Joey Sack ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff
After an almost year-long hiatus, The Legend of Korra’s second season, “Book Two: Spirits,” premiered on September 22nd, 2013. And after watching the second season in its entirety, it is safe to say that Book Two: Spirits has a storyline worthy of the original series, Avatar: The Last Airbender.
As the title suggests, Book Two: Spirits revolves around Avatar Korra’s (Janet Varney) connection to the Spirit World and as the bridge between humans and spirits. It’s been six months since Korra defeated the Equalist leader Amon (Steve Blum), and Korra has mastered airbending. Tenzin (J.K. Simmons), however, sees that she has yet to master the spiritual side of being the Avatar–which is odd, seeing as she gained control of the Avatar State, a very spiritually-powered ability, in the first season finale, and that makes her a fully realized Avatar–and hopes that the family vacation to the Air Temples will give her the inspiration she needs. While visiting her home in the Southern Water Tribe, Korra runs into some Dark Spirits and decides to learn from her uncle Chief Unalaq (Adrian LaTourelle), of the Northern Water Tribe, how to maintain balance with the spirits. Over the course of the season, the story is split between Korra, Tenzin’s family, Unalaq and his twin children, Desna and Eska (Aaron Himelstein and Aubrey Plaza), and stories with Mako (David Faustino), Bolin (P.J. Byrne), and Asami (Seychelle Gabriel) in Republic City concerning Varrick (John Michael Higgins).
The story of this season felt very mush like the story of Avatar: The Last Airbender, with a great evil looming over the horizon and a deadline they have to meet in order to stop that evil, and an adventure with laughs, tears, and hardships along the way. The best episodes of the season, leading up to the finale, were the two-part episode “Beginnings,” which told the story of how the Avatar came to be, and the episode “A New Spiritual Age,” which saw Korra enter the Spirit World, along with her spiritual guide, to right mistake she had made earlier. Other great episodes were “Civil Wars, Part 1 and 2,” “The Guide,” and “Harmonic Convergence.”
The design of this season was breathtaking at times, especially in the two-part episode “Beginnings,” which dealt with the origin of the Avatar and introduced us to the very first Avatar, a very Aladdin-esque young man named Wan (Steven Yeun). The first six episodes of this season were animated by Studio Pierrot, an animation studio in Japan, instead of the South Korean animation studio Studio Mir, which animated all of season one. Beginning with “Beginnings,” Studio Mir took over for all but one of the remaining episodes of Book Two.
The first few episodes of the season, done by Studio Pierrot, looked pretty good. Given that it’s the difference between South Korean and Japanese animation teams, there is bound to be differences. In “Beginnings,” Studio Mir, went with very traditional looking backgrounds, and even the way that the elements looked was different. The backgrounds and the entirety of the episode looked like something out of a painting. As the season goes on, the animation stayed at a very crisp, clean, beautiful level, hardly ever faltering.
Related: SDCC ’13: Legend of Korra Panel
The character development was hit-and-miss for the most part, with a lot of good and also some retreading and stagnation. Korra, at the beginning of the season, seems to have reverted back to her over-confident, headstrong self from Book One, which made for some moments of déjà vu in terms of the struggles she had to endure. Although, after meeting the first Avatar and learning about what she needs to do to save the world, she does seem to become wiser and a bit more tactical. She even begins to see herself as more than just the Avatar, and see herself as Korra.
This is something that she didn’t master in Book One. Ever since she was four years old, everyone told her that she was the Avatar, and as such, was destined for greatness. When she almost lost that at the end of Book One, she is brought to the her lowest point. ,She’s only brought back from the brink by an admittedly rushed deus ex machine in Aang when he appears seemingly out of nowhere. But by the end of this season, Korra seems to have had some actual serious growth, making decisions that she may not have made earlier due to self doubt or the counsel of others. We just have to hope that her development carries over into the next season.
Mako, Bolin, and Asami seem to remain the same throughout the season, with Bolin stuck as the comic relief, Mako still being a bit unlikeable, and Asami just being there to fly airplanes and provide support. Mako, Bolin, and Asami have all moved on since Book One: Mako is a cop, Bolin starts out as a Pro-Bender but winds up being a celebrity, and Asami now runs her father’s bankrupt business.. A new character, Varrick, a businessman from the Southern Water Tribe, provides a good deal of laughs due to his eccentric behavior and overall quirkiness; this is revealed to disguise his more sinister nature as a war profiteer. Desna and Eska, the brother-sister twins of Unalaq, have some development over the course of the season, but not much, considering that they weren’t on screen long enough to really develop beyond being creepy, identical looking twins akin to the twins in The Shining.
One of the best developments in the show was the growth that took place between Tenzin and his family. We learn that Aang unintentionally favored Tenzin, given that he was the only one of his siblings to be born an airbender, which caused some frustrations for Tenzin’s older siblings, Kya and Bumi (Lisa Edelstein and Richard Riehle), seemingly more so for Bumi, as there is a touching and heartbreaking scene between him, Kya, and a statue of Aang. But Tenzin has great growth too. He comes to terms with the fact that he is not his father; he never was, never will be, and shouldn’t be. He is his father’s legacy in some ways, but he cannot be his father in every way. He comes to realize that he must make his own identity beyond being the son of Avatar Aang, and the scenes in which he realizes this are very well done.
Some of the moments between Tenzin and his siblings stir up old feelings about the original series when you realize that these people are the children of Team Avatar. Tenzin’s children, Jinora (Kiernan Shipka), Ikki (Darcy Rose Byrnes), and Meelo (Logan Wells), have also grown up and matured since the first season, while still retaining that childhood wonder and energy that reminds viewers of their grandfather, Aang.
The character of Wan, though only in one hour-long special, was a very well developed character, as we see him grow from a character akin to Aladdin into a man who was strong enough in skill, knowledge, and spirit to settle a conflict between spirits and humans and to become the first Avatar. When character development was rushed or not done well, it showed, but when they nailed it, they really nailed it, and that more than compensates for some missteps.
Overall, this season of The Legend of Korra was a vast improvement over Book One, and will make longtime fans of Avatar feel right at home. It faltered at times, and went over some old ground, but it also went to places we weren’t expecting. It made us laugh, cry,remember what it is about this story, this world, and this mythology that keeps audiences coming back for more.
The season finale is an epic, heart pounding, nail biting thrill ride, but if you haven’t seen the rest of the season, don’t go into the finale lost. Go back and watch the first 12 episodes of the season to catch up, or watch Book One: Air if you haven’t already. The season finale of The Legend of Korra will air on Nickelodeon on November 22nd at 8PM EST, so tune in to see the conclusion of a story fit for Avatar: The Last Airbender, the series that started it all.