Pay attention, DiMartino and Konietzko. Here’s my notes on how to write a better series, take characters to more interesting places and build a stronger tone.
LOL OKAY I GUESS THE PROFESSOR IS IN? (How many animated series have you produced?)
I crit the series myself, but I know that I’m just an amateur fan having opinions. I’m entitled to those opinions, but that doesn’t make me right or mean the professional writers should drop everything and pander to me.
The arrogance of some fans trying to rap Bryke on the knuckles like a schoolmarm in creative writing class just kills me sometimes.
Korra starts the show too powerful, which makes for a weaker series than the first. In Avatar, Aang starts out competent, but with a lot to learn. Korra, on the flipside, is very strong, but almost refuses to learn. This is all fixed in the finale when Amon sucks out her bending abilities. The following scene where she miraculously learns Airbending should have been capped by Amon taking that as well, leaving the heroic Avatar with nothing.
Only when Amon is nearly killed by Tarrlok is she given the opportunity to escape. Season 2 then deals with Korra unlocking the Avatar State and all four elements, in contrast and accord with Aang’s story.
Korra’s problem isn’t that she’s too physically powerful.
Aang’s main drive and conflict are all external. Because he has a more passive personality, he wouldn’t confront problems unless he was forced to—and boy does the plot ever force him. If he doesn’t get his shit together and face a problem head-on (something he consistently has trouble with), the world will end in fire, there will be another genocide, puppies and kittens will eat each other, and he won’t have a date for prom. BASICALLY BAD STUFF.
Korra doesn’t need her arm twisted by DIRE CONSEQUENCES, because she’s got the kind of personality that looks for problems and punches things in the face if they might be thinking about becoming problems.
Aang faced an incredibly powerful bender under a comet that supercharged him. He needed his physical strength to be enough or he wouldn’t survive.
Korra faced an enigmatic figure that couldn’t be defeated through physical means (and wasn’t), an idea, something ephemeral.
Could the story have handled that better? Yeah, probably. But not by trying to make what was essentially an internal/spiritual battle into a physical one.
I’m intrigued by the idea of Korra having to earn more by suffering more, as it’s part of the Hero’s Journey, but I also sort of kneejerk against it because I think there are a lot of people who just want to see her depowered and humiliated because she’s a confident woman of color.
Korra is something Aang wasn’t—she’s a power fantasy. And there’s a difference between making her face her fears and conquer them, and “putting her in her place.”
I’ve seen enough fanart of her being gangraped to know that there’s plenty of people who want to see the latter.
I think the show could have made her even stronger by making her dig deeper, but at the same time, I’m not terribly torn up about her journey being “easy,” for those reasons.
tl;dr: her conflict wasn’t on the physical level, and learning to temper her physical power with self-control and compassion was part of her arc, so her advanced bending in no way hindered her story.
Amon was a great villain because of his cause. He was a poor villain because of his actions. His goals seemed justified and they posed a huge threat to the world we know. The problem is that by the time we knew anything about Amon, he was already on his way out. Mystery is good for a villain; a quick wrap up following a slow burn is not.
Amon should not have perished in the finale. Instead his brother should nearly have killed him, but failed to do anything but galvanize Amon’s mission. Also, he should not have been unmasked to anyone but his lieutenant, who is promptly killed. Season 2 would then be about Korra fighting against a crueler Amon who does not stop at stealing bending abilities and who controls the largest city in the world.
The Doylist reasoning here is: there was no second season when season 1 was written. It has to be taken as a self-contained story.
But even forgetting that, I don’t really think making him “more badass” would help. If anything, he’d just wear out his welcome as a villain. Even Avatar had many smaller villains, from Zuko and Zhao to Azula and the Dai Li, before we even saw Ozai’s face. Three seasons of just fighting Ozai without getting anywhere would have led to villain fatigue.
I do think dragging along a mystery like that is a very risky writing strategy, and rarely if ever pays off. Yes, the viewers will be dying to know! But once you tell them, they’re almost always going to be disappointed. At that point, you either have to make it permanently a mystery (like by having Amon escape or die without ever being unmasked and never learning any backstory on him) or have something that is going to fucking blow people’s minds. The problem with the mind-blowing thing is that it’s too easy to get cheesy with it, like, “Amon is zombie!Aang!”
Honestly, I think the most subversive thing they could have done at that point was have there be nothing TO reveal. Just play it completely straight—Amon is a man named Amon who wears a mask to conceal severe burns, isn’t related to anyone else, and received help from the spirits. What, he told you this stuff in episode 3, didn’t you believe him?
Noatak could have worked as a villain, but the reveal needed to come much, much sooner. Heck, I’d have had him unmasked and Korra lose her bending around episode 6, giving me the rest of the season to sort that out and have her get her bending back and solve things.
I find a lot of writers mistake the first or second act turning point for the climax. They get that it’s a big climactic moment and want to hold off revealing it until the end, but actually it needs to come much, much sooner. If you have exciting events in your head for a story, don’t hold off on them, don’t hoard them, try to get to them as quickly as you can, and then see where that takes you—at least if you’re writing an action story!
While I have mixed feelings about the murder/suicide, I really did like the finality of it, and think having either of them survive cheapens it.
Anyway, Amon was kind of a mess of a character because he was really more two different characters. I loved Amon and I liked Noatak, but trying to reconcile the two just makes them both kind of nonsensical and their motives confused.
I also didn’t like that it made Korra’s battle one of Korra vs. Lies, because I think Korra vs. Truth would have been a thousand times more challenging and engaging on every level.
Chief Lin Bei Fong is a great character. She’s noble, determined, and powerful. When Amon captured her, she should have expected him to steal her bending. Instead, he should have kicked her off of the zeppelin. Amon’s weakness is that, while a threat, he never placed the stakes very high. Simply by killing the Chief, the series would have held a little weight.
Of all the things in this series, you crit Lin’s sacrifice? One of the best scenes LoK has produced?
(She would have survived the fall off the airship, if she still had her bending. Spider!Lin, remember?)
I think the series did fine with that scene. Where it fell down is dropping her as a character immediately afterward.
As I’ve written up on this blog before, a bender’s mind after they’ve lost their bending is one of the most interesting spaces in this entire series. It’s why I’ve written over 100k of Tahno-related fic.
But every single debent character is dropped, like they got tagged in freeze tag. Even Korra, we only see her without her bending for a few minutes, and barely touch on the consequences. I don’t mind that Korra gets the power to restore bending at the end of the series (as I said, she’s a power fantasy, and it’s fantastic to see her empowered to reclaim her own identity like that) but it just dodges the issue that much more. I would have loved to see characters like Tahno, Lin, and Korra grappling with something huge like that at least for a while before it gets fixed.
I also don’t want Lin to die because she’s the ONLY female role model over the age of 20 we’ve seen in either AtLA or LoK. AtLA has a great track record with badass girls, but when it comes to women they drop the ball. We get plenty of strong, wise men, like Iroh or Piandao or Hakoda (the entire White Lotus appeared to be badass, awesome men) but with women we’re left with crazy and evil like Hama, or repulsive like Li and Lo. Ursa and Kya were fridged/disappeared moms.
With Lin, we’re finally given an older woman who’s strong, has agency, has a life outside of being someone’s mother or girlfriend/wife, is sexy (but not fetishized) and yes being sexual is important because of the way the sexuality of older women is often portrayed as disgusting, whereas someone like Iroh’s sexuality was admirable, and generally she was someone little girls and grown women alike could look up to.
That lady is my hero. Killing her doesn’t make the story more deep or whatever.
Despite its numerous flaws, the biggest of Korra’s flaws is in the series dependance on its love triangle between Asami, Korra and Mako. In the end, Mako grows to love Korra and cruelly abandons Asami. I don’t dislike this, I just wish that it didn’t take 12 episodes to happen.
I’d rewrite the arc so that the love triangle is introduced in an early episode and almost immediately shatters the group in the next. Asami breaks it off with Mako, who feels ambiguous about the ordeal and - though he is free to pursue a relationship with Korra - tries to resist. This adds a more directed edge of infidelity to the end of the series with the pair running around on adventures. Mako is trying to be the good guy yet never does the right thing to repair his relationship with Asami. This makes him less of a dis-likable character in that he’s only betraying his conscience and preserves Asami’s character as she’s no longer a willing doormat to Mako’s wandering heart.
In the meantime, Asami, scared and alone, acts as the series’ wildcard. She works against the Equalists, but never in accord with the Avatar’s team. Several times we have to question her loyalty. When she ultimately strikes down her father, it’s much more surprising. Asami’s sideplot then becomes more ambiguous in morality. It’s clear that she’s good and against her father, but hates Korra and Mako and possibly bending. Her relationship with good-natured and optimistic Bolin would be the factor that keeps her on the Good side of Neutral.
ARE YOU SAYING ASAMI IS NOT FLAWLESS.
BECAUSE SHE WAS A “WILLING DOORMAT”?
OH NO NO NO YOU DI’N.
What exactly do you think she should have done? Pushed Mako off an airship?
I…don’t even know where to start on this. If you’re blaming Asami for any part of that love dodecahedron, you’re doing everything wrong.
And as it was, Asami got slut-shamed enough for 1) being beautiful, and 2) having a boyfriend. Making her morally ambiguous would just net her more hate. I’m glad she ended up being on Korra’s side, because boy trouble aside, the two are natural allies, and it makes sense for them to work together on their common goals.
In fact, they’re pretty much the only Team Avatar members who even had a reason to be there, so….
I agree that the love triangle was kind of bungled. For a bunch of reasons.
It did a really bad job of establishing Mako’s attraction. (And also a bad job of establishing Korra’s attraction, pre-episode 5. All that “I think we’re meant to be together” kind of came out of left field for me, which means it’s telling, not showing.) With Mako we barely even get telling. We get the announcer saying that his feelings for her seemed to be mutual. (What feelings?) Then she comes on really strong, it fucks up the team dynamic and throws a wrench in her confidence, he tries to mitigate it by basically giving her the old, “it’s not you, it’s me” (putting her feelings before his even though she’s the aggressor is an incredibly feminine thing for him to do, which might be why I sympathized with him so much here) and then she forcibly kisses him, he “kisses back” probably due to the force of her expectations/to spare her feelings/what else exactly are you supposed to do when someone kisses you, then she basically slut-shames him with, “Hah, you kissed me back, that means you wanted it!”
(I’ve kissed people back when I didn’t want it. I also started crying immediately afterwards! So I know that feel, Mako baby. And Korra, I love you, but when you have to forcibly kiss someone and inform them that they liked it and they can’t stop thinking about you, despite them telling you they’re not interested and continuing to date someone else, that’s a sign you should stop.)
See, romances are plots, and plots need conflict, so for a romance to work as a plot, there needs to be something in the way of them getting together. There’s a lot of different things you could pick! Unfortunately, Bryke keep going for the, “love object is not interested in the protagonist/is interested in other people, and needs to be won over.” This was present in AtLA, with Katara showing much clearer sexual attraction to Jet and even Haru than she ever did to Aang, and even rejecting Aang and saying she was confused. This is a pretty creepy message, because in real life, when someone’s just not that into you, the best thing you can do is be respectful and not pressure them, and not feel entitled to them rewarding your personal accomplishments with sexual attraction to you.
(I heard that the original plan for AtLA s2 was for Toph to be a boy and Katara to be really attracted to him, which would make Aang sad, so Sokka and Aang scheme ways to trick Katara into falling in love with Aang instead and UGH SO SKEEVED DID I MENTION HOW GLAD I AM THIS ISN’T CANON.)
So we have Mako’s own disinterest as the antagonist in the Makorra plotline, which is hella problematic.
I can think of a lot of different obstacles there could have been to their romance. In action series, good romance plotlines generally tie in with the main plot, so that advancing one advances the others. So like, Mako could genuinely be put off by Korra early on, because of her brash arrogance combined with her ignorance and lack of compassion for those who weren’t born as lucky as her. He might think that she’s a bit of a jerk, and she could think that HE’S a jerk because he isn’t automatically nice to her and giving her everything she wants like everyone in her limited personal experience. But then as being out in the world forces her to learn and grow as a person, she gains depth, shows selflessness and compassion, and takes the time to get to know and understand Mako as a person. Mako, in turn, sees this change and growth and falls for the better person she is becoming, while admiring her ability to admit that she was wrong and learn new perspectives.
I don’t mind that there were love triangles, in fact, I think fandom is being really immature in being unable to accept that having feelings for more than one person doesn’t make you horrible, and your significant other liking more than one person certainly doesn’t make you horrible! I do mind that the romances felt somewhat stiff and forced, and didn’t further character development as much as they could have.
The season finale ends with Korra having just eluded death with her abilities stripped and has nothing left but Mako’s love. Amon has taken over Republic City and now moves to remove bending worldwide - other factions are letting him.
Totally powerless, Korra has two goals for the next season: regain her bending ability through the spirit world and find a temporary power source until that time.
Since she’s wholly powerless, she’d have to rely on technology to keep up. This means having to turn to Asami. Season 2 would be very interesting.
So fridge Lin, completely depower and humiliate Korra…will Book 2 be featuring Asami as a sexually-abused stripper/prostitute? Because it’s really all your Darker and Edgier revamp needs for the lady-hating trifecta.