This Is No Korra-Nation

July 14, 2012

Avatar: The Legend of Korra – Welcome to Republic City (game screen shot), April 10, 2012. (Harryhogwarts via Qualifies as fair use under US Copyright laws because image is only being used to visually identify the subject.

I wish that this was only a pun. But, Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko’s Avatar: The Last Airbender spinoff The Legend Of Korra was only a legend in their own minds. It’s not that Korra’s first season wasn’t a good one. It’s that Korra could not possibly live up to what was the greatest animation series of all-time.

Any fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender couldn’t help but be disappointed with the first season of Korra. First, it took four years for them to bring Korra to Nickelodeon, and a full twenty months after they released the first stills for the new series in August ’10. They wasted two of those years making the terrible live-action The Last Airbender (2010) as directed by M. Night Shyamalan (see my “The Last Airbender, or Shyamalan’s Cynical Egg?” post from July ’10).

Korra, Avatar: The Legend of Korra (artwork), October, 2011. ( Qualifies as fair use under US Copyright laws, as image is only being used to identify blog subject.

So Korra was behind the 8-ball already when the show officially launched in April. Then the first episode began, exploding through waterbender Avatar Korra’s growing-up years in about three and a half minutes. That opening scene set the tone for all twelve of the first season’s episodes. One could sort of justify the rapid pace of Korra because she’d already mastered three of the four elements and because the spin-off had moved seventy years into the future, and a somewhat modern one at that. But the pace left little room for character development and the clear-cut personality distinctions that made Avatar: The Last Airbender the ultimate experience.

It took three episodes for me to find a good-and-honest scene that produced a personality quirk (see Bolin as a poor man’s Sokka here) and a hearty laugh. You got no sense of how Tenzin became part of Republic City’s council, or how tension-filled his life must’ve been as the responsible son of the great Avatar Aang. The elderly Katara appeared in a couple of scenes, and there was no attempt to explain the intervening years between the end of the Hundred-Year War until the last couple of episodes. Even then, these were fleeting scenes in a fast-paced, let’s-get-Korra-to-the-Avatar-State season.

The sheer lack of an attempt at authenticity with Korra, though, was what I found most disappointing. Seven decades into the future with modern technologies would create cultural tensions for sure, but it certainly wouldn’t wipe out the traditions of the four nations, even in Republic City. That, and only flashes of the spirituality that was completely infused in Avatar: The Last Airbender, made Korra a poor facsimile for whatever tensions between tradition and modernity that the main character faced in the first season.

I plan to watch Season 2, assuming that DiMartino, Konietzko and Nickelodeon plan on putting out a second season of Korra now that Season 1 is over. But I’ve lowered my expectations for the new series, especially if the creators intend to continue to rush through plots. It was as if Avatar Korra was on an out-of-control 2 Subway rumbling through Midtown Manhattan, about to flip over and derail.

The POTUS and The Last Airbender

December 8, 2010

C-SPAN Video Player - President Obama News Conference on Tax Cut Agreement Screen Shot, December 8, 2010. Donald Earl Collins. Qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law because screen shot is of low quality and is only intended to highlight the subject of this post.

In a post I did during President Obama’s campaign run (see “The Avatar State” post, July 22, 2008), I dared to hope that the then energized candidate and senator would be a bridge that would work across the divides of race and ideology. Much like the main character of my favorite animation series of all time, Aang of the Avatar: The Last Airbender. But unlike Thomas L. Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree (1999), I don’t purport to have a special wisdom about how he can do this.


And like the animated series, Obama’s run for president also came to a successful end. For both the creators of the series and our beleaguered president, it was time for the big time. For one, it was the opportunity to do a live-action, big screen movie to introduce the epic nature of kids embarking on a journey to save the world to a larger audience. For Obama and his group, it was the chance to govern based on the ideas and ideals that they communicated successfully to nearly 67 million voters.

Unfortunately, both have disappointed, and not just a little. James Cameron managed to wrest away the very title of the movie — Avatar — from the Avatar: The Last Airbender creators Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, even though his movie was merely a dream at the time that series had begun in ’04. That, and settling for M. Night Shyamalan as director turned The Last Airbender into an irrelevant movie that hurt the brand, while inadvertently helping Cameron’s Avatar make money-making history.

Poor Noah Ringer as Aang of M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender Screen Shot, December 8, 2010. Donald Earl Collins. Qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law because screen shot is of low quality and is only intended to highlight the subject of this post.


The Obama Administration also began conceding its brand within weeks of reaching office. They say that governing dilutes the rhetoric of campaigns, and even hopeful me maintained enough jadedness to realize that. Yet to see how quickly Obama and his administration moved from action on the stimulus bill to a bunker mentality on virtually everything else was a bit distressing. The picks of Larry Summers, Peter McNickol of Ally McBeal fame — I mean Timothy Geithner — and Arne Duncan to be pillars of his economic and education teams should’ve been signs. That the Obama Administration would look after corporate and rich people’s interests before it would look out for mine. That there would be little fighting for the ideas and ideals of his campaign.

Only yesterday afternoon did Obama decide to flash anger at liberals and progressives. To be truthful, some of them have been bitter and overly critical of Obama’s decisions almost from day one. But to paint all of those left of center with the same broad brush, as if we all “have the satisfaction of having a purist position, and no victories for the American people. And we will be able to feel good about ourselves and sanctimonious about how pure our intentions are and how tough we are.”

It’s a nice sentiment. Except that the president doesn’t seem to understand the difference between compromise and capitulation. As David Gergen put it on CNN yesterday, while Obama may well be right in heading off political opposition from the Tea/GOP group looking to hold Americans and him hostage, his execution of this from a communications standpoint was terrible.

We’re approaching the midway point of his first — and possibly only — term in office, and Obama has yet to take a serious stand on any principle he campaigned for in ’08. I’m not speaking as a liberal or

"Sozin's Comet, Part 4" from Avatar: The Last Airbender Screen Shot, December 4, 2010. Donald Earl Collins. Qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law because screen shot is of low quality and is only intended to highlight the subject of this post.

progressive here. Just look at his memoirs, his speeches and campaign promises, even the speeches and pressers Obama gave in his first months in office. Now, some of this is the result of real compromise. But after nearly two years, those compromises look more and more like concessions for the rich and corporate, and less like compromises to protect the poor, unemployed and underemployed.


Like the poor kid who didn’t have a chance in heaven to measure up to the character Avatar Aang in the Avatar: The Last Airbender series, it looks as if President Obama is having a hard time measuring up to his forty-six-year-old self. But hopefully, like the animation version of Aang, the real Obama will find his way. He needs to take a stand on something important to him and us, and do it with the bravado in which he ran on. So that even the folks who wouldn’t vote for him if God asked them to will at least get out of his way.


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