If there is one thing I will not tolerate, it is The Legend of Korra slander.
The Legend of Korra, the follow-up to the beloved Avatar the Last Airbender series, centers on Avatar Korra and her journey of self-discovery not only as the Avatar, but as a person. At the beginning of the show, Korra, desperate to leave her home in the South Pole, runs away to the industrialized metropolis Republic City. As she quickly finds out, being the Avatar isn’t as easy as she thought it would be.
The premise of both Avatar and Korra is that some people are born with the ability to telekinetically manipulate one of the four elements: air, earth, fire and water. The Avatar is the only living person who can manipulate all four, and therefore has the responsibility of keeping the peace.
When I watched this show for the first time at age 11, I honestly didn’t like it. It didn’t have the same lighthearted feel Avatar (mostly) did. Korra was mean. Quite frankly, she was annoying compared to Aang.
But if there is one thing that is glaringly obvious from the first episode: Korra is not Aang. And that is okay. We don’t need another Aang.
Rewatching the show on Netflix eight years later gave me a new perspective. Korra is a determined and unstoppable bad bitch. She has to be that way in order to deal with all the complicated problems of Republic City, the industrialized metropolis where she lives. Throughout the four seasons, she encounters unrelenting villains from the spirit realm, anti-benders, anarchists and faces a shocking amount of betrayal. But the problems she faces are indicative of her time and place. It makes sense that non-benders would start to question the power benders hold, just as it makes sense that because Aang was missing for so long, the spirit world would eventually need to be rebalanced.
Her friends are also complex. There’s Mako, a moody and mysterious fire bender, and his brother Bolin, a sweet and loyal earth bender. Lastly, we have Asami, who is kind and smart and has probably one of the most emotional arcs of the show. Even the villains are incredibly complex, and each season presents different physical and mental hurdles for Korra. Don’t get me wrong, Fire Lord Ozai was absolutely awful, but the villains in Korra are much more darker and nuanced. This translates to a deeper and more complicated journey for Korra, contrasting Aang’s playful, childlike, image.
Overall, I think Korra does a good job on expanding the universe Avatar set up. It answers lingering questions about the spirit world and about how the Avatar came to be. We even meet the children of Aang, Toph and Katara, all of whom prove to be hilarious, powerful and insightful in their own right.
Much like Avatar, Korra doesn’t shy away from mature themes. The show makes a ton of political analogies to the real world and Korra struggles with PTSD later in the series. It even feels more progressive than some of the “adult” shows I watch today. Korra herself is a strong female lead of color; a stark contrast to the typical cis white male characters who dominate TV. By the end of the show, Korra and Asami are seen as obviously more than friends, becoming one of the first children's shows I can remember to ever feature an LGBTQ+ relationship in a positive light.
If you’re going to criticize the show for the writing or the animation, that’s fair. The creators went through tremendous production hurdles to keep Korra on the air, so it clearly wasn’t afforded the same attention Avatar was. But don’t take it out on Korra herself. The emotional journey she goes through throughout the four seasons shows more growth than any other character in the Avatar-verse. Sure, she starts out immature and childish, but she grows into an amazing and confident Avatar. Being the Avatar is no small feat, and Korra’s reactions are real and relatable. She’s a hero, but she still has her own intricate thoughts and feelings. Her not-so-humble beginnings only make her growth that much more evident.
I think a lot of people want to compare Korra to Aang because the original Avatar series holds so much nostalgia. But Korra’s story is so different from Aang’s. To quote Entertainment Weekly, “If Avatar was about children saving the world, Korra is about becoming an adult and being a part of that world.”
The Legend of Korra is definitely no Avatar, but that doesn’t mean it’s less lovable in it’s own right. Korra is the perfect example of the kind of female characters we need on television: strong-willed and independent, but not a foil to others. Oftentimes, it feels like a lot of “strong” female characters exist only as emotional challenges waiting for the right romantic partner to “soften” them. But Korra isn’t like that; her personality shines right through to the end. I feel bad I didn’t appreciate the show as a kid, but I think my own growth allows me to value it so much more now. It was ahead of its time, and I wouldn’t want Korra any other way.
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