Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Legend of Korra season one

I've admitted before that I'm certainly unhip when it comes to what's new and good in the various forms of media out there before. Way behind the curve so to speak. So I noticed that on Amazon Prime that they had the first season of The Legend of Korra, wiki over here and Nick site over here, which is the sequel to Avatar the Last Airbender taking place 70 years later.

I'll be speaking of some specifics below and as the series in nearing it's third season and I'm only covering the first one...

Korra is quite different than Aang outside of the fact that she's a woman. First, she's older than Aang was. Second, she's more proficient with the elements than Aang was. She's also more aggressive in her approach to things and doesn't have the angst of having her tribe destroyed or being displaced in time. In addition, the element she has a hard time bending, is air. This allows some other elements to be used by the mainstream character as opposed to airbending. These elements are a pleasant boost from Aang in that they allow her to do more right off the bat and engage stronger opposition off the bat.

The setting has many nods to the previous series. Not only nods if you will, but direct continuations. Aang has children here. Korra, while not directly related to Aang, has ties to the Water Tribe. The setting continues the use of technology, becoming almost steam punk like if not past that.

With some of the setting specifics, there are things in the previous series that are expanded and some of the previous unique elements have become standard. For example, metal bending, a unique element of the previous series, while still difficult, is something that the police, earth benders, all have the ability in. The ability to block 'bending', the ability to control an element, is now something used by a terrorist organization to hinder benders.

Kora faces two 'enemies' here. The first is councilman Tarrlok who uses the political situation to further his own ends. Not only is he clever in the fields of navigating the people and situations around him, but he has the ability to bloodbend, a unique water bending ability. Tarrlok provides a change of pace in that initially, he's not normally the sort of foe you can just attack without ramifications. His ambitions prove to be his undoing though as he actually loses his composure and attacks the Avatar.

In a role playing game, such methodology might also work. Navigating a political opponent into a position where they have to attack or where they have to show their darker nature is a common enough theme in fiction. 

The second foe is Amon. He claims that he is empowered by spirits to be a great equalizer and to take away the power of benders and make everyone on the same footing. Between Tarrlok's power grabs to benefit himself and Amon's methods of spreading fear and terror, he is more dangerous than most straight forward enemies could ever be. 

Amon is not only a leader though, but is also a holder of secrets. For example, he is Tarrlok's brother and also a water bender with an even greater ability to blood bend, to not only control people's physical bodies, but to take away their ability to bend. These unique elements continue with the pattern established in the original series where exceptional characters have exceptional abilities.

I personally thought it interesting that Tarrlok and Amon were brothers. Initially I would have bet money that Amon was actually Tarrlok but the writers surprised me.

In terms of 'small characters' or those with minor roles, the show does a good job of giving distinctive features to those that don't have big roles. For example, the announcer at the sports. These announcements are entertaining and the speaker keeps that voice over style going.

Part of the 'fun' of the series is its use of voice overs at the start of each episode. These are like the old radio serials from the early years of the twentieth century. Another fun thing is the 'propaganda' posters that Amon uses. For an example, there a great picture over here at Deviant Art:

Amon also has a unique apperance thanks to his mask and uniform. His charisma allows him to engage a series of followers that includes an inventor. The inventor acts as an excellent method of introducing new technological horrors including 'walking tanks' made of platinum. The reason their made of platinum is that's a metal that cannot be controlled with earth bending because of its purity.

By having an innovator against the characters, for example, in a fantasy setting, wizards traditionally fill that role, such as the creation of the old favorite the owl bear, the Game Master can add new mosnters and animals to the setting that might not ordinarily occur.

Another thing used in the setting, is statues to cement the heroes of yesteryear. For example, Aang is immortalized as a large figure in the middle of the bay. The damage from the previous setting, the near destruction of the air benders, is also continued here.

For more setting specifics, the world continues its use of animals that are made up of multiple parts. Kora's mount for example, is a polar bear dog combination.

In addition to the elements of the setting though, the strength of the series is in its characters. Kora has the son of Aang as her mentor, but he's not some solitary figure but rather a father of four with a wife and an 'old flame' whose the daughter of Toph from the original series. She also has friends and allies that stand by her side and throw some drama into the whole relationship circles that make the story more than a slug fest though.

In terms of information dump, the viewer gets a few venues for this. One of those is through the children. For example, the children are willing to talk just about everything and anything. This lets the GM pour information into the game that might not be accurate but still come to the players in at least an amusing method.

Kora, being the avatar, also has access to the previous Avatars. Because of this, she has access to previous memories and is able to have a broader understanding of what is going on. This includes learning that there was in the past, a blood bender who was able to use the manner without the benefit of a full moon. Having characters with access to such information dumps is a useful tool for bringing new information into the campaign.

In campaigns, long running ones especially, the series does a good job of showcasing temporary setbacks. Korra is defeated several times throughout the series but in the long run is victorious. A few adventurers have tried to capture this feel such as by having the players guard a city that is destined to fall only for the characters to defeat the main villains at the end of the saga even though they've suffered some setbacks.

The most surprising thing to me though, was one of the 'endings' of the series. After Amon is defeated and Tarrlok and he reunited, the two are sailing away and Amon is speaking of the things to come and how things will be just like they were when the two were chldren. Tarrlok then exploded the boat they were traveling on. While no bodies were seen, it's something like a play out of a Martin Scorsese  movie.

The writing of the series is particularly strong in a lot of aspects. For example the comedy of the series is well timed and comes through in small patches but at appropriate times. The writer's use of children for example, could be ill timed but the writer's make the most of it with their inappropriate comments and actions.

The Legend of Kora is available to stream on Amazon Prime for season one or on dvd for $14.96, prime eligible.