This is the review for part two of the Legend of Korra Season Two premiere “The Southern Lights”. If you are looking for a review of part one “Rebel Spirits” go here.
If “Rebel Spirits” was meant to be a warm up, “The Southern Lights” felt like the mid point in this arc. It feels like we are being given even less time to breath than we were in the first season and I am not sure if I like that idea as Season One felt like we condensed a much larger story into too few episodes. Granted each character performs magnificently in terms of the material they are given, but it still is slightly bizarre to see a series that once nearly mastered the joy of a slow burn give way in favor of more up-tempo story telling. “The Southern Lights” is by no means a bad episode, it is just not the episode I was expecting at this point in the season.
With Tenzin relieved of his duties by Korra at the end of the last episode, Korra is eager to begin her training and learn how to control the sprits from her uncle. Unalaq however determines that the best course of action for Korra is to restart the spiritual connection between the Southern Water Tribe and their spirits. Apparently there used to be southern lights before the 100 year war, but they went into disarray and are now focused into one giant storm called the Everstorm. Korra and her team (sans Asami for some weird reason) must head into the Everstorm and restart the lights. Overall it is a pretty basic plot but we do get some pretty cool backstory on two of our major characters and find out Bolin is basically Shaggy from Scooby-Doo.
The first major event that happens in the episode is that we find out some really fun backstory on Tonraq and Unalaq. Basically Tonraq, voiced magnificently by James Renmar, was banished due to the fact he destroyed the sacred spirit forest of the north and moved to the south to start a new life. This made Unalaq first in line to become chief as well as explains why the north is so spiritually focused. This helps to explain Tonraq’s brash nature as well as his willingness to just leave the spirits as they are. He does not wish to piss them off any more after he destroyed the sacred forest in the north. It also helps to explain where Korra got her brash, abrasive nature, and her lack of connection with the spirit world.
Meanwhile Tenzin’s family arrives at the Southern Air Temple where he and Pema are treated like saviors, while Bumi and Kya are mistaken for their servants. It’s a funny and slightly depressing moment as you would think the air acolytes would know of all Aang’s children, not just the one who can actually Airbend. It does however explain why Kya and Bumi pick on Tenzin in the manner they do as it is possible they never have lived up to the lofty goals the world has placed on them. Or they could just be regular siblings who pick on each other for shits and giggles, either way it’s highly enjoyable.
The real character expanding moments in this episode go to Jinora, as once they enter the Avatar Statue room, now complete with an Aang statue, Jinora begins to truly connect with the spirit world. It is great to see Tenzin’s kids finally getting an expanded role and it seems as if the creators are setting up Jinora to be Korra’s true airbending/spiritual teacher rather than Tenzin. As she manages to find a statue of seemingly the first Avatar this can only mean good things in terms of her development.
Of course the main action draw in this episode is the two confrontations with the spirits, one in the Everstorm and another with Korra in the spirit cave. Both showcase the amazing step up in animation, but the Everstorm confrontation was a little iffy in terms of shot compositions due to the use of snow during the fight. It was hard to keep track of who was fighting what and the snow did not help at all on that front. Even more so Bolin was completely useless in the fight as his awesome snow mobile got disabled and he needed to be saved by Eska and Desna. This kind of disappointed me as with “Rebel Spirits”, I thought Bolin had finally turned a corner and was getting some real development, but instead he was returned completely to comic relief. Not that it was bad comic relief I just want more from the character as a whole.
In terms of the cave sequence, I liked the use of the spirit snakes as an opponent that Korra could not easily dispatch. It allowed for some very cool movements in her fights as well as some creative fluidity in her opponents. If there is one thing I really enjoyed out of these two episodes it is how the “opponents” Korra is fighting do not fight like normal humans, so there is a lot more creativity in how the fights are staged and what powers are used. Eventually Korra restarts the Southern Lights and Unalaq reveals that the north will help the south connect spiritual, even if force is required to do so.
Overall this was a very successful ramp up episode that built upon the stakes of the premiere and amped them up to all out war. Although it was a relatively quick progression I will hold all judgements until this North vs South arc is concluded.
Final Grade B+
+ Eska is the new Mai
+ The cave fight
+ Jinora gets some character growth
-Asami weirdly absent this episode
-Bolin is back to being only comic relief
-The snow fight was hard to follow.
- “I shall protect you my feeble turtle duck” Bolin is losing some man points
- Meelo getting Pokey, his own lemur.
- Two favorite animation moments of the episode, another Bolin perspective shot and Oogie’s fur ruffling as Kya and Bumi dismount. Top notch animation right there.
- I now want an entire episode from that character perspective shot. I love it more each time I see it.