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‘Legend of Korra’ Creators Talk Season 3, Moving Online and the Final Chapter

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Nickelodeon’s The Legend of Korra may have moved, but its creators contend the animated series isn’t going anywhere.

When the sequel to Avatar: The Last Airbender was suddenly pulled from the television schedule in favor of an online debut the week of Comic-Con International, fans worried that the future of the show was in peril. But co-creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael DiMartino insist that — despite some questionable scheduling changes this year — their show is exactly where they want it to be creatively, and it will find its audience.

RELATED: “Legend Of Korra” Debuts Opening Scene From Season 4 Premiere

Ahead of the Season 4 premiere Friday on Nick.com, Spinoff spoke with DiMartino and Konietzko about the fate of The Legend of Korra, from the final battle over the new Air Nation to the benefits of digital distribution and on through to their plans for this final chapter.

Spinoff Online: San Diego was an up-and-down weekend for you, but what happened from your point of view with the move to put Korra online?

Michael DiMartino: The first thing to know is that nothing has changed as far as the show we’re making or its production. We’ve finished Book 3, and we’re well on the way to finishing Book 4. So this doesn’t change anything about the way the show is going to be creatively. It’s still going to be the same episodes we’ve been planning for years and years.

Bryan Konietzko: Basically, since Avatar ended in 2008 to when we went on the air in 2012 with Korra, the landscape of media and TV has changed. Just in the last year, the number of “cord cutters,” or whatever you want to call those getting rid of cable, is growing. We’re seeing digital streaming companies doing content with famous actors and getting Emmy nominations. There is just a sea change in the industry, and we’re caught right in the middle of it because our show does very well online. Huge numbers. The biggest event on Nick.com for all of last year was the Book 2 finale. It was giant. It was bigger online than it was on TV. So the network has known for a long time that the show’s audience really lived online. They don’t come to the channel as much.

And this could have been done differently. It could have been done smoother. They had a plan to do this, and then something changed. They tried it out on the channel, and it didn’t get much promotion because it was only a short warning. So it just didn’t do well.

korra5DiMartino: It didn’t have the support it needed to do well. But it wouldn’t be “Book 3 — Change” without all this happening. [Laughter]

Konietzko: But the network does know that this show is huge internationally. It does really well for them there, and it does really well for them online — digital downloads, streaming, DVD and Blu-ray. It does well in all that stuff. So they know it has an audience. They just haven’t found a way to make it work on their channel. And the show does skew older. That’s become more of a factor than it was for Avatar. So could this have done smoother? Yes. Better timing? Sure. But this was kind of the way it was headed anyway. And we got the news the day before Comic-Con! [Laughter] I was trying to get some work done so I could [get to the show] when I got the call.

But for Mike and I, we’re not trying to make this show just to be on TV. We’re not trying to get a big ratings number. We’re trying to make this thing last. To us, this lives on DVD and in streaming and in reruns. It keeps finding people. Between Avatar and Korra the digital downloads, steaming and reruns on NickToons meant the audience got bigger. We really look at that. In two years if people are like, “I just found this show,” they’re not going to care that there was this bump in the road with the release.

Looking at Season 3 of the show, you really fanned out the story real estate more than ever before. Almost all of the prime players had their own stories running aside from what Korra was up to. What became the most important thread of the season to focus on?

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DiMartino: It was all about this new Air Nation. As soon as we found that Korra’s mission was to find these people and rebuild this nation, that really provided the core thrust for the first half of the season. And then it plays into the end of the season as well. This was something really important because it was carrying on Aang’s legacy — this was something he would have like to see happen — and it also ties into the Avatar’s job of rebalancing the world. Maybe these people wouldn’t have all come together naturally. They needed someone to bring them together.

Konietzko: And then we got to balance that with the bad guys, which was really fun. I remember trying to find the best way to balance those two stories. It was fun because it was nice to have the thrust of the season be something positive. It wasn’t a big war. That was something new for us. So it was fun, but then we balanced it out with four terrible criminals.

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And with those characters come the return of Zuko and some of other threads that reach back to Avatar. When you planned out the whole series, were these some of the long-term dominoes you had in mind?

DiMartino: I think with stuff like Zuko, that was always one of the cards we were holding. It was like, “We’d love for this guy to come back, but where do we want to do that?” We didn’t want it to be one of those things where just threw it in in Book 1. We already had a million ideas there …

Konietzko: And so many characters.

DiMartino: Yeah. So with all of that, we have to look at each season in terms of how we pare it down to the core characters. And with the Red Lotus guys, it made sense that we could tie together when they tried to take Korra in her past and Zuko being there. It just fit as a story about trying to make up for something in the past.

Konietzko: It’s funny because fans see him back, and they love that guy so they expect to see him in every episode from here on out. But it’s like, if that was the case every episode would just be three seconds of every character. [Laughs] You’ve got to push some pieces to the side and think of it like gardening. You’ve got to wait for things to ripen before you can pluck them.

RELATED: “Legend of Korra” Book 4 Trailer Arrives

One of the main features of Korra personality is that she’s super-headstrong, and her overconfidence gets in her way a lot of the time, though that’s softened a bit over Season 3. With all the planning you do, is it those character ideas that develop on their own?

Konietzko: Not to say that we have every little nuance and turn and up-and-down plotted out from the beginning, but if anything, we know what the character arc will be from the beginning. That’s more than, “Let’s bring this guy back.” Mike and I talk about scenarios and things like that — like “this is kind of a jazz age city” — but not until we have the character does the world open up. When we thought of Korra, she was pugnacious and a go-getter. She really embraces her role. So if she was already there when we started the show, where could we take her? It was humility and self-awareness and maturity through taking her on a spiritual arc. So it’s kind of the opposite arc that Aang had.

korra1DiMartino: That’s what I loved about the first couple of seasons. She’s on more of a selfless mission. She’s not actively trying to defeat something right away. She’s trying to rebuild this thing and create something beautiful and new. It’s cool to see her almost as a maternal figure in bringing back the Air Nation.

I know that in Season 2, Varick was the character that everyone kind of immediately latched onto. Did you guys have a standout addition to the cast in Season 3?

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DiMartino: There are so many good ones. I love Opal. There’s something about her and Bo Lin’s relationship that’s really sweet. I wanted to write a character that was just a … nice girl. But without it being boring! That was the tricky part.

Konietzko: You don’t want to make her stereotypical. But she seems genuine.

DiMartino: Yeah, she’s this girl who’s grown up under her mother’s shadow and finds she has this ability. She has the struggle of leaving her family to pursue this new course she’s on. The design on her is great too.

Konietzko: And Su Yin, her mother, who is the matriarch of the Metal Clan is fun. And then Zahir … really all the baddies are fun.

DiMartino: I love the whole Beifong sisters story and the introduction of the city.

So with the clash between the new Air Nation and the Red Lotus driving the finale, what can you say about where the story will go with the fourth and final season?

Konietzko: We don’t want to give anything away because people can see it soon enough, but let’s say that everything comes together in a big way.

Comments

  • claublog

    I expected news from this interview but I got a bit disappointed. Because even if they only talk about Book 3, there are still questions that we would like to know, such as why Korra didn’t use the Avatar state in the beginning of the season to take down the Red Lotus.

    Is nickelodeon doing well with the online benefits? Are they going to release a soundtrack for Book 2 and 3? And there are plenty of more questions that we would like to know the answer.

  • Melynda

    Why would she? She was focused on restoring the Air Nation and she didn’t even meet the Red Lotus until they tried to kidnap her in Zao Fu and they drugged her then and immediately disappeared after. Then they only met up in the spirit world where bending is no good anyway. I’m pretty sure the only reason she even went into the Avatar state at all this season was because it was keeping her alive in the finale. There wouldn’t be much of a story if she went into the Avatar state every time she had a problem.

  • Caesar

    That was bittersweet. I love getting in a show without knowing the story. But it is killing me to know what is Book 4’s main plot.
    We sort of get an idea with the trailer but it is still kind of blurry.
    Oh well, I guess I need to be patient for 2 more days.

  • Alberto Allegri Rodriguez

    Well, you say it like it was a little thing, but this people were trying to kill her. What about that part when she gives herself up in order to make Zaheer free the airbenders? When she discovered she was being tricked, she didn’0t try entering the avatar state, and it would have made very much sense

  • Alberto Allegri Rodriguez

    Well, you say it like it was a little thing, but this people were trying to kill her. What about that part when she gives herself up in order to make Zaheer free the airbenders? When she discovered she was being tricked, she didn’0t try entering the avatar state, and it would have made very much sense

  • PicklesTheDrummer

    I feel this can be pretty easily explained. To answer your questions – Zaheer and could not be trusted and they proved they were willing to kill anyone who got in the way of their goal. Korra had to very seriously consider the ramifications of fighting Zaheer (avatar state or not) when the stakes were so high. What happens if she enters the avatar state and fails? What happens if she enters the avatar state and succeeds, but someone else follows through with Zaheer’s plans?

    In addition to that, if I am recalling the scene correctly, she was also bound by platinum handcuffs. At this point in the show she could metal bend, but she certainly couldn’t bend platinum. The only reason she was able to break out of the cuffs later on was because they were attached to the cave wall rather than to each other – her strength was also boosted by being in the avatar state. The animators subtly alluded to this fact with how the frames were focused on that scene.

    I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to believe that the avatar state wouldn’t have been as helpful as we believed it would have been in the circumstances you mentioned or in the events leading up to the final confrontation.

    If you want to fixate on a plot hole, explain why Mako never uses his lightning ability until literally the season finale. He has AMPLE opportunities to use it against Ming-Hua leading up to that point.

  • PicklesTheDrummer

    I feel this can be pretty easily explained. To answer your questions – Zaheer and could not be trusted and they proved they were willing to kill anyone who got in the way of their goal. Korra had to very seriously consider the ramifications of fighting Zaheer (avatar state or not) when the stakes were so high. What happens if she enters the avatar state and fails? What happens if she enters the avatar state and succeeds, but someone else follows through with Zaheer’s plans?

    In addition to that, if I am recalling the scene correctly, she was also bound by platinum handcuffs. At this point in the show she could metal bend, but she certainly couldn’t bend platinum. The only reason she was able to break out of the cuffs later on was because they were attached to the cave wall rather than to each other – her strength was also boosted by being in the avatar state. The animators subtly alluded to this fact with how the frames were focused on that scene.

    I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to believe that the avatar state wouldn’t have been as helpful as we believed it would have been in the circumstances you mentioned or in the events leading up to the final confrontation.

    If you want to fixate on a plot hole, explain why Mako never uses his lightning ability until literally the season finale. He has AMPLE opportunities to use it against Ming-Hua leading up to that point.

  • claublog

    As Alberto said, when Korra and Tonraq fight against Zaheer in episode 12, Korra should have gone into Avatar State. When Korra is chained at the beginning of the episode 13, she could have gone into Avatar State before they poison her…

  • Albert Joseph Heister Jr

    She certainly could have used it when she was escaping the desert w/ Asami & co.

  • Albert Joseph Heister Jr

    It seems the plot for this season is just like the plot of ATLA: the world is on the verge of entering another World War, this time w/ the Earth Kingdom. (To be clearer it’s with the army of Zaofu, led by Kuvira; but I’m certain she’s rallied Earth Kingdom citizens to join her “cause.”

  • Albert Joseph Heister Jr

    It’s such a crazy coincidence both “Korra” & “Naruto” are coming to an end this year. (They even start off the final the final addition to each of their stories – another Book/another movie – with a 3 YEAR TIMESKIP.

  • justin

    the avatar state is not a tool to be used for your own benefit it is the knowledge and exsperience of all past avatars gathered into 1 single life, but this is not the real reason for it the avatar state exists so that the avatar can choose to communicate with raava while communicateing with raava they are both on the surface meaning raava can die if raava dies vaatu is free if which means if korra were to idk… have a random anurisim while in avatar state vaatu is free and the world is in chaos that is why the avatar state is not meant to be played with everytime their is a minor problem like “its to hot i wanna get out of the desert faster” -.-

  • Theo Heisenberg Constantine

    no avatar just jumps into the avatar state all willy nilly they usually try to handle it without doing it because it could mean the end of the avatar cycle. true she is at her most powerful but she didnt know who she was fighting against any 4 of them could have gotten lucky and killed her then and there. the soundtracks of books 2 and 3 probably wont happen because nick was pretty disappointed with how the soundtrack to book 1 sold so they are probably just not gonna do it.

  • Albert Joseph Heister Jr

    I wouldn’t call it “playing around” when there’s a group of anarchists set on bringing chaos to the world & happen to be exceptionally dangerous/gifted benders/

  • Michael Zimmermann

    Because the avatar cycle has ended?

  • Rat

    I absolutely love The legend of korra

  • Earl Calapatia

    besides the reasons provided by justin
    the avatar state is instinctual, try to remember the episode when the earth general tried to force aang into the avatar state

    secondly, watch the last again and try asking yourself throughout the episode, from start to end, “Why aren’t you entering the Avatar state?”

    … you may be laughing at yourself afterwards

  • Albert Joseph Heister Jr

    It was labeled an “instinctual response” for only one reason: Aang was NOT a fully-realized Avatar till the end of the series. (Korra’s been one since the end of Book 1; & was rebooted as the first Avatar in a new cycle at the end of Book 2.)

  • ButtsMcGee

    She could have but she didn’t because she already knew that is what Zaheer wanted. If you recall, they had to get her into the Avatar state in order to kill her which is why they forced her into it using the metal-based poison.

    Why would she voluntarily go into it when she knew that is what they wanted?

  • Jake Harris

    I have seen the preview, but I noticed something in the picture above with what I am assuming is an Earth Kingdom army: Those mech units from season 1. There’s no doubt in my mind that Sato is assisting this army. He did escape in season 1, and we haven’t even heard mention of him since then.

  • Albert Joseph Heister Jr

    Right from the start of Book 2, we learn Hiroshi Sato was thrown in jail.

  • Jake Harris

    Ah. My mistake. Thank you for correcting me.

  • J C N’ tana

    I think Mako didn’t use his lightning because he knew It would kill her and he didn’t want to kill anyone, and the main objective at first was to stop or re-capture de red lotus, when the red lotus then kill the queen is when they realize that ‘this is it’, a kill or be killed game. So you can see that in the final battle no further considerations were taken, what really bugs me in terms of plot holes is… why the heck didn’t they kill zaheer?… wich happes to be the f*** reason it all happened!

  • J C N’ tana

    yep….. that and that she no longer has the knowledge or abilities of any past life…. BUT… she has XXXL Raava spirit within her!… powerfullest avatar ever…
    ……..and she did nothing with it :C

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    This seems Legit…. n.n

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  • kurukami

    You mean aside from:

    a) the Air Nomads have always had a code against killing (see Avatar: The Last Airbender)

    b) Zaheer remains a valuable source of potential intel on the Red Lotus at large, imprisoned, which he doesn’t if he’s moldering in an unmarked grave?

  • claublog

    Obviously because they can’t kill Korra in the Avatar State if she isn’t poisoned yes. Are you kidding me?

  • claublog

    They literally said that Book 1 soundtrack sold pretty well…

  • Theo Heisenberg Constantine

    oh i heard they werent happy. well whatever we will see what happens.