Saturday, February 21, 2015

Sequel Showdown: A:TLA vs. LoK

This review will be different than the others. In Sequel Showdown, I look at an original movie or television series and then compare it to its sequel, deciding whether the sequel was successful in keeping the original's spirit alive while also adding in new elements of its own. I'll also decide which of the two is better, which will be displayed at the bottom of the review. Without further introduction, here's the first Sequel Showdown, Avatar: The Last Airbender vs. The Legend of Korra.

THE ORIGINAL: Avatar: The Last Airbender
DATES RUN: 2005-2008

"Have you read this guy's first review? We've got this in the bag." - The Gaang
SYNOPSIS: Four nations, each focused around one of the natural elements (earth, water, fire, air) exist in a world in which people called "benders" can manipulate said elements. They live in peace until the Fire Nation attacks the others, starting a massive world war.

So the snacks quote from the first review might have been off...
The only person powerful enough to end the war, a being who can bend all four elements called the Avatar, goes missing just prior to the war, leaving no one to stop the Fire Nation. Since the Avatar is reincarnated into the next nation in the cycle (water, earth, fire, then air), the Fire Nation eliminates the Air Nomads so that the next Avatar wouldn't be born and the cycle would be broken, meaning no Avatar would ever return to defeat the Fire Nation.

They were over twelve years too late, but it's the thought that counts.
A hundred years pass, and two members of the Southern Water Tribe discover a young boy in an iceberg who can airbend, making him the last airbender and, as luck would have it, the Avatar.

REVIEW: I've already said as much as I can say about Avatar in my first review without giving away any spoilers. The traditional Asian themes of the setting mixed with extensive and engaging mythology give the show an aura of legend. All the characters are an absolute joy to witness and their characters are fleshed out to the best of the writers' abilities, which is really damn good. The episodic nature of the show makes the journey feel lengthy in a good way, like the characters are on this grand adventure, all while progressing an overarching plot that, while fairly straight forward, provides the necessary obstacles to see these characters at their worst and best. The show looks and sounds fantastic, with the movements for bending being based on actual martial arts and the elements moving just like you'd think they would. Avatar is fun, it's creative, the characters are wonderful, the lore is fantastic... it's one of my favorite shows and it probably will continue to be long into the future.

We're so timeless we've turned sepia.
THE SEQUEL: The Legend of Korra
DATES RUN: 2012-2014

"Who's ready to beat some old school ass?" - Team Avatar 2.0
SYNOPSIS: Korra begins several decades after the events of Avatar. The war against the Fire Nation is over and the nations have returned to peace. Aang and his friends have created a new nation called the United Republic which has become a central hub of world culture. Aang dies at some point between the two shows, and a new Avatar named Korra is born into the Southern Water Tribe.

Who's *gasp* a FEMALE PROTAGON... oh wait, I did this joke already.
Despite being very skilled at bending, Korra is kept at the south pole well into her teens by her guardians known as the White Lotus. When she learns that her airbending teaching from Aang's son, Tenzin, is going to be delayed, Korra sneaks onto a boat heading for Republic City, the capital of the United Republic and Tenzin's home, so that she can learn airbending and finally see the world outside her home. Despite a rough first encounter with city life, she gets to stay and train with Tenzin while also learning what it means to be the Avatar.

REVIEW: Korra takes the Avatar franchise in a different direction. Instead of self-contained episodes with their own stories contributing to a large, overarching plot for the whole series, Korra episodes are primarily focused on the story of the season, with each season having its own plot that may or may not have a major impact on the seasons that follow. The first season is focused on a group of non-benders called the Equalists who want to eliminate bending so everyone will be equal. The second season focuses on a rise in aggressive spirit activity that's threatening the world. The third season focuses on the return of the Air Nomads and how such a huge change impacts the world. The fourth and final season deals with the rebuilding of the Earth Kingdom after the events of the third season.

with a
This kind of structure makes the show feel more like a series of challenges to be dealt with rather than the kind of grand adventure presented in Avatar. That means there's less of a focus on character and more of a focus on story - the characters have to react to their situation rather than do what they want, making the show more serious than Avatar.

Though not always serious.
The show also takes advantage of the time skip between the series; while Avatar felt primarily like it was set in the distant past, with a few bizarrely modern machines spread about, Korra takes place in a world similar to the early 20th century, with cars, skyscrapers, and other modern day technology and designs, all while still holding onto those traditional Asian themes.

Started from the bottom... we're here.
There's also a distinct shift in focus on the kind of opposition the characters face. In Avatar, the bad guys were pretty obviously bad, just wanting to take over the world because they were a bunch of jerks. This kind of evil does occur in the real world (the Holocaust, for example), but it's not terribly justifiable. In Korra, the bad guys had, for the most part, reasonable complaints about the world and just ended up choosing the wrong way of fixing their problems. For example, the Equalists want to make non-benders equal to benders, and so they decide that the best way of doing that is by getting rid of bending. This makes the villains more sympathetic and gives the good guys more reason to doubt their own cause, creating more drama in the story.

"So, are you saying the mass murderer is right, or...?"
This works well for LoK, because the real focus is on the story rather than the characters, making the villains' intents more important than they were in the more laid back A:TLA. With all of that said, LoK still has strong characters that are thoroughly analyzed. They're still a lot of fun to watch, and the show doesn't become so serious as to become boring. The visuals have only gotten better since A:TLA, making action sequences all that much more intense and the setting all that much more beautiful. It's still a fun and engaging show that moves the Avatar franchise in a new direction while maintaining the traits that made it great in the first place.

"He said good things about us! We're going to win!"
[I usually try to keep my reviews as spoiler free as possible, but there will be MAJOR SPOILERS ahead in the following sections]
I'll be breaking up the comparison between the two shows into seven categories: plot, action, romance, villains, side characters, Team Avatar, and protagonist. Each category is worth one point, and the show with the most points that the end is the one I consider the better show.

"You ready to go, baldy?" "Whenever you're ready, bimbo."
PLOT: I've already discussed the differences between the plot structure when talking about Korra, so now I'll go over them in more detail. The structure for both really works in each one's favor; Avatar's overarching storyline with a stronger focus on individual episodes makes the original series feel more like a timeless epic, while Korra's story-driven episodes that drive forth the plot of each season makes the second series feel like a string of disastrous events that the characters have to deal with, which fits the theme of change that's spread throughout the majority of LoK. Both structures have their strengths and weaknesses - Avatar is a bit more simplistic and could be considered more "kiddy" or "filler-ish" due to its more laid back approach, while Korra's constant barrage of plot advancement leaves less room to enjoy the characters or the comedy.

"No comedy?"
That said, I believe Korra has the stronger plotline of the two. While Avatar is a timeless tale, its plot is very simple and we've seen it a lot before - bad guys want to take over the world, good guys have to stop them. There's nothing necessarily thought-provoking about the plot itself; most of the thought-provoking moments come from seeing how the characters have to deal with their problems, not the problems themselves. With Korra, things get more complicated. The motives of the villains aren't entirely evil, and in some cases are possibly good, such as Amon's dream of equality or Kuvira's dream of a united Earth Kingdom. In addition, Korra's plot did better at tying together the struggle of the main storyline with the setting. In Avatar, the heroes would go to a town, help them out, and then leave, everything being fixed; this added to the sense that they were on an adventure, but it didn't make it seem like their ultimate goal, stopping the Fire Nation from taking over the world, was such a big deal until each season's climax. In Korra, you see innocent people being oppressed or attacked as a direct result of the story's antagonist; Amon began taking away bender's powers, Unalaq took over the Southern Water Tribe, Zaheer sent the Earth Kingdom into chaos, and Kuvira conquered and enslaved thousands in her quest for power. This gives the heroes more motivation to overcome the challenges presented to them, and it gives the audience more of a reason to care about the outcome. In Avatar, we wanted to see the hero succeed because we liked the hero, but in Korra, we wanted to see the hero succeed because we understood the consequences of failure.
Winner: Korra
ACTION: I mentioned earlier that the visuals in Korra have improved over that of Avatar, so this category should be pretty straight forward. Better animation and art style automatically mean better fight scenes, right? Well, this one's a little more complicated than that. First of all, the animation in Avatar is already spectacular; the gap between the two shows is not that big. Second, while Korra may have some smoother, cleaner animation, there's a huge difference between the scale of the action in the two series.
"Crap, I was hoping this one would be a gimme."
For whatever reason (maybe the more modern, urban setting the show has), Korra's action is usually pretty small scale. Bending is usually used to take down a single opponent at a time, with of course exceptions during massive battles and season finales. This makes fights more personal, but it doesn't feel like the characters are very powerful, instead just very skilled. The battles are still impressive, but the characters, heroes and villains alike, seem to be above average rather than in their own league.

"You calling me weak, punk?"
Compare this to Avatar, where there are multiple times that the characters use bending to do things that seem impossible, like when Aang stopped a volcano from destroying a village, or when we see a flashback of Kyoshi tearing a peninsula off the mainland and making her own island, or when Toph keeps a massive building from sinking into the desert long enough for Team Avatar to escape. Korra has a few similarly large action scenes, like when Korra fights a massive Vaatu in her spirit form at the end of season two or the spirit vine weapons used in season four, but Avatar is constantly showing the characters performing feats that defy imagination.

Count the shits being given (hint: whole number less than 1 but more than -1)
Also, since Avatar came first, the limitations on what bending could do were still unexplored. Anything was possible, and we were amazed when we saw the characters using new abilities like blood-bending or metal-bending. In Korra, we've had an entire series prior to understand how bending works, so there's less awe at what the characters can accomplish, especially when the scale of the action is turned down (although there are still awesome scenes like lava-bending). When you tie in the massive scope of action in the original with Avatar's sense of grand adventure and epic fantasy, it doesn't just feel like you're watching people skilled with a force that exists in their world; it feels like your seeing legends perform acts of mythical proportions, doing things no person should be capable of. Korra may have some really cool visuals, but Avatar just ties in the action to the show's tone perfectly.
Winner: Avatar
"We might be in trouble."

ROMANCE: This has always been this franchise's weakest point. The love side plots in these shows aren't necessarily bad (except season one of Korra. Yikes.), but they're nothing particularly moving either. In Avatar, Aang has a crush on Katara that ultimately leads to them getting together at the end of the series, but it's kind of hard to get behind. Katara is already established as a sort of older sister/ mother figure to Aang, and it's hard for us as an audience to imagine how that relationship would change into something romantic.

The Dark Horse comics actually do a pretty good job of expanding their relationship, but this review is for the shows only. This pic is from The Promise.
Other than that, there aren't too many other romantic subplots in the first Avatar. Katara has a crush on a boy named Jet at one point but she gets over him in the same episode and the two only interact one other time several episodes later. There's this constant theme of Sokka being seen as attractive to various side characters and even some of the main ones, but he only really gets with Yue, a Water Tribe princess who takes the place of the moon spirit in season one, and Suki, a warrior who teaches him that girls can fight, too. The former is sort of tragic but the relationship only existed for three episodes and wasn't established on much other than good looks and humor, while the second is a kind of cute relationship that isn't very deep but isn't especially annoying.

"You hear that, sweetie? We're not annoying!"
There's only one other romance I can think of and that's between Zuko and a stoic girl named Mai. Again, this relationship isn't built on much (other than they're both always miserable), but it does have its touching moments when Zuko has to betray Mai when he deserts the Fire Nation.
Meanwhile, Korra has a pretty weak love triangle between Bolin, Mako, and Korra that changes to Mako, Asami, and Korra later on. While there are some funny moments from this, the chemistry between the characters is almost nonexistent and the writers had the good sense to cut Mako and Korra's relationship off by the end of the second season, leaving all of the characters mentioned before single.

So now everyone is alone! Yay!
Korra is left out of any other explicit relationships for the rest of the series, although there is a fan-theorized relationship between her and Asami that is very heavily implied to be canon at the end of the series [EDIT: the creators have confirmed Korrasami to be canon]. Although I'm not against the relationship, especially considering how progressive it is for children's television and how the pair developed a strong friendship through the latter part of the series that could reasonably evolve into something more, I personally felt the conclusion to their love subplot was rushed and a bit too fanservicey. It all happens within the last two minutes of the final episode and the dialogue between the two was just so awkward and out of nowhere that it feels kind of forced. The imagery and music are nice, but the lead-up to that final shot is just so jarring it leaves you with the sense that it was shoved in last second to wrap up loose ends.

"Want to make out?" "We're at a funeral, Korra." "Is that a no?"
That said, there were some more interesting romances throughout the series. Although it received little attention in later seasons, the former romance between Tenzin - Aang's son - and Lin - Toph's daughter - ended in them breaking up prior to the show and Tenzin starting a family with another woman named Pema, which results in the two having a strained relationship for years. Lin and Tenzin have to work through their problems and ultimately Lin sacrifices herself to save the family of her ex-boyfriend. It's a touching subplot that is sadly looked over the rest of the series.

"We good?" "Yeah, Twinkletoes. We're good."
While we're talking about Tenzin, his relationship with Pema is also fairly strong. While we don't see the two alone very often, you do get to see Tenzin with his family a lot, and you can see how Pema acts as the gentler, kinder half to his serious disposition. It's rare, but you'll occasionally get a glimpse of the two's relationship as a couple; Pema tends to be Tenzin's emotional support and guidance in times when his serious and less intimate personality can't solve the problems he has to face. You can see the connection between them, especially when you see the whole family together.

Other relationships include a cute love between Bolin and Toph's granddaughter, Opal. The two have a similar relationship to Sokka and Suki, with Bolin being the silly doofus that Opal is both embarrassed and charmed by. There's also a hilarious relationship between Bolin and a Water Tribe princess named Eska, but I won't say much about it because it's mostly played for laughs.

But again, it's hilarious.
There are a few other romances throughout Korra as well; the writers seemed more interested in pushing it in this series, perhaps due to the older age of the characters and target audience. So that leaves the question of which series did better: Avatar, which had a few nice, safe relationships that weren't terribly interesting but were charming enough, or Korra, which took a bolder stance on romance but had several rough patches because of it. Personally, I feel Korra's romances are stronger just because there are so many good ones to go along with the bad ones. And the only real bad romance was the one between Mako and Korra; the only reason it holds so much weight is because it lasted two seasons. That said, Korra took chances that paid off most of the time, and that puts it just ahead.
Winner: Korra
I'm going to get hate from both sides for what I said about this scene, but that's the internet for you.

VILLAINS: This seems like another easy win for Korra since I mentioned earlier that the villains' motives in Korra are more relatable than those of Avatar. But motive alone doesn't make a good villain, and a lot of times it's better to have a villain who's more intimidating than identifiable.

"You think I give a flying fart if you understand me?"
Let's start with Korra. Each season Korra faced a new villain, and her first was Amon, the leader of the Equalists. While Amon's motives had credibility, he wasn't a character played up for sympathy. From his expressionless mask to his incredible combat skill, Amon was meant to be intimidating in a cold, calculating way. You didn't know what he looked like under the mask until the end of the season, and that was fine, because he was less individual than he was an ideal given human form. He was a memorable villain who was given a tragic ending when his plans fell apart.

Terror has a new face. And it wears a kabuki mask.
Next came Unalaq and Vaatu, the villains of season two. These two were probably the weakest of the series' villains, with Unalaq being a religious nut who was more power hungry than he was motivated by his supposed goal of bringing the spirits back, and Vaatu being an ancient evil that we've seen a thousand times before and honestly wasn't very intimidating in design (evil kite? Really?). They had an interesting fight sequence at the end of the season, but they honestly weren't very memorable. They were more impressive for what they accomplished - temporarily destroying the Avatar spirit and permanently cutting off Korra's connection to her past lives - than for who they were.

"Almighty lord of darkness, why do we suck so much?"
In the third season we see Zaheer and his gang of anarchists who call themselves the Red Lotus. They want to remove the world leaders from power to attain true freedom, and they plan on permanently destroying the Avatar in order to do so. This is the first time we really see an evil "team," and the villains in this season all have some really cool designs and powers. That said, they didn't really get fleshed out as they needed to be, which is a shame because they seemed to have some very interesting backstories and personalities we'll never fully understand. Zaheer himself is sort of the calm and collected figure with a demeanor that kind of betrays his darker purpose, which is to bring chaos upon the world. The disconnection between his personality and his motive is slightly jarring, but that may just make him a bit more interesting rather than work against him.

"We deserved more screen time!"
Finally we have Kuvira, who tries to unite the shattered Earth Kingdom in the wake of season three's events. Kuvira is perhaps the most reasonable of the villains; in her first appearance in season three, she's actually one of the good guys, and she doesn't explicitly become a villain until a few episodes into the final season. Despite often having a stoic and cold attitude, she acts somewhat as Korra's double; both are aggressive and refuse to back down, doing whatever they have to do to maintain order. This makes her possibly the best of the series' villains, as she's not only relatable due to her motives but also her personality similarities with the protagonist.

"Aw yeah, best in show."
Did you notice a pattern amongst Korra's villains? All were cold, calculating strategists that had an underlying ferocity to them that made them intimidating. While they work fine as individuals, seeing them all lined up together kind of makes them seem unoriginal. While I like Kuvira best in hindsight, when I first saw her I thought, "Oh look. Another calm, collected strategist who does terrible things with their superior skill and intellect. Where have I seen that before?" There isn't much diversity in personality here; there's enough so that the villains aren't boring, but not enough for them to really stand apart from each other except in their motivation.

"Maybe we should all start a band."
Moving on to Avatar, we have a few less major villains to choose from, and unlike in Korra, all of them are working together for the same cause. For starters, we have the Fire Lord himself, Ozai. This character was only shown in shadow for the first two seasons of the series, really building up his evilness and badassery. Yet when we finally see his face, we don't see some terrible monster, but rather a normal and even handsome man. He doesn't necessarily look evil (in fact, in another story his appearance might make him a good guy), and that's what's so great about his design: it shows that anyone is capable of evil and madness, regardless of however normal they may appear. During the series finale he commits unspeakable atrocities, really sending home the message his appearance sends.

"Tremble at my luxurious hairstyle."
Although Ozai gets plenty of buildup, he falls behind in motivation, backstory, and personality. He's mostly just the final boss, one last great foe for the hero to overcome. That's not necessarily bad, but it doesn't make him that great, either. Fortunately, we have another terrifying villain to make up for her father's shortcomings, and that's the princess of the Fire Nation, Azula. Whereas Ozai was built up over the three seasons and was something of a letdown, Azula came out of nowhere and immediately grabbed our attention. She's a tyrant who demands absolute perfection from not only those around her but also herself. She has the cold, calculating personality that a lot of the Korra characters I mentioned earlier have, but she's only half their age and is easily the best strategist in the entire series. She'll destroy anyone who opposes her without so much as a second thought and is constantly manipulating both friend and foe alike. She's the perfect villain, so evil you can't help but hate her, and her final battle is both fulfilling and heartbreaking to watch as you see someone who was always in control finally slip into madness, realizing that everything she fought for and plotted to achieve wasn't enough to make her happy.

Also, keep in mind that she was only 14 during the events of Avatar. This is a child, making her ending all the more tragic.
So Avatar has one less-than-amazing villain and one outstanding villain. Is that enough for it to win over Korra's three really good villains and one bad one? Fortunately, that's not a question I have to answer, because Avatar has one more villain that will settle the matter without dispute, and that character is Zuko.

"Time to tip the scales, b****es."
I count Zuko as a villain because, for the majority of the series, he acted as an antagonist to the heroes. But even from the beginning, we could tell Zuko wasn't evil. He was desperate, as capturing the Avatar was his only chance at restoring the honor he lost to his father. Zuko's back story is so tragic that you almost want him to catch Aang just so he can finally win at something. He acts as a parallel to Aang; both shamed themselves and have to restore their honor, although in Zuko's case, he was actually shamed for doing something noble and tried to redeem himself by doing something wrong, while Aang acted selfishly and has to make up for it by putting the needs of others above himself. Zuko is a character who is constantly struggling to understand what is right and wrong in the world, and he ultimately realizes that the thing he wanted, his honor, was not something he could gain by doing the bidding of his evil father. He realized that honor is something one gains for themselves; it can't be given by someone else. He ultimately redeems himself by joining the heroes and fighting the Fire Nation so that he can end the war and regain not only his own honor, but the honor of his nation. His is one of the greatest redemption stories I've ever seen.

"I really liked how many times you said honor in that paragraph."
With Zuko added in, the scales tip in Avatar's favor. Korra may have some relatable villains, but they just can't compare to the terror, tragedy, and all around awesomeness of the Fire Nation's royal family.
Winner: Avatar
"You're welcome, guys."

SIDE CHARACTERS: A lot of fake-out gimmes in this review. This time, you'd think that I'd give the win to Avatar since I've talked about how it's more character-driven than Korra. However, the episodic nature of Avatar means that characters that aren't directly associated with the main team rarely make appearances. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of good characters outside of Team Avatar: you've got the wacky King Bumi, the beautiful but deadly Kyoshi warrior Suki, Azula's lackeys Mai and Ty Lee, and most notable of all, the wise and lovable Uncle Iroh.

Flashing White Lotus bling before it was cool.
I'm going to focus on Iroh because honestly, he could win this category all by himself. Iroh is the perfect superman figure; despite having no major character flaws and being a totally incredible fighter, Iroh manages not to seem over-powered and is one of the most interesting and likable characters in the show. His dedication to setting his confused and struggling nephew Zuko on the right path is inspiring, heartwarming, and tear-jerking throughout the entire series. He acts not only as Zuko's mentor and advisor, but also as the antisocial and angsty teen's only friend and loved one. The bond between Zuko and Iroh is so great that the show could have just been about them and still managed to be incredible; he's a beacon of hope amongst a corrupt nation and a figure that all the characters can look up to and admire.

"Beat that, you young whipper-snappers."
But as much as I absolutely adore Iroh, he stands alone amongst a horde of other side characters. The others don't get nearly as much screen time or exploration of character; the only ones who come close are Mai and Ty Lee, and they're not a tenth as interesting as Iroh. Everyone else kind of just come and go, leaving the main team to get the majority of the focus.
Korra, on the other hand, has characters practically oozing out, and they are all good at worst and fantastic at best. You have the entire Bei Fong family who get a ton of attention in the later two seasons and have some of the most touching moments in the series, you have Korra's mentor Tenzin and his family who are absolutely adorable and heat-warming, you have hilarious characters like the Water Tribe princess Eska and the eccentric businessman Varrick... the list goes on and on and they all are just an absolute joy to watch.

Varrick is my personal favorite, rivaling Sokka for funniest character in the Avatar franchise.
Even some of the characters from the first series return, albeit older; Katara, Toph, Zuko, and Iroh all make important appearances during the series, helping the main characters get closer to their goal. So even though I really, really, really love Iroh, I have to give side characters to Korra because it has just too many good characters to count.
Winner: Korra
"Zhu Li! We did the thing!" "They never stood a chance, sir."

TEAM AVATAR: Let's clarify who counts as Team Avatar. Since I've already used Zuko as a villain, I won't be counting him amongst Avatar's Gaang: that leaves Sokka, Katara, Toph, Momo, and Appa, excluding Aang since the protagonists get their own section. For the Korra Krew, there's Mako, Bolin, Asami, Naga, and Pabu.
Let's start with the Gaang. Katara and Sokka are the first to discover Aang after his hundred year imprisonment in the iceberg. Sokka is the oldest member of the Gaang and shows it by trying to be the leader, especially when it comes to making plans. He also acts as the comedy relief, which creates a unique combination where he's constantly being the butt end of jokes but is also acting as a huge asset to the team, despite his lack of bending ability. He's one of the funniest characters in the franchise and one of the most beloved.

Next is Katara, the mother figure of the group. While not as funny as many of the other characters, Katara acts as emotional support for most of the team and is the one who picks everyone up when all hope seems lost. She has possibly the strongest will of any of the team's members, making her a serious force to be reckoned with. Like any good mother figure, Katara is both nurturing to those in her care and fearsome to any who would do her loved ones harm.

"If any of you next-gen posers lay a finger on Aang, I'll hit you with so much waterbending your grandkids won't be able to get dry."
The last of the Gaang's human members is Toph, the blind earthbender with a bad attitude and the skills to back up her smart mouth. She's an incredibly gifted bender, being the first to ever metalbend, and on occasion you can see a glimmer of her softer side shine through that wall of badass she's always putting off.

"These chumps think they can take us? I've bent pebbles more impressive than you."
Lastly we have Appa and Momo, the animal companions of the group. Appa is Aang's flying bison and oldest living friend, giving the two a deep connection that ignores the species gap. Appa is typically calm and laid back, happy to lazily eat while the main team goes on their adventures, but he's gotten the team out of multiple situations and was even kidnapped for several episodes, greatly upsetting the team. He's also their primary source of transportation, flying them across the world to wherever they need to go. Momo is a flying lemur who sort of acts like a best friend to Appa; he's always moving about, curiously observing his surroundings and being chatty, a good contrast to the gentler Appa. The two have a lot of character despite not having any spoken parts, and they really feel like major assets to the team.

Even the best of friends fight sometimes.
This moves us on to the Korra Krew. Starting off is Mako, Bolin's older brother and Korra's love interest during the first two seasons. Mako is sort of the stoic character who tries to be strong by not showing much emotion. A lot of times this makes him come off as boring, but he plays an important role by remaining level-headed when the others are too fired up to think straight, and he certainly can show his feelings when his friends are in danger or he's placed in a scenario he just can't cope with. He's also fiercely loyal, having grown up on the streets with only his brother. He's not terribly interesting early on, but his character is more fleshed out as the show progresses and he becomes someone the others can always trust to be there when he's needed.

"I'm not boring. I'm lots of fun. Like... a whole barrel of fun. Really."
Mako's younger brother is Bolin, who acts as the comedic relief of the team. Unlike Sokka, Bolin isn't terribly clever, and for a long time he was sort of the weak link in the team; he could hold his own well enough in a fight, but he had nothing to really contribute besides jokes and earthbending. He only really becomes valuable at the end of season three, where he masters lavabending, a form of bending very few can accomplish. Throughout the last season we see him mature more and try to help others in ways other than fighting, but his attempts at being useful actually end up with him working for the bad guys. He's not worthless; he's loyal and willing to fight even when he's scared, which he tends to show more fear than the other characters, making him more relatable. It's just that Bolin doesn't really do much for the team aside from joking and fighting, especially in earlier seasons. He's definitely likable, but he just doesn't act as much of an asset.

"I'll be a big boy someday. You'll see."
That leaves Asami for the human members. Asami was initially introduced as Mako's love interest and the third part of the love triangle that included Korra. However, from the start Asami has shown immense potential as a team member. She makes up for her lack of bending by being a master in unarmed combat and a genius in mechanics. She invents the multiple weapons, devices, and forms of transportation the team uses, and she's always the one who knows what to do when technology is involved. She's kind of boring personality-wise in the earlier seasons, but later on she acts as Korra's closest confidant, being the only real female friend Korra has ever had (and, again, the creators seemed to be heavily implying a romantic bond between the two). She's easily the most important team member outside of combat and she can even hold her own pretty well when things get rough.

"I'm like Batman, but prettier."
That only leaves Naga and Pabu, the animal friends of the Krew. Naga is a polar bear dog who, like Appa to Aang, is Korra's oldest friend. You see a lot of love between the two, but not quite to the same extent that you saw between Aang and Appa; Naga seems more like a beloved pet than a core member of the team, and the two of them can be separated for long stretches of time without having much of an impact. Pabu is Bolin's pet fire ferret, and he has a similar role to Momo from Avatar. He's chattery and excited, and he and Naga have some cute moments where they'll play together. Again, though, he doesn't feel exactly essential to the team, and he'll be missing for long stretches without anyone noticing.

"We're adorable. Isn't that enough?"
It's pretty obvious which team wins here. Even if you consider each member of the Krew individually equal to the members of the Gaang, they still wouldn't win because they don't interact as a team on the same level. You'll see Korra's team hang out occasionally, and sometimes they'll help each other in a big battle or a finale, but everyone usually ends up going their separate ways and doing their own thing for the majority of each season.

Also, why do Mako and Bolin always fight together? We get it: they're brothers, and they make a good team. Please show some diversity in fight pairings, please.
In Avatar, the team is always together. They're more than allies working towards a goal and they're more than friends hanging out; they're a family who will do anything to protect each other and try to help each other whenever things get tough. Avatar's main cast just contribute more to the protagonist than Korra's team can, and there's this sense of a bond between the Gaang that feels genuine and deep. Korra doesn't seem as dependent upon her team as Aang is; part of the reason is due to her tutelage and guidance from Tenzin, who I counted amongst the side characters. Overall, the Gaang just have more to offer the Avatar than Korra's Krew does.
Winner: Avatar
"You guys are the best. I'll take it from here."

It all comes down to this. Korra won three points in plot, romance, and side characters, while Avatar won three points in action, villains, and Team Avatar. The tie breaker comes down to one final question: which series has the better protagonist?

PROTAGONIST: We'll start with the original. Aang was twelve when he ran away from the Air Temple because he couldn't deal with the pressure of being the Avatar. This act of selfishness and fear resulted in him being frozen for a hundred years while the world was plunged into war; throughout the series, Aang has to deal with the guilt he feels from having abandoned the world when it needed him most. This sense of responsibility is what drives him to fight against the Fire Nation, despite his upbringing as a peaceful monk. He's still just a kid, though, and lots of times he'll try to put aside his duties so he can just enjoy life like any normal kid would.

A normal kid who's constantly being hunted down by the world's most powerful and corrupt nation.
Throughout his journey, Aang has to accept responsibilities far beyond those of any other person his age or anyone else in general. He has to set aside his guilt and fears to attain the peace of mind that will allow him to use his most powerful weapon, the Avatar State, so that he can end the war and restore peace to the world.
Korra is very different from her predecessor. Whereas Aang tried to avoid the responsibility of being the Avatar, Korra wants to embrace it, to the point where she's cocky and prideful of the power she possesses. She finds her progress constantly being held back by those "looking out for her." She trains hard to become the best fighter she can be, but her teachers are afraid that she doesn't understand the spirituality being the Avatar requires. Once she finally gets what she wants and starts getting responsibility, she realizes that being the Avatar isn't as great as she thought, and she has to figure out what she has to do to keep the world in balance despite being a more physically-oriented and hotheaded Avatar.

"I'd really just rather beat the crap out of everything."
Korra and Aang are polar opposites, and when it comes to which kind of personality is better, it's all a matter of preference. However, there is a way in which we can determine which is the better character, and that's by how they interact with their environment.
See, an interesting protagonist is always put into conflict with the world around him or her. This tests the character's morals and values; in Aang's case, he was a peaceful person forced into the center of a massive war, and he has to find ways to overcome his challenges without sacrificing what makes him unique. Even in his backstory, Aang was being forced to deal with situations he was not ready for: he was told he was the Avatar, and that burden sent him running from home and being absent during most of the war. He's always having to find a way to fight against the Fire Nation that keeps him from losing his most important characteristics; being a pacifist, he always tries to avoid conflict, and he never kills. It's why his part of the series finale is so intense; we see Aang overcome with the power of the Avatar State, and in his rage he may do something that will tear at his soul for the rest of his life.

It's also terrifying seeing such a kindhearted and gentle person become so angry and violent. It's a stark contrast from his usual character, and we as the audience are afraid that he might lose himself.
Korra, on the other hand, enjoys fighting, and for the first two seasons her situations fit her personality so that she doesn't really learn anything. She made some progress in the first season when she had to temporarily go into hiding, but that experience was short-lived and anything she learned was stripped away at the beginning of the second season. There's a point where she promises her father she won't do anything rash, and then twenty seconds later she chases down an elected official and threatens to feed him to Naga.

You know, like any hero in a family-friendly show would do.
She acts this way because, for the first two seasons, violence is the answer to her problems. She may have to come up with a strategy rather than just fight blindly, but fighting in some form is always the solution to her problem. It isn't until season three that we get to see her in a situation she's not suited to: the Air Nomads are returning, and they need the Avatar to help reintegrate them into the world. This requires Korra to learn other skills like negotiation, compassion, understanding, and guidance. She has to learn to solve a problem without fighting, and she only ends up fighting to protect the things she worked so hard to establish. It's a wonderful turn in the series when Korra finally stops being a total thug and learns the more thoughtful and gentle skills that the Avatar needs in order to keep peace.

"I didn't have to punch anything after all. Sorry for earlier, Grandma."
Unfortunately for Korra, this transformation takes two whole seasons to even begin. Aang began learning and growing as a person from the first episode; Korra spends half the series punching away her problems until she finally comes across an obstacle she can't overcome through physical force. We get to see Aang at his highest, his lowest, his wisest, his most foolish, his kindest, his most hateful, and every possible aspect of his personality we could possibly want to explore. We were just beginning to see Korra for something more than a brute by the time her series ended. Given more time, she may have stood a chance, but Aang just had too much of a head start for her to ever keep up.
Winner: Avatar
"We did it! Tea for everyone!"

CONCLUSION: These were two fantastic series that had a lot to offer. LoK made a lot of progress from its predecessor, but some unfortunate shortcomings just barely held it back from surpassing the greatness of A:TLA. A lot of the fault is on Nickelodeon; season one was originally set to be the entire series, but the popularity of the show was so high they demanded more seasons, leaving the first season largely disconnected from the others. Nick also took the show off the air and put it entirely online during season three, and then they cut the funding for the fourth season to the point where the creators had to make a clip show episode rather than develop character or progress plot. If the creators of this show can get with a company that respects their talent and experience, I would say that we'd see a show that would completely dominate anything else on television. I hope they create more Avatar-related material in the future; until then, I can always rewatch these two incredible shows.

FINAL VERDICT: Avatar: The Last Airbender is the victor, making the original better than the sequel.


  1. I agree with a lot of the points you made and think I would have voted similarly in all categories except possibly villains but I have to say I disagree entirely with your decision and decision making process for the two main characters. Korra, to me seems far superior to Aang due to a number of reasons, the first of which being her aggression in the earlier seasons as well as other problematic pieces of her personality. She was a more challenging character and seemed to be entirely her own whereas Aang at times seemed a cookie cutter hero in the way that the fire lord was an unidentifiable villain. The main conflict in Aang's character, though it continued to inform his actions through the final season was of his act of cowardice that caused him to be frozen for 100 years, was largely overcome in the first season. This is a piece of what I think is the most important part of the argument between the two characters, the part that makes Korra superior, character development. Aang's character is incredibly simple and at times flat, causing him to be overshadowed at times by other members of the gaang and constantly overshadowed by the character I see as the best of the entire franchise, Zuko. And what made Zuko such an incredible character was his internal conflict, redemption arc, and development. Korra has incredible development through her series, beginning as a brash and cocky character and ending as a fully rounded one. Her arc is more fulfilling than Aang's by far and the personal conflict she undergoes in season four, causing an at times painful but ultimatelybeautiful end to her journey as an individual made her an intensely identifiable character and a way more profound one than Aang.

  2. First off, thanks for the feedback! I'm glad you (mostly) enjoyed my review! You bring up some good points about Korra, but I still stand by my initial argument. For me, Korra didn't really get interesting until the third season; she had a little good development in season one, but season two completely regressed her back into an aggressive thug. She had some major development in seasons three and four, and if you compare where she ended up as a character by the end of her series to where Aang ended up by the end of A:TLA, you could probably argue that she came further. However, a big part of Aang's character is the fact that he DOESN'T completely change. His fight with Ozai is the climax of a struggle to remain true to his values, to remain a pacifist in a world. His guilt over his initial act of cowardice was just one part of his personal journey. He also had to deal with his inability to disconnect himself from the world in order to obtain the spiritual clarity, and as mentioned, his struggle to hold to his people's peaceful ways in a world that demands violence. While I'll agree with you that Zuko's development was more dynamic (I might even agree that Zuko is my favorite character in the franchise), Aang was still under a great deal of pressure throughout the majority of the series. It just gets overlooked at times due to his childlike whimsy. I can definitely see how Korra would appeal more to some viewers, especially after the final season, but to me Aang seems to just have this balance of changing and keeping true to himself that makes him feel like a better protagonist. By the end of LoK, Korra feels like a whole new person, but by the end of A:TLA, Aang feels like a better version of himself. Again, this is all opinion, and I'm really glad you took the time to share yours. Thanks again!

    1. *in the sentence talking about Aang's fight with Ozai, I meant to say "to remain a pacifist in a violent world." Also, in the sentence talking about other aspects of Aang's character development, I didn't mean to insert "the" before spiritual clarity.

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