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The Legend of Korra – Review

Related: Avatar: The Last Airbender (prequel)

Similar: Fullmetal Alchemist

 

Watched in: English

Genre: Fantasy Action Adventure

Length: 52 episodes (4 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Korra, as a character and through her arc, displays a rare maturity in the face of conflict.
  • A series of villains made intriguing by their flaws and motivations.
  • Gorgeous art all-round.
  • Fight choreography at the top of its game. No yelling for power.
  • A varied supporting cast, each different from the next, each with proper personalities. Also, Varrick is the best.
  • Great references to the original series without resorting to info dumps. (Cabbage Corp.!)
  • Excellent voice work, infant characters’ most surprising.
  • The inclusion of sports, political structures, advances in technology, propaganda, public services, entertainment, and the like, makes for superb world building.
  • Doesn’t feel like a re-tread of Avatar.

Negatives:

  • One mistake at the end of season one (reminiscent of Avatar’s season four’s finale error).
  • It would have been nice to see more Fire Nation.

Note: This review contains implied spoilers from prequel, Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Outside of the new Star Wars film, nothing has as much pressure to live up to its prequel as The Legend of Korra, for me. As it happens, Korra is an exemplar of what a sequel should be. Nothing in Korra feels like a re-tread; the creators knew they couldn’t get away with a ‘Hollywood’ sequel cash-in.

The Legend of Korra starts seventy years after the events of Avatar, during a time of peace, as Korra, the new Avatar, moves to Republic City (think UN capitol in a 1940s Shanghai inspired setting with added zeppelins and Model-T Fords) to learn airbending from Master Tenzin, Aang’s son. However, when she arrives, the city isn’t as peaceful as it appears, for the triad gangs torment the lower echelons of the city and the ‘Equalist’ faction of humans seek to eliminate all bending from the world. Because of their power, some benders have gained higher status, looking down on non-benders. Masked leader Amon and his Equalists begin to capture benders; Amon claims he can remove their power permanently. Korra must stop him.

Like Avatar before it, Korra isn’t this basic plot. It is layered with a half-dozen plotlines woven together to create a deep and compelling narrative. While worrying about Amon, Korra has to deal with politicians trying to seize power in tragedy, master her final element of air, compete as a pro-bender (boxing with the elements in teams of three to push opponents out of the ring, backed by a great commentator) behind Tenzin’s back, shoulder Avatar responsibilities, and have a social life.

Even with this many plotlines, the narrative never feels overstuffed where each plotline tries to choke the others out. I never grew tired of a plotline because there was always another to step-up when one needed a break. I couldn’t find, and believe me I tried, any padding. Even action scenes, the most common source of padding in kids’ entertainment, are the perfect length. There is no power yelling for five episodes, no twenty-episode fights ended with a trump card that should have been used at the start, and the choreography is phenomenal – it has spoiled me. Spoiled! Korra is an intense, close-knit experience with the right amount of quiet moments to pour emotion into the narrative.

At its core, Korra is about characters. From the main to the supporting cast, every character is well thought out and has a purpose in the world. I don’t know where to begin. Aang’s hilarious grandchildren (“Those maggots will bow to me!”)? The aged original cast? The new Team Avatar with Mako’s Batarang eyebrows, Bolin’s humour and innocence, and Asami’s confidence? The other descendants? There’s too many to cover. I could write a review for each individual character, so high is their quality of design. No one feels like a quest-giver NPC waiting for the protagonist to turn up to complete the NPC’s purpose. You get the sense that they all lead lives that don’t revolve around Korra.

In my Avatar review, I mentioned Aang as the weakest (yet still great) of the core characters because of his over-dorkiness in season one and righteous personality (not my favourite). Korra however, is my favourite here, followed closely by Varrick the eccentric inventor and businessman – think Ton Stark if he was completely mad. What I liked most about Korra is her strength and maturity. She doesn’t accept something because a teacher said so. She questions everything, forging her own path. Even when down, she doesn’t whine about how unfair the world is; she whines about how weak she is, how it’s her fault and not someone else’s. And then there is her season-four story arc (no spoilers, don’t worry); I never expected a kids’ show to have the capacity to go this dark. Love it.

There is little to complain about in Korra. As mentioned above, season one’s finale mistake for convenience was a bother. I know they made the decision under the assumption that Korra would only last one season, but still, nothing wrong with leaving a little damage. My biggest disappointment is the lack of Fire Nation. We get hints at, but never see, the state of the Fire Nation, and what few characters make an appearance don’t get much screen time. All that said, no complaint against Korra affected my larger enjoyment, just like in Avatar. Anything I consider “bad” about Korra is only bad by comparison to the rest of the show – the sort of bad that wouldn’t even have time for mention in a lesser art piece due to bigger issues.

Korra is how a sequel should be done. We still have the group of friends with loyalty, infighting, fear, jealousy, love, and the animal companion, but it’s different focus, advancements in society, tournament element, ordinary jobs, big city with a criminal underbelly, politicians, a different kind of enemy, and close-knit conflict, makes for a new and fresh experience. I had high hopes for The Legend of Korra, and I was not disappointed.

Art – Very High

Vibrant action sequences, fluid animation, hand-painted style backgrounds of high detail, and excellent character design. Even the use of CG blends in well. Improved the mouth animations from the first series. (I still can’t un-see the LFR for mouths in Avatar.)

Sound – Very High

The music has advanced with the new technology, using tunes for the era that inspired the Shanghai style setting. Jazz infused with Chinese touches are coupled with more traditional tracks of strings, flutes, and xylophones. Excellent voice work featuring lighter accents this time around.

Story – Very High

A tale of hardships, overcoming trauma, treachery, corruption, and loyalty. Every character is fully realised, filled with subtleties and depth rarely found in programming aimed at children.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: The Legend of Korra is a must watch adventure. This was a real page-turner; I did nothing but the essentials to survive while watching from start to finish.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Deep NarrativeExtensive Character DevelopmentFluid AnimationHilariousPhenomenal VillainPositive Recommended English Voice TrackRiveting ActionStellar Voice ActingStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support CharactersStunning Art Quality

Negative: None.

Akagi – Review

Japanese Title: Touhai Densetsu Akagi: Yami ni Maiorita Tensai

 

Similar: Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor

One Outs

 

Genre: Gambling Sports Thriller

Watched in: Japanese

Length: 26 episodes.

 

Positives:

  • The music, character reactions, and inner thoughts combine to build good tension.
  • Comprehensive strategy alongside in-depth analysis of mahjong.
  • Interesting lead character with a sense of cunning, ruthlessness and insanity.

Negatives:

  • Limited in scope.
  • Art style may put you off.
  • Akagi’s origin story lacks realism.
  • Slow finale.

Akagi loves his mahjong like Yugi loves his children’s card games. In fact, the entire underground seems to love mahjong a whole lot. Mahjong is what makes the Yakuza go round; it takes lives, passes around exuberant amounts of money, induces insanity – it is lifeblood.

Mahjong, for the uninitiated, is a Chinese four-player game similar to most card games where the objective is to make pairs or straights of different tiles, only with more suits and pieces. You have a large hand of hidden tiles and the first to have it full of pairs and/or straights, wins the game. The key to the game is being able to read your opponent’s hand based on what they take and throw into the pond (the discard piles in the middle), and their reaction to each play. Think of it as poker, only requiring more skill and the game pieces matter.

Akagi is a thirteen-year-old mahjong prodigy who stumbles into the underground scene of gambling and obsessive mahjong playing – any conflict between gangs in this world is resolved through a round of mahjong. After a spectacular first night of play, Akagi is roped in to play for the Yakuza against various expert players. What makes Akagi stand out from the rest is that he is utterly insane. Not in the sense of a raving lunatic, no, he is fearless, thrilled by risking it all for the game – fingers, limbs and even life are gambling tokens. The more he has on the line, the greater the excitement for him. He’s an interesting character in the way he thinks, strategises and tortures his opponents through mental warfare. My only gripe with him is how he becomes professional. I don’t believe for one moment that he would be a genius at the game after five minutes of having the rules explained. They should have instead lied about him being a novice, in my opinion; it wouldn’t have made a difference to anything outside of that unconvincing origin.

As an anime, Akagi is as dramatic as they get. Every tile drawn, every play, every thought is overdramatized to the nth degree. Everyone does act as though mahjong is the creator and bringer of destruction, the answer to life, the secret to the universe. Is this a good thing? Well, think of what any sport anime would be like if they didn’t pile on the dramatic. It wouldn’t be interesting to watch, now would it? You have to like that intrinsic anime over-the-top style…and mahjong. Each game is narrated through a combination of the players’ and spectators’ thoughts and the recount of a narrator – at times it does slow to a crawl as you have to listen to every passing thought. The last few episodes are most guilty of this. They could have cut about four episodes’ worth of mindless rambling throughout the show.

Ninety-five percent of the screen time passes either playing or talking about the game. And that’s where Akagi’s major flaw lies. Normally, in a sport anime, plotlines surrounding the main narrative, therefore even if the sport isn’t your cup of tea, the overall package can hold your interest. Here, it’s nothing but mahjong, so you better love it. Yes, there are other interesting characters, most notably the opponents, ranging from the manic to the blind – each competes to see who is the most dramatic. I swear to you, winning is second to being dramatic. The strategies of each are interesting and varied, with different conditions versus each new opponent. I especially like how cheating is a part of the game, another tool for the utility belt.

Unfortunately, you will cringe in disbelief at times when luck of the draw attains a win. While it is true that luck is a part of any game in real life, here they claim that the luck was created or even ‘destined.’ It doesn’t happen often, but enough for you to notice. On the flip side, chance-heavy wins are illustrated well – i.e. it goes into the habits and psychology of characters to explain everything, even which of two pieces they would discard based on the sort of person they are.

Akagi is a good anime; however, I can only recommend it to those who enjoy and understand mahjong.

Art – Medium

The art will garner widely conflicting opinions; you will either love it or hate it – somewhere in between is improbable. Akagi looks like a woodpecker with that nose of his, the style angular and unique.

Sound – Medium

The music is good, adding to the tension and drama, and rather surprisingly, the opening theme isn’t too bad. Avoid the ending theme, however.

Story – High

Limited to mahjong matches, each one with higher stakes than the last, yet good with what it encompasses.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must watch for the lovers of mahjong and insane competition. Though I rate Akagi highly, I expect this anime to be of niche interest.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Strategic

Negative:

Terrible Start