Just when I was feeling a little glum over having transferred all my The Legend of Korra reviews from Livejournal to this blog (it makes it feel like the show has finally come to an end, and there's still a wait until the comic books arrive) I remembered there was one little story left to tell: Republic City Hustle!
This was originally released on-line as a three-part animated short that explored Mako and Bolin's lives a couple of years before meeting Korra. It's pretty slight; it probably clocks in at just under fifteen minutes, but it's a nice little glimpse into the background of the brothers and how they came to live at the Pro-bending Arena.
It presents a snapshot of their lives as Artful Dodger-esque street kids working for the Fagin-like figure of Shady Shin, hustling people on the streets for their income (a little old lady gets her purse snatched by Mako, "rescued" by Bolin, and dishes out a reward accordingly).
Being in the dubious employment of gangster Shady Shin, the boys are present when they watch pro-bending champion Toza get bribed to throw the match that evening. Bolin is disappointed that his idol would participate in such a ploy, though Mako is already cynical enough to see the advantage in getting paid to lose.
As they're collecting bets on behalf of their employers, they also meet and adopt Pabu (after rescuing him from ending up as snake food).
I suppose I better not give away the ending; suffice to say it's a bit corny but gets the boys where they are at the start of The Legend of Korra. The whole thing gives us backstory on the brothers the main show never had room for, and it's fun to see that even in their young teen-hood Mako was already tough and cynical while Bolin was more sensitive and optimistic.
Though I was never a fan, I got a little tired of all the Mako-hate that filled the fandom early on, so it's good to see him when he's at his best: protective of Bolin and seizing an opportunity to change their lives for the better. There's not much in the way of development for Bolin, but it's made clear where his affection for Pabu comes from.
As you can see from the pictures, the animation is much more stylised than the show itself, and in a way it's a little disappointing – no doubt this is cheaper, but how cute would it have been to see Mako and Bolin as tweens in their proper animation design?
The continuity in the Avatar world has always been tight, and with a little bit of digging I found out that not only are periphery characters featured in the main show, but even voiced by the same actors: Toza (the guy Korra first runs into at the gym), Zolt (the man who has his fire-bending taken by Amon), Shady Shin (the gangster who helps Mako in The Sting) and Shiro Shinobi – who I'm sure you remember as the pro-bending commentator.
It's a fun little addition to the Avatar world, and I expect it exists due to Mike and Bryan not wanting their backstories for Mako and Bolin to go to waste. Now the wait for the comic books truly begins...