North and South Part 2 Spoiler Review

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The book is now out (At least in comic stores, February 7th elsewhere) so time for my full spoiler thoughts on the book.

NorthAndSouthPart2Big

Very quickly my overall thoughts on the book before talking about the big moments. This for the most part is a very well written book featuring a couple of the best done moments we have seen in the comics, it does unfortunately lead to a somewhat messy ending where we are in a  spot where we really do not know where things are going. The book could definitely have left off on a better moment as the cliffhanger and where the main characters end off here is very much in mid air with the cliffhanger feeling a bit forced and not having a lot of impact, the complete opposite of the ending of part 1. Malina and Maliq are much more fleshed out and we can really form proper opinions on them now, which is a huge success of the comic. Katara and Hakoda are very well written for the most part, but unfortunately Sokka, Aang and Toph feel like they are too far to the side and not massive players in this book while our main villain Gilak continues to be fascinating with his extreme views on the North. I think most fans will enjoy this book, but will probably agree that it is one of the more frustrating middle parts of one of these comics in that there is not a lot to base speculation for Part 3 on.

Now I will completely ignore structure and just talk about the key moments.

- We get some focus on the odd set up moment from Part 1 where Pakku said that Katara would be very interested in what is happening at his waterbending school. We get 2 pages in part 2 covering this plot, it is certainly interesting, but given so little time. The jist is that we now know of at least 2 more southern waterbenders, Pakku found the 2 of them in a more inland village in the south that was quite isolated. The 2 kids are revealed to be decent benders, but they seem to hide their abilities from everyone and only use them when they think no one is watching.

I feel there is a theme being explored here that is meant to link more into the main plot, but again it is only given 2 pages so we get no time to explore this reveal. Katara doesn’t even seem to react to the reveal of new southern benders. If I had to speculate I would guess that these kids keeping their bending to themselves is meant to highlight the idea that the south is a very isolated place, even the North seems to have a certain connection to the other nations as we see with Malina and Maliq spending a lot of time in Ba Sing Se and Maliq attending the university there. Katara’s view on what is happening seems to be that she doesn’t want her home to change, the idea that potentially she is without realising it wanting to keep the south isolated and not part of the larger world. There is a slight hint of this hypocrisy from Katara that she can suggest in The Promise that the Earth and Fire Nation should allow Yu Dao to become a nation of its own, she can help Aang accept that the airbender culture will have to change to adapt to modern times, but when it comes to her own home and own opinions she is perhaps not as open to the change she often suggests to others. It is a super stretch as it is given so little time, but it is the only connection I can make. I assume there is potentially a story behind why these kids don’t want to be so open as benders, but we have nothing to go on right now.

- Next let’s talk about the big Hakoda and Katara talk. While the beginning of this book opens up a bit after the end of Part 1, we do fairly quickly address Malina X Hakoda and Katara’s thoughts on it. I found it interesting that for Katara the issue was not that her father was moving on and was in a relationship again, it was not (for the most part) about her thinking Kya is being replaced, it is more about who Hakoda is moving on with. Katara took issue to much of what Malina said about the south in Part 1 and that informs her opinion on her as to whether she is right for her father. There is certainly a small sense of Katara not wanting Kya to be forgotten, but it was not the huge wall between the characters that I expected it to be. When they talk Hakoda is SO understanding of how Katara feels about this, he apologises for not being open about the relationship immediately upon his kids returning home and knows that Katara is a bit embarrassed about bringing it up to him, so he jumps straight in and is incredibly honest and open with his daughter. He urges her to be completely honest about how she feels and she goes as far as to express that she feels Malina is up to something nefarious, Hakoda immediately explains that that is not the case and that he knows her well and that she has a good heart, even saying that he loves her.

This for me was a big moment in the conversation, his relationship with Malina is not something that has just happened, this has been developing for a good while and is at the stage where they are very close. This is not a case of Malina manipulating Hakoda, this is a 2 way relationship and the whole book does a great job at highlighting that they do both love each other. Katara’s reaction to this reveal is that she feels that her father is blinded by his feelings, but Hakoda turns it around on her noting that she also knows what it is like to be in love and that she should know that when love is real it does not blind you, it instead helps you to see. They choose this to be the moment when Katara spots Appa coming into view, an amazing scene transition that works on so many levels.

Katara more or less sprints over to Aang as he lands and jumps into his arms and we get a lovely Kataang relationship moment as Hakoda watches on. Immediately Hakoda’s point in proven, Aang’s arrival has helped Katara to see the issue in what she has been doing. She asks Aang if her father has always been good to him and Aang says he has, she at this point makes her mind up to try to be nicer to Malina, Hakoda has been nothing but supportive of her relationship with Aang and up to now she has just seen issues with Malina, she wants to treat the person her father loves as well as he treats the person she loves.

These 2 scenes are for me the best section of this book and definitely some of the best written scenes we have seen in the comics. I love how Hakoda is written, he is such an understanding character in being so open with Katara knowing how she must feel about his new relationship. I like that despite having only seen Aang and Katara together a few times he knows how deep their relationship is and because of this he knows she can understand how he feels.

With Aang I do wish over the whole book we had got more quiet moments with him to talk to Katara. As it stands this reunion moment is his only notable character moment in the book as the rest of his involvement is mainly being involved in the fights. The issue is that no one properly fills Aang in on what has been happening in the south, we assume off panel he was told, but the few things he says seems to imply he doesn’t fully understand the details and thus cannot really form his own opinion and use that to help Katara who obviously has conflicted opinions on what is happening to her home nation.

- The book’s big plot point is that Gilak interrupts Malina and Maliq’s speech revealing their plan for the North to assist the South in extracting and using their natural resources (Oil). He and his group arrives via a giant drill and reveals the truth behind the sibling’s plan since he has read the documents in the briefcase he had stolen from Maliq. The core of the issue is the difference between what the plan for the south was when Malina and Maliq initially arrived versus what that plan is now as well as creating a rift between Malina and Maliq about which way they wanted the plan to go. The short of it is that Malina actually began to like the south and so changed the plan so that instead of the North controlling the South’s oil the North would just assist the south with how to make the best use of their oil and give them a chance to become bigger on the world stage, while Maliq reveals that he has never liked the south hating how tribal they are compared to “actual” civilisations and how they lack proper laws and that he never changed the plan like Malina wanted to, he hid this from her.

The way this plays out is fascinating in that we see the majority of the people in the south just don’t understand what them having a huge oil deposit means nor what them being big on the world stage actually means. Maliq basically wants to take the oil from the south who do not know how to use it to help the world advance, he reveals a near obsession with advancing and using oil to fuel machines which will make the world more equal, hugely hypocritical that he plans to make the world more equal by basically not treating the people of the south equally, the idea that he wants to make all “civilised” people equal, but the people of the south are just savages. This heavily relates to Thod’s story from Part 1 about the Snow Rat, that the north are just coming in and taking the resources of the south without actually treating them as people. Maliq really digs his own grave when Gilak reveals this as he in front of everyone rudely insults the south as Malina desperately tries to get him to shut up, eventually deciding that they will just abandon the plan overall as her brother and the implication of the plan initially has hurt and confused so many people. You do feel so sorry for Malina in that her intentions are in general good, she wants to help the south, her mistake is just that she is not asking herself the question “Do the south want to use their resources, do they want to create an oil industry in their nation?” she is just assuming that everyone will be happy with the wealth this will bring ignoring the relatively simple lives that most people in the south have, do they want to advance and change this much.

Maliq is so interesting in that in Part 1 he was so concerned for his sister when she was hurt, she is everything to him, yet he never changed the plans like she wanted, he kept the plans as they were initially with the plan to basically make the south a colony of the North even after Malina understood this was not right and they should just assist the south in helping themselves. This plus his mention earlier in the book of not feeling equal compared to benders and his obsession with machinery is to help non-benders to become equal makes for a unique arc that will need to be addressed in Part 3, he needs to understand the impact of betraying Malina’s trust and how insulting (borderline racist) he is being to the south, understand that he is trying to help the rest of the world and himself by ignoring and in some ways pulling down the south even more. With Malina it is clear that her relationship with Hakoda helped her to see (Reference to Hakoda saying that Love helps you to see) the good in the south and change her mind.

The issue that Malina has is that Katara prior to this was trying to bond with her, but the reveal that Malina initially came to the south to take the oil immediately stopped Katara’s attempts to try with Malina. It feels a bit like Katara and Zuko, in 220 she was open to seeing the good in him, but immediately her attempt and trust was betrayed and it was difficult for her to accept him later as a friend. The same applies to Malina, she needs to talk to Katara, but Katara is not having it which is where we end with these 2 in the comic. She wants Malina to leave, but Hakoda wants to talk to Malina, that is the last thing we see in this side of the story. Clearly Hakoda is going to say something very notable to her that may change things. He reveals earlier that he knows what their plan was initially, but that he knew that she changed the plan for the better. So there is no Hakoda X Malina issue.

The ending scene with Malina and Katara is where the writing struggles a bit, in that they try really hard to make this more than Katara being stubborn and not listening to Malina’s explanation, but they cannot quite make it work. They end up having Katara effectively criticise Malina for, shock horror, changing her opinion, that because she changed her mind for the better who is to say she won’t change her mind again for the worse, who is to say she won’t fall out of love with Hakoda. Again I get it, Katara is frustrated, annoyed and a bit betrayed, she doesn’t want to hear what Malina has to say, but her logic here is bad or at least badly written. The fact that this plot ends with this, means we end with an annoyed Katara an unreasonable Katara and that is a frustrating place to be in, even if it is somewhat understandable.

- Gilak’s part in this is that he outs Malina and Maliq and after Maliq insults the south he orders an attack. Aang, Katara and Toph being present make this fight not much of an issue since they are so powerful. The key things that happen are that Malina and Maliq are chased outside of the city and captured, Gilak follows them and is about to literally cut them apart right there to send a message to the world that the south should not be messed with. Only the arrival of Hakoda stops him as we get another well written character interaction with Hakoda and Gilak, former allies in the war. Hakoda should hate Gilak for trying to kill the woman he loves and trying to kidnap his kids, but he offers his hand to his former friend (after besting him in a brief fight), but as Gilak takes his hand he stabs Hakoda in the gut with a knife concealed behind his back. A truly shocking moment as we rarely get to see big injuries in Avatar let alone a stabbing.

Thankfully Katara and Aang arrive and with Hakoda’s men capture all of Gilak’s forces as Katara begins to heal her father. We later find out he is injured, but will be ok because Katara healed him so quickly. I assume Hakoda is going to be out of action for the rest of North and South, I would question if he could recover from a stab wound that quickly even with Katara’s healing. I wonder what he is planning to say to Malina? Will he propose to her? or what?

Another point that is never really touched upon is that in part 1 and now 2 his forces have been shown using some pretty advanced technology. The drill especially in this book feels like something Gilak, a southern purist, would not really use. So I am wondering if they just stole some machinery, or if there is someone Gilak is getting machinery from?

Overall I like Gilak and to a degree I understand his hatred of the North. For him he fought in the war with his southern brothers and lost many of them resulting in the south being a mess by the end of the war and all of a sudden the north, who didn’t actively participate in the war, have decided to help the south and are doing it by taking over and taking their resources. He has the opposite view of Maliq, he sees Maliq and the northerners as being too civilised, unwilling to get their hands dirty, unworthy of being involved with the south who have proven themselves by helping to end the war. How they approach ending his arc in Part 3 will be fascinating. Especially because the cliffhanger of the book is one of Hakoda’s main guards passes the key to Gilak in prison saying that she agrees with his views on the north. The only issue with this ending is that ultimately Gilak has forced people to think about things, but he and his forces have not really been a threat, so I don’t know what he will do in part 3, especially with the part 3 description already telling us he would get out it doesn’t have much impact.

- Another big-ish reveal during this fight is that Thod and a few members of Gilak’s group are chi blockers. Katara gets chi blocked by Thod as the big reveal, but we get no explanation for how they know it or massive moment with it as it wears off for Katara quite quickly afterwards. Thod does ask Katara if she now understands the meaning behind his Snow Rat story, highlighting that as far as they are concerned the north will only ever see the south as snow rats and never as equals. He asks Katara to join him, but she refuses, interestingly after glancing over at Aang who is fighting nearby. This, for me, is a reference again to Hakoda’s line about love “helping to see”, suggesting that Katara could potentially have sided with Gilak if she let her emotions take control, but Aang being there gives her clarity enough to know that Gilak is an extremist.

So yeah, those are my general thoughts on all of the key aspects of the book. I do feel that ultimately North and South is a character focused story more than a big plot heavy book, this is about characters exploring the ideas of change, tradition vs modernisation and moving on. The core of this series is Katara, Malina, Maliq, Gilak and Hakoda and how they feel about how the south should move on with the war over, should they move to become more modern or just repair and remain as they were, in part 3 I think the focus will have to be on the compromises made to get to the right decision that no one is full on wrong and no one is fully right, this is a complex issue that is meaningful to a lot of people, that is why anger is coming out and violence is happening. I just hope that Part 3 uses Aang, Toph and Sokka much better than this part, Sokka without being forceful supports some degree of advancement and using the oil, but we really don’t know how Aang and Toph feel and I think with Katara her talking to Aang about this situation is key, I hope we get a big scene with those 2 in part 3. Then let’s not forget that both Zuko and Kuei are arriving in Part 3, I am slightly worried we may have too much to do in part 3 and not a lot of pages to do it in, but I have faith in Gene Yang as a writer so I think it will end well.

What are your thoughts on North and South Part 2?

Link to spoiler video review will be added when it is uploaded.

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Comments - 4 Posts

  1. Avatar of
    doratchi Said: Comment by doratchi on January 25, 2017 at 3:32 am | Permalink
     

    Thank you…sound amazing

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  2. Avatar of Droc Plug
    Droc Plug Said: Comment by Droc Plug on February 5, 2017 at 7:48 pm | Permalink
     

    During the festival scenes I was literally shaking with anticipation as I waited for all hell to break loose as Gilak and his men attacked the festival. Also I can’t help but see some similarities between Gilak and Ukano(New Ozai society).

    Reply

  3. Avatar of Rocket Axxonu
    Rocket Axxonu Said: Comment by Rocket Axxonu on February 9, 2017 at 12:11 pm | Permalink
     

    [Haven't had a chance to listen to the podcast yet, but I thought I'd write some of my thoughts here first.]

    Well, it might just be because I’ve been so excited for this to come out, but as I was reading, I couldn’t stop thinking, ‘This is pure gold.’

    I agree, I think the Katara-Hakoda conversation was just an amazing scene, easily the best of the entire book, and one of the best in the series. You really don’t know what to expect with the end of part one about how Katara will react, and I liked how all Katara’s expected misgivings come out here, but it’s not exactly for the reasons we might have thought. Katara also brings out what we as the readers might have been thinking, in that Hakoda could be blinded by love, and I loved how Hakoda, rather than getting angry or defensive, is able to respond in a way that’s so meaningful and brilliant on so many levels. Even though Malina’s role still seems ambiguous, from that moment on, you really can’t help but trust Hakoda’s judgment. And Katara’s realization after Aang arrives, about how Hakoda has always been kind to Aang, and she appreciates that, and she realizes she should do the same for him—again, an amazing moment.

    I also think this scene, where Katara decides to try to accept Malina for her father’s sake and be nicer, also makes Gilak’s reveal of what Malina’s views were when she first came to the South have all the more impact and is all the more painful. (I really loved that panel, where Malina admits the truth—they really capture her deep sense of regret there.)

    Hakoda trying to extend the hand of forgiveness and peace, and Gilak’s attack—another powerful moment in the series. For a moment I really didn’t know if there were going to take it in the direction of Hakoda actually dying, and I’m glad they didn’t. (Or worse, leave it to the next comic for us to find out. Although, maybe Hakoda’s mentioned in the part three summary, and I just didn’t remember. x3)

    Anyway, Hakoda seems like he might be somewhat out of action in the next part. Like you say, Sokka, Toph, and Aang didn’t play a huge role this time (I didn’t really have a problem with that, they all had some fun moments, and I think if the comics tried to do too much with too many characters they would feel like they lacked focus—it was okay for me this has been mainly Katara’s story for the moment), but maybe this might be an opportunity for Sokka, in that he might have to take on a real leadership role.

    On the two kids—yeah, it was nice to get the follow-up of Pakku’s cut-off statement from part 1. I like the concept you brought up, of this possibly leading into a theme about the isolation of the Southern Water Tribes, even from each other. I’m not sure what the kids’ story will end up being, but I guess my own initial hazy assumption was that it had something to do with the war. That is, all the southern water tribes probably had to know that, at least in the past, the Fire Nation was coming to their shores and taking water benders, and so the parents (or whoever raised them) might have tried to drill into the kids that they needed to keep their bending secret.

    (Of course, the kids might be too young for that to make sense, and clearly the raids had mainly stopped by the time Katara had gotten older and she wasn’t afraid to show her waterbending, but I guess that could fit into the isolation idea—the inner Southern Tribes might have heard about the raids, but were so cut off from those Tribes living closer to the shore they never knew when the raids had mainly stopped.)

    The scene with Maliq talking about what the oil will mean for the world, in terms of advancing machines to allow non-benders to achieve equality with benders—I loved that. Seeing the first inception of this idea that we know becomes so significant in Korra, I didn’t necessarily expect to see that kind of continuity, and that connection was pretty amazing to see. (I also liked the way it played out in that, we see Sokka completely understands where Maliq is coming from in this sort of goal, whereas Katara, being a waterbender, doesn’t really.)

    On the ending, the scene with Gilak winning over at least one of Hakoda’s guards—yeah, it didn’t feel like a hugely strong ending to me, especially not compared to the ending of part 1, but I guess it didn’t really bother me too much. There have been so many really powerful endings for the comics, I felt like it was okay for there to be some that are a little less so. (Better to leave off on something that makes sense, rather than force a huge twist every time.)

    Katara’s conversation with Malina at the end—you’re right, I don’t think it felt like a particularly powerful moment, probably for the reasons you said (it’s not entirely logical), but I guess I didn’t have a real problem with it, since it did feel like the kind of reaction Katara would have. Like you say, Katara does often react emotionally to situations like this, rather than rationally, and she can be unreasonable and stubborn at times, and even though that’s one of the things that can be frustrating about her at times, it’s something I can accept about the kind of person she is, and also because of the kind of person she is, willing to rethink some of her opinions, I also feel like we can trust she will eventually come around.

    (Although, now that I’m looking at it a bit more, I find Katara’s response making more and more sense to me—even though Malina’s ‘betrayal’ had happened before Katara even met her, for her to have initially come to the South, acting as though they wanted to help the South, when they were really looking down on them as savages and intending to take advantage of them is a significantly underhanded thing to do, and does indicate a certain lacking in character. Katara didn’t see the journey Malina went through that changed her [which it seems maybe Hakoda did see it], so I think it does sort of make sense that, learning the truth, she is very reluctant to trust Malina now. It could be interesting if, next book, we got some flashbacks on Malina’s relationship with Hakoda, how they met, if Hakoda was initially shocked or upset to learn the truth of what Malina was thinking about doing—although, given everything that needs to be dealt with and resolved in the final part, maybe there wouldn’t be room for that.)

    But also, because this is a middle book, I honestly did sort of like that it was left off on a note where things weren’t fully resolved where Katara and Malina are concerned. I liked that it left off with a sense of continued tension, with something still to be addressed in the next book, rather than everything being perfectly all right right then. (And again, even though Malina does seem to have changed now, knowing that she was, at one point, thinking basically all the same things as Maliq is something that would be hard to get past, so in that sense Katara’s mistrust and wanting to get rid of her rather than deal with it makes sense.)

    On the other hand, I don’t know I expect this to be a major focus of the plot in the last part. It really wasn’t a hugely dramatic moment, and I think maybe one conversation scene would probably be enough to change Katara’s direction and way of thinking when it comes to Malina. (I’m not too good with predictions, but personally I actually wouldn’t expect that conversation to be with Malina herself. I like what you said about this situation really paralleling the one with Zuko before—I could see something like, Katara having a conversation with Aang, and Aang reminding Katara of how Zuko really did change, showing that people can really change for the better, and that being enough to get Katara to ease up.)

    Or, what might be even more interesting—since we know that Zuko is going to show up in the third book, such a conversation could be with Zuko himself. Zuko is, of course, the biggest example in the series of someone who was completely on the wrong side, and really was able to change for the better. Neither Katara nor Aang have had the experience of being truly and completely on the ‘wrong’ side and having to change their entire way of seeing the world, so Zuko could really give a first-hand account on this, to help Katara understand Malina a little more.

    On a side note—going back to the events at the end of Smoke and Shadow. As far as we know, Zuko hasn’t told anyone what Azula’s new plans are, and we haven’t really gotten his thoughts on it either. So, such a conversation could be an opportunity for him to talk about it a little—I could see Katara, who actually does want to trust Malina, but is struggling with it, going to Zuko to ask him about what made him able to change from what he was. And him responding [after explaining some of what Azula said] with something along the lines of, ‘What Azula said about me and who I was destined to become really scared me for a minute. But then I realized something. I have people all around me, supporting me, who helped me become who I am now. But…as much as I appreciate it…I’m not doing this for any one person. I’m doing it because I believe in what we’re doing myself. It’s just that my uncle, Aang, all of you—you all helped me see what I really wanted to be.’ ['See' being the trigger word, that makes Katara think again of her conversation with her father, and understand what he said on a deeper level.] I also think something along these lines could also help set up for the next series of comics, if the comics end up going back to the Zuko-Azula story after these ones.

    Anyway, just some idle speculation. (I guess the more specific it is, the more unlikely, but it’s fun anyway. xD)

    But yeah, I loved this one. The concepts were solid and there were so many strong and meaningful moments. Definitely looking forward to the next one. (Just three more months now. xD)

    I’m also pretty excited to find out what our next comic series will be. Seems like going back to the Zuko-Azula plot would be the most natural, but I also feel like Sokka is overdue for a series focusing on him. (And getting back the meteor sword.) Well, I know it will be good, whatever it is. x3

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  4. Avatar of Hyriu 85
    Hyriu 85 Said: Comment by Hyriu 85 on February 15, 2017 at 1:27 pm | Permalink
     

    I got this the day it came out in books stores along with Smoke and Shadow Library Edition. It was a great book and that Katara Hakota scene was quite good. All the comics have been good but this ine was great. It wasn’t perfect of course but I hope to see the quality of the comics continue going up. That was a really great review!!

    Reply

 

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