Legend of Korra: Book 3 Premier Review
Korra is back in a big way. Strangely enough not only was the premier only announced last week, we are already three episodes in and off to a promising start. Book Two wasn’t bad so to say. It wanted to tackle bigger ideas, only there were some issues. Its main story took too long to set up and Unalaq, who appeared to be a complex villain at first, turned out to be disappointing. Just as bad, the animation quality took a hit at times, as Studio Mir was unable to produce all the episodes, Studio Pierrot picked up the slack and things got weird…Fear not, Studio Mir is back for this whole season; plus, there are even some new hands behind the boards. More on that later, first let’s get into it.
Change isn’t just the title of this third Book, it resonates thematically throughout these first three episodes. It’s been about two weeks since Harmonic Conversance and Korra’s choice to keep the spirit portals open. Waves of spirits are once again living among the people but also large parts of Republic City are covered in spiritual vines forcing many residents out of their homes. Not surprisingly, many, including the President, are angry with Korra about this and it doesn’t help there is nothing she can think of to remove the vines. It’s not all bad, as new Airbenders have started appearing throughout the world. Tenzin could not be more grateful and thanks Korra for this and cheers her up by letting her know that her job as the Avatar is about keeping the world balanced and often to do that she will have to upset some people.
Adjusting well to these new changes is Bolin, who is over joyed to be staying with Tenzin’s family at Air Temple Island. His first scene in which he deconstructs their family structure is hilarious. Not adjusting well is Mako. He is trying awkwardly to avoid the whole situation because living with both his exes would probably be a very strange affair. However, none of that awkwardness affects Korra or Asami. In fact it’s something the ladies joke about. It’s great to see Korra and Asami get quality screen time. One of the issues with last season, for a show that features so many great female characters in leading roles, Korra, Lin Bei fong and Asami acted foolishly for large parts of the Book and the latter two were pushed aside in others parts. Not here, Korra and Asami have a great scene where they bond and it’s topped off by some great sight gags. This Book knows exactly where it is going right from the start. Korra is leaving Republic City to search for new Airbenders in hopes of rebuilding the Air Nation. What would be a globetrotting adventure without Team Avatar? It wouldn’t be one, so Korra and friends set out for the Earth kingdom.
Many Korra fateful jokingly called Unalaq “another water bender who has beef with his brother.” Zaheer, played by Henry Rollins, is not that. Locked up high in an Earth prison, Zaheer is one of the new Airbenders and unlike most he has study Airbending style, form an philosophy. He makes quick work of his guards and escapes from his cell, at the same time promising an end to the era of the Avatar. Zaheer is an interesting and dangerous character from his first appearance; however, Rollins’ performance takes some getting use too. The character seems more grounded than Rollins’ delivery and his performance at first does not leave the same impression Steve Blum had when he played Amon back in Book One.
With Studio Mir back on production duties the animation is top notch again. Joining this season as a director is Young Justice Alum, Melchior Zwyer. Zwyer, who directed some of Young Justice’s largest episodes, is right at home here. The fight scene at the end of “Breath of Fresh Air” is fluid – Zwyer’s camera work captures the intensity of the action and viewers get a real sense of how cunning and dangerous Zaheer is.
While Korra and Tenzin have a clear goal in mind, that doesn’t mean they’ll be able to reach said goal easily. We see this first hand in the second episode “Rebirth.” New Airbenders are popping up all over the world, but that doesn’t mean they will all want to become Air Nomads. Tenzin’s door-to-door pitch is hilarious. However, there is something about being an Air Nomad in this modern age that doesn’t sound as wonderful as Tenzin makes it. He is right, there is a culture and historyto being an Airbender, but just because these people became Airbenders overnight doesn’t mean that history is theirs or supersedes the culture and history they already know.
Korra’s pitch isn’t much better – the “you’re coming with me” method will only get you so far. Korra’s attempt at recruitment is funny and gets a little inside baseball. Voiced by Jon Heder and modeled after one of the show’s animation directors, Ki Hyun Ryu, Korra fails to convince this 22 year old, living in his parent’s basement, this is the opportunity his mother has been hoping for he would find. It’s easy to understand Tenzin’s desire to rebuild this part of his father’s legacy. However, part of me believes it will not be long before Tenzin realizes The Air Nation as it “was” is dead. These new Airbenders never were and possibly never will be nomads and Tenzin and Korra shouldn’t expect them to be. In a way, Bolin kind of understands this and his way of “selling” Airbending is wholly different.
Bolin is all about “show not tell,” his idea involves the gang putting on an Airbender traveling circus. Hell, he is even wearing a twirly mustache. Bolin’s display is impressive, Korra even gets to play a joke at Mako’s expense, but it doesn’t really inspire any Benders to join them. The only person who steps up is Kai, a “lovable scamp,” who is mainly trying to run from the law, more than be an Air Nomad. Still, Korra and team decide to take him with them and it’s off to Ba Sing Se.
This takes us into the third episode “The Earth Queen.” Composer Jeremy Zuckerman’s score continues to impress. Ba Sin Se has seen better days and Zuckerman’s score, which slowly builds to a crescendo but dies out as the poor conditions of the lower ring clearly comes into focus help emphasize that. There is always something shady going on in Ba sing Se and some 70 years after Aang and his friends first entered this walled city things have gotten worst.
Arguably, the highlights of these episodes are the spectacular prison break out scenes. Member of Zaheer’s gang are being held in secret White Lotus prisons around the world and we soon find out why. These are some extremely dangerous Benders. Ghazan is the first to be free and with only three rocks pretty much wrecks house by turning those rocks into a spinning lava blade. Next up is Ming Hua, an armless Waterbender kept in a volcano prison. Having no arms or being locked in a volcano means nothing to her, who creates a pair of limbs by Waterbending and is soon swinging around like Spiderman, effortlessly KOing White Lotus guards. Directors Colin Heck and Ian Graham are doing their best to make these some of the most creative and action packed scenes the series has seen yet.
These breakouts don’t go unnoticed and gives way to Legend of Korra debut of Lord Zuko, now a badass old man riding a dragon. There is one more member hidden in the Northen Water tribe locked away and Zuko is not planning to let Zaheer and his gang just have their way. Bruce Davison does a great job playing the now aged Fire Lord. There is a heft to his voices and his still has room for Zuko’s weird sense of humor, like how he explains to Tonraq and the cousins about that one time he tried to kill the Avatar by hiring a similar bounty hunter. He and Eska are going to get along fine.
Back in Ba sing Se, Korra and Asami are begrudgingly doing the bidding of the Earth Queen. She won’t help them find new Airbenders until Korra helps her collect her tax money. Fresh off of being manipulated by her Uncle, Korra doesn’t like doing the Queen’s dirty work. Even though Korra and Asami fight off a Mad Max style biker gang, the girls know there is more truth to the Outlaws’ words than the Earth Queen’s.
Meanwhile in what can only be describes as extreme coincidence the brothers Bolin and Mako meet their Uncle, Grandmother and extended family. It’s touching and nice to learn more of the origins of the brothers. They have been with the show since the beginning and outside of “their parents are dead” we don’t really know much about those parents. The time with their Grandmother is a nice moment and even Mako haters should find something enduring about it. The Earth Queen not honoring her word is not surprising, given she is trying to form her own secret Airbender army and off course Team Avatar’s new troublemaker Kai has been kidnapped for it.
Book 3 is already off to an impressive start. The gang is back together and there are many interesting new faces among them. Most of the new cast members seamlessly blend into the mix. Yes, some take a little warming up to, but Korra’s voice cast is already looking very impressive. Perhaps most welcoming, once again, Korra can call itself among the best looking shows on Television.
Korra’s on break for the 4th of July, so the next recap will be in two weeks. Till then rejoice, Korra’s back and off to a great start.