[Preface: These reviews are written after having seen the first season in its entirety. However, to the best of my abilities, I shall avoid spoiling any events that take place in the episodes after the one under review. Also, my reviews mostly revolve around themes, plot and characterization. I do not have enough technical knowledge to give the music and animation the kind of critique they deserve. Hence, I shall generally refrain from talking about them. Finally, ATLA = Avatar: The Last Airbender, the first series, and TLOK = The Legend of Korra]
The primary goal of this episode is to introduce us to Korra and Republic City. The first one third introduces us to Korra. We see that she excels at the physical side of bending while having issues with the spiritual side. She enjoys a good fight and is often shown to be impatient and irreverent. The Avatar series has consistently delivered great character introductions (see Aang, Katara, Sokka, Toph, Azula) and it does so again.
However, some of the major issues with this episode also lie in the first one third. Firstly, Korra's relationship with her parents is not given any meaningful treatment. Secondly, there is no substantial explanation as to why Korra's tutelage did not follow the tried and tested model of visiting each nation to learn its element, as was done in ATLA and before. From a story-telling perspective, it makes sense to keep her isolated so we can share her wonder and naivety when she visits Republic City for the first time. However, I would like an in-universe explanation of it.
The rest of the episode is a great introduction to Republic City. It has us connect with the city by being simultaneously awed and apprehensive about it. The city is introduced thematically instead of factually. Having Korra start off from a sea-port, we first see the grandeur of the city. The giant flying blimps, the tall building and the regal park area, they all highlight the opulence and wonder of it. Then, when Korra realizes that she cannot get food without money, Korra and the audience begin to realize that being an outsider in the city may not be that easy.
Korra's subsequent encounter with the homeless man gives her a first hand perspective of the socio-economic stratification within Republic City. This is the first big issue with which she is confronted and she is unable to do anything about it. Korra then runs into one of Amon's many mouthpieces who denounces bending publicly. This is the second issue she has to face. While Korra does not yet recognize the threat that this rebellion poses, she feels personally affronted by the man's claims because bending is a corner-stone of her self-image. She tries to deal with this issue but her counter arguments tantamount to a variation of "So is your face". She fails again.
The third major issue she faces is organized crime. After having been defeated by the city twice already, Korra is eager to finally solve a problem on her own terms: using her bending abilities. Just when she believes that she has finally succeeded, she runs into the fourth and final issue: bureaucracy and The System. As Lin Beifong makes it clear, the city has been without an Avatar for so long that they are no longer making any exceptions for her. To viewers of ATLA, it is clear that an Avatar needs more freedom to work with the full range of their capacities.
To summarize, the first episode introduces us nicely to Korra, Republic City and the four major antagonists of the season: socio-economic stratification, the anti-bending rebellion, organized crime and bureaucracy. By having Amon show up at the very end, it highlights that of these four, the anti-bending revolution should be our primary concern.
This starter to a brand new series begins with three people with a small burning lamp in the middle of a blizzard. Then they come up to an igloo to find a man calling them, "The White Lotus." He opens the door and we see a woman, trying to clean up the place to make it look nice for the guests. And then something on the wall falls off. I snickered at that. I was also worried that there was not going to be much comedy in this new series, but as soon as I saw little Korra bursting through the wall shouting, "I'm the Avatar, you gotta deal with it!" My worries slipped away. What really surprised me though is how she could bend 3 of the 4 elements already at only 4 years old! They were only little bursts of them, but still, it was quite impressive for a little girl.
After that we see Korra as a 17 year old young woman, having her fire-bending exam. I loved the music at this part, because it was similar music to the original series, but it had a new twist on it as well. As soon as the exam is done, Korra immediately wants to move on and start her airbending training. This shows how eager Korra is and her impatience as well. She reminds me of Aang in that way, but I could also tell she was going to be completely different from him, too. When they introduced Katara I was in big shock. Especially since she was so old and I was so used to her being young. But it's 70 years after the war, so it makes perfect sense.
Tenzin arrives with his wife, Pema, and three kids, Jinora, Ikki, and Meelo. The kids are adorable and hilarious to watch. Pema is hilarious too, especially because I didn't think she'd act the way that she did, but I'm glad my expectations for her were wrong, because it made me enjoy her. Tenzin is very serious as Katara put, and you could tell a person like Korra was going to be a bit stressful to train for him. But Tenzin tells Korra that he couldn't train her right now because he's needed at Republic City as the representative of the Air Nomads, and of course Korra is upset by that. So upset, that she ends up running away to Republic City to find Tenzin so she could train with him there. This is the first time ever Korra is leaving home, so when she eventually arrives in Rebublic City, things get a little chaotic.
First of all, she didn't have the money to get any food, so she went fishing in the park and burned a few there. While eating, she meets Gommu, a hobo who lives in the bush next to her. He explains there are a lot of people in Republic City who are homeless and poor. Korra was surprised by that, since everything she heard about the City was so wonderful and everyone was happy. Of course, they do this scene in a comedic fashion, which is a very nice touch, since I am always a sucker for comedy, and I don't want the small children, and me, getting ideas that this series was going to be sad and horrific.
After all the events Korra has witnessed, including getting arrested, Tenzin arrives at the Police Station to pick up Korra and he tells her that she can't stay in the city and has to return to the South Pole. Korra argues that the City needs her and this problem can't wait any longer for her to finish her training back home. However Tenzin does not change his mind. I also feel bad for Korra here, because we've seen what Korra has seen and they City does have its share of problems. But on the other hand, I knew that Korra didn't solve any of those problems right away she clearly was not ready for an issue this big. When the White Lotus people arrive to take her back, Tenzin's kids fly in on their gliders and ask if Korra was going to stay with them. When she replied no, you could feel the sadness in the kids' and even Tenzin's heart too. This is the part where he changes his mind and allows Korra to train on his home, Air Temple Island. Korra is ecstatic about that, and so was I, even though that scene was completely predictable for me.
The next day, Korra is being introduced to the pubic via radio and a huge crowd of people by City Hall, where Korra is standing at a podium with microphones. I was surprised by the amount of advancement the Avatar World has gotten too since the war ended. And I thought I would never get used to it, but it turns out it didn't bother me as much. The last scene of the episode is where two people are listening to the radio in a small room. One man turns it off and asks the other man how he wants to handle this situation. I knew these two men were the antagonists of the series. And the main antagonist, named Amon, was standing in front of a map of the city, saying he'll have to accelerate his plans. He is shown with a mask on his face. His voice really creeped me out when I watched it.
If I had to say anything I didn't like about this episode, I guess it would be the pacing. It wasn't off, but everything was happening so fast. And I wanted to get more in depth with the South Pole scenes. But I knew since this season is only 12 episodes, that everything was going to go fast. So I'll cut them a little slack for that. Overall I enjoyed the episode very much and I was really happy to see the World of Avatar expanding.
"The Legend of Korra," being the sequel to "Avatar: the Last Airbender," had big shoes to fill. It had to become the new entry in the universe and establish whether the Avatar world could eventually become a major franchise like "Star Trek" and "Batman," franchises that have existed for decades with countless stories in a wide variety of mediums. I am pleased to say that "The Legend of Korra" shows major potential for many years of stories coming from this world.
The protagonist, Korra, is headstrong and blunt. She is nothing like her predecessor, Aang. Fans of the original series might have been worried by that, but it is not a bad thing. In the first episode we see Korra had lived a sheltered life in the South Pole before coming to Republic City. She embraced the new environment quickly, but showed she has room for growth. She is a wonderful female role model for kids.
The city itself is visually stunning. Republic City has removed the national boundaries that marked the old show to allow for a wider variety of characters to appear in one city. It is fascinating to see how the cultures have mixed. Even organized crime has become all inclusive. "The Legend of Korra" is beautifully morally gray on the issue of bender vs. non-benders. The show does not shy away from giving non-benders good reasons to hate benders.
After seventy years the world has advanced. People drive cars, use megaphones, and have electricity. There are even cameras and radios. It's not just Republic City that's different. The small glimpse of the Southern Water Tribe shows it has changed too. It has been built back up to what it was when the War started. The advances which could have been a turnoff to hardcore fans can actually be quite charming.
There are still connections to the old series, and they help to ground the show in the Avatar world of the original series. The episode begins with narration similar to Katara's in the original series. The elements begin differently, but it's a nice callback. Aang and Katara had three kids, the youngest of whom, Tenzin, has three kids, with a fourth on the way. Tenzin is an airbender, like his father, but he stands out as a character on his own and is not defined by his parentage. Similarly Toph had a daughter, Lin, who is nothing like her mother. These connections enhance the show, but the show does not rely on them.
"Welcome to Republic City" does a spectacular job of reintroducing the Avatar world to us. It may have advanced and changed, but it still feels like the same world. The show may even surpass its predecessor.