[Preface: These reviews are written after having seen the first season in its entirety. Down-the-road spoilers are avoided. My focus is on the writing, not music or animation.]
Korra experiences the highs of pro-bending and the lows of romantic entanglements.
The introduction of Asami in the previous episode helped forward the romance and the pro-bending sub-plots. In this episode, both of these plots play off of each other, delivering some heartfelt romance and some nail-biting pro-bending matches.
It is funny that a game as brutal as pro-bending would have brought all these characters together romantically. Korra likes Mako but Bolin likes Korra. Asami likes Mako. Mako likes Asami. But Mako may also like Korra. Ladies and gentleman, we have multiple love triangles in play here! It is also funny how the romantic entanglements make the pro-bending matches so exciting to watch. The episode delivers a clear account of what difference it makes between being in the zone (romantic high) and being out of focus (romantic low). In all, the two plots are woven seamlessly and entertainingly.
It is also nice to see Korra's airbending forms come into their own. In the last round of the last match, when she is the only one left standing on her team, she avoids and evades with an agility that would make Aang proud. We can infer that some of Tenzin's tutelage has been successful. Korra tempers her aggression with strategy. For ATLA fans: she wins the match by combining both positive jing and negative jing. She also uses Toph's strategy of weakening your opponents with minimal energy so you can take them out with one final blow.
Having said that, there is one aspect of this episode which falls short of mark: Bolin's reaction to Mako and Korra's kiss. That he is distraught is to be expected. What is not expected was the sudden and comedic flow of tears and snot from both eyes and nostrils. Bolin, when crying, becomes a caricature. The audience's feeling of intense pathos turns quickly into laughter and a dismissal of Bolin's romantic pursuit as merely childish.
For me, personally, Bolin's reaction is so jarring that I have docked almost a full grade from the score of this episode. Aside from that, this episode gives so thorough a treatment of these two sub plots that it leaves the story ripe for the major arc to come back in full force in the next episode.
"The Spirit of Competition" is an episode entirely different from our other past episodes. While the others deal with a lot of action and the revolution plot around Amon. This one is total "Fanservice" to LoK shippers. It's more of a breather if you will. There's nothing wrong with having a fun filler (which it is). But was the episode too much? And was it just to get us all hyped about the love triangle between our new Gaang? Well I will be giving you my rundown on the episode and what it brings.
The episode brings a lot of tension between our new and older Gaang. Mike and Bryan weren't lying about the series being more mature. Dealing with hormones and love made this episode realistic in many ways. In this episode we are officiallly introduced to love triangle. We already knew Korra had the hots for Mako but we also see Bolin is in it for Korra. Leaving Mako to be the one confused on choosing who's better, Korra or Asami. Just making it even more frustrating playing in the pro bending games with each other. It's good to know we officially have a "real" love triangle than we had with Kataang and Zutara in TLA. But it felt like it was too early to make that idea unleash on the 5th episode. Also to leave more time to develop the team as best buds more than pro bending buddies in later episodes.
Later on in the episode we get to meet a new character named Tahno a waterbender. Though he seems to be kinda creepy at times I think I'm going to like his character. He seems to be a good foil to Korra. Giving someone who rubs her the wrong way makes the show even more enjoyable. Besides the voice actor of Tenzin, Tahno's voice is one of the best voices in the series as of right now. Tahno and his team the "Wolfbats" remind me of "Prince and the Revolution". Tahno has Prince's style and everything in my eyes. Him saying to Korra "I can give you some private lessons" was very funny and a little sexual for kiddies.
Bolin in this episode gave me a lot of mixed reactions. Seeing him trying to win the girl made you want to root for Borra all the way. Even if you were a hardcore Makorra fan. But as the episode later went on you just want to turn away. The kiss between Mako and Korra is what I'm talking about. You would think the writers would make the scene with Bolin standing watching his own brother kiss the girl of his dreams would spark some drama. But it later turned into something comical with Bolin crying and running off like a little kid. Even though he is the comic relief of the series Bolin isn't that much of a serious character yet. This shows us that he is in effect the Anti-Sokka. Even though Sokka was the original funny man in TLA, he had a serious side to his character than just being the comedian.
The drama and tension comes to to a close when the team has to put their feelings aside and win their Pro Bending match. Korra makes it up to Bolin, and Mako and Korra try to just be friends (as for right now). Seeing Korra thanking Asami for all her and her father has done for the Ferrets was good. But not good enough especially Asami had no character development in this episode at all. Meaning either she's just there to be the foil for Makorra from happening. Or Mike and Bryan are cooking up something for Asami and won't tell us until in future episodes. At the end Tahno and his team go up next and murder their match in only in a short amount of time. Showing the Wolfbats are good competition to the Fire Ferrets and from stopping them from winning anything anymore.
In other words it was a fun episode to enjoy. And if your a big time shipper then this episode will go down in your all time favorites. In the episode we got to learn more about the characters and how future episodes will continue their emotions for one another. Though "The Legend of Korra" promises a lot more in strore than just shipping.
"The Spirit of Competition" is an... interesting episode compared to the others. It's just a bit more light-hearted than what we have been introduced to thus far. First and foremost in my opinion, this is an episode in which pro-bending takes the forefront. Although the antics of the love triangle are what will probably stick most in peoples' minds, pro-bending establishes itself here as an interesting subplot in its own right, introduces a new villain, and is employed as a literary vehicle through which to convey the emotional state of the central LoK trio. Just as important, this episode was a welcome redemption of Bolin's character and his role in the series. The main point of contention is going to be the teen drama/love triangle thing, and unfortunately, this was more like a giant weight dragging down my grade than any meaningful contribution to the story.
On the pro-bending scene, the Fire Ferrets manage to first defeat the Rabiroos, then the Boarcupines, and then the Buzzard Wasps to make it into the finals of the pro-bending championship. If there is anything positive to get out of this episode, it is the fact that pro-bending has not gotten stale on us, and there are few signs of it becoming so in the foreseeable future. Moreover, not only did this episode showcase pro-bending branching off into a veritable subplot in its own merit, I found the matches quite interesting and enjoyable to watch. There was one event which I was a bit cool toward, and that was the rather unsurprising outcome of the Ferrets' win in the second match. It just felt a bit too easy for my liking. Korra isn't exactly the brightest tool in the shed, so I have to question whether or not she knew what she was doing or just blessed with dumb luck when she conveniently lined up all three of her opponents like a line of dominoes to be knocked over. I think I can forgive this, however, because as mentioned earlier, the matches overall were fun to watch. Nonetheless, pro-bending has also introduced us to a new villain, Tahno, captain of the White Falls Wolfbats. Since pro-bending has developed into its own subplot, the quality of the coming episodes is going to depend in no small part on how exciting pro-bending is to watch. If the matches seen in "The Spirit of Competition" are any indication, it should be very interesting to see a possible face-off between the Ferrets and the Wolfbats, two teams which stand in stark contrast with one another in many different respects. I have to admit that seeing the Wolfbats' opponents being carried out on stretchers at the end was a bit disconcerting... It was a nice touch and a good, effective way to show these guys mean business.
The second positive about this episode was that I saw it as a redemption of Bolin's character and his role in the show. One thing which had me worried in episode 104 was that Bolin's comic relief act was getting a bit stale, and he was being relegated to "flat, periphery character" status. Thankfully, I think we are seeing the comic relief reins slowly but surely being handed over to Jinora, Ikki, and Meelo where they belong. Moreover, this ep featured Bolin taking charge during the tiebreaker, taking a more serious role on the pro-bending scene, and getting seriously involved with his feelings toward Korra. Although he wussed out on us when Korra ditched him to chase after Mako (remember that "glaring weakness"?), his reaction was outrageous enough to cross into "so pathetic it's funny" territory. I'm sure everybody had a chuckle at that moment whether they want to admit it or not.
Now the worrisome part. It looks like the writers have gone all teen drama/love triangle on us. My big question is this: If they ended up as just friends at the end, why in the heck did they go through all that in the first place?! It seems a bit obtuse to me to put your chances at the pro-bending championship in jeopardy for... what, somebody hurting your feelings? I was left wondering whether this scenario could have been executed a bit more cleanly through multiple episodes. As it stands now, I'm not sure I'm buying it. The whole affair felt a bit too hamfisted, predictable, and simplistic for my liking. As a point of reference, one of the big selling points of TLA was the relationship between Aang and Katara. There was something about the way Aang developed his feelings for Katara in the last series that endeared me to his character and his struggles. I think the main difference is that Aang had over three seasons worth of episodes to play this out, so the writers had plenty of wiggle room to be meticulous about how they wove that story thread. Season 1 for LoK is only supposed to have 12 episodes? Is that really long enough to give us a quality romantic relationship subplot? Where was the emotional complexity we saw in 104? In addition, we only got to see the points of view of Mako, Korra, and Bolin, and this calls into question where (or even "if") Asami will fit into all this.
So judging by 103, 104, and 105 I feel confident that LoK can and probably will stand as a worthy successor to TLA. There is definite potential for interesting romantic tension to be woven in this series. However, if it follows after what we see in "The Spirit of Competition", I think I'm just going to tune the whole mess out in favor of watching the other interesting things this show has to offer (Amon, pro-bending, Triads, etc).