Posts Tagged ‘Anime’

No Preamble: The Legend of Korra: “Day of the Colossus/The Last Stand” Finale Critique

December 20, 2014

Obviously Spoilers: Be warned, it’s better that way.

It’s no secret that the Legend of Korra has been deeply overshadowed by the Last Airbender in many ways. I’ll avoid a summary of these past four seasons and dive into my thoughts on the two-part finale of the series that aired today.

Day of the Colossus

“Day of the Colossus” has some cool action scenes, but the pacing just feels awkward and imbalanced. Most of the appealing moments in this episode deal with Kuvira’s massive mech suit. We are led to believe that this massive platinum creation is about to efface Republic City from the map–not exactly an original plot device (see every mech anime ever)–and the previous episode leads us to believe that Kuvira just blew the warehouse, and those inside it, to bits.

This series has been saturated with Deus ex Machinas at every turn. This episode is no different. A brief, undetailed example would have to include Milo and his paint-balloons being…windshield wiped randomly? Kuvira must have, I guess, thought of everything. Or a better example is the “plasma saw” which we just now find out about in the nick of time. LoK constantly introduces new technology immediately before it is used to solve everything, i.e. hummingbirds, the EMP Varrick uses, etc. Additionally, the random zoo we’ve never seen or heard about just happens to have two very compliant Badger Moles. Convenient. Or simply lazy writing. A more careful and patient writing team would have slipped in a zoo scene three or four episodes ago, casually showing us that it exists. Instead, we just have to swallow an instantaneous, clean solution.

It’s difficult sometimes to discern where the line is being drawn between this being a kids show and a fanservice for the ATLA generation (teens/adults). But the line clearly exists, or at least is intended to. It’s great that a kid-friendly show can be dramatic, complex, ethically nuanced, and culturally diverse. LoK stands well there. But ATLA was so well-written, well-animated, cohesive in its own universe, and actually developed its characters in unusual and believably human ways. LoK just kind of forgets about its characters and breaks its own rules. ATLA’s unique “anime” style was meticulously honed from real martial arts forms and it seem that we have lost that model. Inventive bending? Seductive settings? Character individuality? Very few of these in LoK, if any, hit their mark. Point is, if you’re going to use a character as a plot device, let’s get to know and care about these characters, settings, and battle techniques.

The most redeeming thing about this series is the fact that it’s willing to allow meaningful action to take place. This is a rather morbid analysis of what’s “good” about this show but, being honest, fights and battles should be meaningful; we should not just blow off action without consequence–especially in a kids show (still questioning that). Action should have real stakes for the characters and for us as viewers. There weren’t any moments in this episode where the action seemed to be leading to the downfall of any character we’re invested in. This is true especially the protagonists: They end up virtually unscathed.

Hiroshi Sato’s death was actually written and placed within the story well. It hurt to see him go so altruistically. However, this is the one consolation. After we’ve seen buildings torn apart, explosions the size of naval ships, our characters blown out of the sky, knocked out, beaten up, etc. we get ONE death. Casualties: 1

There are admittedly some cute moments between Varrick and Zhu Li, some nifty bending choreography, etc. But overall, not a very impressive lineup of plot and character development, especially for part one of a finale.

The Last Stand

First, where did Mako come from in this episode? His character is simply dead weight after season one, and the way they’ve tried to write him back in at the last minute begs some ponderous questions. It’s cool seeing Bolin & Mako team up as brothers, but we’ve seen that. Bolin is such a more likeable, complex, well-written character which leaves Mako an embarrassment. Comparatively, I’d argue the Cabbage guy from ATLA has more complexity.

Su/Lynn’s sibling fighting style is just so much more interesting and action packed than Mako/Bolin’s. The Beifongs rock it out in every fight scene they are involved in and I really wish they had more screen time. However, a note to the animators, when disarming the weapon, the spirit cannon exploded upwards and Su/Lynn just ducked backwards out of the way unscathed. That’s um…not how explosions work. They would have been singed, at best.

Which brings me to my next qualm with this finale: The world’s most slightly inaccurate mega-weapon. These two episodes have at least seven near-misses, where BUILDINGS are taken down and our characters just barrel roll out of the frame. Again, good writing demands consequences. I, personally, can accept about two near-misses in a high-stakes fight, and then it gets insanely cheesy. In the words of the YouTuber JonTron: “Fool me once, I’m mad. Fool me twice, how could you? Fool me three times, you’re officially that guy.”

All irritations aside, there are some genuinely cool action scenes. It was pretty brutal to see Kuvira just casually tear off the most important limb off her mega mech suit. Then the mech eventually gets blasted into pieces from the middle. We see Mako almost die (seriously, if he died there exploding the spirit vine, that would have been AWESOME and SIGNIFICANT). We needed more scenes like these with weight to them.

But then everything goes back into Deus Ex Machina territory. The broken spirit cannon arm just happens to be in working condition, tangled along down Kuvira’s escape path. The Avatar State just happens to be a panacea which not only blocks the spirit cannon, but rips another spirit portal into the world preventing any casualties. (“Yayyy, peace and prosperity and flowers.”)  Seriously. The explosion goes into a spirit-nuke which engulfs half the city and EVERYONE IS OKAY?! Boo. You cannot just write this level of violence and have everyone be safe, just ducking behind walls by the breadths of their arm hair. I don’t want anyone to die, but if you’re going to introduce a weapon with the alleged capability (and willpower behind it) to wipe a city off the map, show me. LAZY. WRITING.

And then the line drawn between kid/adult audience is made pretty glaringly obvious in the final moments of this episode. Korra just befriends Kuvira. We get a few brief lines of, “You don’t understand my problems. I was an orphan!!” Weak sympathy, poorly executed, with scant setup. Having never formally been invested in Kuvira before her rampage this season, her character evolution feels stale, forced, and puerile.

This episode just wrapped up like the seventh Harry Potter book (of which, admittedly, I am still a fan): We see Korra go into purgatory, or what looks like it, see the villian, and then suddenly compassion happens and we see her come back to life (so to speak). Everything gets wrapped up with a pretty bow, no one except Hiroshi dies, and everybody literally lives happily ever after. Yay.

I was worried at the end. It looked like they were setting Makorra up again (Mako & Korra as a couple), which seriously is the worst pairing in Avatar history. Luckily, we see a hint, a pretty direct hint, at Korrasami (Korra & Asami as a couple). I am a huge proponent of the Korrasami ship, and we’ve clearly been getting flirting glances at the potential there. It would be fantastic to see some deviation of heteronormativity on the show, given how much the fans have vocalized their yearning to see it happen. There was even a campaign to make Korrasami cannon. And lets be honest, they’re so cute together. Realistically, one chaste kiss between them would have been all we needed to see without being “in your face” and “offensive” to conservative viewers/parents. We don’t need a makeout session. But they just hold hands. We’ve seen every other couple kiss (when appropriate) and here we just get a suggestion. Not happy. Cowardly writing. Nickelodeon, I’m assuming, shut this one down.

Overall: I’ve seen far worse from Korra (the filler/recap episode this season still makes me cringe). I still don’t see why she deserves the “Legend of Korra” title; the only legendary thing about Korra is her impeccability to lose a fight. In fact, LoK has kind of called the title, “Last Airbender,” into question given how many airbenders come back. I understand the team behind the show got repeatedly shafted by Nickelodeon and that their budget was more than slashed. Though it sucks that they were taken off the air, I’ll go ahead and say, releasing a TV show over the internet for free is a much more convenient/effective system. The lack of respect the Avatar team received with LoK makes me really sad because given what we’ve seen this show to be capable of at times, the iffy parts really stick out, leaving a sore spot of what could have been. From season 1, most fans expected another ATLA. This became quickly apparent to be a pipe dream. Instead, we get something that staggers across the finish line. Regardless, it will be sad to see such a long, fruitful, cult-fanbase die down at last.  I may not be satisfied on every account, but I can safely say I will return to LoK again some day. Long live the bending universe.

Edit: Having taken some time to rewatch and reflect upon this entry, I have to say that I was a little harsh in my review. I’ve noticed a lot of things I was complaining about this finale missing–my mistake. Korrasami has been officially confirmed by the creators and so I feel more satisfied with the ending at this point. There are still some action gripes I maintain, but aside from those, this finale bumped from a 6/10 to an 8/10 in my mind. Even sadder now.