Petty Reviews: Steven Universe

A long time ago I was studying abroad with a friend in Spain. Let’s call her Aqua, it’s her favorite color and sort of fits the naming system anyway. Hopefully, it’s not a name used by a character. Because I’m way too lazy to double-check. She was, probably still is, the one who loves Steven Universe. 

During our time in Spain, Aqua watched a ton of Steven Universe. I’m pretty sure the series was still ongoing at that point. She told me a ton about the show. It was practically second-hand watching with how many details she gave about the characters and story. It was a reoccurring topic. Aqua would sing praises about the show and multiple times told me how I “needed” to watch it. 

Honestly, it was because of how aggressively enthusiastic about this show which made me not want to watch it. Aqua would tell me over and over how I should watch it and that I’d love it. Her continual insistence made me dislike Steven Universe simply because I was tired of hearing about it. Plus it didn’t help that my normal reaction to being pressured about something is “Well, I don’t HAVE to do anything.” I know, I know, not very mature of me. Still can’t keep those thoughts from popping up. 

She did convince me to watch a couple of episode with her. I think I saw the first episode. All I remember was Steven freaking out about a snack called “Cookie Cats”. The second one I remember parts of it but not a lot. It involved a fusion of Steven and a human friend. Then Pearl trains her with sword fighting at some point. Pretty sure? The singing was kind of fun. I do like a good musical. 

My overall impression was that Steven Universe was okay. It didn’t really seem like anything special to me. Not to mention the reactions of the characters felt over-exaggerated and unrealistic. Normally I’d consider watching more than that to see if it gets better. With this particular show I couldn’t shake the feelings of annoyance I had. Even now, despite all the years, Steven Universe still reminds me of being pressured and annoyed by a friend. 

*Image doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to Cartoon Network and Steven Universe.

Everything Changed when the Fandom Attacked: Legend of Korra

Legend of Korra (LoK) has got to be one of the most controversial tv series sequels ever made. It takes place decades after Avatar the Last Airbender (AtLA) ends following the journey of the next Avatar, Korra, and the people around her. AtLA is universally loved both by the old fans who remember waiting for the episodes to air on Nickelodeon and by the new fans who decided to try it out since it came out on Netflix. I consider AtLA to be one of the greatest series of all time, of both animated and live-action tv. Fans loved it so much we all practically begged the creators to continue the story. They finally did and created LoK. This time though reactions were mixed. 

Verdict

Legend of Korra ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

I originally had so much HYPE for this series. AtLA was just so amazing. I was so excited to see more of the world! Then LoK changed so many things about the general tone and story progression. Yet I do enjoy parts of it. I don’t mind the darker, more adult overtones. LoK and AtLA did a fantastic job creating realistic and likable characters, both bad guys and good guys. There is still a lot of humorous moments I appreciate, reminiscent of the first series. I still really love the fictional world it was set in and was thrilled to see it later in its history. Despite all that LoK somehow missed the mark. I like this show. I’m glad I saw it and would possibly rewatch it. The best episodes I would definitely rewatch. But I don’t love it. 

Part of the problem was that I had so much love for AtLA. I had unrealistically high hopes for this show because of watching the first series. When it didn’t meet those expectations it made me sad and upset. Not angry, just disappointed. I am self-aware enough to know this is my own bias clouding my view but that’s just the reality of the situation. My disappointment of LoK not being like AtLA isn’t fair yet it does affect how I view the show. 

You would like this series if

  • Loved Avatar the Last Airbender. I can’t imagine watching this series without watching AtLA first. There are so many references in it that someone starting with this would miss out on a lot. 

Huh. Normally I can think of multiple reasons why people might enjoy something but this time I can’t. Legend of Korra heavily relies on the original series both for lore and for audience engagement. There are multiple characters and moments I like in LoK but the show as a whole is not good enough to recommend to people who haven’t watched AtLA. It was made for fans, not for people new to the world of Avatar. 

Story

LoK begins seventy years after AtLA with the next Avatar, a southern water tribe girl named Korra. As the Avatar it is her responsibility to maintain peace between nations and be the bridge between the physical world and spirit world. She leaves her home to go to Republic City to learn air bending, the last of the four bending forms she needs to master. The story follows her journey to complete her training as the Avatar, meet new friends, overcome challenges, grow as a person, and discover how to fulfill her role. Unlike AtLA where Aang and Team Avatar must try to end a war that had lasted one hundred years, now the world is at peace. Instead, Korra must stop those who would threaten the peace and new status quo that currently exists. 

LoK is a fantasy adventure like AtLA but more than anything it is a coming of age story. Instead of focusing on a single conflict between the heroes and the villain, LoK focuses on how Korra is faced with various challenges that force her to change her thinking or to understand new ideas. It’s not a hero’s epic. It is a story of self-discovery and the journey that is necessary to come to a more enlightened view of self, others, and the world. 

Sequel Series Yay or Nay

Well, I guess LoK earns a Yay from me. That sounds like a half-hearted endorsement because it is. There are many differences between LoK and AtLA. It comes down to a matter of opinion about whether or not these changes were good or bad. For me most of the changes weren’t good ones. Here I’ll discuss what I think are the three most significant overall changes.

LoK has a very different tone and setup than AtLA. It was created for a more mature audience. The main villains in LoK have more complicated backstories and motivations. Personal conflicts are openly darker and cover topics that younger audiences won’t easily comprehend. Many moments of this show are more unsettling or downright gruesome. Even as a college student watching this series I was shocked by how violent some of the deaths can be, even if the camera pans away or doesn’t show all of it. It almost makes it worse in a way as your imagination continues the setup. This tone seemed fitting and I think it was a good change. Not necessarily better than the tones of AtLA just different, and it worked well for Legend of Korra. 

The flow of the story is also incredibly different from AtLA. There are four seasons (called books); Air, Spirits, Change, and Balance. Each one has a main antagonist and conflict that drives the plot. All four cover different themes in the world at large and in Korra’s life. These themes tie into the book titles. In AtLA there are three seasons all setting up the big showdown of the series. It’s a continuous story rather than the sequence of events that LoK portrays. As a whole AtLA has a better focus on building up to a climactic high-stakes battle. LoK feels fragmented each book has its conflict that gets resolved and then the next one happens. It just wasn’t as engaging as the original story.   

In AtLA there is a strong team dynamic. Aang (protagonist of AtLA) starts his journey with two friends he meets. As a group, they face challenges, grow as individuals, meet new people, add to the team, and then face the final battle. Over the entirety of the series, there is a tight focus on the characters in Team Avatar, their relationships, and their personal growth. It’s a hero’s saga of a lovable, unlikely team trying to beat the odds to save the world from destruction at the hands of an evil tyrant.

Legend of Korra does not have this same feel at all. It starts with Korra meeting new people and finding her own friend group. Then after certain events in the series, the group splits off into different directions. Everyone has different goals and goes away to accomplish what they think is right. Now the core group always remains friends, yet it lacks that same epic group saga feel. Much of the character development happens away from the group as a whole. For a big chunk of the series, the new Team Avatar isn’t together. 

I suppose It’s realistic. Eventually, life causes separation between friends and difficulties in staying connected. Sadly it doesn’t make for a good story. I think this lacking of a good team dynamic hurts the series more than any other issue. This is what I consider the most disappointing change of the whole series.  It’s the main reason why my opinion of LoK is “Eh, it’s alright. Parts are good.”   

Worst Parts

  • The Unalaq and Vaatu arc in Spirits. I just didn’t like it.
  • Korra’s polar bear dog Naga really should have been more prominent in the series as her animal guide. Appa was so important in AtLA it was sad to see Naga not get the screentime she deserves. 
  • Not enough squad moments.  
  • Cringey romantic moments. I like romance and all but I get secondhand cringe. And hoo boy, were some moments very cringey. 
  • Where is Suki? I wanted to hear more of her story. 
  • Energy bending. It makes sense that the Avatar can do it. It does not make sense that random water benders can too.  
  • I wanted more of General Iroh in LoK!! More of Dante Basco’s voice acting!
  • The finale of AtLA was so good, the entire show had established how high the stakes were. All of the characters got fitting parts in the final battle. It was done so masterfully. LoK never captured this energy. 

Best Parts

  • The characters. Even with all my annoyances and nitpicks about LoK I still appreciate the impressive depth of personality, motivations, and progressive character development. The massive effort put into the character designs is easily apparent. They do some of the best work on characterization on tv (both animated and live-action). 
  • Dialog. This ties into what I said about the characters, but the dialog is top-notch. There’s a lot of good humor, dramatic moments that feel realistic, epic villain lines, and everything feels natural. 
  • The “magic” system of bending the four elements (air, water, earth, fire) is naturally incorporated into the world. Watching both AtLA and LoK each series sets realistic rules governing the mechanics of bending. This setup with part of the human population being benders and part being non-benders feels like a realistic society. Technology is developed inspired by bending or by incorporating bending. Socio-economic status can, in part, be determined by bending abilities or lack thereof. While bending is a key to combat, skilled non-benders can be just as deadly by mastering unique techniques and fighting intelligently. The whole world is a comprehensive setup. 
  • Radio announcer guy. He does the introductions on the episodes with a quick recap in the style of an old-timey radio show and I love it. Doesn’t hit like AtLA’s intro but I think it’s good that they went with a different style. Plus I’m a sucker for guys with a deep dramatic voice. 
  • 1920’s setting. It’s fascinating to see how much the world was able to advance in technology and culture since AtLA. 
  • Toph. Great in the original and still just as great. 
  • Seeing the descendants of the original (superior) Team Avatar. Especially Jinora and Lin Beifong. 
  • The episodes with Wan. Love the style of those even if it did tweak the lore. 
  • Red Lotus. Best villain group. I’d love to see a series focusing on them. 

* Image does not belong to me. This is a scene from Legend of Korra and belongs to Nickelodeon.