Review: The Legend of Korra Book 4: Balance- Balancing Games

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Synopsis: Broken both physically and psychologically after her battle with Zaheer, Korra returns home to the Southern Water Tribe and spends the next three years recovering. In the meantime a woman named Kuvira has taken charge of the Earth Kingdom, and become a dictator bent on forcing the entire nation to her will. As Korra sets out to stop her she must rise not only to face this challenge, but herself as well

Review

The Legend of Korra has gone through a lot over the course of it’s run and its been a journey of ups and downs. Book 1 was relatively satisfying in making the show seem like a solid successor to the first series while Book 2 brought the franchise  as a whole to some of its lowest points (and lowest ratings which started a whole other slew of problems for it). Book 3 on the other hand was a full return to grace and it seemed like for the first time the series actually had the potential to outdo it’s predecessor. Unfortunately the final book doesn’t quite meet those expectations for a multitude of reasons but still manages to bring a proper end to Korra’s character arc and a relatively satisfying ending for the series a whole.

The name for this book is rather appropriate, not only because of the theme but largely because the season feels as though it’s trying to balance several things at once. On the one hand it’s got Korra’s character arc, on the other it has Kuvira’s threat and then on top of that it’s trying to give development to a slew of other characters while trying to make it all tie together. Needless to say it doesn’t handle that juggling act quite well as it gets certain aspects of it better than others and has more good ideas than knows how to execute th

Starting with the more mishandled parts of the season, is Bolin part in the season. His arc in joining and defecting from Kuvira’s army after seeing she brings more harm than good is an interesting one on paper, but for the most part it doesn’t do much to change him as a character, and if anything kind of makes him look dumb for not realizing sooner that Kuvira was a threat. Varrick getting thrown into the mix and defecting with him does make it a bit more interesting though Varrick’s reason for switching sides feels out of character for him since he’s generally been lovably amoral for the most part, and having him betray her just because she tried to kill him would have worked just as well.

Kuvira herself is also a pretty large misstep for the season as compared to previous villains she doesn’t have a lot going for her. Her motivations are largely unexplained (until the ending) making her come across as a bit one dimensional and bland. She also doesn’t represent enough of a personal threat to Korra as a character as many of her greatest feats of villainy feel to indirect to Korra’s character arc and while there are clearly supposed to be parallels between her and where Korra’s character was for most of the series, the parallels don’t intersect as much as they need to make things work.

Of course with all the bad there’s also good, and for some of the things the season can’t quite juggle there are things it does well. Bringing back Asami’s father and having the two restore their broken relationship was a nice touch and made his sacrifice at the end a touching one, even if he wasn’t in the spotlight enough for there to be much impact. Similarly, Toph’s role in the season is much appreciated as she helps Korra along her road to recovery and also mends her own broken relationships with her daughters which is a nice follow through on that arc from the previous season. Prince Wu’s character development over the season from a self absorbed jerk to a decent politician is also an interesting one though it’s a bit bumpier than some of the stronger character arcs in the season as he’s a bit overly used for humor.

The strongest part of the season is by and large the ending to Korra’s journey as a character. Her road to recovery is a tough one as she’s forced to confront her biggest fear: being powerless. Compared to Aang’s rejection of his destiny as the Avatar in the original series, Korra can only define herself as such and having that sense of power taken away from her physically does a number on her as she desperately tries to find a way to fix her health. However it’s in this powerlessness that for the first time she learns to empathize  with the perspectives of others, including some of her former enemies (which doesn’t work quite as well as the show thinks it does since Zaheer was the only villain the series who actually believed in what he was doing) and eventually confronts her fears by facing the one who took away her sense of power in the first place.

Her strengthened sense of empathy plays a large part in the final battle as rather than a large blown out duel like with Aang and Ozai, it’s by trying to understand Kuvira that she triumphs in the end as the two find their similarities and make peace. Unfortunately this confrontation occurs largely after the bulk of Korra’s character arc is already completed, and Kuvira’s characterization was too limited for most of the season as she mainly just comes across as a generically dictator(though not quite to Ozai’s Darth Siddus levels in the original)so the scene doesn’t work as well as it should thematically. It puts a nice bow on Korra’s journey as a person but most of the conflict throughout the season doesn’t quite carry the sense of scale that a series finale should and especially not compared to the grand finale for the original series.

That said the show does have a pretty notable ending, as it delivers on a sensible but pretty unexpected to actually happen pairing. Korra and Asami’s bond has been subtly built up over Books 3 & 4 and the two had some decent chemistry together compared to most of the couples the show had to offer (well with the exception of Varrick and Ju-Li but then they wrapped things up with that one) though the show actually following through on that seemed like a long shot. However the final scene between Korra and Asami more or less unambigously (there will be those who argue otherwise but the parallels between the scene and the scene confirming Aang and Katara’s romance at the end of the original are pretty much impossible to deny) pairs the two together. Whether it’s the possible start of a relationship or the cementing of one is nicely left up to interpretation but it’s definitely one of the boldest things Nick has ever done.

The Legend of Korra has had some big shoes to fill as it’s predecessor stands as one of the greatest animated shows ever made, and it’s been a hard fit as the show has struggled a lot more in terms of tone and characters due to the bulk of the series being an initially unplanned continuation(and it really showed in Book 2). For all those bumps though it’s had it’s highs as well, and has done a solid job in expanding the world of the franchise as a whole. While the show may end up being remembered more for the last three minutes of the finale than anything else, it’s earned it’s place as one of the most memorable pieces of action animation produced in the west. It’s not nearly as good as the original series as a whole, but its a solid journey and a mostly worthwhile successor.

Overall: 7.6/10

Available on Nick.com

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