I am delighted to be in a position to write this post, as I didn’t expect Book 3: Change would air for several more months. Given Nickelodeon’s long-standing silence on Book 3, the timing of the Book 2 Blu-ray release, and the Fall release of the upcoming game, it looks as if Nickelodeon was setting up Book 3 for a late summer or early fall release. When MundoNick accidentally leaked episodes 3-6 of Book 3 couple weeks back, Nickelodeon surprised us all — they reacted by releasing the season early, starting with a three-episode premier on June 27. There wasn’t even enough time to build up hype: a leak, an announcement, then BOOM! Three episodes.
I was wary. While Book 2 won me over by the end, it suffered from numerous flaws I discussed in last year’s recaps. Well, I’m pleased to say that Book 3 is off to an extremely strong start. My recap and thoughts are below — spoilers ahead!
Book 3 opens 2 weeks after Harmonic Convergence, when Korra defeated UnaVaatu and made her decision to leave the portals open between the material and spirit world. Republic City is still covered in vines, spirits freely roam the material world, and, mysteriously, a few non-benders are discovering they have new airbending powers — including Aang’s son, Bumi.
Korra is struggling with the ramifications of her decision to leave the portals open. Her approval rating is a measly 8%, and she hasn’t yet figured out how to remove the spirit vines that are crushing the city. The spiritbending technique she learned from Unalaq seems to remove the vines, at first, but then they return with a vengeance. Frustrated and impatient, President Raiko bans her from Republic City. The old Korra might have had a tantrum, but this season’s Korra is optimistic and centred. She decides to use this opportunity to travel the world to seek out new airbenders so Tenzin can rebuild the nearly-extinct Air Nomad culture.
And so, Korra, Tenzin, Jinora, Bumi, Asami, Bolin and, after some convincing, Mako (and their various pets) board a Future Industries airship bound for the Earth Kingdom, where several new airbenders have been spotted. They attempt to recruit people to the monk-like Air Nomad lifestyle, but the new airbenders are less enthusiastic than expected. After a lot of effort, the only person who agrees to join them is a boy named Kai, a young thief who is in need of a lot of discipline.
The group heads to Ba Sing Se, the enormous walled city that featured heavily in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Korra meets with the Earth Queen, hoping she’ll help them track down airbenders in the giant walled city. It quickly becomes apparent that the Earth Queen is more concerned with her own riches than helping the Avatar. When Korra and Asami run a tax-collection errand for the Earth Queen, trying to win her favour, they encounter a group of bandits. After a fight, one of the bandits yells at Korra that she’s on the wrong side of the battle, and she wonders if he’s right. Much of the city has fallen into poverty and disrepair.
Back in the Upper Ring, Mako and Bolin notice that the young thief Kai has gone missing. They find him using his new airbending powers to steal coin from the locals. A chase ensues, but Kai outsmarts the brothers, and they’re forced to spend the night in the impoverished Lower Ring of Ba Sing Se. After an uncomfortable night on the streets, the brothers get into an altercation with a fruit stand owner — but, coincidentally, the owner’s father recognizes them. He’s their uncle. It turns out Mako & Bolin have an enormous extended family in Ba Sing Se who have been following their exploits in the media. After the family catches up, they tell the brothers that the Dai Li, the royal secret police, are capturing & locking up all airbenders.
Kai, meanwhile, is captured by the Dai Li. They throw him into a holding cell with other airbenders, and welcome him to Her Majesty’s Army, First Airbending Regiment.
While all this has been going on, another plot thread is building: a dangerous and intelligent criminal, Zaheer, has developed airbending abilities, and he uses them to escape from his highly-guarded, isolated prison cell. He travels the world, springing his old buddies from prison, including Ming-Hua, an armless waterbender who uses water tentacles for limbs, and Ghazan, an earthbender who can apparently heat earth into magma. The three of them head to the Northern Water Tribe to rescue their fourth friend from prison, a woman who allegedly has the psychic explosive abilities of Combustion Man (AKA “Sparky Boom Boom Man”) from Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Their escape attempts are noted by none other than ex-Fire Lord Zuko himself, who enlists the help of the Northern and Southern Water Tribe Chiefs (Eska & Desna from the North, Tonraq from the South) to ensure this fourth criminal does not escape.
While we, as the viewers, don’t yet know their motivations, it’s clear from the villain’s dialogue and Zuko’s urgency that the villains have a bone to pick with the Avatar. They are sure to be a formidable team of opponents.
What an impressive debut for the season! Pacing, humour, drama, character, music, animation — it’s all on point. A few creative choices really stand out compared to last season:
- The animation is phenomenal. Studio Mir’s full-time return has elevated the animation far above the talking heads that plagued the first half of Book 2.
- All the plot points have been on-camera. Last season, several important plot points (including Korra learning Unalaq’s spiritbending technique) happened off-camera. This season, so far, has embraced the basic writing principle of show-don’t-tell. It’s far more engaging.
- Korra has evolved. Last season opened with a Korra who had regressed since the end of Book 1, which felt forced and untrue to the character. This season’s Korra is already making calm and rational decisions, showing she has learned from her past.
- Korra and Asami are friends. The lack of female-female interaction has been noticeable in Book 1 & 2, and it’s wonderful that the writers took time to deliberately show friendship growing between the two. They even made a point to have Korra and Asami discuss the love triangle with Mako, and they dismissed it without jealousy. I’m a fan.
- Mako and Bolin have a brotherly bond. Last season, and even near the end of Book 1, there were several occasions where Mako and Bolin didn’t seem all that important to each other. Given their history (two orphans who only had each other), some of their interactions felt cold and out-of-character. Book 3 is starting them off on the right foot, with playful banter and multiple references to their shared history. Their interactions with their family were touching, especially Mako giving his grandmother his iconic red scarf (which belonged to his father.)
- No love triangles. I hope this continues.
- Zuko. I don’t think I’ve stopped internally screaming since I saw him in the first trailer, and I’m sure many other Avatar: The Last Airbender fans are reacting the same way.
- In-jokes have been plentiful, such as a tongue-in-cheek nod to co-director Ryu Ki Hyun (who shows up as a slacker airbender named Ryu, voiced by John Heder), or Zuko’s awkward conversational style on the elevator. Even Korra and Asami mocking Mako feels like a nod to the fandom for the love-triangle nonsense in previous books.
- Good-natured spirit. This season, in general, is on track to recapture the magic of the original series: light-hearted comedy, strong bonds between characters, and dangerous threats that will require teamwork to overcome.
I’m extremely impressed with these first three episodes, and excited for episode four. Unfortunately, due to the July 4 holiday in the US, we’ll have to wait until July 11.
What did you think of the episode? Agree with my thoughts? Disagree? Please feel free to comment below!