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
|So the snacks quote from the first review might have been off...
|They were over twelve years too late, but it's the thought that counts.
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.
DATES RUN: 2012-2014
|"Who's ready to beat some old school ass?" - Team Avatar 2.0
|Who's *gasp* a FEMALE PROTAGON... oh wait, I did this joke already.
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.
|Though not always serious.
|Started from the bottom...
|...now we're here.
|"So, are you saying the mass murderer is right, or...?"
|"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."
|"Crap, I was hoping this one would be a gimme."
|"You calling me weak, punk?"
|Count the shits being given (hint: whole number less than 1 but more than -1)
|"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.
|"You hear that, sweetie? We're not annoying!"
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!
|"Want to make out?" "We're at a funeral, Korra." "Is that a no?"
|"We good?" "Yeah, Twinkletoes. We're good."
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.
|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?"
|Terror has a new face. And it wears a kabuki mask.
|"Almighty lord of darkness, why do we suck so much?"
|"We deserved more screen time!"
|"Aw yeah, best in show."
|"Maybe we should all start a band."
|"Tremble at my luxurious hairstyle."
|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.
|"Time to tip the scales, b****es."
|"I really liked how many times you said honor in that paragraph."
|"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.
|"Beat that, you young whipper-snappers."
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.
|"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."
|"These chumps think they can take us? I've bent pebbles more impressive than you."
|Even the best of friends fight sometimes.
|"I'm not boring. I'm lots of fun. Like... a whole barrel of fun. Really."
|"I'll be a big boy someday. You'll see."
|"I'm like Batman, but prettier."
|"We're adorable. Isn't that enough?"
|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.
|"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.
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."
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.
|You know, like any hero in a family-friendly show would do.
|"I didn't have to punch anything after all. Sorry for earlier, Grandma."
|"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.