Written by Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, and Joaquim Dos Santos
Art by The Legend of Korra production staff
I was hesitant to review this at first. I’m not an art critic by any means. Art looks good or bad. I like it or I don’t. I never feel I can adequately critique art in and of itself. However, I really enjoy The Legend of Korra cartoon series, and reading through this art book helps relive that.
For those new to the show, The Legend of Korra is the follow-up to the Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon series from Nickelodeon. The franchise features Asian-inspired art design and storytelling, focusing on a world where some have the natural ability to control the elements in a pseudo martial arts style, which is called bending. The Avatar is the sole mystically-chosen individual on the entire planet who can control all four elements – air, water, earth, and fire. One holds the position until death, when it passes to someone else. The first series was about the Avatar named Aang, its titular last airbender, and this one is his successor, Korra.
You don’t have to watch the first series to fall into this one, but it helps.
This book in particular displays different artwork from this first season of The Legend of Korra, referred to as “Book One: Air.” The book shows the evolution of characters and the creation of the series’ settings and props. For many characters including Korra herself, the early concepts were close to final form. Others, like Korra’s earth-bending friend Bolin, benefited greatly from the evolution process.
This series follows the original Avatar show in its Asian aesthetic, but its creators advance the time line several decades and give this series a more modern Western take reminiscent of the 1920s-1930s. The robust metropolis Republic City, the setting for most of the series, is a fusion of Eastern and Western design elements of the early 1900s. Old-style Hong Kong buildings are built as high and slender as New York skyscrapers. Metalbending cops where outfits modeled after both samurai armor and 1920s New York cop uniforms. Electric lighting and radio are prevalent. All of this together leads to some really neat settings.
Fans of steampunk and its like should get a kick out of the vehicles and weaponry of this series, particularly that of the tech-powered anti-bending Equalist group. Their fighting gear is armored with glove tasers and special goggles. Gigantic air ships fly through the sky, and old-style cars swerve through the buildings. Mecha suit/tank combos feature old-school diving helmets akin to Bioshock’s Big Daddy.
With the sketches, design evolution, and storyboarding, the book also includes some pretty scenic paintings of various settings of the series. Vistas range from spectacular cityscapes of Republic City to gorgeous nature shots of Air Temple Island, and even the Aang memorial statue lit beautifully at sunset.
In addition to showcasing art from the series, this book also serves as commentary for its first season and its creation. Series creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko and co-executive producer Joaquim Dos Santos introduce the book and provide blurbs on most of the artwork.
Primarily though, the book really is sketches and design work. If it more showcased the impressive scenic paintings, something perhaps like a poster book, then this would be a better display piece, a coffee table book to show off to company.
As is though, this art book is a quick and fun way for fans to enjoy the first season without watching it all over again. Although going through the book will probably cause you to seek out the show again anyway, as did I.
If you are already a fan of the franchise, as obviously as I am at this point, this book will help you relive the experience of the spectacular first season of The Legend of Korra. If you’re not, despite some cool designs and paintings, you probably won’t get much value without the prior emotional investment. The real driving forces behind The Legend of Korra and its predecessor are the characters and the story telling, which you don’t get from the art book alone.