The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Book One - Air


Been a while since I reviewed this show, hasn't it? Well, let me get this out of the way, I think it is the most brilliant animated series on the air right now. I was not disappointed in how the season progressed and how it went down. This was just great storytelling. It wasn't perfect, and believe me when I say I'll get to that. But let's talk about what I liked.

From beginning to end, Korra was the kind of protagonist I like. Strong yet flawed. She was so wonderfully human. Tough yet vulnerable. Strong yet she had a lot of growing up to do. Powerful and yet unfocused. She didn't even grasp airbending until a moment of desperation and finally touched her spiritual side while contemplating suicide on that cliff side. And yes, she was contemplating it, the camera shots and angles, this is basic filmmaking 101... subtle enough to get passed Standard & Practices but it still got the point across. A very dark moment for a cartoon targeting kids in a series that was full of them.

Likewise, Amon is the type of villain I like (and he was voiced by Steve Blum!). I'm still seeing people debate whether he was a true villain, or merely misguided. The answer is, of course, both. We know why he is the way he is, and what made him that way. So, in retrospect, Amon and Tarrlok's entire stories are about two kids trying not to become their bastard of a father, both becoming just like him, and one deciding to end the both of them just so the cycle doesn't repeat itself and end up hurting a whole new generation. That's actually pretty fucking dark for a kid's show. I could not believe I was watching that murder-suicide... "they're not gonna, oh shit they did!"

I saw the reveal that Amon was a bloodbender and related to Tarrlok coming weeks ago. Granted, in episode three, I thought there might be a Koh connection... but once we learned about Tarrlok and Yakone, it became obvious to me how bloodbending could be used to cut off a bender's ability to bend. Bending is still a physical act activated by the brain, just like lifting your arm... Amon knew how to bloodbend to stop it. Did the show spell it out exactly? No. But I've never been the type of viewer who needs to have my hand held. Give me enough pieces and I can figure it out myself without needing to be spoon fed.

Asami was a great character; Zuko's grandson, General Iroh was cool; and General Bumi... I want to see more of him in season two. While I'm wishing, I hope we see old wandering Zuko. According to Mike and Bryan, Fire Lord Zuko abdicated the throne to his daughter to become a wandering diplomat for peace.

It wasn't perfect though...

Despite Amon being revealed as a fraud, the social issues that fueled his anti-bending revolution were not resolved. While I can believe that his fall knocked the wind out of the sails of the Equalists, I do think overtures need to be made towards non-benders. Maybe put one on the city council, put some into law enforcement. The Equalist movement didn't start because a man in a mask had a sad story about a firebender killing his family and burning his face... the resentment had to already exist, and for good reason.

And yes, the last two minutes of the series were a deus ex machina. I thought Korra regaining her abilities came too easily. I'm not bothered by Lin having her bending restored, considering it was taken away by a physical act and not a spiritual one, then I agree that it is fixable. But I think it just came way too easily to Korra.... I know why it was like this. The series was written as a twelve episode mini-series, and the order for more episodes came well into production. Had they known they'd get a season two earlier, it might not have ended quite like that. That's my theory anyway, and I say this as someone who wasn't much bothered by the energy-bending at the end of the original series.

And finally, this is not a complaint about the writing as I think this was purposely done by design. But I hate Mako. I think he is a really terrible person. I'm not a 'shipper at all, I've said it before and I'll say it again, 'shipping is the single lowest form of fandom there is. But I hope Korra dumps his ass in season two. If anyone lost anything from all of this, it was Asami. Okay, put yourself in her shoes for a moment. She is a teenage girl, she meets and falls in love with this handsome athletic guy, the guy is really sweet at first then acts distant, she thinks she might be doing something wrong so she spoils him, she takes him and his brother to her villa so they don't have to live on the street, he's treated like a king, she choose him and his kind over her father who disowns her and later tries to murder her, she sticks around when trouble gets deep and puts her life in danger to be there anyway she can be only for him to blow her off like nobody's business... she's the one who sacrificed all here. Fuck Mako.

Still, that was great television, and I cannot wait for season two.


Bang.

22 comments:

  1. I'm very curious to see where they go for antagonists in Book Two. I can see the Equalists still being a threat, but it's going to be hard for them to hold down a season on their own without someone as compelling as Amon to act as the movement's "face".

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    1. There's two possibilities:

      Descendant of Azula/some militarist Fire Nation faction or something that should have happened: An Spirit World villain.

      Equalists can be a threat, but I think they'll just be cannon fodder.

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  2. It was a great final and I can see why some people didn't like it. I'm not particularly happy with the Dues Ex Machina at the end but I can understand why they did it and it was just the last two minutes. The conflict with Amon ended in the only way it could.

    Yeah I really hope the equalists aren't forgotten about in season 2. Sato showed that Amon didn't start the anti-bender sentiment and that people have a good reason to hate benders. That should not just go away just because the figure head is dead. Season 2 should have them try to bring actual equality to the world; if it starts with everything fixed then I won't be happy.

    Asami was the best developed protagonist in the show. I hope season 2 starts with her kicking Mako in the balls. I’m not sure he was purposefully meant to be hated, but if so that’ll probably mean he’ll get his comeuppance in the future.

    I'm also glad I'm not the only one who picked up on the suicide implication at the end. Korra had actually hit her lowest point, considered herself not worthy of being the Avatar, and if Aang had not interfered she might have jumped.

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  3. Glad to see I'm not the only one who caught on the suicide implication from Korra. Unlike Aang, she lived with her identity as "The Avatar" for most of her life. When Amon took her identity away from her, she was thrown into deep despair. She didn't even forget the fact that Mako only paid attention to her after she revealed herself as the Avatar.

    I also hope Bolin gets some development in the second season. He was pretty much relegated to comedic relief after he was turned down by Korra. Sokka was this too, but at least there was more depth to this character.

    Looking forward to see your thoughts on the rest of Avengers: EMH as well.

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    1. Bolin will get it, I'm sure. I understand there wasn't much time for it in the first season, but I expect it for the second season.

      As for my thoughts on the rest of Avengers. Trust me, that post is coming quite soon. I have a lot to say about it, and not all of it is positive.

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  4. The reveal of Amon was so much better than if it had been a relative of the original show. I also really enjoyed how things wrapped up, but the show could have used an extra episode to improve the pacing. I am not sure where season 2 goes from here, but am excited to find out. This show has done such a good job of being its own thing instead of a Last Airbender retread.

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  5. Greg, agreed with the KorraXMako shipping. It hurt Asami's character development and she even lampshaded "What use am I?"

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    1. I don't think it hurt Asami's character development. She's too good for that man-cunt.

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  6. "as I think this was purposely done by design"

    HUH? Really? You really think we were supposed to hate Mako, even though he's on the main protagonist cast? Even though this season could have very well been the whole series had it not been picked up for a second season? Even though his romance with Korra was played as romantic by the narrative itself?

    No, it's pretty clear Mako and the romance subplot that accompanied him was a case of bad writing, and fans were meant to like Mako the way they liked Zuko, even though Mako's the total opposite of Zuko when it comes to character depth and has not done anything to earn love at all.

    That said, I think "a terrible person" is an extreme statement to describe Mako. He's not a terrible person: he's just a horrendous boyfriend.

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    1. "HUH? Really? You really think we were supposed to hate Mako, even though he's on the main protagonist cast?"

      Yup...

      I watch a lot of TV with very unlikable (by design) protagonists

      Tony Soprano, Dexter Morgan, Nancy Botwin, Rusty Venture, Miss Martian, etc. Shall I keep going?

      I know most of those are for adults, but the writing in animation is getting sophisticated enough that I do not see such a thing as unbelievable at all.

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  8. ^ Tony's a crime boss, Dexter's a serial killer, Nancy's a drug dealer, Rusty Venture's a loser, and Miss Martian's a mind rapist. Mako is a young firebender with a Batman origin who's helped and saved Korra on many occasions, including the final fight with Amon, and whose main crime is how he handles his love life. I think he's meant to be seen as a flawed hero rather than a terrible person. Yes he's been written terribly and is an unlikeable douche, but I still wouldn't call him a terrible person. By that logic, so is Peter Parker for all the errors he made in his love life like with Liz and Gwen.

    Of course, I could be wrong and Bryke knew what they were doing, but we'll have to wait to hear their word on it in a commentary or something and then wait 'til the next season to see if Mako is called on all the crap he's done by the narrative itself and then rightly punished for it. We'll just have to see...

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    1. I have a degree in producing and screenwriting, I think I know what they were going for here.

      And the Spidey comparison doesn't hold water. Both were different people, different circumstances, and by design.

      I didn't realize a character had to be a criminal through and through to be written as unlikable on purpose.

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  9. ^ If it's really what they were going for, why would they make it end with Korra and Mako getting together happily ever after? And keep in mind, this could have been the whole series had a second season not been picked up, so that would have been the end. Asami suffers from the relationship while Mako gets with "the right girl" and gets off scot-free. I'm pretty sure we were supposed to get behind Mako/Korra, but it fell terribly fiat.

    Different people, different situations, same crime: being a horrendous boyfriend in a relationship that's doomed to not work out.

    Also, where'd my earlier post go? I deleted the first version of it 'cause it came up as a whole new comment rather than a reply, but I thought I put it back. The hell happened there???

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    1. WOW! BECAUSE GOD KNOWS THAT SHIT NEVER HAPPENS LIKE THAT IN REAL LIFE!? WOW, IMAGINE THAT!!!!

      I'm sorry, but everything is and always has been situational. Spidey's situations and Mako's were not the same. And don't give me that bullshit. Welcome to the real world. If you cannot see the differences, if your wear black and white blinders like that... then quite frankly, I have no idea what to tell you.

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  10. ^ What never happens in real life? A guy cheating on his girlfriend, then going with another girl and getting off scot-free? Yeah, I know that happens alot and it's not to be smiled upon. Yet the fact that the guy in question here is hooking up with THE MAIN HEROINE with no reprecussions at the end of the story kind of calls into question whether or not Mike and Bryan know that.

    I acknowledged that they were not the same and agree that Mako comes out of his situation looking far, far, far worse. But even if we are indeed meant to think less of Mako here (which we might be, I'm just not sure), I highly doubt Mike and Bryan were trying to portray him as a "terrible person", and even if he gets dumped next season (lord, I hope so...), he's still staying around as a good guy. And if, IF we were meant to accept him as a good guy at the end of this season, then they dropped the ball on that.

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    1. Put me in the same boat that agrees with you Eric that questions whether Mako was meant to be hated by design.

      Part of me feels he is, but part of me feels he's done nothing to earn my respect as a person or as a character. Hell in episode 5 they tried to parallel Tenzin's old romance with Lin with Korra-Mako, and how he broke up with her and eventually married his wife. The difference is Tenzin told us his break up with Lin was more complicated than that. And that they broke up mostly because they had different ideals. With Korra & Mako it didn't come across as complicated to me at all. Just Mako being a dick, and the only one who ever calls him on this is Asami.

      Yeah Mako could get his comeuppance in Book 2. But the way it's being presented, I'm just not getting that vibe at all.

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  11. "If it's really what they were going for, why would they make it end with Korra and Mako getting together happily ever after? And keep in mind, this could have been the whole series had a second season not been picked up, so that would have been the end."

    Not necessarily. While Mike and Bryan may have have designed Book One: Air to act as a stand alone, I'm sure they at least hoped they be able to get a second season. So it makes sense that they'd set up potential plot threads for Book Two. So I think we should wait to see how the Mako/Korra relationship develops in Book Two before we make that call

    And a character can be purposely unlikable without the narrative going out of it's way to point out "this character is an asshole". Just look at the cast of Watchmen. Half of them are borderline sociopaths yet we never see say... Ozymandiaz get his cummupance

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  12. Okay, that does make some sense. We'll wait and see if Book Two sinks Makko/Korra in a way that proves that the relationship was doomed to not work out and that Mako gets what he deserves.

    It's just 'cause while some TV show producers can do that with a character who's a main protagonist in the main cast, Mike and Bryan never have before. It would be like in "Avatar: The Last Airbender" having Zuko join the main gang before he'd grown as a character and EARNED that right. My critical side is telling me that Bryke believes Mako is a perfectly good guy worthy of being a major character and love interest, even though he's done nothing to earn that at all.

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  13. Could we expect an Amon villain tribute in the future? Obviously not on YouTube, though.

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