Warning: This article contains major spoilers for THE LEGEND OF KORRA.

AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER (AVATAR) stands as one of the most beloved animated series in recent history. The show was created by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino and focused on a world of elemental magic, chosen heroes, and warfare. Humor, strong characters, and epic action made AVATAR a modern classic. It was only a matter of time before the show would get a sequel miniseries — THE LEGEND OF KORRA (KORRA).

KORRA premiered two years after AVATAR ended and received praise for its animation and female hero. However, fans are divided over the series. Some see it as a worthy successor to AVATAR and a great portfolio of thoughtfully-crafted female characters. Others were disappointed by slow character growth and poor storytelling. KORRA was also plagued by backstage issues, as parent network Nickelodeon extended the show for three more seasons, forcing writers to create on the fly narratives. Leaked episodes for Season 3 forced the premiere to air earlier than intended and KORRA eventually finished its run as an online-only program.

So what is the legacy KORRA left behind? Was it a worthy successor or a poor imitation of a classic? Fans Eric Nierstedt (EN) and Mara Danoff  (MD) weigh in on the matter.

STORYTELLING

KORRA

MD: Both series are beautifully crafted narratives. While one feels more whole in terms of pacing and connectivity between seasons (looking at you, original Avatar series) the other took chances. It tackled themes of PTSD and even the morality of bending within this fictional society. The viewers had to seriously consider the rules of the fantasy universe, which is always welcome in any media aimed at younger audiences. It didn’t talk down to anyone, it simply let the story unfold in an organic fashion.  I thought the LEGEND OF KORRA was quite a well crafted story, bar for season 2.

READ: AVATAR wasn’t the only “children’s show” to touch on adult ideas. Introducing, SAMURAI JACK.

EN:  I think there is good writing in it, but there are a lot of problems that weigh it down. All the seasons feel like their own story, which hurts the series overall. I do disagree on the series not talking down; I feel that except for the PTSD story (a major focus of Season 4), the series was generally dumbed down in comparison to AVATAR. The themes were touched upon but not well explored. I felt it was more about things happening and fighting.

MD: I thought questions postulated within the first series were really interesting [with] how difficult it must have been for non-benders to live in a society that idolized those that could control the elements. The PTSD scenario speaks for itself so I’ll leave that alone, and, in the fourth season, it was interesting to watch Kuvira (the Season 4 villain) try to unite the various realms [after the overthrow of the Earth Queen and the Earth Kingdom]. She brought food and water yet ultimately had to force the people to side with her. It ended up being a weird dictatorship, but her intentions started off as pure.

EN: I agree with you that the idea was showing the problems benders could cause. But I felt the villains were too easily painted as villains. We didn’t get the heroes taking a real look at the problems bending could cause and there was no solution or move towards one. It was just, “This guy kinda has an good idea, but he’s still EVIL and Korra is GOOD!” The spiritual aspects of the second season were insanely vague. The third and fourth seasons were better, yet it still felt very simplified into good and bad. There was nothing people could really muse on; it was just skimming the surface of a really deep idea.

MD: I feel like it did enough to give a start. In the first season I’ll agree with you the morality was a lot more black and white, but I’d have to disagree on the 4th. Kuvira was seen as caring. She saw a need and tried to fill it. In flashbacks, she saw nothing was being done for suffering people and stepped in, thinking she had the good of the entire nation in mind. Slowly that power corrupted her as power does but showing the humanity in these kinds of actions is vital.  (I’ll also admit I have a huge bias because I like some of the characters on this show quite a bit.)

EN: The problem with Kuvira was that she was the last in a line of ‘bad person with good intentions’ villains. It was the same progression we’d seen for three seasons and it felt lazy. And dipping your toe into morality is far below what we know the creators are capable of. AVATAR had moral journeys with Zuko and Azula and Aang, and explored a lot of territory with them. Even exploring spiritual chakras (in AVATAR Season 2) actually inspired people in real life. I never felt any moment on KORRA came close to that (other then the PTSD storyline). It was just suggesting an idea and then trying to fit it into a season of fights.

DISCOVER: How HUNTER. X. HUNTER teaches us the true meaning of family.

MD: This show was never going to be as lofty as AVATAR. It was a smaller series with characters that were, in my opinion, a lot more openly flawed than the others. Since the Fire Lord was so clearly evil in AVATAR, I felt Korra kept finding bad guys with good intentions, so it wasn’t quite as clear who was good and who was bad.

EN: I did like that they tried to do something different instead of copying things that had been done before. AVATAR left fans with very high expectations for this series though. While it’s hard to meet them perfectly, I think they went too far in the ‘small’ direction. The villains are a prime example– having the same type of character with a slight variation isn’t as powerful as one consistent, if overly evil, villain.

CHARACTERS OF KORRA

KORRA

 

EN:  I don’t think the characters lived up to their potential. I initially liked that Korra was more headstrong and impulsive, because it made her different then Aang. But she seemed incapable of growth as the story went on. The supporting cast was largely bland, with very rigid character roles- Bolin was comic relief, Mako was the cool guy, and Asami was the enabler. The characters most closely related with the last series (Tenzin, Lin, etc) were the most interesting to me. They gave a unique view into the parents and how they were shouldering their legacies. I often wished the show could be about them.

READ: See Eric’s full thoughts on Korra and what makes a female protagonist. 

MD: I really liked Korra (I tend to enjoy more headstrong archetypes). I liked how she was thrust into this environment of rigidity and had to sort of cope. I found that to be funny and relatable as someone who’s struggled with controlling their emotions pretty much all their life. As for Bolin and Mako… okay Bolin was cool but yeah there’s really no saving Mako.  I thought Asami was going to be the stereotypical “mean girl.” But she really came into her own when her father was arrested. I found the grown-up versions of the previous series were the most disappointing characters. Seeing how much they screwed up their own kids really saddened me as a long time fan. It wasn’t the kind of “happy ending” my young 12 year old self wanted for them.

EN: The grown-ups were horrible! Toph was the worst mom ever– she just let the kids do what they wanted because she didn’t want to actually deal with them.  Aang was at least trying to save the Airbenders. But I liked that aspect- it made them human and it gave the children something to deal with.  [Aang’s children] Tenzin, Bumi, and Kya’s interactions were the best part of season 2, as were [Toph’s daughter] Lin’s in Season 3. There was more to explore there– Bumi’s need to prove himself, Lin’s need for order, Tenzin feeling the weight of Aang’s legacy, Kya trying to get away from all of it. Korra just stuck with the headstrong personality for way too long. She felt like an archetype, not a person.

MD: I’ll agree with you the adults’ conflict was extremely fascinating. But I also enjoyed the parts that weren’t about them. I enjoyed seeing Bolin try and metal bend, and Mako was okay when he dealt with the annoying prince from the Earth Kingdom. I liked watching Korra struggle. They weren’t as strong as a group in the first series. To me, there were better defined in their separation than they were as a unit.

EN: The struggle was important but it was so long. It felt she was learning the same thing over and over without making progress. A character can’t do that for so long and not turn people off. Still, the struggle was more interesting then watching them as a group.  It always felt like they were TRYING to be Team Avatar and just not working.

CLICK: Another show we’re obsessed with? MY HERO ACADEMIA. Click for our thoughts on Uraraka Ochako!

MD: I felt like they were at their best when they weren’t being like Team Avatar, because they weren’t. They’re just a group of teens, one of which happens to be the Avatar,  trying to fight against the forces that afflict their society. They’re a much more preventative group. It was clear they still all cared deeply for each other.

EN: They were more preventative, and maybe that’s part of my issue with them. But I also felt they never got proper development until it was too late.

SEASON 2/BACKSTAGE PROBLEMS

EDITOR’S NOTE: Most fans of KORRA point to the second season as the weakest.  The creators had not initially planned for a second season, but it was mandated by the network.

KORRA

MD: Yeah… Season 2 was not particularly good. It’s not entirely the creators’ fault though , since it was a studio-mandated creation. The one positive thing is that it gave us the Avatar origin story which was amazingly well done. But it was a hard season to get through for any fan. Just goes to show you what happens when a studio meddles too much with a property.

EN: I think the funniest thing about it is how the best episode is a stand-alone that doesn’t feature any of the characters or the main story (though I do think it’s filler, albeit well done filler). The studio was always odd about AVATAR and KORRA. They treated AVATAR like the red-headed step child (moving it around in the schedule, airing new stuff randomly) and then they really clamped down to control KORRA, only to screw that up too.

READ: Mara and Eric take part in another debate on Captain America as a HYDRA agent.

MD: They cut the funding from the show.  That’s why they had to start airing it on like NickToons and then online. Nickelodeon knew people would be into AVATAR but since they were aiming for more comedy shows they didn’t know what to do with a more serious action one and that hit the show hard.

EN: Nickelodeon wanted viewers, but they forgot AVATAR spoke to more then the thirteen year old boy demographic. I feel it was the reason behind the ‘dumbing down’ I mentioned earlier; the studio just wanted kids to watch. It’s their own fault it didn’t work– they debuted the show in a prime Saturday morning timeslot where it did well, then they moved it Friday nights (aka TV dead zone). I knew it was doomed once it was online.

MD: It was really a shame. It could have been great but instead it went to hell in a hand-basket. It really makes you think about how much control a studio should have over the content it produces. I truly believe if it were up to the creators, it would have been as good if not better than the first series.

EN: Agreed. They could’ve kept it to a mini-series, or been able to tell a more continuous story, or even gotten twenty episode seasons again. It’s why I think of KORRA as the HOBBIT of AVATAR. It was a series with a lot of potential squandered by backstage problems.

MD: I still thoroughly enjoy watching it even if it is a flawed series, The earlier expensive animation really helped make the bending jump out at the audience so it’ll always have that going for it.

THE ENDING

EDITOR’S NOTE: KORRA’s final episode generated a lot of buzz when it hinted at a romantic relationship between Korra and Asami. Fans had long shipped the two together and the creators confirmed the two were in a relationship after the series concluded. Korra and Asami’s relationship is one of the first openly lesbian relationships in American animation.

KORRA

MD: I like the ending! Really that’s all I have to say. It wasn’t as well built up as the other one but it was still satisfying to watch and capped off the series well.

EN: I have mixed feelings on it. It was a great message and it probably helped a lot of kids and fans asking questions about themselves. But it also felt like fanservice. Asami and Korra literally has NO interest in each other before and it related to nothing in the overall series. It didn’t feel like a wrap-up to me, it felt like, “we’re done, let’s try to squeeze in some message so people will talk more.”

MD:  I didn’t believe they would do it. My brother, he shipped it hard and I just couldn’t. I couldn’t handle the disappointment if they just hinted at it and didn’t commit. It kinda spits in the eye of shows that bait these kinds of relationships without actually committing to one. Representation is important. It’s important to do it well but this was a huge step in the right direction. The development, if any, was only in one season but I’d rather this be here than not.

LEARN: Memes do more than just make us laugh. They also act as a window for what mental illness looks likes in the 21st Century.

EN: All good points. But to me, if it’s not built up well, then it is pandering. I kept thinking of how J.K. Rowling said Dumbledore had been gay all along after the books were finished. It’s a superficial attempt that’s trying to please a demographic, not show real people. The way they did it is open to interpretation- are they friends? Are they lovers now? You see what you want, but you don’t know if it’s right.

MD: I totally see the superficiality. But I think you said it best– it really helped a lot of kids who might have been questioning these things themselves. It showed them they were accepted, and that shouldn’t go without recognition.

EN: Maybe. But it’s too open to interpretation of me to really say how much it helped. I think seeing a more drawn out, developed relationship might’ve been more helpful.

MD: More shows have caught on that showing these kinds of relationships is okay.  They’ve started having more nuanced and interesting characterization. But this was a step forward. A small step, but something. And honestly, that makes all the difference.

FINAL THOUGHTS

KORRA

MD: This show is by no means perfect, but it’s also one of the better western animations to come out in recent memory (when it’s able to step out of the shadow of it’s predecessor of course).

EN: KORRA deserves a lot of credit for being an action show about a female protagonist. It has its flaws, but it’s a good example of the genre. But future shows need to look at the show as a whole, for the good and the bad.

 

Advertisements

One Comment

  1. Jack

    June 6, 2017 at 6:46 am

    I want more korra

    Reply

Show ComicsVerse some Love! Leave a Reply!

Check Also

EA Temporarily Disables BATTLEFRONT 2’s Microtransactions. Don’t Fall For It.

What's been going on with BATTLEFRONT 2? Why did EA disable the loot boxes? Should we cele…