So here comes the new season of Legend of Korra. Three of this seasons 13 episodes aired back to back.
Given my mixed and frustrated reactions to season two, I really had no idea what to expect tonight.
First impressions? I like some decisions while the writing still is interminably frustrating: Now including frustration with Tenzin!
The good: I love the idea that the Harmonic Convergence event from the previous season is having these unexpected reverberations throughout the world. It upturns things the same way that the series has been reinventing the world. The decision to start having random folks start turning up as new Airbenders is one ripe for exploration, especially given the pressures that being part of a near-extinct culture has put on Tenzin.
That said, and fully understanding those pressures, for him to completely try to coerce new airbenders into joining him through some unbelievably overbearing and aggressive applying of pressure himself, is the move of someone with less maturity than Korra (and that's saying something). Then they follow that up with him saying they can't coerce any new airbenders to join them) almost made me yell "that's what you were just DOING" at the screen.
But I'm supposed to be focusing on the positive right now... so I digress.
Also excellent is the level of animation which just keeps getting better and better with each passing season, but that was evident from the trailer.
The new boy recruit/thief (can't remember name) is an intriguing character, and a nice parallel to Mako and Bolin, who seem like natural mentors for the errant kid. Hopefully they make something out of him.
Seeing Zuko back finally was great and I hope they put him to good use, but at the same time, shouldn't such a revered character have something of a more reverent introduction? When we first got to see Old Katara, we saw her in the context of her being Korra's waterbending master and advisor, which gave her poignancy and gravitas that we came to expect of her from seeing her younger self's story. We haven't heard anything about Zuko since the end of the Airbender trilogy, and in his first reappearance he's given an exposition scene to spill exposition on villains we have barely met or are still in the process of meeting. Yet somehow even the exposition doesn't reveal much about the bad guys except that they're dangerous. I kind of figured that out when the guy broke out of an isolated prison and face down the white lotus, alone. At least give us a transition scene where Zuko playing pai sho with one of his children, or something. Use a little bit of grace to bring him into the story. This is a flaw that on the surface is minor, but at the same time I so really loved this character from the first series (seriously, he had the best, most richly satisfying arc of all the characters, Aang included) that my lack of objectivity on the matter is probably making out to be worse than it is.
I also liked the reintroduction of Bolin and Mako to their distant family, having been separated from them since, well, their entire lives, even though it comes about via circumstances which are incredibly coincidental and really draws attention to itself. They literally 'stumble' upon their extended family after getting lost and stranded in Ba Sing Se. Anyone who remembers the size of that city knows that's fairly incredible, and not in the good sense.
The interesting, but trepidatious: The stuff with the new villain(s) is interesting, but we know too little about them to know what they were in prison for, or why we should worry about their escape. And the idea of the Earth Queen using the new airbenders in her city as forced conscripts in her army is at least provocative, but it seems too feeble right now in logic. That may be addressed eventually, but right now it's rushed (that word formed a bulk of my criticism for the second season, which is why this makes me fearful for the season as a whole). Again, they seem to be vomiting up three seasons' worth of conflict in a season that has to wrap in about 4 1/2 hours of runtime total. They've also got the spirit/human conflict that was laid down in the first five minutes to deal with. All three of these ideas are interesting on their own, but really, could we not just focus on one of them and give it all due attention to make it, you know, really good and properly developed? I can't help but feeling that the lack of time affected the previously mentioned Zuko re-introduction into the universe.
We're veering into the negative again, so let's get to the bad.
There's the aforementioned immature behavior on Tenzin's part. Some of the pressure should have been released on his part as last season when he had his big breakthrough. His behavior is regressive, bordering on Korra levels of "I totally forgot any impact those events from the previous season were supposed to have had on me".
Don't even get me started on the scene where Korra once again reverts to her belligerence to try and coerce an Earth Kingdom slacker into joining their group. I mean, seriously? One of the primo, numero-uno rules of storytelling is that you never, ever, EVER move your story or your characters backwards to a previous state, when you've established that the old status quo is no longer the new status quo. You. Do. Not. Go. Back. You only go forward. If you can't tell at this point that conscripting new airbenders to your cause is the act of a villain, then you have no business headlining a show where you are the protagonist; in the third season of development. Who in their right mind thought this was a good idea? "Hey, you know what we should have Korra do? We should have her threaten an innocent into embracing becoming an Airbender. Out of nowhere. Just have her do it. It'll be great.
Speaking of immaturity, what is it about the adult characters all seemingly reverting to an immature state? Bumi excepted, because it's in his character to be a man-child, albeit one with significant strategic prowess, it seems the adults are compelled to behave in an emotionally stunted way. Even the Earth Queen, who while being petulant, should at least be imposing. Instead she comes off about as imposing as your typical immature teenage rebel. President Raiko has outbursts against Korra that seem more fit, again, to come out of the mouth of a stereotypical rebellious teenager.
But even that takes a back seat to the worst/most-irritating part, because even though not Mako nor Korra nor Asami has made a move to formally reignite any of that horrid love triangle nonsense, they're still, freakin talking about it's aftermath, and not just in one scene but in multiple scenes. Which is telegraphing to me that the writers are going to make something out of this again this season and waste precious animation committing it to film, and increasing the amount of poison building up in my veins from repeatedly being exposed to it over and over again. I excused it in the first season, and was irritated it took up any amount of space in the second, but we're approaching Jar-Jar levels of distraction whenever it's even mentioned now. Stop mentioning it. Romance is not the reason people were attracted to the first Avatar: The Last Airbender series. This only matters to shippers and they shouldn't be influencing the writing of the series. At. All.
I've said it before and I'll say it again. When there are earth-shattering events going on and some truly interesting ideas you're playing with all around you, nobody gives a damn about who's dating-who. Move. On. Everyone else already has. Long ago.
I'm going to continue watching, but I am not optimistic.