The Legend of Korra – Book One: Air – A Promising Start That Crashes at the End

      “The Legend of Korra” is one of my favorite series even though it is quite flawed and those flaws are very apparent in “Book 1: Air.” Before I get into the flaws I want to talk about the reasons you should give it a chance and watch it for yourself though. The first book introduces us the industrialized world of “Avatar” and gives tons of great characters and ideas to be explored. For these reasons alone I’d recommend the series. Now for what doesn’t work the ending is mostly bad, the reveal of the villain is awful and the romance is not good. Besides these flaws I’d recommend checking “The Legend of Korra” out.

The series was created and written by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko (the same creators and writers behind “Avatar: The Last Airbender.”

The story follows the new Avatar Korra of the Southern Water Tribe as she deals with the Equalist revolution lead by Amon in Republic City as she tries to learn the element of air.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Animation and Soundtrack – I’m putting these two together as they remain consistent throughout the entire show. Jeremy Zuckerman and Benjamin Wynn were behind “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and that consistently great soundtrack is once again apparent here. They capture the mystery and action extremely well in their compositions. The animation is also beautiful in how blends 3D and 2D using 3D primarily for vehicles and buildings while 2D is for the characters and world.

The World – Seeing the world and how it has changed after the death of Aang is awesome. Republic City is such a cool idea that arose out of a place for all benders and creating a place where all should be equal not under Earth Kingdom or Fire Nation rule (they were once Fire Nation Colonies). But out of this a new structure arose. Benders clearly have privilege and the Triple Triads were a threat that non-benders were facing from the time of Aang all the way up to currently. Because of this and a police force with floating blimps around the city that are metal benders…no wonder the Equalist revolution began. Non-benders have no recourse in this modern world and no defense besides the very Benders who might be oppressing them.

The Equalists – The equalists are the main threat of the series and they are fascinating. Lead by Amon we see them gain power over time as Tarrlock, the Waterbender councilmember gains more power in his fight against them and ups his oppression of the non-benders in the populace. Amon the leader manipulates this as the popular revolution grows eventually leading to a total takeover of the city as Amon takes away bending from any benders he captures.

Katara – Katara is the White Lotus member who lets Korra escape to Republic City. She is a grandmother at this point and is the one person we see not attached to the past in the way so many other characters are ruled by it. She is there to support Korra as a mentor but wants her to have the freedom to make her own choices. We also learn she is the strongest bender healer in the world but is unable to heal Katara at the end of the series. I’m glad she was back but wish she could have given us more information on what happened inbetween.

Tenzin – Tenzin is the son of Aang and Katara and is Korra’s airbender teacher in Book 1. J.K. Simmons voices him and does an absolutely fantastic job. He has 3 kids and a 4th by the end of the show and they are his main motivation as he seeks to protect them from Equalist threat. Tenzin is easily the most stubborn character on the show besides Lin Beifong and also the most grumpy. His kids are polar opposite which creates a great dynamic in their interactions. He is the only councilmember to resist Tarrlok’s rise and is the one to reveal Tarrlok’s lie.

Lin Beifong – Lin Beifong is the daughter of Toph and in charge of the police in Republic City. She clashes with Korra but they eventually develop a mutual respect for one another as they both have the same aims of protecting the populace. They both also have their bending stolen by Amon and are similar in temperament. Korra is very much like an Earthbender in her mentality.

Bolin – Bolin is the Sokka of the group as he has a lot of jokes. He is also the first to accept Korra and is the reason she joins Pro-bending and from there is where Asami, Bolin and Mako become part of Team Korra. Bolin has a crush on Korra but he gets over it pretty quick and remains her steadfast friend. He is the glue of Team Korra and is the first to experience the Equalist threat as he barely escaping having his bending taken away by Amon.

Asami – Asami is my favorite member of Team Korra and she has so much crap happen to her this book. Her father is an Equalist leader who at the end tries to kill her. Mako, her boyfriend is kissed by Korra (when she is with Mako) and Mako eventually leaves her for Korra. She is the background helping on multiple occasions and all she gets is ignored or scorned. She was right to have anger the entire time. She is an awesome fighter and a great partner who Mako didn’t deserve. She stops her father and is one of the heroes of the story and she deserved so much better.

Tarrlok – Tarrlok is the waterbender councilman who takes advantage of the Equalist threat to rise in power. He is shown to be bad from the get go as he spends his introduction trying to manipulate Korra. He succeeds for a while until he starts targeting civilians and Korra leaves this leads to him capturing her and his ability as a bloodbender is revealed as well as him being son of the strongest gangster in the series, Yakone. Eventually he does help Korra after Amon takes his power and it is revealed they are brothers. His last act is a murder suicide when he destroys the boat that he and Amon are escaping on. He was a great character and I wish he’d been the main threat in Book 1 and that Book 2 would have involved Amon and the spirit world.

Amon – Amon is the leader of the equalists who has found a way to take people’s bending via bloodbending. His story is that his family was killed by firebenders who scarred him and that the spirits chose him to bring balance once again to the world. This is the Amon I like who we see through most of the series until Tarrlok’s story. His real name is Noatak and it was his father Yakone’s abuse that lead him to hate all benders. This motivation isn’t bad it is just the lie that is and weakens how powerful he is. Amon spends most of the series besting anyone he fights and he even captures Republic City and rules for a little bit. All of that is handled great it is just the liar revealed that ruins this fascinating character.

Yakone’s Story – Yakone’s story is the main connecting point of the series as in the past we see Toph taking him in to go on trial as he’s been abusing members of Republic City with his bloodbending. At the trial we see his bending is so powerful he bloodbends the entire councilchamber and escapes. Aang only manages to beat him by going into the Avatar state and spiritbending away his bloodbending. His story does not end though as he escapes to the Northern Water Tribe and has 2 sons, Noatak and Tarrlok who teaches bloodbending. His teaching is abusive leading to Noatak running away and a few years later he dies with his children becoming 2 different reactions to his dreams of control.

Fear of Equality in the Rise of Fascism – One of the themes of this book is the power of fear and how it can give rise to facism. We see this in Tarrlok’s militarization of Republic City (when he takes control of the Police Force) and in Amon’s military takeover where Sato military technology allows him to take control and having the populace at his back leads to him purging benders of their power. The two are reactions of fear of the other and I do appreciate how this was written, though again, I wish Tarrlok had been the boss in Book 1 and that Team Korra would have had to work with the Equalists to take him out and free the non-benders.

The Cons:

Mako and Korra – I like Korra as a character but she isn’t my favorite and that largely because of how her story is handled and this romance. She knows Mako is dating Asami and kisses Mako anyway, sabotaging that relationship. They have nothing in common beyond fighting the same baddies and being talented benders which made this feel so lazy as far as writing goes, not to mention this relationship hurt the best character on the show.

Coding Tarrlok – One Tenzin’s kids asks why Tarrlok has 3 braids and “smells like a lady.” This felt like gay coding as every character is a man who is with a woman and Tarrlok being single is out of the ordinary. I hated this gay coding as bad as Tarrlok is an awesome character but he is never shown to us as anything more than a villain, other or tragedy.

Amon as Liar Revealed – Amon has a fake scar (he could had it burned in a fight or burned it himself at the very least) and is shown to be a bender. I hated this as it made him being a hypocrite so him being a true believe in the evil of benders didn’t matter. He’s so powerful that we could have had his story involve Koh the Faceless (he does wear a mask) and the spirit world and I’d have been fine with him even being a bender but giving it up for spiritbender. This would be so much better then him being a revealed hypocrite whose eye color and face change when he lands in the water. It felt so lazy and nearly ruined one of the best villains to come out of this show. He could have been so much more and this “Liar revealed,” nearly ruins his story. In the end the series cared more about Yakone’s legacy then the core fight Amon was fighting and him learning his ability from spirits.

Airbending Was Never Learned it was Given – For a while in the series we have Korra learning the physical act of airbending when she learns to flow in the combat of pro-bending. After this nothing more is done to advance her training…instead she randomly gets  the ability when Amon takes her bending. He takes her bending but she gets airbending…this makes no sense.

Deus Ex Aang / Avatar – You can tell that the writers didn’t expect to have another season as Korra gets all the elements back and goes into the Avatar state when Aang’s spirit randomly gives her the ability. She also somehow learns how to give other people back their bending too. Nothing here is earned more makes sense. It feels rushed and lazy and Korra never learns the ability just like she never really learned airbending. This was so rushed and lazy. Deus Ex’s are one of my least favorite story elements and this is why.

In the end I did still like the first book. The show is great at times, especially in Amon’s rise to power and Tarrlok’s manipulations. I also liked the new characters and I do find Korra to be a compelling Avatar. This was a series that expected to be canceled and it shows as at the end it was so rushed and lazy that the ending really does crash at the end in a lot of ways. This is still worth checking out though as it sets the stage for the later Books of the series.

Final Score: 8 / 10 This was a good but flawed season. I liked the villains through most of the show and the new characters are compelling even with some of the very bad writing choices that were made in the end.

Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne – An Improvement in Gameplay, Characters and Lore of the “Warcraft” Universe

     “Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne” is a game that still holds up to this day. I came back to play it after beating it back in High School and found the challenge level one that grew me as a player. I also found myself drawn into the nuance in the story that the initial game lacked. When I think Blizzard for me at it’s greatest it is this. This was around the time I beat the first “Diablo” and got all the way to Baal in “Diablo 2” before returning the borrowed game to my friend. This was a game I had bought with my money. It was worth all the replay value and my eventual enjoyment of “Heroes of the Storm,” which I believe rose out of the hero dependent missions and maps you play in the “Bonus Campaign,” “The Founding of Durotar.” This game was a return to what I love about Blizzard gameplay and story at it’s best.

The game was released in July 1st 2003 by Blizzard and was written by Chris Metzen and directed by Frank Pearce Jr.

The story picks up at the end of “Wacraft III: Reign of Chaos” with Illidan Stormrage summoning the Naga to unknown purposes as his Warden Maiev Shadowsong hunts him to discover his purposes and imprison him once more.

SPOILERS in the story ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematics – The cinematics in this game are so beautiful. The fact that we see compelling characters like Illidan and Arthas being the soul focus versus one none evils like Archimonde or Mannoroth shows how this was an upgrade. In both cases are characters are making a choice and in playing the game or in living the game up to the point we have, we see the implication of that choice. The level of detail draws you in and when you see certain reveals whether it is the Naga or Arthas being one with the Lich King when he puts on the helm is powerful. These are cinematics that mean something and are presented beautifully.

The Gameplay – The gameplay is more challenging than “A Reign of Chaos” as each unit was granted something that they lacked. The Scourge lacked tanks and they got the Crypt Lord, the Horde lacked healing and they got the Shadow Hunter. “The Frozen Throne” balanced “Reign of Chaos” in so many ways that it can only be accounted for if you are challenging where you are currently. I’m curious if “Warcraft Reforged” will take this challenge further. I hope it will. The challenge of the campaign improved me as a player and made the victories all the more sweet.

The World – “Warcraft” has a rich universe and this one introduces “The Forsaken,” “The Naga,” “The Blood Elves,” and “The Illdari.” All these factions get explored further in “World of Warcraft” but the seed is planted here and given justice. “Reign of Chaos” enriched the universe but didn’t break any tropes. With Sylvanas, Kael, Vashj and Illidan this game did, which is what I’d argue where Blizzard really thrives in storytelling. Each of the characters I mentioned is a different shade of grey, driven by more than simply power.

The Characters – I was in this game for the characters and it was the reason I beat the campaign. Even though I’d beaten the game back in High School, I wanted to see where the story would go. Coming back years later I wasn’t disappointed. Each new growth of character is earned in gameplay and you feel the pressure the character feels. This is a game I will play again in full, whereas “Reign of Chaos” I will play some missions again but not the full game. That is all due to characters which “The Frozen Throne” does better in gameplay and writing.

DOTA and Custom Games – It was out of “The Frozen Throne” that we got one of my favorite games “Heroes of the Storm” that I am still playing. As well as all the pre-cursors like “Defense of the Ancients” which started the whole tower defense gameplay which eventually became it’s own game and also “League of Legends.” This game has had a larger effect on games than many realize. This was the precursor to hero gameplay with  running units (that was the finale of the “Found of Durotar” campaign). For that I will be grateful for as it gave me casual fun gameplay with “Heroes of the Storm” that I play to this day.

Rating the Campaigns – I’m rating each campaign on their own merits. This is a campaign that starts out good and becomes great. Unlike “Brood War” there is so much growth you are a part of and play a part in making possible (Illidan, Kael, Sylvanas, Arthas) that it can’t be ignored. The reason you win is because of your RTS strategy and how well you play your heroes. That for me makes a great game.

Sentinels Campaign: Terror of the Tides – The Night Elf Campaign is the weakest of the 4 campaigns though I’d say it is still challenging and reveals new lore. The new lore is the revelation of the Naga who are allied with Illidan after being turned into Serpent form after their fount of power was destroyed. From Maiev Shadowsong’s perspective (Illidan’s Warden) we see how driven she is to write the wrongs of his escape. She is obsessed and takes a Javier from “Les Miserables” role. Later when she sends for help after witnessing Illidan take the “Eye of Sargeras” and losing a close friend it becomes more fully about the Night Elves. The destruction he does on Night Elf towns with the Satyr (Cursed Demon Night Elves and Naga) we see the reason why. From here we see Tyrande and Malfurion coming to aide, which after rescuing her leads to them allying with the Blood Elves (High Elves have embraced Demonic Energy to feed after the death of the Sunwell). Here we see that Maiev is obsessed as after Illidan’s use of “The Eye” is stopped and her lie of saying Tyrande was torn to shreds was not true. The final mission is Malfurion and Illidan teamed up to save Tyrande, in which after Illidan leaves and promises not to return. We get some level of peace between the brothers though as Maiev’s forces chase after Illidan into the portal he created. Maiev was the weakest part of the story but it is still solidly good. Sets up the rest of the campaign beautifully.

Final Score: 8 / 10

Alliance Campaign: Curse of the The Blood Elves – This is the campaign where for all intents and purposes the High Elves leave the Alliance. This is a huge deal and we see that it happens is due to a racist general who only sees the other races as pawns. He sentences Kael and the Blood Elves to death for surviving due to Naga aid against the Scourge. Because of this you get why Kael joins Illidan after Vashj saves him from execution. This campaign also had my favorite missions. Once Kael meets up with Illidan, he Vashj and Illidan close the portals in Outland and recruit the Draenei Akame to their cause against the Pit Lord Magtheridon who controls the planet with his orcs and demons. After that is the final mission where you conquer Outland, Kil’jaeden holds Illidan to his contract and all of you are sent to Northrend to the destroy the Lich King. It was this contract that Illidan to seek the “Eye of Sargeras” in the first place. This campaign is so much fun. I wish the Naga had been a playable faction as I used them far more than the Blood Elves when I could.

Final Score: 9 / 10

Scourge Campaign: Legacy of the Damned – The Undead Campaign is fun. It is here we see the rise of the Forsaken who will be a crucial faction in “World of Warcraft” as well as Arthas’s arc being completed as he goes from the exiled King running from Demons (both external in the Dreadlords who own Lordaeron and internal in those he killed to get here) leading to him becoming one with Ner’Zhul as the Lich King. It is super rewarding to get there and Arthas shows why he is such a great foe. The last 3 missions are the hardest in the game and they force you to truly strategize. Seeing the rise of “The Forsaken” and Sylvanas control Varimathras the Dread Lord was much needed. Her tragic story from “Reign of Chaos” needed payback and “The Frozen Throne” does this really well. By the end of her story she owns Lordaeron with her undead. This was the most challenging and rewarding of the campaigns. The final mission against Illidan was the best where I realized I couldn’t wait him out and destroy his base and had to finish taking the points was what I love about gaming.

Final Score: 10 / 10

Bonus Campaign: The Founding of Durotar – The “Bonus Campaign” gives you a great pulse on where the Horde and Alliance relationship is currently. We see it all through the eyes of Rexxar a half-orc Mok’Nothal who helps Thrall’s Horde settle in Durotar. From here you face quests from clearing out Harpies and Kobolds to recruiting a Panderan Brewmaster and getting Rokhan a Jungle Troll who also joins your team. The story is told in 3 Acts. Act 1 involves you helping Gazlowe with the Kobolds, Drek’Thar with the Thunder Lizards while also clearing out Warlocks. Act 2 involved you getting over to Jaina when her father Admiral Proudmoore attacks and you recruiting Ogres, the Tauren once more and saving the Jungle Trolls so that all of you can stop the Admiral. Those 2 missions are fantastic and the “Diablo” feel from playing as heroes was a lot of fun. I can see how “Heroes of the Storm” and “Defense of the Ancients” arose from this campaign and the Tower Defense of the final mission.

Final Score: 9 / 10

“The Frozen Throne” is an expansion that improves everything from the first game. My only real issue with is is that the Naga weren’t a playable faction beyond campaign, but that is still better than the “Halo Wars” Franchise that took an expansion to make anyone outside of the UNSC playable and “The Flood” still aren’t a faction. This game didn’t have those problems. They started with 4 factions and made each of them better, while still giving us playable Naga in the campaign. This game made “World of Warcraft” and “Heroes of the Storm” happen and as much as I dislike some story choices in “World of Warcraft” it at least was willing to explore the lore that this game and “Reign of Chaos” made possible. After “Warcraft III: Reforged” which is this game and “Reign of Chaos” combined, I can’t wait to see what was changed and comparing the stories.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10 One of the best RTS games I’ve played.