Avatar: The Last Airbender is timeless. I’m not here to debate how good the show is, or how it’s continued to influence and inspire younger generations. I want to talk about its sequel, Legend of Korra. For all of its naysayers, I think the sequel did a really good job.
We’re first introduced to Korra as a spunky young girl who discovers she’s the Avatar at a very young age. Some complaints revolve around how easily she’s mastered the elements, but that’s not true. We see her bending at around 3 or 4, but she’s only mastered the three elements by the time she’s 17, and she struggles with airbending for most of the first season.
From the very first season, we see a villain that is morally ambiguous. The show depicts bad guys in a much more ‘real’ sense – as people with a twisted view of the world. The villains aren’t one-dimensional but are complex people who have beliefs that they’re willing to fight for. People who want to make the world ‘better’, but will do anything to reach it. We learn that the end doesn’t justify the means, and that’s so important to know.
The fact that a kid’s show picked up on nuanced, difficult-to-digest truths is amazing. Of course, Avatar also picked up on the horrors of war, on the value of human life, and on redeeming the bad guy, but Legend of Korra takes this even further.
Of course, one of the main reasons Korra is my personal hero is because of her bisexuality. In the show, Korra’s relationship with Mako eventually fizzles, and her friendship with Asami goes from a tentative, awkward friendship to a deep, meaningful relationship. In fact, the show ends with the two of them taking a trip to the Spirit World, content with each other’s company after Korra saves the world (yet again). The final scene is of the two of them holding hands and facing each other as they walk into the portal, and it’s a sweet, light-filled moment.
Michael Dante DiMartino (the co-creator) and Irene Koh continued Korra’s story in a series of comics, and in the comic Turf Wars, Korra and Asami finally have their canonical kiss. The comics allowed the creators to do what Nickelodeon was too hesitant to do on-screen – have one of the cutest animated couples share a tender kiss. Korra is a bisexual icon, not just for her strengths, but for her failings, too. Her friendships do falter over the seasons, but they’re stronger because of it. Her relationship with Asami is one of the best friends-to-lovers arcs that I’ve seen on screen, and it’s so cute to know that Korra is with someone who deeply cares for her, as a friend and as a girlfriend, too.
— XxPesoManxX (@MenaMarcos) July 11, 2018
A lot of people don’t like Korra because she isn’t Aang, but that’s kind of the point.
It’s not about Aang anymore. Korra’s very different from Aang, and her flaws make me like her even more. There’s a fitting comparison that I came across – Aang is a young boy who must learn to be the Avatar, whereas Korra is the Avatar who must learn to be a young woman. She has to juggle her power and influence with everyday challenges. The world has changed, and Korra must rise up to face these new challenges.
In comparison to Aang, Korra is rash and impulsive, often to her own detriment. Korra suffers for her impatience time and time again. She pushes herself to be better, no matter what, and she gets hurt because of it. Despite her strengths, Korra falters and breaks as she experiences feelings of fear and vulnerability because of her PTSD.
The show addresses Korra’s trauma with grace and tact. Her journey to recovery is painful, and she sometimes even relapses. She suffers from nightmares and hallucinations, and she falls to her lowest. We see her climb her way back to the top, step by agonizing step. Her lessons are painful, and she makes mistakes over and over. She’s a very ‘human’ Avatar, and I love that about her. She’s a fighter, and she learns – painfully – that brute strength doesn’t solve everything.
Korra’s decision to join the spiritual world with the real one is immense and comes with many challenges. The show deals with the growing pains that occur with change. The development of a modern world, the re-integration of the spirit world, all of these are big steps towards progress. We also see how these big steps have unpleasant side effects, and how Korra must shoulder these responsibilities.
For me, Korra was a hero. One that struggled with being a hero. One that was expected to juggle everything, and tried her best. A young woman who had to be a political leader and learn how fickle people can be. The best part was that she was a dark-skinned, bisexual hero who gave the world some well-deserved representation. She showed me that love doesn’t have to fall into specific roles. The relationship Korra has with Asami is, honestly, beautiful. The fact that the network was able to air this in 2010 is pretty impressive, and it’s lovely to see this kind of representation in a kid’s show. I’m especially glad that the relationship wasn’t seen as trivial, or made out as a joke, but taken seriously, and sincerely.
The show does what it sets out to do, and it does that well. Avatar Korra faces a whole new world – she grows up in isolation because she trains her entire life. She experiences the wonders of the modern world along with us, the viewers. It’s up to Korra to bring harmony to the land, while things are more confusing and conflicting than ever. The modern world brings in technology and convenience, but it also brings in new dangers and antagonists.
From the first season itself, we see deeper questions being asked – the dynamic between benders, and non-benders are brought to light. We see Korra struggle with her spirituality in a materialistic world. The show addresses ideologies in ways that are digestible. From theocracy (represented by Unaloq in season 2) to fascism (Kuvira in season 4) and anarchy (Zaheer in season 3), Korra learns that things aren’t black-and-white. Part of bringing harmony and peace is understanding the shades of gray.
Legend of Korra combines well-developed characters (including the antagonists) with a very exciting world (that of bending), resulting in gripping stories, villains that you can relate to, and characters that you can fall in love with. Avatar: The Last Airbender is definitely a tough act to follow, but I think Legend of Korra is definitely worth its salt.
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