I have chosen to take on Legend Of Korra, the sequel to the acclaimed Last Airbender series that has taken Tumblr and my heart by storm, through reviews and recaps. The show premieres this Friday night and I could not be more excited. Before Season Two comes to blow us away, I wanted to recap another event in the Avatar universe that has gone largely unnoticed by fans: the graphic novels bridging the series together with canonical events. The first is The Promise, a three part event chronicling the creation of Republic City. Obviously, this recap/reaction will contain spoilers: I recommend you read the books because they are awesome.
The Promise offers a divergent plot for all of the characters: Toph has created a school to spread her metal bending with Sokka’s help, Zuko battles the fear that he may regress as a human being when given power, Aang deals with a group of fans who wish to follow the ways of the Air Nomads and his newfound relationship with Katara, and the whole group tries to decide what to do with the colonies the Fire Nation made of Earth Nation towns.
The overarching plotline is incredible: it focuses on the town of Yu Dao, a town controlled by the Fire Nation, but controlled by a mayor who has taken on a Earth Nation bride. This quickly causes problems for Aang and Zuko’s Harmony Restoration Movement, an agreed-upon plan for the Fire Nation to return their colonies to the Earth Nation. While initially the plan works fine as most of the colonies are very new and the citizens generally unsettled, Yu Dao has been under Fire Nation control for 100 years: the citizens are completely tied to one another and the ancestral ties run deep on both sides.
But inequities remain in Yu Dao: Fire Nation citizens have all of the money and are served by the Earth Nation. Zuko, in confusion over what to do as his subjects beg for him to act for the justifiable outrage over the plan, turns on Aang and prepares for another war. Now Aang is left with a choice. Zuko, in his fear of regression, has previously asked Aang to kill him the moment he turns and Avatar Roku has told Aang to kill his Great-Grandson.
The plot of this novel is intricate and brilliant, focusing entirely on the war’s decimation of previously held cultural traditions. What does it mean to belong to the Fire Nation? The Earth Nation? The ties go deeper than bending. Aang has a group desperate to resurrect the traditions of the Air Nation, to the point that he is insulted by a non-cultural group appropriating his traditions for their own gain. The book is dripping with commentary on white privilege and imperialism, but it also offers the biggest question for the world of Avatar. How does the world exist when intermingled? Separation is gone. Aang, Zuko, Katara, Toph, and the whole gang yearns for their separation and identity. The original series was based around them discovering themselves and winning a war against homogenization.
As Aang enters the Avatar State, ready to kill Zuko, Katara grabs him, telling him that when she saw the mayor’s marriage, she saw their future together as members of different cultures. She needs to believe their relationship can work, that the time for separation is over. Aang finally comes to see Zuko and Katara’s point and begins to make Yu Dao a home for all cultures.
Aang returns to Avatar Roku, telling him that he has nothing left to learn and destroying their mental link. This scene is immensely important to the new series. Aang chooses to abandon his traditions held for years in favor of a unification. Legend Of Korra, which emulates the Industrial Revolution and the Roaring Twenties, is grounded in theories of Modernism: the movement to bring disparate factors into one coherent whole through a changed world. Modernism came as a response to the horrors of World War I in real life, which parallels the events of Avatar’s war. Toph’s metal bending and the lightning power of other benders is about to spark a revolutionary industrialized era in this world. We have seen Modernism at work in Legend Of Korra: The Promise provides the background for the movement.
I have heard many fans say they like Korra less, but the truth is I like it the same. The world is intricately and beautifully constructed, a combination of Tokyo, London, and New York in a closed urban environment recognizable and opposed to the old show. The show has just as much to say about philosophy, fun, friendship, and politics as it always did. While we saw what DiMartino and Konietzko could do in a new environment, they enter season two aiming to find Korra’s spirituality in a modernized world. I have no doubt that they will treat Modernism with the same gravity and beauty that they treated eastern philosophy in their previous series.
Tomorrow, The Search.