The Legend Of Korra – Book 2: Spirits – My Thoughts

tumblr_mpuelcoq9X1rptk5lo1_1280Korra… season 2 is over. Was the torturous wait worth it? Yes, it definitely was. Korra might’ve started slow but in the end, it both lived up to its expectations and set the bar even higher for the next season. The Legend of Korra is one of the best-animated shows out there currently and is on par with the big studio animated movies.  Not just in terms of the quality of animation but also in terms of story, plot, world building and characters. Although, I do have to admit, that the early episodes, animated by Studio Pierrot, weren’t nearly as good as those animated by Studio Mir. I am extremely thrilled that they are animating the whole of Book 3.

 In episodes 11, 12, 13 and 14 Team Avatar is back together and on their way to stop Unalaq from releasing and merging with Vaatu and also rescuing Jinora from the Spirit World. They devise a plan to reach the Southern Water Tribe portal but they are soon overwhelmed by the dark spirits as well as by the Evil Twins: Eska and Desna. Only Bumi manages to escape. The team tries to appeal to the Twins to see sense but they refuse. But no worries, Bumi soon manages to save the day. He destroys the Northern forces’ camp and also rescues to Team Avatar. Together, they head into the Spirit World and divide into groups: Tenzin, Bumi and Kya will look for Jinora while Korra, Mako and Bolin will stop Unalaq and Vaatu. They finally find Unalaq and Mako, Bolin and Korra seem to have the upper hand; they throw Unalaq out of the Sprit World and the boys head out after him to keep him from coming back. When the Harmonic Convergence finally arrives, Vaatu is freed and Korra battles him. In the physical world, Mako and Bolin are having a tough time dealing with Unalaq. This is compounded when the Evil Twins also join in and assist their father. Soon they are overpowered and Unalaq manages to enter the Sprit World just as Korra is about seal Vaatu once more. He attacks Korra and manages to merge with Vaatu. In the ensuing fight, UnaVaatu manages to rip Raava out of Korra. ‘Unavaatu’ goes to Republic City and starts wreaking havoc there.

Meanwhile, Tenzin, Bumi and Kya realise that Jinora must be inside the Fog of Lost Souls which serves as a prison for humans inside the Spirit World. They find a dark spirit and trick it into taking them there. But there’s also a catch, they must hurry or the fog will drive them insane. Kya and Bumi soon lose themselves and even Tenzin starts to waver but he sees a vision of Aang and finds his way once again. He finds Jinora and then rescues his siblings as well.  But Jinora senses that something is very wrong with the Spirit World and stays back. Tenzin and the others make their way outside and find Korra, Mako and Bolin unconscious. They revive them and Korra tells Tenzin that she lost the sprit of Raava. Tenzin helps her tap into her own spiritual power and soon Cosmic Korra emerges (every bit as impressive as Cosmic Aang except we see her fight, so that was even more awesome). She travels to Republic City and battles Unavaatu once more. With a little help from Jinora, she manages to beat Vaatu, returns to her body and once again merges with Raava.

I can’t say that this season started slow, it had its hiccups but it always maintained the fast-paced intensity that we have come to expect from the makers of The Last Airbender and the last four episodes are proof of that. They were absolutely explosive, complete with nail-biting suspense. Well, maybe not episode 11, that served more as a base for the last three episodes. Bryan Koneitzko and Michael DiMartino know how to do their season finales. They completely outdid themselves with this season. The last two episodes were killing me. Logically I knew that Korra could not lose her bending, after all Nick Okayed four seasons for it. But I also did not want her lose her bending and spend all of next season trying to regain them.

This season was very different from the previous season and one of the biggest differences was the character development. They came together last season to fight against a common threat but what about life once that threat had been averted? And that is what the initial part of this season focused on. There was a lot of conflict early on in the season between the different characters (Korra-Mako, Korra-Tenzin, Mako-Bolin among others) and it signaled that all was not well in Team Avatar. Mako hung his pro-bending gear and became a rookie cop, Asami was trying to save Future Industries and Bolin… well, without Team Korra, he was lost. Korra continued her airbending training and got increasingly frustrated about being back at school. This season showcased that while they did function well as a team they all had some growing up to do.

I love Korra, I think she is absolutely amazing and kick-ass even if she is stubborn and very impulsive. She was positively annoying in the first few episodes with her attitude and gave everyone a hard time. But it was also a little understandable. She was the Avatar and hiding her away from what was happening in the world was not helping. She was frustrated about first being holed up in the South Pole and then in Republic City. She wanted to spread her wings and instead was told to clip them repeatedly. Tenzin too, went about it wrong. While he may have been mildly impressed with her fight against Amon, he wasn’t supportive enough, never letting her know that he did believe in her. To her, it always seemed like he was disappointed with her. It made sense that she got so swept away by Unalaq who treated her as an adult and gave her the confidence she needed and told her he believed in her.  To her, it seemed that she finally had someone who had faith in her and her abilities.

But then again, I think we all knew from the beginning that Unalaq was no saint and the thing with Korra is that when she realises that she was wrong she does everything in her power to put things right. Besides the creators have been especially hard on her. Only two seasons in and she’s already lost her bending once and almost became the last avatar. Compared to her, Aang had it easy. Sure he had to end the Hundred Year War but his avatar and bending abilities were never under any danger. I’m already nervous for her in Book 3. But what makes her a great character is that she is relatable in a way that Aang wasn’t. Her strength is tempered with vulnerability, her impulsiveness with genuine regard for others. It’s easy to forget that she is still a teenager and has so much responsibility thrust upon her shoulders.  But already we can see signs of the great Avatar she will grow into.

I was never a big fan of Mako and I liked him even less this time around. He and Korra are too alike to have had a successful relationship. Plus he was a douche; he ratted her out without ever attempting to speak to her about it. I agree that Korra was being a tad unfair to him but he couldn’t even stand up for himself and then for some reason he thought that she would react favourably when he ruined her only chance of saving her tribe. Yeah, way to go Mako. He broke up with Korra and then kinda-sorta got together with Asami and then couldn’t bring himself to tell Korra the truth except at the very end. Spineless ass!

Bolin was around and I actually feel bad for him, it was like everyone else had moved on and yet he was still stuck to Team Avatar and then without Mako, he didn’t even have pro-bending. He had his annoying moments as well when he was being a jerk but it was hard to blame him. When he needed help, nobody was around to help him out, not even Mako, so it made sense that he would want to give Mako a taste of his own medicine. But he’s still a sweetheart and I hope his character grows further.

Asami was woefully missing in action. She appeared and then disappeared. I want her to be more than just a love-interest for Mako now that he and Korra are no longer together. She had a great part in Book 1 and I hope we get to see more of the same drive and spunk that we saw in the previous season. She is another character who has so much so much scope to grow and I hope it is not wasted.

Another thing that I really liked about this season was the decisive break-up at the end of this season. Very often, in Young Adult books and TV series, the main love-interest is always the first guy the girl has sparks with (here it was Mako) and then for some reason they break up (usually because the guy is an asswipe) and then girl sees the error of her ways and they get back together and live happily ever after. Bryan and Mike did not do that here, They had two characters who were obviously not good for each other and so they broke them up. And there is no chance that they will get back together in the future. Even the relationship between Bolin and Eska. It was so unhealthy and I’m glad Bolin realised that she wasn’t good for him and ran away from her. He still cared about her but some relationships are just not meant to be. Mako will probably get back together with Asami and Korra will probably have a new love-interest as will Bolin. The show highlights healthy relationships and I found this ridiculously refreshing.

It was a treat to see the very first avatar, Avatar Wan. His character was so reminiscent of Disney’s Aladdin right from the scene where he steals food and then shares his portion with the small animals. In a way, he is more like Korra that any of the previous avatars we have seen. Wan was impulsive and yet also righteous and kind. Like Korra, he jumped into situations without fully comprehending them. Wan’s story was lot of fun and a very welcome insight into the Avatar’s origin and well as the history of the world.

Tenzin was pleasant as always, although he had growing some up to do as well. I really liked Bumi, I think, apart from Bolin, he is about as close to a Sokka-like character in this series as we’re going to get. I wish we had seen more of Kya. The dynamics between the siblings was also interesting and it portrayed Aang in a more human light. It reminded us that while he may have been a great avatar, he was still only human and therefore open to human faults. The Tenzin kids were ok although Jinora got some series screen time. Lin Biefong was hard-hearted as always, that woman is literally tough as nails. The two detectives were beyond annoying and made me wonder how they got promoted to detectives anyway. Varick was welcome addition to the show because even though, he is not all good or all bad, he was very interesting and easily one of the funniest characters in Book 2. Besides it’s good to have some grey characters in the show. And how awesome was it to see Uncle Iroh??? I loved that!! He was one of my favourite characters in the original series and it was an absolute treat to see him again!!

Unlike last season, where it was not immediately obvious who the bad guy was, this season was different, There was something creepy about Unalaq from the very beginning and I don’t think anyone was fooled by his act (except maybe Korra) As far as villains go, he was ok, though I’m still waiting for someone who comes close to Fire Lord Ozai or even Princess Azula (though I have to admit, she was one of my favourite characters) So far we don’t have one main villain, we have a new one every season and I’m curious to see if that will change with Book Three.

The Legend of Korra is one of the most cinematic animated shows I have seen and the season finale showcased this brilliantly. The sheer scale and scope was astounding. The animation was breath-taking and it was a visual feast. The fight between Korra and Vaatu and the final confrontation between Cosmic Korra and Unavaatu was some of the best fight scenes I have seen in an animated series or film in a long time. It was coherent and beautifully animated. Plus there were also visual references to Miyazaki where the spirits were concerned. There were some spirits that were reminiscent of characters we’ve seen in My Neighbour Totoro and Spirited Away The different style of animation used for the Avatar Wan episodes was also amazing. Very distinct and the traditional Chinese tapestry-like effect worked really well.

But great animation isn’t the only thing that makes Korra amazing; it is also the story, the plot and the journey of the main protagonist. Bryan and Mike did a great job with The Last Airbender and then they came back with The Legend of Korra Book 1 and blew us away. It’s great that they did not try and imitate their own work, they came back with a completely different protagonist: a girl, the characters are older and the tone of the show is considerably darker than the previous series. I love that the characters have space and time to grow organically as opposed to sticking to a tried and tested formula. Aang had his tests and Korra has her own set of tests that she must pass. While there might be shows that feature female protagonists, what makes The Legend of Korra stand out is that Korra is a genuinely strong female character and sadly there aren’t many of them around. Female characters get easily defined by those around them, their love-interests and it’s rare for a show to do away with the first love-interest. They tend to lose their spunk and spark and get too dependent on the secondary characters. This is true not just for films and tv shows but also for books. Too often, relationships and those infamous love-triangles sidetrack the female protagonist and thankfully, so far this show has steered clear of those clichés.

The Legend of Korra is an amazing animated series and what makes it even more enjoyable is that the makers are not undermining their audience or their characters. I can’t wait to see what Team Avatar gets themselves into in Book 3. So far Book 3 is on track and we may not have to wait aslong as long as we had to for Book 2. We might get it as early as April or May 2014 if things go well. I say April because that’s when Book 1 aired and Book 2 was scheduled to air before it got saddled with production issues. So here’s hoping. Also, we have a title for Book 3, it is called Change. The title makes sense because the world is different, now that the physical and spiritual worlds coexist and the Avatar is no longer the bridge between the two worlds.

And how can I possibly forget about the fabulous background score by Jeremy Zuckerman. I loved the score on Book 1 and Book 2 was just as awesome. The music and the visuals perfectly complemented each other.

Some thoughts for Book 3 –

– Now that the spirit and the physical world are no longer apart, will the lion turtles come back?

– Will the next villain be an Earth bender? We’ve already had two water bending villains and we know it won’t be a fire bender and there are no other Air benders apart from Tenzin’s children. So that leaves Earth benders. Plus we also know that Book 3 focuses on the Earth Kingdom, so it is a possibility.

– Does that mean that we will also see more of Lin Beifong?

– Will we ever see Zuko? We know that he is alive, General Iroh mentions him in Book 2.

– When Korra spoke in the Avatar state, it sounded like there were multiple voices speaking through her (it was the same with Aang) was this because the previous avatars were speaking through her or was that Raava’s voice we heard? If it was the former, will she sound different now that she no longer has a link to the previous avatars?

– Will Korra eventually regain her link to the previous avatars, does she need to?

– Will the opening animation be different, now that the link is lost?

The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes Review

hvlhvThis was actually pretty decent. I was very wary of reading it especially after the disaster that was Every Other Day. There were also strong similarities between this book and Kimberly Derting’s Body Finder Series right down to the alternating POVs. The difference was that there was no paranormal angle to The Naturals.

The story follows Cassie who lives with her father’s extended family after her mother was brutally murdered five years ago. She is a natural profiler and comes to the attention to the FBI who are starting a new program for such gifted kids. She joins the group and meets Michael (emotion reader), Lia (lie detector), Sloane (channels Reid from Criminal Minds) and Dean (another natural profiler) In addition, they have two handlers, Briggs and Lacey (she’s also a profiler but she had to learn how to do be one) Cassie’s primary motivation for joining the group is to hopefully look into her mother’s homicide which is now a cold case. She is immediately thrown into training with Locke and Dean. Meanwhile, there is a serial killer on the loose who is escalating and also seems to fixate on Cassie. The team is on a tight schedule to find the killer before the killer finds Cassie, he also seems to be just one step ahead of the team. The stakes rise when he kidnaps another girl.

Cassie was ok, as far as protagonists go, I did not hate her but I didn’t love her either. She had her moments though where she was fun but she lost her edge fairly soon. She did have some backbone when she was with the father’s family, but when she joined the team, she lost some of her barb.

Michael was probably the character I liked most. He was fun and just a little difficult to pin down. He was funny and wasn’t a jerk and was nice to Cassie when she felt like an outsider. He is a much better love-interest than Dean.

Dean is the other profiler and while Cassie feels some kinship with him and drawn to him, he is so wrong. He’s just got so much baggage and far too many issues. He’s too busy brooding and moping around.

Lia was fun for the most part, though she kinda faded into the background towards the end. She had a mean streak and wasn’t particularly nice to Cassie but that’s ok. Sloane is the other girl on the team and she was more into facts and numbers than human beings. She was ok too but didn’t make much of an impression.

Briggs and Locke were fine except i thought that Briggs’ character was a little ambiguous. Locke seemed to have a better handle on the kids except she was a little too nice and perfect. But she was likeable.

The Naturals was a quick read and had a fast-paced plot so it was a fun read. I didn’t love but it had some nice twists like I did not see the reveal coming so that was a nice surprise. My only problem was that it concluded a little too neatly. The final confrontation was too short and left me feeling dissatisfied. But still, if you’re looking for a quick read that’s not particularly intense, this is a decent option.

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales Review

c_thissongwillsaveyourlifebigThis book was a surprise. I was looking for something that was light and not particularly immersive. Well, this was a great book and completely immersive. Even though it was not something I wanted to read, I am so glad that I did.

The book is about Elise, a high-school student. She is intelligent and smart and loves music, and all she wants to do is not be unpopular anymore. She finally decides to do something about that and works hard all summer to learn everything about being cool. She learns how they dress, what films/tv shows they watch, what books/magazines they read and what music they listen to (music she would never listen to given a choice). By the time school starts, she has reinvented herself (or so she thinks) After all that time and effort spent remaking herself, it turns out it was all for naught. It did not change a thing, she was still the outcast. With this realisation, she hits rock-bottom and tries to commit suicide. Things don’t go as planned and we cut to a few months later. During one of her late-night strolls she discovers a club and she discovers an outlet for her love of music.

What I love about this book is its subtlety, there was no melodrama. Sales did a wonderful job portraying Elise’s isolation, uncertainty and her awkwardness. The part where she goes back to school after her ‘makeover’ was painful to read because as the reader, you know it’s not going to go well. You don’t just see her lose hope, you see it being decimated.

I liked Elise because she was so normal, the way real people are. You want people to see you and not the version of you that suits their conception of you. She’s not weak, she’s not a loser and this was apparent the minute she entered that DJ booth. There was doubt and yet there was also the certainty that she was good at what she was doing. Seeing other people dancing to music she played and enjoying themselves reaffirmed her belief.

Even the secondary characters were well-written. There was Vicky, who had finally figured out where she fit in and was happy about it and she was easily my favourite character. Her friendship played an integral role in drawing Elise out of her shell. Then there was Pippa, who suffered from her own insecurities. Char, the resident DJ was a bit of a douche but not a complete asshole. Even he had his redeeming moments.

This Song Will Save Your Life was well-written and refreshing in its tone and portrayal of something that has become a cliche in films and tv. It did not condone or condemn. I loved this book and I am so glad i decided I gave it a chance. It is a quick read, fast paced and short enough to finish in a day. Definitely a recommended read..