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The Legend of Korra

1 Comment 🕔20.Dec 2014

Influenced by the Avatar: The Last Airbender, This follow-up series  is set seventy years after the events of Avatar. Korra, becomes the Avatar after Aang, is from the Southern Water Tribe. With earth, water and fire under her belt, Korra must master the art of airbending. Korra’s quest leads her to Republic City, a virtual melting pot where benders and nonbenders live together. But she soon discovers that the land is plagued by crime and a growing antibending revolution that threatens to tear the city apart. While dealing with the dangers, Korra begins her airbending training under the tutelage of Aang’s son, Tenzin.

Last night Nickelodeon aired the finale of the animated spin-off series The Legend of Korra, bringing a nine-year journey that started with Avatar: The Last Airbender to a close.  Nickelodeon in an unprecedented move,  pulled The Legend of Korra off of TV earlier this year and screened almost the entire last 2 seasons online only. That’s right, something called The Legend of Korra, an adventure show about teenagers with the supernatural ability to manipulate the elements, pushed the envelope so far it got yanked from TV. And last night, during the finale, creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino shoved that envelope even further. And they shoved it hard. Kids TV may never be the same again.

The Influence of Avatar: Before they took major risks with their teenage characters on The Legend of Korra, Konietzko and DiMartino created a modern animated classic in Avatar: The Last Airbender. The show, which aired from 2005-2008 on Nickelodeon, was a bona fide hit pulling in huge ratings for the network. The spiritual aspect of the show (mixed in with the adventure of its young characters and borrowing directly from Eastern influences) made it tremendously influential with its young (and old) audience. Not only that, but the success of the first series bought creators Konietzko and DiMartino a lot of leeway when it came to their spin-off, which premiered in 2010. It turns out they would need every ounce of it.

Censorship: It’s always tempting to watch something you’re not supposed to, but this week in particular, with its Sony hacks and cinematic censorship, the notion of watching something forbidden feels like an especially political move.The Legend of Korra was never quite forbidden, never completely canceled, perhaps due to that lingering Avatar goodwill. However, during the show’s first season, it aired in a coveted Saturday-morning slot. After killing off a character on-screen in the Season 1 finale, Korra was considered too risqué and adult for the Saturday-morning crowd and was moved to Friday nights. But Korracontinued to air dark material. That, coupled with less-than-stellar ratings, an ill-timed leak of episodes, and any number of mysterious behind-the-scenes factors, resulted in the surprising move to online-only Korra. In its final seasons, Korra became too dangerous, too risky for Nick to air. But that outsider status made it downright irresistible to certain viewers. Especially teens.

Racial Representation: The show doesn’t take place in our world, but, as I mentioned before, it has an undeniable Eastern influence. That’s why the mostly white casting in the Shyamalan movie was so controversial. Listen, whatever Korra is, she’s not lily white. And, despite the fact that children’s television is becoming increasingly diverse, a brave, strong heroine who is not Caucasian is still an important factor.

Body Image and Badass Women: It may surprise you to know that, despite the cachet Konietzko and DiMartino had coming off of Avatar (which featured several strong women like Katara and Toph), Korra, with its tough, brash female lead, wasn’t an easy sell. Remember, this may have been a post–Buffy the Vampire Slayer world, but it still pre-dates Katniss fever. Konietzko told NPR:

Some Nickelodeon executives were worried about backing an animated action show with a female lead character. Conventional TV wisdom has it that girls will watch shows about boys, but boys won’t watch shows about girls. During test screenings, though, boys said they didn’t care that Korra was a girl. They just said she was awesome. . . She’s muscular and we like that.

But Korra isn’t the only strong, nuanced female in this world. The show is packed with them and, significantly, many of them are mothers or even grandmothers. Heck, some of them are little children. This is a show that celebrates women of all ages.

Women are allowed to be good, women are allowed to be evil, and the final confrontation of the series last night came down to women who were not unlike each other. Two sides of the same coin. In the end, Korra was about struggling with, accepting, and embracing the sides of yourself that make you uncomfortable. (More on that later.) Pretty heavy for a kids show, yeah?

Without Agenda: For all I know, Konietzko and DiMartino are working with some kind of agenda. But if that’s the case, it doesn’t come through in their storytelling, this isn’t some “girls rule, boys drool” story. The men get their time to shine just as much as the women. In fact, Mako, the stereotypical heroic-type lead (he looks like a slender Clark Kent), did get his Big Damn Hero Moment in the finale.

And Bolin, my personal favorite, was ever the beating heart of the series.

Politics and Religion: These aren’t subjects you bring up at a dinner party, let alone in a kids show. But Korra never shied away from modern parallels, and, in fact, leaned into allegories about W.M.D.s (hello Spirit Weapon!), fascism (hello Kuvira!), P.T.S.D., Hitler, George W. Bush, etc. etc. And that’s just the politics. The spirituality, a key element of the show, is even more distinctive. As I said before, this isn’t a show with an agenda. Korra isn’t pushing any specific religion or creed. But it does advocate vague Eastern tenets of balance and mindfulness. Once again, pretty unusual for a kids show.

The Final Envelope: The finale of Korra went further than the show has ever gone before. What follows are some significant spoilers for the very end of the series so leave if you want, but, trust me, you’ll want to stick around for this.

“It’s true what they say” a Korra fan tweeted to me this morning, ”the hero does always get the girl.” The Legend of Korra wrapped up with a big, fat, great wedding between two fan favorites: Varrick and Zhu Li. To use the parlance of the show: they did The Thing.

But the real Thing came in the final moments of the series when our hero, Korra, walked off into the sunset (well, technically, a spirit portal) not with the ever-heroic Mako or the recently-heroic Prince Wu, but with Asami, her close friend. But if you think this final shot was denoting mere friendship, you’re kidding yourself.

The significance of this closing image (a mirror of the kiss between Aang and Katara that closed out Avatar: The Last Airbender) is made all the more important because of how Korra and Asami met. In Season 1 Korra, a bona fide superhero, met Asami, a rich and powerful businesswoman/inventor (think Bruce Wayne), when the two were fighting over a boy. (That would be the Clark Kent-ish Mako.) Bascially, the women were a walking, talking, bending failure of the Bechdel Test.

But over the seasons, a true friendship blossomed between the two characters. And though Konietzko and DiMartino will almost certainly be accused of fan service for pairing Korra off with Asami (their passionate devotees call themKorrasami), you can’t say you didn’t see this coming. The bond between the two women, which overwhelmed their previous attachment to Mako, has been seeded for seasons now.

Konietzko and DiMartino took a tired dynamic between two women and turned it into something fresh and exciting. But just how important can this final shot be? The didn’t even kiss for chrissakes! Well, pretty important. First of all, as I mentioned earlier, a generation of kids have grown up with the world of Konietzko and DiMartino. Someone who is 18 now was 9 when Avatar: The Last Airbender premiered. This series is enormously influential. And, sure, there are shows that are more explicit and progressive when depicting same-sex couples. But those are adult shows.

When it comes to children’s entertainment, that envelope still needs pushing. After-the-fact concessions like Dumbledore was gay, or Ren and Stimpy were gay, have limited value. Adventure Time certainly makes an effort, and two female lovers from the Japanese show Sailor Moon, who were changed to “cousins” in the Americanized version, are finally coming out of the closet. But American kids’ shows have a long way to go before L.G.B.T. story lines are considered a matter of course. And none of those examples above quite match Korra and Asami’s climactic spirit portal moment.

So that’s how The Legend of Korra, a Nickelodeon cartoon, changed the face of TV last night. Call it groundbreaking, call it earth-bending, call it whatever you like. It was great television.


Legend Of Korra Petition For More Stories Launched Online

The series finale of The Legend of Korra was released earlier today, and a petition for more stories set in the world of Korra and its predecessor, Avatar: The Last Airbender, has surpassed 5,000 signees on Change.org.

After a yearlong game of tug of war over the airing schedule and delivery system, today marks the series finale premiere of Nickelodeon’s The Legend of Korra on Nick.com. Unfortunately, what started as a simple sequel series to the beloved Avatar: The Last Airbender became something much more important. It became a sign of the state of television and how reactionary networks can be in the face of adversity – the adversity in this case being – most likely but not officially – leaked episodes that ruined premiere plans for the third season, thus causing a rapid summer release in response with zero marketing, followed by a rushed move up of the final season to the original third season slot, but only online. However, there’s something else The Legend of Korra will go down for, something that’s perhaps much more important, and that’s the enduring power of audience loyalty.

There are very few shows that boast as vocal a fan base as The Legend of Korra. Game of Thrones, Orphan Black, Arrow, Hannibal, none of them can compete with the level of fandom that comes with Niceklodeon’s half-hour, animated drama. From debates over its merits among the likes of Japanese anime, to the business nature of Nickelodeon’s ultimate choice to place the show online due to a mixture of ratings and content, one constant has remained: the viewers.
The Legend of Korra

From Reddit to Tumblr to Twitter TWTR +0.95% and everywhere in between, what never changed for Korra was its highly excitable fan base. Why? Because of its well constructed and non-simplified character work. As usual, what this comes back to is the running theme of these posts: audiences will show up for anything but only stay for character, and Nick’s animated sequel has some of the best in the business. Whether playing with the ideals of changing the gender of the main character or expanding the series from a single-focused mini-event to an expanded ensemble, The Legend of Korra was never content with simply painting by the numbers – even if they were numbers originally painted by its predecessor, and it was rewarded for that.

In the original series, we saw an adventure play out through the eyes of children, in Korra, we got to see what happened after that adventure ended and those children grew up. At no point did creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko sugar coat the reality of their word: Aang and his friends were often splitting their time between being civil uniters and being parents, which left a residual feeling of fracturedness among their descendants, and we got to explore those themes through a new set of characters, many of whom came from torn families of an untraditional sense – no one was divorced, but everyone was really busy. Korra remained compelling by keepings it characters ever evolving, and by doing so, it didn’t matter when or where it aired as long as it aired – and this is where the rubber meets the road.
Most shows in Korra’s situation would have been outright dumped by their network and forced to remain in the dark until an eventual DVD release or streaming deal was made. However, Nickelodeon realized very quickly that would never fly with a fan base that just wanted to see an end to the story its invested two years of its life into. So, instead, the network chose to follow an untraditional release method in order to have its cake and eat it too. Fans got what they wanted – an opportunity to see the final episodes – while Nickelodeon got what it wanted – the series off the mothership network, and its slot re-opened to a show that might do better business with a specific set of advertisers.

Will there ever be another situation like The Legend of Korra’s? Perhaps. Perhaps not. It really doesn’t matter because what this comes back to is a television theme that will never cease. In order to be successful, in order maintain longevity, series – animated and live action alike – need to be focused on creating characters, not premises and words, that will compel viewers to come back week after week. Do that, and a fan base will stay until the bitter end no matter what hurtles are thrown at them.



  1. 🕔 5:14, 20.Dec 2014

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