Die-hard fans of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” were excited when Nickelodeon announced a new “Avatar” sequel series. Most of them assumed that “The Legend of Korra” would pick up where “Avatar” left off. Some fans were unhappy that they didn’t get to see what happened between Zuko’s big announcement and before Korra’s introduction. When “Korra” didn’t meet their expectations, many decided the series wasn’t as good as the original “Avatar.”
In many ways, however, “The Legend of Korra” was a superior TV show, regardless of its lack of Aang and the gang. Korra and her friends were older, which meant that more mature themes could be explored. The world was different, which meant we saw new and exciting locations. Most of all, once “The Last Airbender” laid the foundation for the Avatar mythology, “Korra” could dig deeper into the Avatar’s origin.
Here are 15 reasons “The Legend of Korra” was better than “Avatar: The Last Airbender.”
15. LAVA BENDING
Just when we thought we had seen it all in “Avatar,” Toph invented metalbending. Sokka even said, “Have I ever mentioned how sweet it is that you invented metalbending?” Metalbending made sense because metal is created from refined minerals in the earth. Because Toph was one of the best earthbenders in the world, she was able to figure out how to tap into those minerals to create metalbending. In “The Legend of Korra,” metalbending was used in law enforcement, as well as in Zaofu, an entire city built for metalbenders. Both were headed up by Toph’s daughters, who, no doubt, inherited metalbending from their mother. While it was cool to watch metalbending in “Korra,” it wasn’t new.
Fans of “Korra” were happily surprised to have yet another power revealed in Season 3. In “Rebirth,” Ghazan was introduced as a lavabender, something we had never seen before. Again, it only makes sense that an earthbender could manipulate lava, because it’s just molten earth. Seeing Bolin become a lavabender in “Enter the Void” was not only exciting, but also a well-deserved story twist for the much-overlooked Bolin.
The people in “Avatar: The Last Airbender” didn’t have a lot of entertainment. During festivals or market days, Aang and his friends saw puppet shows and live performances. They watched a play about themselves on Ember Island, but the only technological advancement in entertainment was the pulley troupe used to pull the actress who played Yue up into the rafters.
By the time Republic City was up and running, wealthy industrialist Varrick invented “movers,” which were a lot like silent movies. Varrick chose Bolin to star in his movers as Nuktuk, “the hero of the south.” Movers were filmed in black and white, and had hilarious terrible special effects, like visible wires and puppet limbs that stood in for Naga’s and Pabu’s paws. The movers were a nice side story for Bolin, who was sometimes relegated to the background too much. The movers were also a way for “The Legend of Korra” to parody itself, with lots of great tongue-in-cheek moments.
13. TIME PERIOD MASH-UP
The world of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” was fairly primitive. They had a few sophisticated vehicles, like airships which could only be flown by firebenders, a submarine that was guided through the ocean by waterbenders, and tanks that were driven by firebenders and earthbenders. Most of the machinery was used for military purposes. In day to day life, people didn’t have vehicles or machines to make their lives more convenient.
“The Legend of Korra” was set in a fun, steampunk world that had quickly progressed, in one generation, in terms of technology and engineering. People could travel more easily. For instance, Republic City was full of cars that look like Model Ts with pagoda-syle roofs, and Kuvira used a train to transport troops and equipment. Communication was easier too, thanks to the use of telephones, radios and P.A. systems. Ships in the air and on the sea were also much more advanced than in Aang’s time. The addition of a ’40s-era radio announcer added to the unique setting. All of these advancements made Korra’s world fascinating and fun to watch.
12. FAMOUS ACTORS
When “The Last Airbender” aired, it was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program, but that didn’t mean it attracted big names for the cast. Mae Whitman, who played Katara, was arguably the most famous person in a leading role. Cartoon lovers recognized well-known voiceover actors in other roles, like Clancy Brown, who played Mr. Krabs on “SpongeBob SquarePants” as Long Feng, or Grey DeLisle, who played Hana on “Kim Possible,” as Azula. However, the cast didn’t include any famous live-action actors.
Although only seven years passed between the premiere of the first “Avatar” series and the premiere of “Korra,” a lot changed for TV cartoons. Animated series weren’t just for kids anymore, and TV cartoons were becoming popular fare for all demographics. A-list actors were becoming attracted to voiceover work, which meant “Korra” had more recognizable names in its roster. Tenzin was played by J.K. Simmons, who has since won an Academy Award. Mindy Sterling, who’s famous for yelling “Scott!” in “Austin Powers,” played Lin Beifong. Anne Heche, an Emmy-nominated actress who was famous for “Everwood,” played Suyin Beifong. The actors in “Avatar” were great, but having recognizable names and A-list talent in “Korra” earned the show several Behind the Voice Awards and a Daytime Emmy Award.
“Avatar: The Last Airbender” introduced us to benders, those cool folks who could move and transform one of the four elements: earth, air, water and fire. Creators Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko continued to portray more and more creative bending, including Toph’s discovery of metalbending, and Hama’s use of bloodbending. When Toph was introduced in “The Blind Bandit,” we got a taste of benders competing against each other for prizes. For most of three seasons, however, we saw people use bending to fight, defend, heal and perform daily tasks.
Bending went the pro sports route in “The Legend of Korra,” and we gained a whole new appreciation for it. In the second episode, “A Leaf in the Wind,” Korra heard an announcer calling a Pro-Bending match on the radio. She snuck away from Air Temple Island to see the Fire Ferrets go up against the Golden Temple Tigerdillos. Just like Quidditch was created for the wizarding world of “Harry Potter,” Pro-Bending had its own rules and its own arena. Pro-Bending was exciting, and it was a great way for Korra to find Mako and Bolin, to form friendships with them, and to successfully train outside Air Temple Island.
10. IT’S MORE STYLIZED
While “Avatar” had a unique look and style, it was fairly basic. The creators used a specific color palette, and created a distinctive world that had its own landscape and settings, but the animation style wasn’t terribly different than other TV cartoons. In their book “Avatar: The Last Airbender (Art of the Animated Series),” DiMartino and Konietzko talk about the challenges of their production workflow, and how they had a lot of trial and error.
DiMartino and Konietzko applied a lot of what they learned on “Avatar” to “Korra.” One improvement was that they gave the animators more time per episode, which allowed them to add more intricate details. They also added a step in the post-production process that gave “Korra” different layers of light and shadow, which added more depth and realism. They also played with more advanced camera moves, to make the animated series look more like a movie. Overall, “Korra” had a more sophisticated style than its predecessor.
9. MORE AIRBENDERS
One of the most prominent story threads in “Avatar: The Last Airbender” was that Aang was alone. He was the only airbender left in the whole world. That sorrow was a big part of his character and it was something he wrestled with frequently. His loss also allowed him to empathize with people of every nation. Still, he remained unique, and somewhat lonely, for being an airbender and the Avatar.
Getting a new group of airbenders who were created after the Harmonic Convergence was one of the best and fun twists in “The Legend of Korra.” Seeing Tenzin, Aang’s only airbending child, train his own airbending children was novel. Watching Bumi, Opal and the other airbenders become their own legion of fighters was very entertaining. Their training and their battles against Zaheer and Kuvira, showed us new maneuvers and new teamwork that we didn’t have the chance to see in “Avatar.”
8. MORE BOSS BATTLES
Aang spent three seasons preparing for his big fight with Firelord Ozai. Along the way, Team Avatar came up against some less powerful foes, like Zuko, Azula and Long Feng, but the emphasis of the entire series was on Aang defeating the Firelord. There were times that the series felt like one long preface to the main story. (Their time in the desert outside Ba Sing Se felt especially like drudgery.)
Thankfully, “The Legend of Korra” didn’t follow the same format. Like the original series, “Korra” was broken up into four seasons, or “books,” only this time, each one had its own villain. “Book One: Air” saw Korra battling Amon, who could take away a Bender’s powers. The season ended in a very satisfying way, that would have allowed the series to come to a close if Nickelodeon hadn’t renewed it. Luckily, they did, and “Book Two: Spirits” had Korra fighting her own Uncle, Unalaq, in a giant boss battle, literally, because they were both the size of skyscrapers. The villain in “Book Three: Change” was Zaheer, along with his villainous followers. In “Book Four: Balance,” Korra battled not only Kuvira, but also her own inner demons. Having so many great bad guys gave the show a lot more variety.
7. MORE SPIRIT WORLD
Aang visited the Spirit World a couple of times in “Avatar,” but the Spirit World itself wasn’t full explained or explored. He went to the Spirit World in order to protect a village from a rampaging spirit in “The Spirit World: Winter Solstice, Part 1.” In “The Siege of the North, Part 2,” Aang visits the Spirit World with a little more knowledge than the last time, and talks to Koh the Face Stealer, in order to find out more about the moon spirit. Aang explains to his friends that the Avatar is the connection between the Spirit World and their world, but we don’t learn much more.
However, the Spirit World played an enormous role in “The Legend of Korra.” After the second season, after Korra opened both portals to the Spirit World, and as a result, the two worlds were intertwined. The Spirit World continued to be important, like when Korra used her connection to the tree in the swamp to find Jinora and the others, and when Kuvira harnessed the spirits’ power for her massive weapon. The Spirit World was a fascinating facet of “Korra,” providing a magical location, cute characters and vibrant colors.
6. DEEPER ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS
“Avatar: The Last Airbender” followed, essentially, a group of children on their quest to save the world. In it, Aang was frequently described as a young boy. At the end of the series, he was still only 12 years-old. Katara wasn’t much older, so their kiss in the series finale was a little bit nauseating, due to their young ages. While it’s true that Sokka and Suki were teenagers, their relationship was fairly chaste. Likewise for Zuko and Mai.
Team Avatar in “The Legend of Korra” was, on average, several years older than Aang and his friends. The group’s post-pubescent ages naturally meant that romantic relationships would be formed. Their maturity led to a much deeper exploration of those romantic relationships. Although Korra and Mako were attracted to each other, they discovered their mutual attraction wasn’t enough to solidify their relationship. We watched Bolin pursue the flamboyant Ginger and the morose Eska, with mixed results, only to discover that Opal, a much more grounded girl, was his true love. All the on-again, off-again relationships and love triangles, which provided a lot of drama, wouldn’t have worked as well with younger characters.
5. THE FIRST AVATAR
When we met Aang, no one had seen the Avatar for 100 years. The series was full of moments when people were surprised to find out the Avatar is still alive. In fact, very few people in any of the nations knew much about the Avatar, because he’d been gone for so long. “Avatar” was an education, for the audience and for the characters, about who the Avatar was and what he could do. Part of that education was finding out about previous Avatars, like when Aang consulted Avatar Roku and Avatar Kyoshi in “Sozin’s Comet: Part 2 – The Old Masters.”
“The Legend of Korra” went all the way back to the beginning, and introduced us to the very first Avatar, and how he came to have powers. Learning about Wan answered questions that fans had been asking for years about the Avatar’s origin. It was satisfying to see Wan communing with the Spirit World and creating a connection. Finding out how the Avatar gained the power to Bend all four elements, which was granted to him by various lion turtles, was also fascinating. Wan’s origin story explained a lot for fans and set up story developments in Korra’s own journey.
4. DEEPER MYTHOLOGY
“Avatar: The Last Airbender” was our first introduction to the entire Avatar mythology, which meant that the creators had to educate the audience while telling their story. Most of the mythology surrounding the Avatar was very specific to Aang, like learning about his peaceful childhood with the monks, or about how he had to deal with his past in order to open his energy chakras and enter the Avatar state. Occasionally he communed with the spirits of previous Avatars, but the focus remained on Aang as an individual.
The Avatar mythology was explained much more fully in “The Legend of Korra.” We learned how Raava’s energy connected the Avatar to all past Avatars, and how the spirit’s light energy directly countered Vaatu’s dark energy. We also learned how the Avatar was able to master all four elements when we met Wan. Korra’s connection to previous Avatars was featured more prominently and it helped her defeat opponents more than once. “Korra” was able to dig deeper into the Avatar mythology because the groundwork was already laid in the first series, as well as because “Korra” had one more season than “Avatar.”
3. GROWN-UP AANG
Aang matured a lot on “Avatar.” He went from a playful prankster, to a haphazard fighter, to a wise peacekeeper. At the end of the series, he and Zuko announced their plans to work together to keep the peace in each of the nations. However, the audience didn’t have the satisfaction of seeing the epilogue. The story ended on the kiss between Aang and Katara, without a hint of what the characters looked like in the future, or what happened to them.
Thankfully, in “The Legend of Korra,” fans got to see Aang all grown-up. Fans hadn’t let go of the series, which is what helped “Korra” become so popular. Seeing Aang appear to Korra in “Endgame” as an adult brought on goosebumps. He was a reminder of not only the original series, but also that a lot of years had passed between the two shows. “Korra” showed Aang a couple of times, like in “Out of the Past,” which flashed back to when Toph and Aang subdued Yakone, and she calls him Twinkle Toes, just like old times.
2. SOPHISTICATED STORIES
The “Avatar” episodes were mainly about two things, either figuring out how to defeat Firelord Ozai, or figuring out how to defeat the villain of the week. Occasionally “Avatar” would veer off its usual format to show a character’s backstory, but generally the series was made of simple stories about good and evil, loyalty and abandonment, or family and friendship.
“The Legend of Korra” incorporated all of those themes, but added another level of sophistication. In”Korra,” Team Avatar also had to contend with a lot of politics. In the first season, they struggled against the President’s agenda. In the second season, they were caught between the Northern and Southern Water Tribes in their civil war. The third season focused on Zaheer, who disagreed philosophically with how their world operated. In the show’s ultimate exploration of democracy versus dictatorship, Team Avatar had to battle Kuvira, who claimed she wanted to unite the nations, but really wanted power over them all. Each season grappled with political ideology, not just us versus them.
1. LGBT REPRESENTATION
One of the over-arching themes of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” was the acceptance of all kinds of people. Aang, and later Zuko, became proponents for peace, which meant not judging or condemning anyone, regardless of their home nation, whether or not they were a bender, or their rank or wealth. That theme continued in “The Legend of Korra,” especially during Amon’s campaign to get rid of all bending abilities.
The most powerful message of acceptance, however, came at the very end of the entire “Korra” series. It’s also a moment that had fans in a froth, part surprised and part happy that the creators had decided to make such a bold statement. At the very end of Season 4, Korra and Asami walk toward the Spirit World. The music surges as they hold hands. They step into the light, face each other, and the series ends. It’s not a coincidence that the same music that accompanies this scene is the same music that runs through Aang and Katara’s kiss at the end of “Avatar.” Just after the finale was released, creators DiMartino and Konietzko quickly confirmed that Korra and Asami were a couple. It was an important, and welcome, statement about LGBT relationships.
Do you think “The Legend of Korra” was better or worse than “Avatar: The Last Airbender?” Tell us in the comments!
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