The Last Airbender: Legend of Korra
Although I came to the party late, over the past year I've become a big proponent of Nickelodeon animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, which aired from 2005 to 2008. Forget the appalling, soulless live-action film by M Night Shyamalan (my review); the cartoon was the real deal - set in a Asian-styled medieval universe where martial arts and magic mix.
The original show was set in a world divided into 4 groups: The Water Tribes, the Air Nomads, the Earth Kingdom and the Fire Nation. Some people from each of these groups are born "benders," in that they can telekinetically manipulate their kingdom's associated element. Then there's the Avatar, a supremely powerful bender who can control all 4 elements, and who exists to maintain balance and justice in the world. On death, the Avatar is reincarnated, cycling through the different groups every generation, as every Avatar has a primary bending ability they're born with. This is important because typically the Avatar learns of their nature only in their teens, at which point they must venture out into the world and train with the great bending masters of the other 3 elements, to fully develop their skill set.
For the record, Avatar: The Last Airbender followed the adventures of Avatar Aang, a playful 12 year old airbender - and last of his kind - who had to stop the genocidal Fire Lord from overthrowing the other nations.
One of the most enjoyable things about Avatar: The Last Airbender, apart from its character focus and all-round warmth, was the fact that it was a self-contained series, following one linear storyline through 3 seasons to a dramatic resolution.
Well, much the same approach is being adopted for the highly anticipated Last Airbender sequel, entitled The Last Airbender: Legend of Korra, which will hit TV screens sometime in 2012. This new cartoon will tell its story - set approximately 70 years after the original series - over 2 seasons, consisting of 12 and 14 episodes respectively. Nothing more, nothing less. You can watch the trailer for Legend of Korra at the top of this post.
Fans, who miss Aang and co., will no doubt be pleased to know that their heroes' adventures will continue - albeit on the printed page - in The Promise, a trilogy of comics set a year after the original series end. Although the announced plot of the trilogy has to do with rebellion against the new regime, I suspect the mystery surrounding Zuko's mother will also finally be solved. In addition, The Promise is intended to act as a bridge between the old cartoon and the new.
Anyway, given the fact that a new Avatar can't be born before the previous one dies, it's not much of a spoiler to say that Aang - and apparently the rest of "Team Avatar" - is dead by the time Legend of Korra kicks off. For the record, Nickelodeon couldn't call the new show the more sensible Avatar: Legend of Korra because of a certain James Cameron movie).
The 2012 Airbender series centres on Aang's female successor, Korra, a 17 year old waterbender from the Southern Water Tribes. Having already picked up firebending and earthbending, hot-headed Korra comes to Republic City, a sprawling steampunk metropolis that is home to members of all the world's nations... and a place where bending has become a massively popular spectator sport.
As I've already said, the original characters are dead but their descendants are certainly around. So it's to Tenzin, Aang's serious youngest son, only airbending descendent and family man, that Korra turns for airbending training. Meanwhile, the city is policed by specialist metalbenders, trained under Toph (from the original series), and captained by her daughter Bei Fong.
Of course, what would an Avatar series be without a band of buddies for its hero. Korra's "Team Avatar" consists of brothers Bolin (a jovial earthbender) and Mako (a brooding firebender), both of whom are pro-bending sportsmen. Korra's loyal animal companion/guide is Naga, a polar bear dog - in keeping with the animal hybrids that populate this particular fantasy universe. And a fire ferret called Pabu is clearly intended to be this series' Momo.
As for the big dramatic hook in Legend of Korra, our heroine will attempt to squash a rebellion by anti-benders called the Equalists - who are led by a dangerous masked figure known as Amon.
Fans can be confident that Legend of Korra isn't a cheap cash-in, seeing as it's scripted by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, the writer-creators of the original cartoon. This said, the big question is just how fun and engrossing the new Airbender show will be?
It's admirable that the makers aren't just lazily rehashing the original show but at the same time right now Legend of Korra is coming across as the Avatar equivalent of Caprica to Battlestar Galactica. Characters are no longer having globe-trotting adventures and venturing off into the unknown. Instead they're based in one location - a city that looks like Shanghai or Tokyo on the cusp of the 20th Century. In addition, the project's overall tone seems to be a lot darker and more mature. I just hope this doesn't mean all the fun, character and heart has been stripped from the series, and replaced instead with unrelenting action, stiff interactions and arrogant, unlikeable leads.
I'm cautiously optimistic though. The more I've read about it, the more I've warmed to the idea of The Last Airbender: Legend of Korra. After all, the first Avatar has already given us Katara, Toph, Suki, Azula, Mai, Ty Lee, Kyoshi and June. Bring on another strong, competent and distinctive female character!
Speaking of reading, most of the information for this blog post was gleaned off the excellent Avatar Wiki, which is well worth a browse for fans.