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So long, and thanks for all the fish!
Ever since its debut in 2005, I have loved Avatar: The Last Airbender. It’s a spectacular animated adventure filled with action and romance, martial arts and Buddism, environmentalism and spirituality. I thought I could never get enough.
Until M. Night Shyamalan…
Honestly, how hard is it to make a movie based on a great story with relatable characters and an awesome fan base? Shyamalan and co took some spectacular source material and adapted it into a 6% on Rotten Tomatoes. That movie is so mind-numbingly awful that it won Razzies in Worst Picture, Worst Screenplay and Most Eye-Gouging Use of 3D. They couldn’t even pronounce the main character’s name correctly, for Pete’s sake. But it’s not the fiasco of a film that I’m writing about; it’s the franchise I fell in love with… and not in that guilty-pleasure-80’s-TMNT-marathon-watching kind of way.
It all started long ago, when the four nations of Earth, Air, Water and Fire lived together in harmony. Each nation had benders: individuals who had learned the art of manipulating the signature element of their land. Binding the countries together was the Avatar, master of all four elements and the moderator between humanity and the spirit realm. The Avatar fought for harmony between these realms and the equality of all people. Then, suddenly and without warning, the Avatar vanished. The fire nation used this opportunity to attack its neighbors, waging a devastating war to conquer the entire world. After a century, the Avatar, a boy named Aang, is rediscovered by two young siblings of the water tribe and hope returns to the world. Aang must master all of the elements and become the leader he was foretold to be.
Pretty damn cool, right? This premise was first brought to us by co-creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. Mike and Bryan are a real power duo, working hard to produce a cohesive world and a story with incredible depth and character development. During its run time, the show was met with rave reviews (well beyond its 6-11 year old demographic) and developed an avid fan base. The Last Airbender wrapped in 2008 with a finale that left me aching to find out more.
That’s why I am thrilled to hear about what looks to be a legitimate addition to the story. On Saturday, April 14th, a new chapter of the saga, The Legend of Korra, makes its debut on Nickelodeon. The show is expected to run two seasons (26 episodes). Mike and Bryan are reportedly doing most of the writing in order to keep a consistent and tight storyline (aka, not another Shyamalan atrocity).
Skipping 70 years and two generations from where we left off, there is a new Avatar. Korra, a young woman from the Southern Water Tribe, has already mastered water, fire, and earth-bending. The series begins with Tenzin, Aang’s now well aged son (who is voiced by J.K. Simmons, no less), teaching Korra the difficult task of bending air. She looks to be quite a bit older than Aang was when he began his journey. I suspect this is a nod to the fact that the target audience for the first series has aged a bit. I’m hoping that this allows Mike and Bryan to investigate deeper issues and darker themes. In The Last Airbender, we saw characters blossoming with ingenuity in the face of adversity; but we also witnessed deception, brain-washing and betrayal. I’m hoping that boundaries continue to be pushed in Korra.
It’s also clear we’re in a very different aesthetic place from the ruins of the assault in “Sozin’s Comet”. The story kicks off in a new steampunk metropolis called “Republic City” created by Aang and Zuko, filled with benders and non-benders from many different nations. I suspect, of course, that things aren’t as peaceful as they appear on the surface. Many nations have been subject to the fire nation’s brutality for generations. Old habits die hard and, even though time has passed, I’m sure it’s tough for people to completely set aside prejudices. I mean, one nation wiped out an entire population of people and almost took over the world. I’m anticipating a few rebel benders still clinging to the idea that their race/nation/bending style is supreme, and I highly doubt that the hatred for fire-bending has subsided.
In the first episode, there’s also growing anti-bending sentiment amongst non-benders. I’m expecting this to be the fuel for the unrest brewing in Republic City. This movement is led by Amon, a master of a chi-blocking technique that renders benders unable to manipulate their signature element. I’m guessing it’s a more sophisticated version of Ty Lee’s pressure point block we saw in The Last Airbender. Expect some intense battles between the martial arts of bending and non-bending. I’m also hoping we get to see some new and visually stimulating bending techniques.
Finally, I’m thrilled to see another strong female role model come out of the Airbender series. If Korra is half as smart as Katara or just a third as much of a BAMF as Toph, she’s sure to be an awesome character. Even though she’s sure to be fiesty, don’t expect Korra to go it alone: I’m sure she’ll have an earth, fire and air bender in her core team, as well as room for a non-bender to join their ranks.
I’m looking forward to finding out what has happened to the world in the last two generations and to see the children and products of the characters I loved the first time around. We know Aang and Katara had kids together, Republic City was created, and Toph developed and taught the previously impossible metal-bending ability. I’m also eager to see if the series finally answers some long debated issues: was Aang really the last Air Nomad? Can anyone learn to bend an element or only people from certain cultures? Is it a genetic thing, a spiritual activity, or a learned art? Are there any more flying bison?
I’m not sure what you’ll be doing, but you can bet I’ll be tuning in to Nickelodeon to catch the start of this series on April 14th. If you’re up for an adventure and a guaranteed great story, I suggest you do the same.