The Metal Empire & the Wood Clans:
A Brave New World for the Avatar Franchise
A new idea for a potential Sequel/Prequel series
Many of us are familiar with and fond of The Legend of Korra TV series that was produced as a sequel to the much praised series Avatar: the Last Airbender. There were some who praised it, many who responded with a resounding “meh”, and others who condemned it. Now, while I personally found the series to have a well crafted story, believable characters and profound and interesting themes as I watched more of the show, I felt shocked when I first encountered the series. While many who watched the series felt that a renewed sense of vigor had come to the Avatar franchise, I couldn’t help feeling nauseous at the screeching U-turn the show had taken in regards to setting and content. When I overcame the initial shock, I started watching the rest of the series and enjoyed it for its well written storyline and convincing character portrayals, yet I still lean towards disliking the series. This is my rationale.
1. While I was getting comfortable with a story that was taking place in a cleverly crafted, culturally vibrant and historically rich setting, tLoK (By the way, I apologize in advance if I am using the incorrect acronyms/abbreviations; I’m a bit new at this) pulled the rug right out from under me and slapped a disturbingly modern backdrop square in my lap. It was like going from reading The Analects of Confucius or Sun Tzu’s Art of War to The Great Gatsby in one sitting. While the new setting was very well depicted, I still disliked being uprooted from the content of tLAB (the Last Airbender series).
2. I was pried away from the characters of the first series, that I had grown attached to for being believable, profound, dynamic and relatable and introduced to completely new characters in a coldly distant generation, some of which were genuinely irritating (guess whom).
3. I was deported from a world that had pretty evenly balanced Feudal aged Asian culture with Industrial aged technology to a world overridden almost completely with steam-punk technology and “Asian-themed” American culture. I realize that the Avatar world could have plausibly reached this stage, judging from the level of technology possessed by the Fire-nation in the original series.
I don’t wish to incur the ire of any fans of the series, but I do wish to express my disappointment in the show and, if any are interested, express my ideas as to what route I think the sequel series should have taken or would have benefitted from exploring. This is mainly for “what if/scenario” purposes, but if any of the storywriters/exec’s for the Avatar franchise are putting their ears to the ground, then there might be a few tid-bits in here that could arouse some interest. I encourage anyone to criticize or reflect on my ideas, and I don’t want to sound uppity, didactic or long-winded (this might get a little long). I hope that this elicits some interest or, if not, then at least some debate.
First, let’s get some house-keeping done. I would have set the sequel series in a closer time period to the original series in order to ease the transition from one world and one set of characters to the next. I would have either used the same characters at more-or-less the same age or older, or perhaps new characters within one successive generation (anywhere from one to ten to twenty years afterwards, instead of freaking seventy). I would also have kept the level of technology close to the late 19th century at the latest; again, to ease the transition.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get to the content. I would probably set the story somewhere after the events of the comics, and have it where the Four-Nations and the nascent Republic are undergoing a renaissance of culture, art, science, and…exploration. This exploration yields the discovery of a whole new continent on the other side of the world (as I read in the wiki, only one half of the world is comprised by the Four-Nations). This new continent, a potential playground for scenery backdrops and new hybrid animals, would host 2 new civilizations based on European cultures! Each new civilization would be based upon the two other classical elements in Chinese philosophy that were neglected by the first series; Metal and Wood.
First among these new factions is the “Metal Empire”. It would be modeled after the Ancient Roman and Imperial British civilizations and would draw cultural elements from these societies and other European nations. The government would be imperial and centered on an Emperor or Parliamentary system. Those who are able to “Metal Bend” in this nation, do so not by manipulating the impurities in metal, as Toph had, but by being able to control all electromagnetic forces. Those possessing this ability would be referred to as “Mages” or “Magi” and they would be able to do more than just manipulate metal objects. For instance, they would be able to render themselves invisible (bending light around them, since light is an electromagnetic wave) and shoot lightning. Contriving the actual style of the bending itself might be tricky since most European martial arts are more pragmatic and less artistic which would make for some pretty dull bending. Perhaps metal bending, being a more cerebral art (I’ll explain later), could be controlled with chorus or chanting instead of with body movements. In fact it probably would be the style of bending least associated with movement, but instead with song and music.
The philosophy of metal bending would be centered on displacing passion and emotion with logic and clarity. Through the absolute control over one’s emotions, one can direct his/her focus towards achieving inner peace, enlightenment and, above all, the pursuit of knowledge. Being the nominal “Bad guys”, the Metal Empire would have, much like the Fire Nation, contorted this philosophy to suit their expansionist ideals by seeing it as bringing enlightenment and civilization to the world. Some citizens and leaders of the Metal Empire would be characterized by pompousness and arrogance from thinking that their nation is the best and brightest in the world. They would be intensely nationalistic, proud, and as a result, aristocratic in demeanor (with the corruption and decadence exhibited by the Roman aristocrats before the fall of the Empire) and xenophobic. The good guys in the Empire would be more stoic, level-headed, rational and logical, but also more detached and apathetic. Having this civilization enter the mix would not only be a good opportunity to explore an interesting new style of bending, but also a chance to explore more themes relating to the pursuit of science and knowledge (perhaps some Frankenstein style mad science), the moral grey area of expansionist states and empires as well as the nature of human emotion and how much it should be balanced by logic and rational thought (getting into Spock and Data territory).
The next faction on the list would be the “Wood Clans”, a collection of diverse family groups and tribes based on Ancient Celtic/Germanic tribes as well as Medieval Scottish/Irish/Welsh kingdoms. The “Wood Clans” wouldn’t have a central government, but instead would be divided into feudalistic/meritocratic/aristocratic/shamanistic/theocratic governments (depending on the tribe) along familial lines. Their relationship with the Metal Empire would be characterized as one between an invading conqueror and disgruntled client state. The series will be set long after the Metal Empire had invaded the Wood Clans and taken advantage of their disunity to conquer and assimilate them (semi-Borg style) into the Empire. Being proud, independent and stubborn, the Wood clans would chafe under the strict regime of the Metal Empire and periodically rebel or cause trouble that would strain the relationship between these two nations.
Enter, the “Arbiter” (name is subject to negotiation; I wouldn’t want the Halo people going after Nick), an Avatar like figure that must keep the balance between these two nations and prevent the situation to escalating into all out war or genocide. It would also be the Arbiter’s duty to keep the Metal Empire and Wood Clans separate from the four nations of the original series. It would be his duty to interfere with any attempts from either side to explore and discover the other, and would use his ability to control both Metal and Wood bending to do this (I’ll get more into wood bending in a minute). The arbiter cynically believes that people from two completely different cultures would inevitably grow to despise each other, and attempt to annihilate or dominate each other; A philosophy that would create an interesting conflict of interests with the Avatar, who would believe that both cultures should try to get along and freely share each other’s culture and wisdom. This series would begin with one of the original four nations accidentally discovering the new world without the arbiter knowing it. The ensuing culture clash, with the arbiter as well as our previous main protagonists (from the Last Airbender) attempting (and probably failing) to maintain order during this transition.
Now, let’s get to wood-bending itself. The title “Wood Bending” would only be nominal, because wood benders, known as “Druids”, would actually be able to control more than just plants, but would also be able to communicate with animals, plants and the spirits and transform themselves into flora and fauna as well. Wood bending would center on the ability to influence living things and would be guided by a philosophy of embracing and protecting the delicate balance of nature and getting in touch with one’s wild side (the more evil wood benders would become too wild, and go “feral”). The actual form of wood-bending would, again, probably be centered on tribal chants as well as dances. The Wood clans would be able to introduce some interesting themes in relation to living in harmony with nature, to what extent we should be guided by our emotions and instincts and (in relation to the wood clans’ relationship with the metal empire) being able to compromise change and progress with cultural heritage and pride.
In a way, I think that these ideas so a lot of what tLoK tried to do in trying to introduce western influences into the Avatar universe while attempting to stay closer to the content of the original series in order to provide an easier transition into the content of tLoK. This might make a potential prequel series or miniseries, or at least that is if anyone would find it interesting or if the story writers for Avatar would be able to fit it into their established storyline. I'm thinking of publishing some Fan-fiction based on this idea. When I release it, it will be called Avatar: Legend of the Arbiter, so keep a look out for it. I would appreciate any feedback on this idea, even if it is harsh criticism. I am a big fan of the Avatar franchise and I just wanted to donate my two cents to it. Sorry if this was really long, but I hope my ideas sparked some interest.