BY: Ginger Mayo
(LOK Spoiler Alerts!)
The Legend of Korra is a fictional animated series on Nickelodeon, and is the sequel to the original Avatar show, The Legend of Aang. Without getting entrenched in the fine details of the series, both shows are based on a fictional universe in which members can bend the elements – that is, literally manipulate earth, air, water, and fire through their natural born bending skills. There are four nations – one for each element – and to keep balance between the nations, there is an Avatar – a reincarnated light spirit who has the ability to bend all four elements and bring peace to the world. It is a mature show, dealing with complex issues like ethnic cleansing, genocide, religious terrorism and physical/mental disabilities, thinly veiled as a children’s show, with striking special effects and breathtaking animation. While this may sounds like hokey-anime-nonsense – it simply isn’t. The show is really, really good. So good, that it was nominated for 4 Peoples Choice Awards. While the first series (Aang) was a masterpiece in itself, I’m really here to pitch Korra – because of the development of her character as the Avatar.
The show was structured uniquely – unlike most children’s shows, each character was meticulously designed to encompass a wealth and breadth of flaws. And as the series progressed, we witness the development of each character – for the better and the worse (in some cases). It is also unique in that the characters are ALL people of color, and there is an equal (or larger) quantity of female characters. Tomboys, girly-girls, women of color, women with disabilities, single women, married women, young women, old women, wealthy women, poor women, mothers, grandmothers, world leaders revolutionaries, dictators – all portrayed by women. They’re diverse and well represented.They play multiple roles – such as Bei Fong, the police chief – who is the daughter of a spiritual master, the sister to a world leader, the head of the city police, and also a friend to the Avatar. Or Asami Sato, Korra’s best friend, who is a non-bender billionaire CEO of an engineering company (talk about women in STEM!). Or, the fact that that Korra is bisexual, and falls in love with a woman at the series finale. Such complex depictions are more reflective of the reality of female characters – that they are indeed, multi-faceted, flawed and human. This wide representation was a key point of intrigue for me, and helped set the tone for my adoration of the series.
Korra deals with many mature themes and serious topics, including disbanding nuclear weapons, spreading class equality, ethnic cleansing dictators, and post traumatic stress disorder. Korra herself does not fit the normative role of a female hero. She is muscular and relentlessly physically powerful and confronts issues of her spiritual growth. The most endearing part of her character, however, is her own struggle with internal peace – balancing the aggressive and confrontational burden of having mastery of all elements, and thus being the most powerful figure in the world, and her own development as a person.
Korra develops exponentially. In the first season, she is a conflated ego-maniac living in the protected sphere of Avatar Worship. Everyone around her protects and shields her from the reality of her destiny – which is to perpetually battle the evils of the world. She is fixated solely on fighting and winning, and sports a losing confrontational attitude. However, she rapidly develops at the end of the first season, once she faces a real threat to herself and the ones she loves. While that core part of her personality remains, she continues to grow and prove an authentic and humbling sense of reflection on herself and her responsibilities. By the end of the series, she uses violence as the utmost last resort – when her approach in the first season was to use intimidation and aggression to manipulate her way in any situation. She also grows as a person. As the Avatar, she is connected to her past souls and though it is her weakest attribute, she develops her spiritual connection and creates a new era of harmonic convergence between the spirit and human world. An obvious way in which her development is depicted is throughout he conclusive shots of each season – for 1-3, Korra’s face is sorrowful and teary eyed as the season concludes – but for 4, the final season, she is in a state of bliss and peace.
Perhaps the most remarkable part of the series the creators of Korra chose to endeavor through was the fundamental mental and physical handicap that Korra faced at the end of season three. After being poisoned by a group of anarchists attempting to eradicate the avatar, She is in a state of total mental and physical handicap. She is literally in a wheelchair – a sight rarely seen on a children show for a female protagonist. Her debilitation is painful and tangible – and it doesn’t just disappear. 8/14 episodes in the final season show her recovery from a wheel chair – her attempt at walking, her painful PTSD and her inability to confront the trauma she faced when almost losing her life. No, it wasn’t some unrealistic and immediate recovery that satisfied the viewers need to see her in action – she faced legitimate obstacles to recover from her near defeat.
This realistic portrayal of her failure and her subsequent recovery is again demonstrative of the complex character that Korra molds. Showing Korra’s slow recovery and the fear of herself is elongated, and not always pretty to watch – but it is real. Korra is isolated much of the time, and has difficulty accessing her own emotions and confronting her failures. Her handicap wounds her in many ways, and she has to confront them in order to balance herself and the world. This huge responsibility and the way in which she ventures alone to find herself was so satisfying to watch – as it teaches the young viewers, and specifically young girls, that weakness is vital in order to become strong. One of the most touching moments of the series, was when Korra became lost in the spirit world – to which she turns in to an infant version of herself. Lost and afraid, Korra had to return to the primitive state of childhood to guide her soul back to the physical world – a moral that is deeply important in portraying the challenging nature of growing up.
I can’t even begin to describe the sheer beauty of the show, either – the effects are visually dazzling and simply are art. The comedy and camaraderie of the characters make for a riveting show. It’s almost a pity that it is a Children’s series – because most of the themes could be lost under the overwhelming visual effects. However, I really do think it’s an excellent series which introduces the importance of strong female characters and how you can be weak in order to regain your strength. I highly recommend this series to any young girls, and young children in general – it truly is a beautiful way to communicate that women can be anything they want to be, regardless or physical, class, mental or racial prejudices that say otherwise. As Korra wisely states at the end:
“When we hit our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change.”