Avatar: The Last Airbender is my all time favorite television series. (I’ve explained exactly why this is before, so I won’t rehash it; go see for yourself if it’s really that important). And when I found out that co-creators Mike DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko were hard at work developing a follow up show focusing on Avatar Aang’s successor, a 16-year-old girl named Korra, I was optimistic, but cautiously so. Back when Ron Moore and Jane Espenson launched the Battlestar Galactica prequel series Caprica, I’d been far too optimistic about the series’ quality, and ended up sorely disappointed–and at the time, BSG was my favorite series. (Yes, A:TLA bested it. Again, I have my reasons, and I’m not changing my mind. But let’s fight about this anyway!) I didn’t want that to happen again, so I had some apprehension.
Now, we’re four episodes into Korra, and I’m glad that apprehension was firmly in place, because it’s made this daring, dramatic, and altogether captivating show all the more satisfying.
It’s obvious that the series bears some similarities to its predecessor, but it differs in all the right ways. Beyond her avatar status, Korra bears little resemblance to Aang; where he was earnest and playful, she’s stubborn and rebellious, with a willingness to bend the rules set by her present guardian and airbending mentor, Aang’s son Tenzin. Rather than palling around with a pair of sparring Water Tribe siblings, an adorably brash earthbender, and two wacky animal sidekicks, she’s accompanied by orphaned brothers with a complicated past and … two wacky animal sidekicks, but one of them is essentially a red panda, so, you know, good enough.
Most importantly, the wars Aang and Korra fight are radically different. Aang took on the evils of the Fire Nation with the intent of bringing unity to the Four Nations once again. Korra lives in the world where the Four Nations are more or less united, and the villains within the walls of Republic City are somehow more terrifying than Fire Lord Ozai ever was. These villains are anti-benders who vow to rid the world of those who can manipulate elements. They possess the ability to take away benders’ abilities–and if they’re able to take away Korra’s avatar powers, then unity will be a near-impossible dream all over again.
Initially, I wasn’t sold on the strength of this story. A:TLA is borderline perfect in my mind, full of the kind of heart that precious few TV series possess. Even after the premiere, I was doubtful that the co-creators could somehow replicate A:TLA’s success. But three episodes later, I think they’re well on their way to a different sort of success. There are reflections of the same humor, heart, beauty, and drama we’ve seen before. But Korra is darker and somehow deeper than what came before it. And I could very well be speaking too soon here (check back in a few months), but I get the feeling that Korra, Republic City, and who and what she encounters there will be as memorable as Aang and his world.
Well, maybe not as memorable. But it could be close.