TV Review: Legend of Korra S2E7-8

“Beginnings, Parts 1 and 2”

Wow. What a pleasant departure. Last episode hinted that Legend of Korra might actually function better without its titular protagonist, and this two-parter really nailed it down.

There’s a lot to discuss here, and I don’t think that I can really do the episode justice, so I’m going to jump around, picking and choosing what I want to talk about. What I think is going to happen is that I’ll essentially have paragraphs functioning like bullet points, which is as good a way as any to unpack as much about this episode as I can. There won’t really be a sense of journalistic flow, but I think that’s all right in this instance.

Firstly, let’s talk about the story. The story was clear; the story had momentum; the story was simple in the best possible way. Without being beholden to an overarching narrative and established subplots, the writers were free to tell a self contained, quest based narrative with a heavily folkloric vibe. Now don’t get me wrong. I love Tenzin and co. and the Korra Krew, but this season has been heavy on the dark, meandering serialization and light on the pleasant aspects of being in the Avatar world. Usually I’m a fan of gray, complicated serialization, but one of the nicest aspects of the original series is that the Aang Gaang were always the good guys. Yeah they fought amongst themselves and could kind of be dicks, but at the end of the day most of the stories were cut and dry, black and white. And that’s nice to have. It lets the audience enjoy themselves without having to think too much about character motivation. I think that Pro Bending acted as this release in Book 1 of LoK, but Book 2 has had a serious lack of simplicity.

So finally we can get a self contained, clear cut story, and the momentum is all the better for it. Wan always has a goal he can strive towards; his motivations are never in question. Even in the beginning, when he was a thief (Riffraff! Street rat!), we understood why he was stealing. When he was kept fire from the lion turtle, we understand why he did it. Such a story makes for a nice break as well as pleasant viewing. And what’s more, it was a fascinating story. It was peppered with all kinds of references to the original series, and gave us an interesting look at the history behind bending and the four separate cultures. We got to learn more about the lion turtles, which is nice, as they seemed kind of dues ex machina in the original series. We got to see Wan learn how to use fire from the dragons, and maybe even originate the fire dance that Aang and Zuko learn. I love a good folktale, and “Beginnings” use of good versus evil, order versus chaos, was a smart and fun way to tell a richly detailed history that actually has an effect on the storylines happening in to/with Korra. I can only assume that Unalaq’s plan is to release Vaatu.

Secondly, let’s address how much better the animation was. Obviously the episodes had a different art style; it seemed to be a mixture of watercolor and woodblock carving, and I loved it. The new art kept the series firmly rooted in the Avatar world, but it was enough of a departure to indicate that these episodes were telling a different kind of story. Plus it was gorgeous. But even before the history started, the scenes with the fire monks and Korra were noticeably improved. Movement was so much smoother. Fire was more detailed. And hey! People were blinking and moving when they talked, not simply standing there with vacuous mannequin faces. Studio Mir really does make all the difference, and I’m so glad that they’re doing the majority of the animation for the rest of the season. Their skill really sells the idea that these characters are people, which is incredibly important for an animated series which involves so much talking and discussion. After so many episodes with the less skillful Studio Pierrot, I can’t say enough good things about Studio Mir. Let’s hope Mir does the rest of the series.

So I think that’s all I’m going to address. I’ll just leave some final random thoughts below. Sorry these reviews are late, you guys.

Stray(ish) Observations

-Particularly Fine Direction: I loved the moment that Wan got eaten by a huge Venus fly trap. When he used fire to try and get out, the fire illuminated the inside of the plant and showed him in silhouette. Beautiful.

-This story is a interesting version of the Pandora’s Box/Original Sin myths. Wan used a gift from what is essentially a god and loosed chaos on the world. That in itself isn’t so unique, however the fact that he thought he was doing good stands out. Wan honestly thought he was helping, and in doing so he nearly doomed the world and created the Avatar. Interesting.

-So much Miyazaki in these episodes. Spirited Away was all I could think of when Wan came across the spirit oasis and tried to sneak in as “Bushy! The Bush Spirit!” I think I saw a reference to No Face as well, and I loved that there was a Carrot Spirit just chilling in the background. Finally, Wan on whatever animal he was riding was exactly like the protagonist in Princess Mononoke. I’m sorry. I’ll stop. God, I love those movies.

-The return of the ATLA score during the final battle literally gave me chills. I kind of freaked out.

-A few reviews ago I mentioned that the direction suffered without the presence of Joaquim Dos Santos, who directed every episode on Book 1. I caught his name in the credits this time, and he’s listed as Co-Executive Producer. Whatever that means. Get back to directing, man!

“I think I’ll call you ‘Stinky.’” “The name’s ‘Wan.’” “’Stinky’ is . . . more accurate.”

Written by:Michael Dante DiMartino, Tim Hedrick

Directed by: Colin Heck, Ian Graham

Overall Score: 9.8