got his side of the story it would be very revealing, I feel he may have brought the spirits to the north and got his brother banished. There was a lingering look on Unalaq’s face as he looked at his brother, there was jealousy on that face and he did end up as chief as Bolin pointed out. The flashback itself was interesting with a new bad group, the barbarians, introduced; I want more information on them. It was nice to see a spirit forest in the north to balance the one in the south; it added a level of symbolism. Tonraq destroyed a spirit forest and at the end Korra restored another one, shows who is spiritual in the family. I feel there is much more to come from Tonraq as I feel he has some development to go through, there is a level of balance in him destroying a spirit forest yet being the father of the Avatar, I think he will learn from Korra to be more spiritual.

The animation throughout the journey to the South Pole was glorious and just got even better in the ice forest-cave and the return of the southern lights. The character interactions were just as good, Korra arguing with her father while trying to learn all she can from her uncle while Bolin tries to get closer to Eska to some very humourous moments. Unalaq revealed some interesting things as he explained their goal to Korra, including: Spirits are never evil, they have a balance of light and dark and sometimes it is thrown out of balance, the south had the southern lights before the 100 year war and they have not had them since and the northern and southern lights are spirits dancing in the skies. It was interesting seeing Korra so eager to learn, she would never has asked Tenzin these sort of questions about airbending, but because of the respect and faith he puts in her she really opens up to him. One of my favourite moments in the episode was when the group arrives at the pole and he told her that she would have to go in alone, she has been wanting to prove herself capable by herself, but here when asked to do this alone she hesitates and starts to make excuses, she then explains that it is because she is just not used to someone trusting and believing in her so much. I loved her line as she was so honest about everything, she never expected to be given the freedom of going in alone to the point where when asked to for the first time she doubts herself. She assures her friends before going in alone.

The snake like spirits in the cave were interesting, especially when Korra stuck her whole arm into one and blasted it apart. The light trapped under the ice was interesting in that it seemed impenetrable to everything except when she simply touched it in the Avatar State, it must have reacted to the Avatar in their most spiritual state. The scene itself was very dramatic with Korra held upside down, in the Avatar State and struggling to reach the ice, so when she touched it was a huge relief. I loved the aftermath to this as Korra walks out confident, having restored the Southern Lights as well as the spirit forest and everyone is delighted, even Tonraq on his way home. I liked his reaction a lot as he was pleasantly surprised that she was successful, I hope the next father daughter meeting is an understanding between the two.

The ending didn’t come as too much of a surprise, but what exactly Unalaq is doing with his troops is what interests me. I know a lot of fans are complaining about Korra, saying she was used by Unalaq, but I am not so sure. We know for a fact that the Northern Lights exist as we saw them in K111, so it makes sense that to balance it out the south also has lights, so I personally do not think there is anything fundamentally bad with the southern lights returning. I think in the end them being back is part of his plan, but that them being back is mainly good thing as Korra needed something to show her spiritual side as the Avatar. I am also not sure if Unalaq is an out and out villain, it seems a bit too early for him to reveal his evil intentions if he is the main villain. It will all come down to what exactly his reasons are for invading the south.

He is a very complex character as it seems to be hinted at that he is behind the spirits we have seen so far, he is the only one capable of dealing with them and it has all happened in such a way that by dealing with them it has aided his position. Becoming the saviour of the NWT in the flashback and proving himself to Korra in the present day. I think he may be influenced or possessed by spirits and acting for them. A key factor would be his unique waterbending technique to subdue spirits, where he does very traditional and fluid waterbending in spiral patterns to mesmerise the spirits and then turning them to light and sending them away, where did he learn this?

Korra attempts to use it in this episode, but being inexperienced and having no training it does not quite work, though she manages to turn it white. I have two theories on this:

1/ Each element has a similar technique where using the spiritual side of that element you can subdue spirits, in the breaks during the episode airing we see Korra use a similar looking technique with airbending. We know bending is fundamentally spiritual so it would make sense for there to be a technique where you use the spiritual side of the element to make it effective on spirits.

2/ The waterbending is a distraction to hide the fact that it is a special technique thought to Unalaq by the spirits. Just a complete guess. He did seem to avoid teaching Korra the technique when she first arrived at training.

So overall this was a better episode than Rebel Spirit as it really got down into what this Book is going to be about, spirits and spirit mysteries. It developed upon the previous episode extremely well while also introducing elements of its own like the start of Jinora’s story. Next week’s episode is “Civil Wars Part 1” and aside from a north vs. south war and Korra turning away from Unalaq, I do not have many predictions.

Great premiere overall.

 

 

 

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My name is Morgan Bannon, I am a 22 Year old Male from Ireland and I am the Site Super Moderator. I have watched and been a fan of Avatar since it premiered. I am also a news post writer for the site and host the site's podcast, The Avatar Online Podcast. My strength as an Avatar fan would be just a good knowledge of Avatar Canon and characters.

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Comments - 3 Posts

  1. johnny Said: Comment by johnny on September 17, 2013 at 12:48 pm | Permalink
     

    great review. i was starting to think of Korra as a grumpy teeny, too, but you gave it some good reason. i guess i did so because those episodes are rather quickly paced. they don´t give you a lot of time to get into it, you´re just thrown right into the middle of all the issues between all the characters.
    and i can´t believe people dare to complain about the animation. so what if it looks a little different, that happens all the time in animation. the fighting scenes actually seemed higher in quality than book 1 because it´s all very fluent.
    and the first episode was probably one of the funniest of all of Korra. can´t wait for more BUMI TIME.

    Reply

  2. Nico Robin Said: Comment by Nico Robin on September 17, 2013 at 1:56 pm | Permalink
     

    I love both of these episodes!!!!!!

    Reply

  3. Destiny of Awe Said: Comment by Destiny of Awe on September 17, 2013 at 11:11 pm | Permalink
     

    Personally, I found the pacing of the The Southern Lights a bit too fast for my liking. Other than that, both episodes were very good. 🙂

    Reply

 

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