Review: The Legend of Korra – Book 4, Episode 1

Whatever happened to that Avatar girl, anyway?

As if we needed any further proof that The Legend of Korra was basically an anime, they just had to go and launch Book 4 the same week as the Fall anime season. I’m up to my ears in premiere posts, so apologies that this came out a little late.

LoK continues to defy my expectations as, instead of picking up where we left off in Book 3, the new season jumps us three years forward, as Korra finishes up her rehabilitation and the chaos caused by the Red Lotus finally begins to subside. Time skips are risky business, but LoK handled this one exceptionally well, getting us up to speed on everyone’s lives without overloading the story with exposition. They also laid the groundwork for future story arcs, hinting at additional conflicts, such as the schism in Opal’s family. I get the sense a lot has happened in these three years, but I don’t necessarily feel like I missed anything, which is probably the best way to feel when you get tossed back into a story years down the road.

Fitting for the first episode after a time-skip, this premiere is all about unions and reunions: Between Asami and Mako, Opal and Bolin (and Kuvira and Batar), and of course the reunion that never comes, that between Team Avatar and the Avatar herself.

But these (re)unions are also happening on a much larger scale. As the Avatarverse’s industrial revolution speeds forward, train lines now connect much of the Earth Kingdom as well as Republic City, uniting people and places like never before. The Earth Kingdom itself is also going through a reunion of sorts, as Kuvira bullies her way into bringing the disparate Earth states together into a single nation again. Everyone is hard at work trying to reinstate the status quo, from putting a new monarch on the Earth Kingdom throne to bringing the Avatar back in the public eye.

The problem, of course (to quote the great Dr. Horrible), is that the status is not quo. Many of the Earth states wish to maintain independence; a number of citizens loudly (and understandably) want nothing to do with Prince Wu, the doofus who would be King; and Kuvira herself seems to be making a power grab of sorts, setting herself up as “the Great Uniter” and “governor” of the Earth Kingdom.

Our characters are similarly adrift and isolated: The Air Nation is scattered, Mako is forced into a job he hates, and poor Bolin is truly stuck in a difficult spot, caught between his desire to help people, his boss’s domineering tactics, and his girlfriend’s disapproval of that boss. To say nothing of Korra, whose absence casts a shadow over the entire episode, until we finally find her working in a fight club of sorts, her identity hidden and her martial prowess seemingly a shadow of its former self. For a world that claims to be reestablishing order and bringing people together, it sure seems to be doing the opposite.

All of this feels like a lot of table-setting for the season’s overarching concerns, particularly those of connection and identity. It struck me at the close of Book 3 that Korra’s personal journey is something of a mirror version of Aang’s. Most of Aang’s story is about how he resists defining himself as the Avatar, from fleeing the Air Temple, to saving Katara instead of mastering the Avatar state, and finally to that last battle, where he defeats Ozai without compromising his personal beliefs. Aang was an Air Nomad first, a friend and decent person second, and the Avatar third. He eventually accepted it as a part of himself, but it was rarely (if ever) his first priority.

Korra, on the other hand, has never been anything but the Avatar. Shipped across the world for training, she’s been separated from her family for long stretches and has never really belonged to one nation (Book 2, I think, neatly demonstrated how weak her cultural ties were to the Water Tribe). She’s developed a community of mentors and friends, but only very recently, and even then their interest in her and relationships to her are often tied directly to her role as the Avatar. So take away that role, and who is Korra the person, exactly? I think that’s going to be the big question this season, and will likely tie into the Earth Kingdom’s plight as well, as everyone struggles to find the balance which this Book’s title promises.

This, That, and the Other

  • And in the midst of uncertain identities and shifting roles, Asami continues to be the only member of Team Korra with her shit together. Like a boss.
  • Every time they said “coronation,” I heard “Korra Nation,” and giggled a little bit.
  • I didn’t have time to discuss it this week, but put a pin in that whole conversation between Kuvira and the leader of the State of Yai, as well as President Raiko’s “diplomatic game.” This season is looking to be even more political than the preceding ones, and I’m sure we’ll be discussing it in the coming weeks.
  • Loving the airbender Flying Squirrel costumes. Not only do they make a lot more sense than lugging around a glider, but the Air Nomads look like freaking superheroes.
  • Who wants to take bets on whether or not those “bandits” who stole from Opal and Kai were working for Kuvira all along?
  • “Wu down!”
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