Tag Archives: 20th century history

Ginie Reviews TV: The Legend of Korra (Book One: Air)










TV Show: The Legend of Korra (Book One: Air)
Creators: Michael Dante Dimartino and Bryan Konietzko
Years: 2012 –
Rating: 3.5

Maybe it’s unfair to review a show that has only had its first season, but I think Book One of The Legend of Korra has given me plenty of initial thoughts and feelings about the show, the characters and the direction it all seems to be heading in and I thought this would probably be the right time to get them all out.

I get the feeling I may get some flak for this, but while I did love The Legend of Korra and would definitely call myself a fan (the kind of fan that listens to Republic City Dispatch podcasts and gets into speculative discussions about who Amon might be, etc.); a part of my feels a bit let down by The Legend of Korra.

If Avatar: The Last Airbender was a show for kids that dealt with various issues and themes with a far greater sense of maturity than most adult-TV-shows; then The Legend of Korra is a show that’s clearly aimed at an older audience and yet fails to adequately tackle the mature issues and concerns that are raised by the very nature of its central premise. Namely, that there is a non-bender revolution taking grip of Republic City and that balance needs to be restored by Korra, the Avatar (and as such, the ultimate bender as she can bend all the elements).

~*Spoilers Ahead*~

So first of all, the things I loved: the animation is, as ever, absolutely gorgeous. It’s so fluid, the character expressions are great and the designs are wonderful. I loved the idea of a 1920’s industrialised Avatar world! It just had so much potential and was so awesome – not to mention the soundtrack which is also beautiful and combines traditional Chinese music with jazz. Just. So. AWESOME. Not to mention the fashion, the Sato-mobiles, Republic City itself – there’s been a lot of fantastic world-building for this city and I loved every bit of it.

And I also loved the premise, although from the start I was weary about the real-world parallels that were being drawn between The Equalists and the rise of Communism in China. Not because I didn’t think it was an interesting idea to explore – more because I wasn’t sure a Nickelodeon show (however awesome) could do justice to that kind of seriously turbulent history, and furthermore the in-universe history of the United Republic and Republic City is different to real-world Chinese history. You can’t understand the rise of Communism in China without understanding the civil war and the Imperial system that came before it. But I was willing to be open-minded and I trusted that the show’s creators knew what they were doing: that they’d offer some insight into how this world has evolved with a bending elite and a non-bending underclass who are under-represented in government, in the police (Beifong’s Metal-benders) and in other crucial areas of Republic City life. And that Korra’s restoration of balance would involve an acknowledgement of this – that it wouldn’t just be about getting rid of Amon and the Equalists, but that it would also be about re-dressing the balance so that non-benders have an equal place in Republic City’s society.

So far that hasn’t happened yet.

Now I know this is just Book One, and that maybe these issues will be addressed in the next season (I dearly hope so). But I can only assume that with Amon and Tarrlok out of the picture for good, Book Two will have to introduce a new antagonist – and that means there might be a chance that this theme is dropped in favour of something else.

I suspect this might happen because the Book One finale had clearly tried to tie up all loose ends. Korra lost her bending, unlocked her air-bending, unmasked Amon who was later killed by his brother Tarrlok, entered the Avatar state, got all her bending back and the ability to return bending to others all in one fell swoop. Not once in the entire season were the actually legitimate concerns of Equalist sympathizers acknowledged or addressed and indeed, Amon and his Equalists are nearly always dismissed as “that madman and those crazy Equalists”. Now while Amon clearly uses manipulative fear tactics and could be labelled a terrorist, I was disappointed that Korra was only forced to confront the inequality between benders and non-benders once: when Tarrlok and his task-force were rounding-up protesting non-benders (“You’re our Avatar too!”).

Not to mention I was hoping to hear more about the Spirit World (and had secretly hoped that Amon was somehow linked to Koh, the Face-Stealer – an excellent, excellent potential villain that has been totally under-utilised in both A:TLA and TLOK). Considering how much emphasis was put on Korra’s spiritual block at the beginning of the show, I can’t help but feel let down that her spiritual block had been “solved” so quickly and so effortlessly. I don’t buy that Korra losing all her other bending and sulking about it constituted some great spiritual epiphany, even if it is true that her bending is very tied up with her own sense of identity and self-worth. And while I totally bawled like a baby when Aang turned up with all the other past Avatars and Korra finally went into the Avatar-state (shut up!) I was disappointed that Korra had lost her bending, only to re-gain it all within a matter of screen-time minutes. Maybe I’m being nitpick-y, but a loss isn’t really a loss if it’s so easily re-gained (which is also why if you choose to kill off a character they had better stay dead, at least for a little while, because otherwise it’s just cheap and there was nothing really at stake).

So those were my concerns with Korra on a thematic level. But I also felt somewhat let down by The Legend of Korra on a character level.

All I can say is that while a lot of the characters are awesome and show a lot of potential (LIN BEIFONG IS MY FAVOURITE-EST PERSON EVER) so many characters have had their character development and storyline pretty much shafted (I’m looking at you, Asami and Bolin). I’m still holding out that Asami will become more than just a useful plot-device to throw in extra romantic ~tension~ between Mako and Korra. And that Bolin will evolve to be more than just a comic relief character. And I’m hoping that the romance between Mako and Korra will eventually feel natural and not so forced. But I’m not nearly as optimistic as I was at the beginning of the season. Here’s hoping things will change though, and we get to see the New Team Avatar interact with each other more and actually give us a better idea of who they really are.

So is The Legend of Korra a good show? Absolutely yes. It has plenty of tension and enough mystery and questions that you’ll keep coming back for each new episode to find out what it will reveal. Is it as good as Avatar: The Last Airbender? Still hard to say at this stage – I genuinely think A:TLA was a better show, but then I went into A:TLA expecting nothing and the show did mature a lot over three seasons. We are only into Book One of Korra, and I went into TLOK with very high expectations following my love for A:TLA. While I think I do have legitimate reasons for preferring A:TLA to TLOK, I’m also willing to admit that at least some of it may be due to my own biases.

Conclusion? Definitely go watch it! Lord knows Tumblr needs more fandom theories about what the future holds for our heroine Korra 😉


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Ginie Reviews Books: Shanghai Girls

Title: Shanghai Girls
Author: Lisa See
Genre: Historical
Rating: 3/5

So who’s a sucker for 1930’s Shanghai? I am not going to lie, I do find this period of history very fascinating, (although actually I find most of 20th century China fascinating) I think I find Shanghai fascinating in particular because it was this city that was just a world apart from the rest of China, a city that existed in its own little cosmopolitan bubble until of course, the inevitable happens and everything collapses in a drastic way.

But this book isn’t merely about Shanghai in the 30’s – it actually covers a good fifty years with the last couple of decades spent in the States. Shanghai Girls tells the story of two sisters who lead privileged lives in Shanghai modelling as “beautiful girls” for calendars and adverts when their father forces them into arranged marriages in order to pay off his gambling debts. This happens at about the same time that the Japanese have started invading Shanghai, and their lives are changed forever. The novel follows the girls through their attempts to escape China via Hong Kong and how they end up at Angel Island, the prison/immigration centre set-up to deal with the sudden influx of immigrants that arrived thanks to the outbreak of the war; as well as how they attempt to make a life for themselves in the US amidst all the racism and political tension brought on by Mao’s Communist victory in China.

I did enjoy this book, but I do also have quite a few mixed feelings about it. I feel like sometimes there is sometimes quite a sudden jolt in narrative – for instance the very beginning of the book starts with the narrator explaining about how bookish and ‘ugly’ she is and how her parents love her sister best, and yet within the same chapter she’ll describe at length how beautiful her and her sister are as they prepare to go model for the artist Z.G.

So I guess my biggest problem with the novel is that I don’t always feel like the narration is very well-done or particularly strong. It is still a page-turner though, and the characters do get a lot of development so don’t let any of these things put you off (I get quite pedantic about narrative voice, so probably no one else will notice). As one might expect from a novel that deals with war, class and racism it does get quite depressing in parts – but none of this bothered me until the very end. I think how the sisters’ relationship pans out in the very last scenes is really harsh, and this did leave me feeling pretty down – so I guess if you’re likely to get upset by betrayal amongst close siblings and best-friends then just be aware of that.

All of this said, the amount of historical detail in this book is very impressive and definitely one of its strengths – especially the descriptions of life in Chinatown during the mid-20th century for Chinese people in L.A.; and especially how this played out both in the media with stereotypical portrayals of Chinese villains in Hollywood movies and how it played out in real life, with Chinese people being refused work or rent outside of Chinatown. One thing in particular that really caught my attention was when a wealthy American lady attempts to develop Chinatown by making it more tourist-friendly. She doesn’t this by contractually obliging those who worked in Chinatown to wear “traditional” Chinese clothing and speak broken English – in other words, as long as they conformed to what a Westerner would expect Chinese people to look and act like, they could continue living and working there. If anyone needed to know why Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Girls give me lots of uncomfortable mixed feelings, this would be why. Because contractually obliging people to act as stereotypes of their race isn’t cute – it’s a practice that is as old as time and very, very ugly.

So if you’re at all interesting in Chinese culture or history do pick up this book – the history seems very well-researched and very realistically conveyed.



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