Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Legend of Korra – A Voice in the Night

Last week when faced with the overwhelming strength and organization of Amon’s terror group, the seeds of doubt and fear were put into Korra. This week, Amon broke any resolve she had left. As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, Korra has had a very sheltered life. She has been forced to live in a compound in the Southern Water tribe run by the White Lotus’. She has not come across a challenge she could not defeat. But since moving to Republic City, she has found an entirely new world with very real problems that the compound was a poor substitute for. Korra spent most of this episode in fear, trying to busy herself with training rather than face her concerns, all the while riddled with nightmares of being overwhelmed by Amon’s force. When Tenzin tried to give her an outlet to share her worries, she turned away from his help. Unfortunately, Tenzin missed a great opportunity to talk to Korra about Aang’s troubles. When it was time to face the Fire Lord, Aang’s doubt and lack of confidence led to sleepless nights riddled with nightmares and hallucinations. Aang was not sure how he would fare in his confrontation with the Fire Lord, and almost lost the battle before it had even started. With his friends help, he was able to overcome his fears and face them. This is a story I have no doubt that Aang would have shared with Tenzin, and in turn, it would have been wise for Tenzin to tell this to Korra. But, without this knowledge, Korra charges her way through this episode without any sage wisdom.
Korra broken and defeated
Tenzin was having difficulties of his own this episode. On the city council, where he sits as a representative for the Air Nomads of the city (there is a representative for each nation but there doesn’t seem to be anyone for non-benders!), Tenzin was faced with a proposition to build a task force whose sole purpose it was to take on Amon and the Equalists. This is very similar to the start of the United States’ FBI, which was created with the sole purpose of taking on organized crime. It was a good idea, but the councilman who proposed the idea, Tarrlok, has a very greasy/slimy feel to him (complete with ponytails and apparently perfume). No doubt he is going to use the task force to make himself look good in the eye of the public and use the people’s good will to gain power for his own nefarious purposes. Quite frankly, I’m surprised that something has not been done before. A threat as great as the Equalist movement merits quick and decisive action, at the very least an outreach program to those who don’t posses bending abilities. Tarrlok wants to use force to quash the movement, which sounds overly totalitarian for this republic. No doubt they need to come off strong against terrorists, however, they need to address the real issue that is giving the Equalists such drive; the treatment of non-benders. Tarrlok brings up a previous threat (couldn’t make out the name of the baddie he mentioned) that Republic City has faced in its past, but said that Aang acted swiftly to prevent any lasting issues. This seemed to sway the other council members to vote in favor of having the task force.
Tarrlok leading his Task Force
Tarrlok initially tries to bring Korra into the task force, but his request falls on deaf ears. After trying to buy her favor with increasingly more expensive gifts, Tarrlok organizes a gala in her honor, as well as a Q & A session for some well placed journalists, and as a result, Korra gets manipulated into joining. She doesn’t want to seem weak or scared, so when confronted with questions questioning her resolve to the city and its people, she feels she has no choice but to join, falling nicely into Tarrlok’s plot. Their first raid goes well, giving a momentary boost to Korra’s spirits to the point where she foolishly challenges Amon to a duel one on one (on Aang Memorial Island!). Tenzin tries to stop her, but she goes in head first without much thought to any other plan of action. Once on the island, Korra is forced to wait, her nerves on edge, but Amon appears to be a no show. Eventually, she is ambushed by the group and this is where Korra is broken. She is outclassed by the non-benders, bound in ropes with her chi blocked. She is positioned in front of Amon where he calmly and coolly tells her that he will destroy her, but when he feels the time is correct, not when she wants it. He didn’t have to lay a finger on her, yet he had her on her knees at his feet. A quick jab to the neck and she is knocked out. We catch quick glimpses of some old friends; old Sokka looking troubled, a grown up Toph in her police uniform, some shots of master Aang looking very badass, and some mysterious guy (possible baddie from the past) who I did not recognize. Korra might very well have been peering into Aang’s life while knocked out, and if so, this would be the first time she has had any spirit connection on the show. Aang was very connected to his spiritual side, but Korra has yet to find affinity for it (as mentioned in the first episode). This meeting with Amon might have been the kick in the ass (or jab in the neck) that Korra needed to finally take her avatar training to the next level. Only time will tell what is to come of these images.
Amon leering over Korra
Aang looking older and ready to kick some ass
The B story this week involved Batman… I mean Mako. While leaving work, Bruce Wayne, Mako gets run over by a very pretty girl (Asami Sato), who turns out to be the daughter of the rich inventor of the Satomobiles. All Mako’s immediate problems are over; Hiroshi Sato becomes a corporate sponsor for the team (putting his logo on their jerseys) and Mako gains a girlfriend (now that makes sense, not when the girls run for Bolin). Asami likes Mako a lot, and seems genuinely interested and in love with Mako. It will be interesting to see the inevitable Korra/Asami fight for Mako that will happen. Korra and Asami’s brief meeting was overshadowed because Korra had the task force and Amon on her mind. However for now, love is in the air, and as the show goes on, we shall see where these relationships end up. Bolin tries to get Korra’s attention by giving her a flower and cup cake as a thank you for saving him in the last episode. Sadly for him, Korra’s full attention was on Amon. Meelo has a great off scene moment where it appears he tries to piss into a fountain at the gala much to Tenzin’s horror, and Ikki effortlessly makes fun of Tarrlok without really meaning to (bye bye ponytailed man). Chief Lin Beifong briefly shows up, once again showing her seemingly misplaced animosity for the avatar. I’m sure there’s more to the story that we will eventually learn about. I also haven’t mentioned the opening recap after the opening titles for the last couple of episodes. It has a very 20’s old timey feel, and helps set the mood for the entire series; it’s a nice touch. This was another great episode. 
Asami, finding boys the only way she knows how, by running them over

Posted by Dogfish.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Human Bite: Zombies in the ER?

'Human bite,' this was the chief complaint of the patient as per the ER board. My shift ended but I was not missing out on this. I stayed behind to accompany my fellow student, Zoey, to the patient. We were both damn curious about this bite. We walk over the bed, pulled the curtains, and there was a young couple with their toddler. The bite stared as us: it was large, but thankfully superficial, over the jugular. It was also couple with claw marks over the eyes. 'Crap,' I thought, 'We should make the run to mall now?'

It is just Walmart on a Saturday night

I asked, “So, that's a hell of a hicky there.” Thankfully, the couple chuckled and told their story. And it was a bit more terrifying than overexcited kinkiness or zombie hordes.

Apparently, the couple was walk home with their toddler when the boyfriend was approached by his baby mama. Oh do not worry, this baby mama came before the girlfriend. The boyfriend and baby mama argued over why he was not seeing their daughter for the weekend. Finally, the baby mama had enough and leaped at the girlfriend. Grabbing the girlfriend's hair, the baby mama threw her to the ground and jumped on top. The baby mama tried to gouge out her eyeballs. When that did not work, she went down and bit her neck.

Then the boyfriend interrupted his girlfriend and asked Zoey, “Are you wearing makeup?” I turned away to make sure no one saw my jaw hit the ground. “Because your skin so smooth and beautiful!” I had excused myself by stating, “I needed to see a patient with, uh...elephantitis.” I waited outside. Zoey came out with spaced away from her body, gesturing the need for a shower. I asked, “So, interested in being number three?” I'll let you imagine her reaction.

Pretty much a sexier summary

So, why was this story scarier than a zombie horde? Think about it. In front of the toddler, the baby mama tried to rip out the eyeballs and throat of mommy. Think Bambi on screen. The whole fight kicked off with the opinion of one parent being shitty at the job. The main point for most zombie types, there is no choice in becoming mindless. Once the bite is there, you descend without a choice. The baby mama chose to become a mindless, flesh-seeking monster flying at the face of hypocrisy.

And the boyfriend amplifies the horror further. Sure it is funny but let's think about it further. He just witness a beat down, probably jealousy related, that sent his girlfriend to the ER. Now, he makes a flirtatious comment? Little inappropriate is an understatement. Best part: the girlfriend just accepted it and made no 'correction' of it. Fast forward that toddler's future and tell me what you see. Sure, you can deny it is a innocent compliment. Just as Shaun did not realize the zombies sooner.

Posted by Richabob

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Legend of Korra – The Revelation

This week’s episode, The Revelation, was slower paced than the pilot episodes, but this served it well. The story’s focus was on the Equalist movement, and Amon’s nefarious plans, leading the episode on a very 20’s noir detective feel (like Who Framed Rodger Rabbit). The episode opens with team Fire Ferrets (along with pet fire ferret Pabu) training in the early morning at the gym. Korra complains about the time of the training session, and when Mako mocks her because of her rookie status on the team, she effortlessly knocks him down using her physical strength. However, things quickly move on from here when it turns out that the team needs money in order to continue participating in the tournament, thus forcing Mako and Bolin to look for a source of income. Bolin decided to try to use some of the tricks he has taught Pabu to earn his money as a street performer (with fake mustache and obstacle course), while Mako gets legitimate work in the factories. The standout part of this was the abundant use of lightning. Lightning bending was once something that only a few select fire benders could accomplish. We never even saw Aang have a go at trying to lightning bend. However, the once exclusive ability has now been mastered by countless fire benders, some working in factories acting like human generators while others work/lead gangs. Mako has this ability down quite well, as he executes some quick lightning strikes while in battle, vastly different from the slow execution of lightning from the last series. So while Mako earns money legitimately at the factories, Bolin get approached on the street by the Triple Threat Triad (TTT) gang to be a hired goon, and gets swayed by money.

Bolin with little Pabu
When at home, Mako looks for Bolin, and when he fails to find him, assumes that his “love sick” brother might be with Korra at Air Temple Island. Obviously Mako and Bolin are close, so it’s good to see that he knows that Bolin has a crush on Korra which might explain the distance he kept from Korra in the last episode, but it’s also possible that Bolin has told Mako of his feelings for the Avatar. Either way, it’s going to be very interesting when Korra finally reveals her crush on Mako, and could/will be a potential source of friction between the brothers. When Mako goes to the island to ask Korra if Bolin is there, we see Korra glide her way through the air panel training that she so struggled with in the last episode, watched on by Tenzin’s daughters. It’s good to see the progress, and serves to show that some time has passed between the episodes. As Mako walks towards the training arena, Jinora points him out, asking Korra if he is the boy who drives her crazy. Clearly there is a level of closeness that has developed between the girls, and it’s good to see that Korra has someone to talk to other and Tenzin who can come off a bit stuffy. Korra joins forces with Mako (who is introduced to Naga) to find Bolin, and they are quickly led to TTT’s headquarters. Knocking down the door with a powerful kick, Korra and Mako quickly discover that all member of the TTT (Bolin included) have been kidnapped by the Equalists. Korra and Mako give chase on Naga (with Pabu now too), but the Equalists have a car and some motorbikes to aid in their escape. The chase sequence is well done, with the music complimenting the chase very well. The resulting fight scene is very well animated, and serves to demonstrate the skill and strength of the Equalists. Not only were both Korra and Mako out classed, but they has their chi blocked and were almost taken out if it wasn’t for Naga. After this embarrassment, Korra leads Mako to the Equalist protestor who she ran into in the first episode. After a sleeping montage and interrogation, Korra and Mako are led to a secret meeting Amon is holding.

Good Stakeout
Mako and Korra infiltrate the meeting to find all the kidnapped TTT’s tied up on a stage. Amon joins them and gives a speech to the rather large crowd, giving us a tragic origin story befitting a man with plans as bold as his. Amon has been tormented by benders in his youth, even losing his parents and face to a fire bender. Amon claims to have been instructed by the spirits to take away bending, and makes some harshly honest points about the history of the world and how bending has only helped to ruin it. He demonstrates his ability to silence a bender by taking away the bending abilities of the TTT prisoners one at a time. In the previous series, Aang learnt a similar technique from a giant Lion Turtle, who informed Aang that before people could bend the elements, they could bend energy (it was lost to time). So it is possible that Amon has been instructed by some spirits, however, I’m not sure if we can believe him quite yet. It would be very interesting if he turns out to be a bender himself, which is unluckily, but I didn’t buy his story yet, but it will probably turn out to be true. When it comes time to rob Bolin of his earth bending, Korra creates a cover using steam, and Mako takes his brother back. Mako and Bolin get outside, where they are engaged in a fight against a stun rod equipped Equalist who wipes the floor with them. In the last series, there were very few non benders who could take on and beat benders (just a handful from my recollection) however, 70 years has changed the world a lot, and the playing field is much more level. This opens up the world of combat quite a lot. Korra and Naga save the brothers who flee the area and go home, with Mako and Korra riding her on her back while Bolin is picked up in her mouth (“I… want… to be… on… your… back”). Amon lets them escape, and you get the feeling that if he hadn’t called off his troops, the Fire Ferrets might not have made it out of that alley. Back on the Air Temple Island, Korra tells Tenzin all she has seen, and it worries him greatly.

Amon and his minions
The animation was once again top notch. The music too really complimented the tension and action in this episode very well. It was a very well put together package. The big revelation this week (bigger than Amon’s speech) is the identity of Mako as Batman (without all the money, and with added little brother he had to take care of instead of traveling the world learning to become a martial arts expert). His witnessing of his parents death at age 8 clearly mirrors what Amon claims happened to him. I’m left wondering if this connection between Amon and Mako might make for an understanding between the two, and a possible temptation to the dark side much like Zuko at the end of season two in the last series. However, it’s good to know the goals of the new baddies in this series, and despite their loftiness, they have the means to do it. Another great episode in the bag.

Posted by Dogfish.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

AAA, Part I

As you may or may not know, Wasteland 2 is under development. Wasteland came out in 1988 and the original has united , thanks to Kickstarters, for a damn overdue sequel. If you're not salivating, you will be. Because you most likely poured hours into its spiritual successor: the Fallout series. So yeah, Wastelands 2 is something indeed to be excited about. If not, well, you can go back to your button collection.

I am not sure what's scarier: a future with 80s prostitutes or STDs that requires weaponized radiation to be defeated.

Now, I cannot help to think of other games that deserve a sequel. The first game, of three, I have in mind is Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri or SMAC. For those who are unfamiliar with this game, it’s quite simple: it’s the true sequel to Sid Meier's Civilization series. It is the premier turn-base strategy video game. You might be asking: “Wouldn't Civilization V be the sequel of Civilization IV so forth” or “So, you want a sequel to a sequel of another sequel” or “Which is worse: Snooki or Kim Kardashian”.

Almost a celebrity deathmatch to savor...except you're feeding them even more attention, their only nourishment.

The whole Civilization series are not sequels but refinements of the previous game. The end goal of this series has not changed: build a civilization to stand the test of time. The ultimate victory was to send a colony ship to Alpha Centauri, and hence SMAC. Ranging from unit design, society engineering, more diplomatic choices, and an actual storyline, the game was a vast improvement overCivilization II. Hell, when Civ III came out, it could not live up to SMAC. The reason behind the lack of a sequel mainly stems from some of the original designers leaving Sid Meier's side.

So, what makes this game so enjoyable? It has the legendary time travel of the Civilization series for starters, which is good or bad (depending if you really wanted to do something else on your weekend). But what makes this so? For one thing, you're rebuilding, not building, civilization in SMAC. You see, it’s actually a post-apocalyptic game except instead of surviving Earth, you lead the remains of humanity in an alien world. Apparently, once we shot for the stars, we just loose our shit.

Silly Stewart, they're only combating the Anti-Christ.

Under the alien skies, humans restart free from woes from Earth. Each faction in the game represents certain ideologies found throughout human history: collective unity, trade ambition, military strength, knowledge pursuit, democratic peacekeeping, faith keeping and environmental concerns. Each faction comes with their strengths, weakness, and rivalries: faith vs. knowledge, economy vs. environment, and individual rights vs. society's security. After the rebuilding effort and other factions, you have the barbarian aliens. Unfortunately, they do not have cute little battleaxes but parasites that burrow into your brain and do telepathic nightmare attacks. And this leads into a rather sly sci-fi story line involving the general direction of human evolution.

Why not Zoidberg, indeed.

While the setup is great, the gameplay is the obvious star. SMAC, much like the Civilization series, plays like a cross between Risk: you see almost everyone's pieces (through exploration and espionage), guess their general strategy, be anxious about everyone's moves, and face off against unexpected surprises (such as backstabs and sudden armies at the gate). The other players are AI, so their step are quick. Obvious, bonus against Risk.

So, why would should there be a sequel? Besides rumors of potential sequel, it’s been nearly a decade since this game seen an expansion. Think of the development in gaming technology and what it would do for the game. Another thought is take elements that worked in Civ V or IV, such as resources, more diplomatic options, better A.I., etc. and blast their ass to the nearest planet.

Okay, more like star system.

The above is a mod from Civ IV called Final Frontier. This mod was one of my favorites and for good reason. The gameplay mechanics were tweaked to let the player feel like s/he is the leader of some fledgling human space empire. This particular mod was released several years ago and did wet my appetite. That and Galactic Civilizations series. Of course:

Planetfall is basically SMAC plastered into Civ IV. Do not get me wrong, it is a great mod but there is something missing.
What made SMAC so great was simply its uniqueness for the time. I do not want something plastered into an existing game engine. I want a true sequel with a game engine and gaming formula built specifically for the game. Like the Civ series, take what made SMAC so good and add more. Have a basic, familiar formula but change the equation a bit to get a new experience.

The Civ series focuses on Earth and SMAC is about settlement of an alien world, then I think the sequel should go beyond that. Perhaps just settlement of a solar system and its glory and horror. Or perhaps just go for the galaxy and duke it out with Stardock.

Post your thoughts!    

Posted by Richabob

Saturday, April 14, 2012

City Lights

So now its part two of our premier episode, titled "A Leaf in the Wind". Korra has moved into Tenzin's home, which is situated on an island (known as Air Temple Island) close to Republic City, but not attached. It's populated by Tenzin's family and some monks. There is a noticeable distance between the people who live on the island, and those who populate the city. The islanders seem aloof, not in touch with the city populace. They are set aside and sheltered, and when the inevitable revolt reaches the island doors, I have serious doubts about their ability to handle it, not physically, but emotionally. This attitude is exemplified in Tenzin's oldest child Jinora. She has clearly embraced (or at least is trying to) the air nomad lifestyle. She tries to be very centered, but does get distracted by her younger sibling’s silly antics. Regardless, from the few times we see her air bend it's obvious that she has a graceful mastery of the art. As the kids help to set up the first training session, Korra confronts Tenzin about her apprehension to air bending. All the other elements have come so easy to her, and she's worried about tackling air. This is the first glimpse at uncertainty we see from Korra. Everything has come so easily for her up to this point; she has always had some skill over the other 3 elements. However, it’s becoming abundantly clear that air is completely foreign to Korra; she hasn't found any affinity to it yet. Tenzin reassures her by telling her of the struggles Aang had with earth bending, and explains to her that the most difficult element to master is the one opposite to the Avatar's personality. Air requires patience and subtlety, something Aang possessed by the bucket loads. Korra has more of a gun-ho attitude, which may serve her well in the future, but for learning air, is only going to prove to be a hindrance. So when it comes time to move and think like an air bender, Korra get knocked on her ass, twice, despite Tenzin's explanation of how an air bender moves and thinks. She inevitably goes ballistic and blows up some of the air nomad training panels with a little bit of fire. She struggles so much that when Tenzin offers more advise, she tells him that she thinks the problem is not with her, but his terrible teaching (ouch!). We also see that Korra's difficulties lies not just with air bending, but the air nomad life style. During a meditation session, where she is supposed to sit, and um, meditate, she fails by being impatient. She wants quick, immediate results, tangible returns to the effort she puts in. But, as we have seen from the last series, air bending is all about inner clam, and if you doubt yourself it could cause serious problems. Tenzin's two daughters (even the hyper one) are able to mediate quite well. Jinora is doing an exceptional job, not even reacting to Korra's interruptions. Ikki's face twitches a bit, especially when Korra announces that she's done with meditation and going to get some juice (Daddy, can I have some lychee juice too?). However, it's Meelo who steels the scene with his amazing display of mastery over meditation; being sound asleep! It’s a classic gag where his father tries to use him as an example only to have Korra point out the painful truth. Egg all over Tenzin's face. So with Korra stomping off, Meelo collapsing sound asleep on the floor, Ikki giving her father the stink eye to his denying her some juice, and only Jinora showing any amount of composure out of the four of them, it was not an easy day for the air bending master or his student. Another point I should mention is Korra's constant self distractions during her training. She is always looking elsewhere, either into the distance, or around her. She craves excitement, not this slow boring mediating non bending stuff. This is where the sport of pro-bending steps in.  
Jinora, Ikki, Meelo, & Korra sitting before Tenzin
Our exposure to pro-bending is a very beginners guide. We learn the rules, hear the crowds, and get to meet some of the key characters, notably brothers Mako and Bolin. Bolin is an earth bender while Mako is a fire bender. Bolin seems more along the lines of Sokka, kinda blunt, not really understanding the finer arts of subtlety and surprisingly popular with the girls. Mako is clearly cut from the same cloth as Zuko. We've only see him for 25 minutes and already he's brooding like he's Batman. He has just the right kind of hair and aloof attitude that would have gotten him all the girls if he were in a 80s movie. Throughout the training with Tenzin, Korra constantly indulges in pro-bending. First she starts by reading newspaper articles about the previous days matches, visibly excited at the idea of seeing a match live. Tenzin quickly squashes that notion. Then, while a bunch of the white louts guards are listening to a live radio broadcast of the day's match, Korra secretly sits on the roof of the hut eagerly following along. All characters in the scene are engrossed in the commentary, following along, cheering for Team Fire Ferrets (made up of Mako, Bolin and random water bender guy). However, Tenzin swoops in once again, unplugs the radio, gives Korra another stern warning and then walks away. This however, does little to deter Korra, who quickly escapes by making use of her water bending abilities. There is a moment, just before she hits the water where she bends a tunnel of water towards her body in order to soften the blow of hitting the water from too high. It's effortlessly done, which means she's had plenty of practice. More importantly though, it goes back to the exact same move Aang used when entering water in the original series. Maybe it's because Korra is from the water tribe, but I like to think that this was influenced a little bit from her life as Aang. 
After swimming the distance to the city where she enters the pro-bending arena, Korra unsuccessfully tries to sneak around. However, Bolin, who happened to be walking around when she gets caught comes to her rescue. It's a funny moment. While we watch Korra getting yelled at by an old earth bender who threatens to turn Korra in, Bolin can be seen in the background walking, does a double take, runs his hand through his hair to slick it down, and then goes marching in. Clearly he's rescued other girls from a similar fate. He tells the old guy that Korra's with him, as in they're together. Korra quickly admits that she is there with Bolin, but not in that kind of way. It kind of blew up in Bolin's face with him going, oh no, I didn't mean like that, and I couldn't stop laughing, as I've tried similar moves on girls only to have it blow up in my face like it just did for Bolin. Bolin then shows Korra around the stadium, eventually leading to the arena, where she gets front row seats to the match. Bolin tries to impress her some more when his brother walks in. Mako quietly asks Bolin why he keeps bringing his fan girls into the dressing room (really, they go after Bolin over Mako?), and then Korra is introduced to Mako. She is already somewhat familiar with Mako from the radio broadcast she heard. She starts gushing over him, clearly taken aback from his skills that she's heard, and his good looks. Could Korra have been any less obvious about her attraction to Mako? I wonder how Bolin would feel, though it seems he gets enough attention from the girls, as seen when The Fire Ferrets walk onto the area,  a girl can be heard chanting Bolin’s name (I still don't get it but good for him). Mako is dismissive of Korra, and when the match begins, clearly focuses on the opponents at hand. While fighting, Mako is clinical. While Bolin is just as skilled, he lacks the focus that Mako posses and gets caught flat footed more than once. Random water guy sucks. No more on him. Mako's fighting style is very boxery; he had strong punches of fire to off balance his opponents, while being light on his feet. He's quite a talented guy, and holds the team down when both his other team mates get eliminated, even winning an entire round by himself. When Bolin climbs back into the changing area after Mako wins it for the team, Bolin triumphantly asks Korra what she thinks. What does she think? What does she think? She's so excited by it that she just grabs Bolin by his shirt and then shoves him away. Mako continues to be dismissive of Korra, but she gives him as good as she gets. This is the kind of training she has wanted; action packed, where there are immediate rewards to moves and where she has to be quick on her feet. She asks Bolin if he could teach her some earth bending moves. He's more than willing, but because of her water tribe outfit, he doesn't know how his earth bending moves would translate to her water bending style. She quickly informs Bolin that she is a water, earth, and fire bender. This news only helps us to cement Bolin as the current Sokka replacement with his well timed "Mm hmmm! I'm very confused right now." Of course Mako, who has been paying close attention, doesn't miss a beat and realizes who she is, immediately apologizing. A little bit of a training scene, and we find out the Mako and Bolin live at the stadium.
Korra, Mako & Bolin
The next day, after Korra blows up half the air nomad panels, she once again escapes to the stadium. There she finds Mako and Bolin sitting in the changing room looking glum. Water bender guy (him again!) hasn't bother to show up after his poor performance in the last match, which means The Fire Ferrets will be disqualified from participating. They need one more person to fill the ranks, and Korra gladly jumps at the challenge. At first she struggles with the constraints of the sport, knocking people out of the ring illegally, all the while being targeted as the noob in the arena. Then she makes the mistake of bending both water and earth at the same time. The refs call a time out where they discuss what to do. It's at this point we should travel back the Air Bender Island, where Tenzin is trying to figure out why his teachings aren't working on Korra. His wife gently tells him to give the girl some space. Tenzin quickly looks at is daughters and demands that their teenage years not be full of that much turmoil. Jinora responds with a well placed "I make no such promises." When Tenzin goes looking for Korra, he enters the White Lotus room to discover that they are busy listening to the radio matches once again, and not really watching Korra. When Tenzin asks them where Korra is, only the radio answers; "You've gotta be kidding me. She's the Avatar folks! Playing in a pro-bending match!" A visibly upset Tenzin tells the White Lotus to not bother getting her, he will go himself. Tenzin must have felt quite let down and betrayed. The White Lotus guards are not doing the job they are supposed to, Korra is clearly going against his wishes and teachings, and now he must be questioning his ability to teach as he has failed at every turn with Korra thus far. Back to the arena, Korra is getting it from all sides. She's used to more space, and probably a slower paced, older style of combat. However pro-bending is fast and furious and she gets knocked around quite a lot. When Tenzin arrives, he confronts her about his displeasure at her participation. He feels that pro-bending goes against the tenants of classic bending combat, and that it is counter intuitive to his teachings. For him, the two worlds cannot coexist, and he only has respect for one type of bending. Korra dismisses him, going as far to say that she realizes that this is the type of teaching she requires, and that she has decided that she doesn't need to learn air bending! A surprised Tenzin states the importance of the Avatar learning air bending to be complete. Korra chooses to walk back to the area to finish her match and is immediately pushed back, almost being knocked out. Tenzin is in the stands watching from the shadows. It's now, with her back against the wall, Korra calms herself and begins to use some of the air bending techniques Tenzin has been drilling into her. She twists and turns and surprises her opponents, leading the team to victory. A similar moment happened with Aang while he struggled to learn earth bending from Toph in season 2. With his back against a wall, Aang finally was able to earth bend to save Sokka's life. Tenzin is surprised at the turn of events, but happy. He realizes that he was wrong about pro-bending fighting; it's not as uncivilized as he thought. It's a great moment of youth learning from the elder, while in turn the elder learns from the youth. After leaving the stadium victorious, Korra goes back to the island to apologize to Tenzin for her behavior, and Tenzin apologies for his narrow mindedness. Both characters have learned something valuable during the events; for Korra, sage advice can be invaluable and help when stuck in tight spaces; for Tenzin, keeping an open mind at any age will only help broadening it; learning only ends with death. The final shot is of Korra siting in her window, smiling and staring at the stadium, while at the same time, Mako is longingly looking towards the Air Temple Island (hint hint).

Love is in the Air.... bending
Cue dramatic music, roll credits, show over, and boy was the two part premier fun. While we still don't know much about the various bad gangs, or the anti-bending revolution in the first two episodes, there will no doubt be time to explore these events. We are also still kept in the dark regarding the fate of much of the "Gaang" from the last series, but I have no doubt we will come to know the truth. Another factor in the show that I have failed to discuss thus far is the soundtrack. The Track Team, the guys behind the original series, have outdone themselves. The music compliments the show so well, and it’s obvious, after working on the show since 2005 that they get the world of Avatar. You could just close your eyes and listen to the soft music that plays while Korra is in the water tribe, or dance to the jazz music as Korra runs through the streets of Republic City. And finally, despite only appearing in the opening credits thus far, Aang’s presence looms all over this series. This is not only because Korra is his reincarnation, or that his son and grandchildren are front and center, but because Republic City is also a part of his legacy. The fate of the city is the fate of Aang's memory, and right now there is turmoil in the Republic. Things will have to change if he is to be remembered well. Aang's shadow looms over the city, and not just due to the giant Aang statue that adorns the harbor. We are reminded of the big shoes (like Kyoshi big) that Korra has to fill, but I think she's up to the challenge. Another great episode in the bag.

Posted by: DogFish

Saturday, April 7, 2012

When Air gave way to Water

I had just turned 19 when Nickelodeon aired Avatar the Last Airbender. I had, of course, been used to the Nick line up, which consisted of great shows such as Rugrats, Doug, Hey Arnold, and the still great Spongebob! However, while watching the promo for this new series I was struck by how different it seemed. The animation was far more fluid, greatly influenced by the animation style of Japanese anime, and the characters seemed vastly layered. All this was taken from a minute plus promo that ran between shows. So I thought I would give it a shot, and when February 21st rolled around I sat on my couch expecting a fun action show, but not much more. And for the series premier I would have been right, if it wasn't for one character who stood out in my mind; Zuko. He was a lot like Dragonball's Vegeta, and not just because he was a prince. There was clearly more driving him than just ambition or power. There was a hunger he possessed that coursed through his very essence (a hunger that we learn more about as the show progressed), and he was voiced so well. So he was the hook, and I could not let the show go, and though it was Zuko who initially got to me, the show's growth over the seasons as well as the development of other characters such as Toph, Iroh and Sokka came to compliment Zuko nicely. In those early episodes, Zuko was a harbinger of the tone and maturity to come from this “kids” show. So when it ended in 2008, it was a little tough to let it go, like when I was a witness to Jedi for the first time, or traveled through the last pages of Deathly Hallows. But when the dynamic duo of Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko announced The Legend of Korra series, I was very excited, eagerly anticipating the next chapter in the Avatar world. That announcement was in 2010. It has been a long wait.

The first thing that struck me while watching the early access premier on my computer was just how great the animation looked. Airbender was no slouch, but the animators have stepped up their game quite a notch since 2008. It’s very fluid; the characters move gracefully, animal interaction and movement is very natural, and even the way buildings appear in the distance while cars roll around on the streets with the hustle and bustle of people going their separate ways is very organic. The one scene that sticks out to me even a week after watching the show was when Korra is heading to the big city, and she’s stole away on a boat with her animal guide Naga. She is lying against the dog/bear with a look of content at what she has just accomplished, while having the look of wonder in her eyes of what’s to come. I felt great for her just from this simple look on her face. It didn’t last more than 20 seconds, but this scene is so elegant in its subtlety, that with all the beautifully crafted acrobats throughout the rest of the show, this scene was perfect. The other big standout part for me was how confident and sexy Korra was portrayed without being sexualized. Usually with Japanese anime, the few strong female leads are overly sexualized, with big curves, long legs, and skimpy clothes making them look like hookers. Not so here (though Korra does have some great curves!). Korra's appeal doesn't come just from her good looks or grace (though outside of battle she is lacking in the grace department), but from her confidence in her abilities and who she is as a person. She doesn’t seem like the character who would wear low cut shirts to distract guys in order to get her way. In fact, if she were to do something like that, it would feel very out of character. She is someone who has such self confidence, who has a great awareness of who she is that there is no need for her to strut her stuff, and that's why when she inevitably fails, it’s going to be a tough moment to witness. Being humbled always sucks, and more so when you're the Avatar, just ask her predecessor Aang.

Avatar Korra and Aang's first meeting
Aang struggled with who he was, and the responsibilities he faced. Largely this is because facing your mortality while having the weight of the world on your shoulders at the age of 12 is an incredibly daunting task. Trust me, I'm 26, it's no easier, and I don't have a world to save. So Aang did what any rational child would do, he ran. It took him two and a half seasons to finally be ready to face his challenges, and still it was an incredibly difficult task he almost lost. However, from the get go, Korra knows who she is, and she wants the whole world to know too; just look at her introduction. When we first meet Korra, she's a spunky 4 year old with some degree of control over 3 of the 4 elements who is being investigated by members of the White Lotus for claims of her being the Avatar. Her parent’s home is very humble, with traditional water tribe ornaments decorating their igloo, and the simple interactions, such as an embrace between her mother and father, show that this is a loving home. Korra immediately gets in the face of the 3 White Lotus members who are visibly shocked at Korra’s skill and in your face attitude with her declaration of “I’m the Avatar, you gotta deal with it!” From here, we skip to Korra age 17 taking her test on fire bending in the southern water tribe. It is now we see a familiar face. If you have been watching the promos, or saw any of the leaked footage, you knew that this weathered old lady standing on a platform observing was Katara, Aang's wife. You would also know that standing there, watching this new young Avatar strut her skills, Katara has been without Aang for 17 years. For someone who has followed the show from the start it was very moving, and made all the more impressive that there was not a single line of dialogue forced on us to address this harsh truth. Katara must be very sad, but you know from who she was from the original series, she would be very proud of Korra’s physical and emotional strength. Back to Korra; she passes her test with a triumphant “woo hoo”, which we soon discover means she mastered 3 out of the 4 elements (the opposite of Aang). Now it’s time for air, so enter stage right Tenzin, Aang and Katara's youngest child, and only airbender. He himself has three little airbenders of his own and a possible fourth on the way.

I find Tenzin an interesting character. When I first heard about him and saw him in the promos, I expected him to be a slightly more serious version of good old Iroh. However, our first interaction with him is his very defeated response of “Yes, like I’ve been telling you for the last 15 minutes, we are finally here,” to his daughter’s (Ikki) incessant questioning of are they there yet. While this is going on, his son Meelo is climbing all over him and chewing on his head. Tenzin’s head and shoulders are slumped in defeat; it’s a great visual. Katara is there waiting to greet her family, and Tenzin is more than happy to hand them over to her. Korra waits eagerly in the background as Tenzin catches up with Katara, however, she quickly grabs his attention. From their interaction it’s obvious that they have met before, but when Korra was much younger; there is a formal closeness to them. Quickly, it becomes apparent that Tenzin can't stay to teach Korra in the water tribe, but must return to his city - Republic City (the city is facing troubling times) - as he is a leader within the city. His attempts at explaining to Korra why he must go back home fall on deaf ears, with Korra's great dismissive response of “whatever” while walking away being just what I'd expect from a 17 year old. As Korra is forced to watch her dreams fly away (on a flying bison no less) she hatches a plan of her own; to go to Republic City and learn air bending there. With Katara's blessing Korra is off, and as mentioned previously, Korra’s journey is portrayed quickly, but very effectively. All up to this point, the show has had a very organic and natural feel.

    Jinora, Ikki, Meelo, with father Tenzin and mother Perma 
"Welcome to Republic City"! The city was founded by both Aang and Zuko after the war was over and has a very jazzy NYC/Chicago feel; there's even a giant Aang statue that adorns the harbor. Before Korra makes her way to Tenzin, she gets distacted by the city. However, the big city is not entirely what Korra was expecting; it's big yes and somewhat shiny, but there are some ugly truths. There is homelessness, as well as crime perpetrated by gangs, and even an anti-bending revolution. Korra is forced to deal with all of these on her first visit. She gives the homeless man a fish, but there isn't much more she can do at this stage to help him, even having to run away quickly as it becomes apparent that fishing in the city's central park is illegal. She then gets into, and loses, a debate with an anti-bending revolutionary she unwisely engages and childishly threatens. And when she tries to stop a gang from taking money from a shop owner, she inadvertently causes more damages and once again becomes a fugitive of the law (for about 5 minutes). So good first day! When caught by the metal-bending police, she is interrogated by Toph's daughter, Lin Beifong, and boy does Lin seem like a chip off the old block (I think I'm going to like her a lot). Lin is the tough take no shit from anyone kind of woman. Her daughter was a very tough individual who immediately butted heads with the original gang when she joined them in the original series. Lin, too, seems more than willing to butt heads, but you get the feeling she is motivated for vastly different reasons. She is the chief of police of a city the size of New York, and she has real and immediate problems to deal with. An all powerful being only adds to that. At first, Korra uses her status as Avatar, as well as the history between Toph and Aang to try to get out of trouble, but Lin isn’t moved, much to Korra’s disappointment. Eventually, Tenzin comes along to bail Korra out, and while leaving jail, Lin gives Korra the old “I’m going to keep my eyes on you” hand motion that Korra responds to in kind, much to Lin’s frustration. It was childish yes, but there to show us that in time, Korra and Lin may be more alike, and thus have some common ground to build a relationship upon. Outside, Korra tries unsuccessfully to convince Tenzin to let her stay and train with him. While he escorts her back to the dock of waiting White Lotus guards, Tenzin gazes at the statue of Aang. You can tell he longs for his dads presence, possibly for some sage advice, or maybe because if his dad were still around, Tenzin would not be the one making the difficult decisions. It’s at this point where he realizes that though Republic City is part of Aang’s legacy (just as Tenzin and his kids are too), Korra is a huge part of what Aang left behind; she is Aang reincarnated after all. Tenzin realizes that its time he takes on the responsibility of training Korra, not just for Korra’s sake, but for everything his father stood for. With great happiness and excitement, Korra hugs Tenzin, his three kids, and effortlessly picks them all up at once. The next day, Korra gives a speech to a waiting crowd of journalists about her plans for the city while Tenzin and Lin stand behind her. Korra once again shows her lack of experience at public speech, and stumbles her way through the answers, and just before she gets too in over her head, Tenzin steps in to end the questioning. However, in some deep underground layer, a dark, shadowy figure, wearing a golden mask, listens to the radio broadcast of the return of the Avatar. When one of his subordinates asks him what they should do, Amon, our new bad guy, responds very calmly that it’s time to accelerate their plans! What plans are they? I look forward to finding out over the course of the show. Very interesting indeed.

This was a great start, and it bodes well for the series to come. If you are a fan of the original series, or well written, animated, and charming shows, you will find a welcome home here. Thanks for reading. This is part one of the two episode premier review. The second episode will follow shortly in the week with its own review. I hope to continue to review the show as it airs. Thanks for reading. Oh, and one last thing. How painfully charming was that Zuko mom tease? I just want to know the truth already!!!

You Gotta Deal With It!
Posted by: DogFish