It’s only been three months, but The Legend of Korra’s first season is through. The original series had a more traditional season length at twenty episodes, but the philosophy here seems to be on creating a more taught season - twelve episodes, no filler. This is both good and bad, of course, but fortunately the worst aspect is simply that we’ve only been given twelve episodes. There is also a shift in how the plot plays out - in the original series a greater arc brought the three seasons together in a major way, but here each season appears to work as its own self contained piece. Now, twelve episodes are down, and naturally, one bad guy with it.
What Korra must face is complex and grave. There are corrupt politicians and a growing movement toward an insurrection. Those rebelling are called Equalists - what they want is all too reasonable (equality, as one might gather), but doing so begets further oppression. Worse, such oppression is accomplished with an irreversible and deeply intrusive act on each ‘oppressor’ (there is certainly an essay to be made comparing this to some form of rape). There is a figurehead to the rebellion, which simplifies matters in some ways, but this is all far beyond Korra’s grasp.
Episode to episode Korra tries to balance some amount of training with the growing pressures on her to save Republic City. The short season length means constant momentum. There’s always something happening, something to be discovered. While no needless episodes makes for a stronger season, the amount that must be packed into each episode leaves little room to play around. We see very little of Korra and her friends hanging out or Korra training with Tenzin. This makes character development difficult - we have to learn about these people amidst grander plot relevant moments.
In fact, the brevity here might be The Legend of Korra’s weakest aspect. The rebellion in Republic City is deeply interesting - more interesting than it can be afforded in twelve episodes. Additionally, there’s a serious amount of ‘stuff’ packed in without quite being given due. There are massive mech-tanks and advanced uses of these characters powers without any nod to it (as a side note, perhaps the biggest downside to the complicated technology at play in this new world is that anything too advanced is produced in CGI rather than the show’s regular beautifully illustrated visuals). These complications all makes sense within the world, but it does make the series a bit harder (or perhaps, less exciting) to dive into without having seen the original. This is not to say that Korra requires its predecessor - this is hardly the case - but while some bits are logical and consistent, they may well appear excessive to a new viewer.
The show does a good job justifying its movements. It’s hard to say that anything was particularly rushed - each event seemed to naturally follow one another - but these pieces could have been lingered on. Set ups (such as the United Forces or Amon’s “endgame”) could have used more time to sit with the viewer before an introduction. On top of this, in part from Korra’s nature as a do-it-herself kind of Avatar, we don’t get to spend all that much time with her friends in the back half of the season. These characters are alright, but we simply can’t love them yet - we just don’t know them well enough. This leads to a weird situation in which we’re more interested in side characters with big personalities (such as the gray haired well into middle age chief of police) than Korra’s friends.
It’s all deeply compelling though. Beyond even the overall mythos and the overarching rebellion, watching Korra fumble through the big city and deal with matters way over her head is thrilling. It’s a fantastic world, and Korra is trying to get a handle on it while simultaneously coming into herself as a person and the Avatar, which is one heck of a task for a seventeen year old. The fights are always stunning and choreographed far better than any big budget action film. The downtime is just as good - it’s great characters figuring out this increasingly more complicated new world.
Of course, it’s only been twelve episodes - the season may be over, but the show is just getting started. It wasn’t until the thirteenth episode of the original series that it truly began to show the moral ambiguity that it would come to explore. This is no excuse for Mako, Bolin, and Asami (Korra’s friends) being half-baked thus far. There is a wonderful scene of the three swimming in a pool with Korra, but moments like these are far too infrequent - it’s hard to say that they even have a clear rapport yet. In part, this is from the nature of this season’s events. More important though, when it comes to major character developments, the show nails it. For all these complaints, in the end we want more - and not simply because it will allow for further development. We want more from The Legend of Korra because it’s exciting and smart. Like the original series, somehow a cartoon on a youth focused network has the best action and the best story around.