# A Joy Forever
Maybe I'm getting old, but this has been a singularly poor animé season. (Winter is always the worst; hopefully something good will arrive with the spring). But on the plus side, it's given me a chance to catch up on two shows I'd missed, both of which are turning out (I'm about halfway through each) to be surprisingly beautiful - in more ways than one.
First, and perhaps less surprising, *The Legend of Korra*. The original *Avatar: The Last Airbender* was truly groundbreaking. It was proof that western animation can deliver a story every bit as nuanced, engaging, and epic as animé - without losing sight of its own traditions. It wasn't perfect - some of its finest episodes (*Sokka's Master* and *The Puppetmaster*) could have done with more foreshadowing - and while the creators have fun with their inability to portray death, it damages the story in places. But it rightly remains a classic, even outside the medium; a sequel coming so late seemed more likely to be a cash-in than a valuable addition.
Right from the off we see the world has changed. Republic City is a true metropolis, openly evoking New York (particularly the gratuitous statue in the bay), or perhaps Gotham; it's an age of motor cars and gangsters and the wireless, what many would call "dieselpunk" - although *Legend of Korra*'s attitude is a long way from punk. It gets surprisingly political - and complex - in places; while our antagonist is clearly a bad guy, the show can me quite sympathetic with his views. Particularly striking for me were the council meetings, where we are uncomfortably reminded that while they do seem to genuinely care for the populace, the city is firmly controlled by the bending elite. Korra's arrest on arriving in the city - and doing the kind of problem-solving that would've netted Aang a hero's reward - is another sign that this show wants to take things seriously.
The introduction of the sport of "pro-bending" is a remarkably effective kludge, providing a way to show some fantastic fights in a world that's still largely at peace. Once again there's this real sense of progress - that while there are still plenty of problems, Aang's generation really did achieve something, and change the world, in a way that many sequel series would be all too quick to undermine. I love fantasy worldbuilding (something that's surprisingly uncommon in animé - and my favourite examples, *Mai Otome* and *Last Exile ~Fam, the Silver Wing~*, seem unpopular with others), and I especially love seeing a world with its own history and politics actually grow and develop and change. *Legend of Korra* has this down to an art.
The other surprise is how visually stunning it is - particularly considering I was watching it on my phone (admittedly the biggest phone I could find - a Galaxy Note II). I'm constantly blown away by the detail of the city, the way that even the most casual of conversations are set in the gym or the street, as if the animators were *required* to burn cash as quickly as possible. Make no mistake, this is a triple-A production, and I devoutly hope Nickelodeon are earning enough to keep the budget at this level. If I had to criticize, the CG can be a bit blatant on e.g. the motor cars, but that's the tiniest of niggles. So make sure you're watching in HD!
So why haven't I finished it yet? One reason is I can't stand to watch any more of the romantic subplots. I wouldn't even say they're bad - I'm sure I made the same mistakes in my youth (rhetorical; I know I didn't actually make the same mistakes in my youth) - but the misunderstandings of each other's and especially their own feelings can be rather cringeworthy. Korra's simplistic, straightforward approach impacting with the complexity of the real world brings a lot of fun to the show, but it serves her badly here.
The other reason is that I've picked something even more engaging out of my backlog - but I'll talk about that next time.
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