Channel Surfer: Avatar: LOK, Book 4: Balance [Avatar Retrospective]

Avatar: The Legend of Korra, Book 4: Balance may be the last animated entry into one of the best television shows of the past decade. In honor of this milestone, Channel Surfer is providing a retrospective on each Avatar season, from the original series to the latest. This is meant to be an overview for Avatar veterans, and hopefully an introduction for anyone interested in the show. This week we finally conclude the Avatar franchise with The Legend of Korra, Book 4: Balance.

Original Run: 2014

No. of Episodes: 13

Premise: Avatar takes place in a world where humans can bend the fire, water, earth, and air. Set 70 years after the events of The Last Air Bender, and 17 years after the death of Avatar Aang, the new series follows his successor, Korra. With the world changing rapidly in terms of technology and outlook, it’s up to the new Avatar to maintain balance and oppose parties that question the very need for an Avatar.

Book 4: Balance

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The last chapter in The Legend of Korra takes place three years after the events of Book 3. With the Earth Queen assassinated, an aggressive and charismatic military leader named Kuvira consolidates her power in the Earth Nation. Meanwhile, the Avatar finds it difficult to physically and mentally recover after her near fatal encounter with the anarchist Zaheer. With the world at the brink of confronting yet another expansionist superpower, Avatar Korra and her friends must come together once again to reestablish balance to the world.

Watching the Show

Book 4: Balance is probably the third best season of Legend of Korra, after Book 1 and Book 4. It has a strong start, and a strong finish, but a subpar middle. The gimmick of a time skip makes you very curious about the state of things for the first few episodes, but the novelty eventually fades away. It felt like a lot of things were stretched out more than they should have been. Too much time was devoted to Korra’s metal recovery, the Beifong family drama, and reuniting Team Avatar.

The problem with this season, and arguably Legend of Korra as a whole, is that there are so many elements and pieces that the writers have to deal with, that the show ironically comes off as imbalanced. Not only do they have Korra and her friends, they also have Aang’s family, the Beifongs, Aang’s kids, Republic City, the state of the Element Nations, season specific supporting characters, and each season’s new big bad (not to mention the fan’s desire to see old Avatar characters show up). The show has the very-anime problem of being a too bloated with characters and side stories. Would I have loved to see a trip to the Fire Nation? Yes. Would I have been happy if it was shoehorned into an already bloated season? No. If anything, all these seeming omissions and negatives have me very excited for the expanded universe media that will surely continue the franchise. This chapter may be over, but the story never ends.

Best Episodes

Korra Alone [S.4, Ep. 2]

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This episode is great because it tells you everything you need to know about Korra’s story arc this season in 20 minutes. After nearly dying in Book 3, Korra takes about a year and a half to recover physically. Korra spends the rest of the time trying to recover mentally. The fight with Zaheer added to a problem that had been building since Book 1. Every season, the Avatar comes close to ending in one way of another. So Korra gets to do what every Avatar must due at some point, she travels the world to find herself, which allows her to reconnect with a very old friend.

Kuvira’s Gambit [S.4, Ep.11]

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I was tempted to group this with the last two episodes since they really tell the same story. But dammit, the big surprise in this episode deserves to stand on its own. In this episode, Kuvira finally gets her mysterious super weapon up and running, but the way she uses it really ups the ante. It was moments like these that made me really happy that a show like Legend of Korra existed.

Day of the Colossus/The Last Stand [S.4, Ep. 12-13]

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Going four for four, the finale of a Legend of Korra season makes the Best Episodes list. I can’t help it you guys, this show has really amazing last episodes. “The Day of the Colossus” is an unquestionably amazing action episode, mixing in elements from anime, kung fu, and ever superhero stories in the best possible way. And the animation in it! On the flip side, “The Last Stand” serves as a fitting end to Korra, showcasing the Avatar’s great personal growth since Book 1. If anything, the show’s final shot showcases why The Legend of Korra and the Avatar franchise were such imporatant defining moments in broadcast television.

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