Avatar: Legend of Korra Book 2 Spirits Review
Why did it have to be this way? How can the same people make a show worse than it ever could’ve been? How can they make the main cast in season 2 duller and flatter than in season 1? Just why?
Avatar the Last Airbender was a great series, full of great characters, an epic plot, and it all felt like it grew from itself. It learned and got better, just like the characters. So why did Legend of Korra book 2 happen? Book 1 was alright, had some teething troubles, but things weren’t all that bad. There was lots of room for improvement and places to expand to. Instead it seems a “do over” was called and not only was very little of Book 1 followed up on but characters actually regressed. It’s just a mess that makes me ask why this all happened.
So in Book 1 the new Avatar Korra learned airbending, got into a love triangle with Mako and Asami with Mako choosing her before telling his current girlfriend, and a group called the Equalists showed up. They’re non-Benders who feel like Benders get the better lot in life and laud their powers above everyone else. It should be no surprise that such a civil rights issue would not come up again. There’s now a non-Bender president so all their problems went away. Because that’s how that works.
The plot of the new season is that the Chief of the Northern Water Tribe wants to open the spirit portals in both the poles and tricks Korra to do so. Thus starting a Civil War between the two tribes. That sounds interesting, a civil war, brother against brother, a nice place for conflict and how horrible such a war is to people. Once it gets sorted there’d surely be lots of tension between the two groups as well. But we don’t get to see any of that. As soon as the war starts all the characters move back to Republic City and we never see anything to do with the war. We get one little fight towards the end but other than that we had an off-screen war with no real damage or lasting consequences. Exciting stuff.
What we got was seeing some awful characters doing stupid things for 80% of the season. Korra became an absolute moron this season, tricked and lead around by other characters while failing at everything. That’s not really hyperbole either; most of the things she did accomplish were because another character was helping her. She got a little less arrogant and grating towards the end of the season and even grew to an extent. It was growth that should’ve started in season 1 but beggars can’t be choosers. Even the final big fight she couldn’t handle herself and needed a hand, somehow, it wasn’t exactly clear what happened at the end.
Mako is just an ass. He was at the end of last season and he still is at the end of this one, for the exact same reason too. His character this season was to be the love interest and the only sane man in Republic City because everyone else was written to be a moron just to make him smart. He’s a police officer now so every other cop is incompetent, even Lin who was the only competent cop last season. He puts together clues on a conspiracy case while everyone else tells him to knock it off. He’s also in a relationship with Korra, but they breakup, so he gets back together with his ex, Asami, and then Korra comes back missing part of her memory of the breakup so he starts dating her again without mentioning his thing with Asami. He is a massive asshole for it and also did this at the end of last season, but now the fans can’t deny it happened this time. That is the extent of his story this season. There are entire episodes dedicated to him and his ability to not be written as dumb as everyone else.
At this point he’s pretty much a writer’s pet character, he messes around with two girls and neither of them calls him out on it. There was him going through training, becoming a beat cop, and on his way to becoming a full detective, all somehow in a six month period. He’s also the only cop how knows how to do his job and the only one suspicious of the conspiracy that was entirely obvious. When he was framed for it and put in jail Bolin managed to foil one of the plots, exposing the whole thing, and when Mako was released he got applause from everyone and was promoted. Sure he told everyone it was happening, but he never had enough evidence to prove any of it. You don’t get that much praise for something you almost did but couldn’t finish. He’s a flat one dimensional character that doesn’t have a single interesting or complex characteristic.
Then there’s Bolin. He is comic relief. That is all. Literally that is his entire character. He gets a minor thing to do when he’s cast as the star of a propaganda movie serial and becomes an asshole. That is never really resolved; he just stopped being an asshole. He is an entirely superfluous character that somehow got put into the main cast because they wanted a Sokka but completely forgot that Sokka was more than just sarcastic remarks and the butt monkey.
Asami was there too. Though they used up all of Asami’s character development last season and had nothing for her to do this season. So she mostly stands around while other people do things. They try to do a plot with her failing company, but that just goes nowhere and is forgotten about in the end. She’s there for Mako, because the writers have regressed the plot and are doing the same love triangle over again. Gone is the character who once had to choose between her crazy racist father and her friends. Gone is the women who would tazer her father to save those friends and later fight him in a mecha. Now she sees Korra kissing Mako and just leaves, silently, never heard from because we apparently wouldn’t want to hear her point of view on this. Season 1 Asami would leave Mako with a broken jaw and probably a tazer glued to his sensitive areas. But that would be interesting character conflict and we can’t have that.
Tenzin is the other good character on this show. He gets his own subplot and character arc far away from the main cast and the plot, so it’s actually good. It’s him dealing with his family, his father issues, and his own place in the world. Some of it’s quite good and the high point for the season. They’ve also toned down some of the annoying habits of his children and they are a lot less intrusive this season. It’s almost like they grafted the Tenzin stuff on from a much better show where things actually developed from last season.
We also got Varrick, a wannabe Lex Luthor or David Xanatos schemer. He’s a Howard Hues derivative with lots of money and a lot of crazy. He started off fun, then they added in him manipulating the war so he could get richer, which was interesting and could’ve lead to some good stories. Then it ended with him being caught in a laughably stupid anticlimax. He can apparently plan out everything but as soon as his goons get caught they just give him up. It’s like if Superman caught Luthor because some stolen goods fell out of his pocket. It’s just so disappointing to see a prominent character and subplot dealt with in the manner of “oh crap the season’s coming to a close, how quick can Varrick get caught?” The funniest part was that Mako was getting the praise and applause for it even though he had nothing to do with the arrest. It was weird and stupid.
There was one brief highlight, one good story. The two parter about the first Avatar. An epic fantasy tale with an excellent plot, characters, and visually dazzling art and animation. The story of how humans learnt bending and spread out into the world while one man tries to stop the devastation he himself caused. What helped it was the lack of the Korra cast and being a complete story in two episodes. If anything that’s worth a watch on its own and just ignoring this season entirely.
The main villain was just such a let down. He was evil for the sake of being evil. It wasn’t about his own idea of the greater good for the world; he just wanted power and control to the point where he’d sacrifice anything to get it. No matter what he claimed he was doing it for in the end he was dealing with the literal source of all chaos in spirit form. There’s nothing else to it than that, if he’s making deals with evil personified to wipe out all that is good then he has the same motivations as an 80s cartoon villain.
The ending to which was laughably lame. It went very Anime but without the ability to know how to scale up a fight scene. The final fight was very by the numbers and boring. It looked pretty but it was just two people punching each other and nothing really dynamic about it. The fights beforehand were well done and quite good to watch, but the epic final wasn’t anything you couldn’t have seen on Power Rangers twenty years ago. It was also funny seeing the bad guy attack Republic City for no reason, he had no connection there and surely would’ve attack the Water Tribes first given he’s from there. But since the audience only really knows or cares about Republic City there was no place else he could attack.
It wasn’t all absolutely terrible all of the time, but there was enough bad there so as to suck a lot of enjoyment out of it. Whenever the story shifted away from Republic City it got more tolerable, but then it’d go back to Mako’s adventures in the city and it would get dull and plodding. All of that time spent with the Varrick subplot was for nothing, the entire thing could be cut and the overall story wouldn’t change. They could’ve used that time to focus on the war, do something with Asami, make Mako and Bolin resemble interesting characters, anything t all that would improve things. I did like how there wasn’t a “let’s put everything back where it was” status quo ending. They tried to have a change that meant things would be different. Though given how little things from season 1 changed things I doubt this will be any different. Everything will be normal except when they need it for the plot partway through the next season. Even if that season is called “changes” they might choose not to focus on those changes for 80% of the season, just like in this one.
There were parts that were nice to watch but when the main characters are mostly uninteresting levels of terribleness, the villains are flat and one dimensional, and the amount of useless subplots, it all comes together to make it hard to say there was anything good about this season. Even the animation was spotty and inconsistent, though it never got awful enough to bother me. The good parts were small, little moments of creativeness like the propaganda movie serials that look like old Flash Gordon serials or the animation direction in the First Avatar story. But enjoying a few creative moments and liking the entire thing don’t go hand in hand. As a whole this season was horrible and seemed to get worse over time, from the lacklustre beginning to finding out all the build-up was for things even more lacklustre.
Book 1 wasn’t spectacular either, but it had some consistency to it, even if Mako and Bolin weren’t good characters they didn’t feel like they were dragging down the story. Here though it seemed like no one knew what they were doing, everything was rushed and all the subplots didn’t really come together in the end. The quality control has gone down quite a bit since the Last Airbender and they really need to get that back before Book 3. It’s sad to see a great series fall so far and I won’t be watching Book 3.