The Legend of Korra: Book 1

"When we hit our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change."

More than ten years ago, I began taking up martial arts. I started with Arnis, a combative martial art from the Philippines that uses sticks as weapons. When my instructor left the country, I tried looking for another martial art to get into, but I couldn’t find any. It was around that time my friends introduced me to a certain Nickelodeon kids’ show about a pretty cool 12-year-old bald monk. That led me to practice Chinese martial arts for a good 10 years. (Check my bio down below for absolutely irrefutable proof.)

Needless to say, Avatar: The Last Airbender holds a very special place in my heart. It’s hard not to watch this show and not fall in love with everything about it – the world, the story, and the amazing, amazing characters. After rewatching the whole show recently, I can say my love for it has only grown. I can only hope we get to see something as wonderfully made as this show again soon.

Which brings us to The Legend of Korra. I watched Book 1 shortly after it was first released and had since put off continuing the show. Like so many other Avatar fans, I guess I was too attached to ATLA to accept that that era was officially over. But now, having had some time to really accept its ending and see how its legacy continues to excite and inspire so many fans, I finally felt ready to give Korra a go.

And after rewatching Book 1 after finishing the entirety of ATLA, I can definitely say… that it is good. It’s really, really good. 

So before I dive into doing a spoiler-filled review of The Legend of Korra, I want to note a few things.

- I’m well aware that this show has been… divisive, to say the least, and that the Korra fandom has its own Fire Nation that spreads a lot of negativity and toxicity. After Book 1, I’m going into the rest of the show mostly blind, so I’ll try to approach it with an open mind and heart, and I hope anybody commenting does the same. :)

- That having been said, I have been massively spoiled. Yes, I know about that thing that happens at the end of the show. So I’m just going to gently push away anything I’ve learned about future seasons and review them as if each book were just coming out.

- I’m also aware of the development hell this show went through during its run. So I’m gonna go ahead and give the writers the benefit of the doubt. Showrunners Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, who were behind ATLA, were also behind this show, so we know how devoted they are to this world. But it will still be inevitable that I’ll have to point out how the behind the scenes troubles affected the end product.

- I’m not a fan of pitting movies, franchises, installments, series, etc. against each other just for the sake of getting others riled up. So if you prefer the GAang over the Korra (squad?), vice versa, or neither, and want to let us know why, please feel free but do so with the purpose of starting some lively discussion. This world of benders teaches us a lot about balance and peace, after all. :)

With all that out of the way, let’s delve right into—

Book 1: Air


Following the end of the Hundred Year War against Firelord Ozai, we are now decades into the future, as the once separate Four Nations have now merged into the modernized United Republic of Nations, where benders of all elements co-exist with each other and with non-benders. The peaceful and productive reign of Avatar Aang has ended, and the Avatar has been reincarnated as our titular character Korra, a precocious and determined waterbender from the Southern Water Tribe.

Both shows are great with character introductions, and right off the bat, TLoK nails its most important introduction – that of Korra’s herself. Like Aang’s introduction in ATLA, we pretty much get to know the character right away from the first few seconds she’s on screen. Korra is talented, competitive, headstrong, and physical. I liked the subtle and maybe not-so-subtle ways we get to see Korra’s personality show. She’s naïve, and we see that in how she asks for meat from a vender without any money. She’s clueless, and we see that in how she spectacularly fumbles admitting her feelings to Mako. Korra’s been sheltered all her life, and this impacts the way she interacts with others. Whether it’s socially, like how she fails to see the insensitivity of admitting her privilege to the less fortunate Mako and Bolin. Or whether it’s on more serious ground, like in directly challenging Amon to a fight without any forethought. She’s definitely different from Aang, and is at times hard to get behind. But I think given her upbringing and her being older, it makes sense that she acts the way she does, and after the first few episodes, I started to really like Korra.

I particularly like how we learn about Korra through her bending. She relies on brute force and doesn’t have the finesse that Aang did. So it was only fitting that airbending was her weakness. It’s also interesting that even though she is a waterbender, she still defaults to fire in battle. She’s strong, but she’s also a hothead.

The bending in TLoK has evolved since the time of Aang. The movements feel more practical and less centered on form. I don’t think we ever saw Katara using flying kicks to waterbend, but we saw plenty of that in the pro-bending matches. I liked the way the bending changed. It felt like a natural progression considering how the world itself has changed as well. Bending has become more of a tool than a way of life, as technology has now made life for the citizens of Republic City increasingly convenient. Lightning and metal benders are more commonplace, and even qi blocking has become a deadlier practice than it was when it was just done by Ty Lee. And perhaps the most notable of all is the major role bloodbending plays this season. We only got a small taste of it in ATLA, so it was really interesting seeing just how powerful and horrifying the practice truly is. The change in bending style is also a reflection of Zuko and Aang’s rule, as they would naturally want to share their skills with their people to make life easier. We definitely know Toph did, as she even turned her metalbending abilities into a metal Spider-Man police force.


I immediately liked the steampunk New York/Chinatown aesthetic of Republic City. I thought it was a creative way to signal to viewers that this would be a big departure from the simple, rural life of ATLA, while at the same time expanding upon the world already set up by its predecessor. The addition of cars, or Satomobiles, made for some really cool action scenes, as well as the use of fighter planes and bender-incapacitating robots. I was also a fan of the old-timey episode recaps. But my favorite ATLA to TLoK evolution had to be the ill-fated cabbage cart turned Cabbage Corp. It was the Avatar business success story I didn’t know I needed.

The New Team Avatar


Having Korra’s back are Mako, Bolin, Asami, and our new furry companions Naga and Pabu. I think the drastically different world and feel of the story made it easier for me to warm up to these new characters. I also wasn’t trying to compare them to Katara, Sokka, and Toph too often. My favorite from this new crew has to be Asami. While her introduction was a little sudden and it took a while for her to find her footing in the group, she quickly proved herself a valuable member. She’s smart, handles herself well, and had the best arc from this trio.

Bolin is a fun character. He’s funny but proves himself very well in battle. I like that contrast between silliness and the strength that comes with earthbending. I hope he’s given more major roles in future seasons. I’m also a fan of the dynamic Bolin has with Mako. It’s really cool seeing two brothers with different bending styles. The moment where they sneakily teamed up against one of Lin’s guards at the Sato Mansion was one of my favorites.

I really liked Mako… at first. He was a captivating character and his bending style of combining fire with lightning so seamlessly felt unique, even though we’ve seen it done separately between Zuko and Azula before. And it's cool seeing a firebender start off on the good guys' side. But where I think they flubbed with Mako’s arc was with *sigh* the love triangle. It felt like once that aspect was introduced, he became nothing more than a love interest, which was a shame. I think it's no coincidence that Korra and Mako together look a lot like Katara and Zuko, so this may be something the creators tossed in to appease fans. They forced Mako’s feelings toward Korra way too quickly, and almost aggressively. It would have felt more natural if they had built them up as good friends, then have them admit their feelings to each other in the end so it would feel earned. But Mako became far too clingy and was an outright jerk to Asami. Here’s to hoping he's allowed to become more than just the boyfriend in later seasons. At least he had that awesome moment where he shot Amon with lightning while being controlled through bloodbending.


Tenzin was another character I warmed up to right away, despite how stoic he was at the beginning. The Tenzin-Korra relationship is also one of my favorite parts of this season. I liked how Korra was able to open up to him and how he became a genuine father figure toward her. And boy, did he prove what a kickass airbending descendant he is of Aang. It was cool seeing a more controlled but still powerful style of airbending. Not to mention we finally got to see what airbending training looks like!

And the MVP of the season goes to Lin Beifong. What a wonderfully written character who is very much the daughter of one of ATLA’s toughest characters. It was cool that her echolocation was similar to her mother’s and yet looked unique to her. Her sacrifice to save Tenzin’s family is my favorite moment of the show so far. I’m glad she got her bending back.

Amon and the Equalists


Part of what makes this show feel so different from ATLA is the conflict. We no longer have the more generic evil of Firelord Ozai. Instead, we get a more low-key but nonetheless threating villain in Amon and his revolutionary group he calls the Equalists, who want to level the playing field between benders and non-benders by any means necessary. It felt like a very real world threat – not to mention quite politically relevant. This was a problem that couldn’t be solved by an Avatar state smash pounding, as that would have just proved the Equalists’ point about the danger posed by benders.

Amon himself was a very intimidating and effective villain, and even though they had us fooled until the end thinking he wasn’t a bender, the threat he posed was still very real. And this wasn’t just felt through his bending-stealing abilities. He never flinched once nor tried to run away from any bending attack Korra and the squad threw at him. And his tragic backstory made him an even more compelling character. Like Zuko, he was a victim of a horrible childhood, and his mission of eliminating benders was most likely an attempt to rid the world of the cruelty he experienced at the hands of his ex-bender father. The way he (now Noatak) and Tarrlok went out was probably one of the Avatar franchise’s darkest and saddest moments.

Least Favorite Episode


Episode 5: The Spirit of Competition. Is this a surprise to anyone? Like I said, the romance was probably the weakest part of the series. I understand that Konietzko and DiMartino were trying to have as much fun as they could with their limited timeframe, and given that they were dealing with teenagers and not 12-year-olds, they could have a bit more freedom. But it just felt way too forced and made some of the characters less likeable. Also, while I did like the introduction of pro-bending, I felt like it didn’t have that much of an impact on the story in the end. Sure, it brought Korra, Mako, and Bolin together, but I think it would have paid off better if we got to see them using their teamwork together more in battle, just like we saw in the arena. Or at least have Mako and Bolin learn things in the sport which they would use in real battle, just like Korra applied her leaf-in-the-wind movements in the match. In a season which was pretty tight, this episode felt like the most inconsequential.

Favorite Episode


Episode 10: Turning the Tides. What an episode. Very high stakes met with a very scary threat. The tension was rising all throughout and peaked at a pretty devastating climax with Lin’s heroic sacrifice. There were so many great moments this episode – the badassery of Lin, Tenzin besting the ambushing Equalists, Asami kicking ass, Mako redirecting the lightning, the attack on Air Temple Island, the White Lotus on the defense, the birth of Rohan, our introduction to General Iroh (with a very familiar voice). And the best of all… FARTBENDING.

Avatar Korra


Korra’s arc this entire season has been of her coming to terms with being the Avatar. From a very young age – younger than Aang, even – she’s had to live up to the title. And that’s why she’s grown into someone who’s built her whole identity around being the Avatar. I like that she goes from being very self-assured to doubting herself as she realizes there may be more to being the Avatar than she initially thought. It’s almost a reversal of Aang’s journey, who began with the weight of the world on his shoulders and had to grow into that state of confidence in himself.

It’s pretty telling just how much Korra defines her sense of self-worth around being the Avatar. So much so that when she loses her bending, she rejects any kind of love or even friendship from Mako, believing that she has lost the right to such along with her bending. And while I think the love angle was at times superfluous, it did play an important role in helping Korra put someone she cared about before her role as the Avatar and do something instinctively selfless enough to tap into her spiritual side and unlock airbending.

Korra is very different from Aang, and that’s something that I think we, as an audience, are meant to understand from the beginning. I think I really started to enjoy this show when I realized that this isn’t ATLA. Though sometimes the comparisons are inevitable, I think if you are able to judge Book 1 on its own and not as a direct sequel to ATLA, you’ll have a lot more fun with it. And while it takes a few episodes to acclimatize to this new Avatar world, when the plot picks up steam, it really gets good.

I think The Legend of Korra Book 1 has some important lessons to teach us as fans – of anything, really. When we fall in love with characters, sometimes we hold on to them for so long, we don’t allow their stories to come to the natural and very well-earned endings they already have reached. While the GAang do play a role in this season, it’s a minimal one at best. Katara, now an aged waterbending master who goes by Gran-Gran to her airbending grandchildren, delivers quite a gut-punch of a line in the pilot when she tells Korra, “Aang’s time has passed. My brother and many of my friends are gone.” It’s difficult to accept leaving characters behind that have felt like such good friends to us, but in the case of the GAang, we always have an amazing series to go back to along with several comics. The sooner we can open ourselves up to ending their stories, the more good friends we stand to make moving forward.

The ending was one of the things that stuck with me after my first watch of TLoK. Some fans say Aang popping in and restoring Korra's bending was a little convenient, but I still think it worked because of how connected it was to her emotional state at the time. And as it is, the Avatar state is already quite the deus ex machina. It’s clear they planned to end Korra’s story right here at Book 1, and I think that was also why I was hesitant to go on to Book 2, because of how everything was brought to a satisfying close. I’d recommend Book 1, even if you don’t want to move ahead to the future seasons. It tells an engaging story with pretty likeable characters and a very compelling villain. I also think it’s a great expansion to the already very rich world that Avatar: The Last Airbender skillfully built.

I’m giving The Legend of Korra Book 1: Air four out of five leaves in the wind.

Mara Fabella is a visual artist, writer, retired martial artist, yoga practitioner, booper of cat noses, and lifelong lover of mint chocolate chip ice cream.

4 comments:

Juan said...

Excellent review Mara. I think the same about everything you said. I love the world of Avatar, for me they are one of the best series in history in any media. Saddly I always felt that the fans were too unfair to Korra compared to Aang. Is like they spected to her to be just like him, and TLoK just like ATLA. What would have been the point of that? In my opiion we are really lucky to have had not one, but two series of this quality and caliber, writting and animation wise, specially compared to whats out there.
I hope you like the other seasons. The second is good with a couple of episodes specially that are amazing, but is in the third and fourth seasons when TLoK really shines. Those are the best seasons. The third specially is on par with the third of ATLA IMHO.

Keep up the good work.

PD: Aang have his GAang, and Korra have her Krew :)

Mara Fabella said...

Thanks for reading, Juan! And yes, I definitely agree that it would be a waste of such potentially amazing new characters and stories if we just got a carbon copy of ATLA. We are lucky to have two such amazing series, and I don't think there's a problem in telling people that if they don't like Korra, they can just revisit ATLA, because ATLA is such a fun show to revisit.

Excited for the next seasons!

Will use "Krew" from now on... or Korrew? :)

sunbunny said...

I was so nervous when Billie said you were going to review this series, Mara. But you liked it! I can breathe easy. I ADORE Korra. I like it even better than its predecessor. Yup, I said it. (Although obviously ATLA has a special place in my heart too.)

I really like how quickly they differentiated Korra from Aang. There's no apples to apples comparison. They're insanely different people. Tiny Korra bursting through the wall screaming "I'm the Avatar! You gotta deal with it!" is one of my favorite moments in the whole series.

Another great difference is that we get to see how Team Avatar operates with adult supervision. Sure, ATLA's White Lotus existed but they were barely there, leaving a gang of tweens to deal with saving the world by themselves. Now we have Tenzin and Lin.

Definite villain upgrade...for this season, at least. Firelord Ozai never really did it for me. He was so generic. Evil man, intent on taking over world. Yawn. Zuko and Azula were the only things that made that storyline bearable. Amon can't be defeated by bending. He needs to be demolished ideologically. Not to mention, he has a point. It is really unfair that some people in the Avatarverse get super powers and some do not. Not that Amon's solution is a good one, of course.

As much as I love Mako, I must agree the love triangle is the drag on the season. It seemed very in character for naïve Korra to fall for the tall, dark and handsome guy at once, and also in character for Mako, used to a life of hardship, to get swept off of his feet by the glamorous Asami (and how cool is it to have the woman do the sweeping for once?). Less in character was Mako's sudden "Oh I love Korra" revelation because do you? Do you really? He really treated Asami like crap and she deserves WORLDS better.

I love the twist that when her father was revealed as an Equalist sympathizer she's like, mwahahaha I'm evil too. Wait, no I'm not. It would have been so easy (and boring) to turn the spoiled rich girl/romantic rival into a bad guy but they resisted the impulse and Asami folds seamlessly in with the team.

AND THE OLD TIMEY ANNOUNCER IS THE BEST.

Thanks for a great review, Mara! I look forward to seeing what you'll make of the next three seasons.

Mara Fabella said...

Thanks, sunbunny! At this point, I'm having a hard time thinking of which one I like better. (I'm already knee deep into the next seasons and will post my thoughts soon!) If we're talking objectively, I think ATLA definitely has the upper hand because the writers were given the chance to structure and plan everything out in advance. But given the hell Nickelodeon put them through for Korra, it's amazing they were able to put something like this together. And seeing the way pesky studio interference treats many creative properties nowadays, it's a marvel that Korra turned out the way it did.

Like you said, Korra is so different from Aang - her personality, her bending, her journey as the Avatar - that I find it sad that people immediately compare the two and always place Aang on top. And yeah, where TLoK definitely trumps ATLA is in its villains. I like that there was a buildup to Firelord Ozai until Book 3, but when we got there, he was just another mustache-twiddling evil laugh villain, and his menace was rooted in his bending prowess more than his motives. Whereas with Amon, there was also a buildup until we found out who he really was, and that reveal made him an even more complex and compelling villain.

A-ha! Someone else who actually likes Mako! I feel like I'm part of the 1% who likes the guy, but I'm just super frustrated they had to drag his character through the mud just for the sake of starting romantic drama that wasn't entertaining at all. That kind of thing could have been saved for Season 2 so at least we'd already be somewhat invested in this group. We had a glimpse of an interesting character, but by around episode 4 or 5, the writers just went, "I know! Let's throw out character development and make him a douche for the sake of petty romance!" Oh, Mako. You were done so dirty.

Some people don't like the old timey announcer, but I love him! And as iconic as Katara's narration is in ATLA, I think I like LoK's intro better, because it's not as long, and yeah, old timey recap announcer is the best.