The Legend of Korra was a Nickelodeon animated series that ran from 2012 to 2014. It was a sequel series to Avatar the Last Airbender . Both these programs had excellent storytelling, action, and a sense of adventure that attracted a huge fan base. Nickelodeon has the talent to produce memorable and magnificent shows which attract the attention of children and adults. The Legend of Korra was more than just a simple cartoon; it explored numerous topics that were thought provoking. The one concept that was easily seen was the archetype of the heroine. Kora is the quintessential female hero. She is brave, strong, and willing to accept a challenge. Yet, she does have flaws being obdurate and impetuous in particular situations. There are heroines in myth that do have these attributes and Korra falls into that tradition. The Avatar universe is one centered around philosophy. Spirituality and the concept of balance in the universe are constant themes. Besides that, politics are a forceful presence. Each adversary Korra faces is a representation of political science concepts such as freedom, order, and equality. They are all extremists, because they want one of these convictions to dominate society when they are all needed. This show had a high level of sophistication. Relevant to the subject matter here, the creators preferred to show Korra as a physically strong and athletic woman. There has developed on the internet a huge source of fan art portraying the character in this manner. The Legend of Korra was a program that was special and it will be remembered for its intelligence and quality entertainment.
Korra as a protagonist is a strong character. Strong used in this context extends far beyond physical or emotional sense, but she is allowed to develop psychologically. From the beginning to the end of the series she went through a maturity process and took her responsibilities seriously. Korra at the beginning of the series was impetuous and obdurate in her ways. She rarely took Tenzin’s advice and was in conflict with Chief Beifong. After every season she grew a little as a person learning from her mistakes. Development and personality is critical to fictional characters in various mediums, but with female characters this seems to be lacking.
Korra shows a vibrant personality. It is one that is rebellious, but fun loving. This is emphasized in her love of professional bending. Tenzin believes it is a mockery of the martial art form; Korra thinks the opposite. After a large argument and having difficulty mastering air bending she sneaks away to participate in a match. Tenzin later sees Korra compete in a match and realizes “that it is a perfect teaching tool for her.” An early change happens in Korra, when she realizes calling Tenzin a horrible teacher was incorrect. She apologizes and wants Tenzin to be her teacher. Korra participating in the professional bending matches does have significance. The depiction of a sports woman in a positive manner is progressive in cultural perspective. The Avatar universe does have traditional views of women ( the Water Tribe for example), but some places like Republic City women can advance and have authority. Korra’s athletic prowess and fighting ability is prominently displayed in the show. These depictions could be a subtle display of amazon feminism.
The problem with some programs is that they reuse some of the older trope that are based on dated stereotypes. The damsel in distress has been used ad nauseaum in films and tv. It is even incorporated when the female is the star or hero and requiring male assistance, even when she was proven capable early on. This is not present in the Legend of korra . Her friends and allies contribute to the defeat of the enemy, but it is Korra that delivers the crushing blow. Other characters come to respect Korra’s leadership and strength. Makko’s grandma even noted about Korra “you are very muscular for a woman.” While this statement could be taken as ambivalent, it could also be look upon as a compliment.
The great aspect of the show was that it did not overpower its protagonist. The problem with the strong female characters is that creators put the stereotypical machismo of male characters into them. Emotionless and quick to throw a punch, they are one dimensional. Korra shows joy, fear, and struggle. Even in difficult challenges she is resilient. Her strength is not only in her fighting, but her inner desire to overcome. Her fight with her Uncle Unalaq and Zaheer was a demonstration of her determination. Losing a family member and stopping him from unleashing the power Vaatu put her to an extreme test. This left her with a mental scar, but it induced a level of doubt. Korra has to deal with keeping the spirit world and the four nations in a state of harmony. Korra has to figure out what to do. Her role of being an ambassador between the living and the spirit world is a critical one. Korra after the confrontation with Zaheer suffers from what appears to be post-traumatic stress disorder. This was a fight in which she was paralyzed by fear. Korra came the closest to death. Trepidation makes her almost abandon her avatar duties. She also has to deal with the metal still in her body from the fight with Zaheer fight. Her psychological stress was preventing her from recovering. Toph helps her get rid of the metal. Korra had to confront her fear and she became her old self again. At the end of the series she is a wiser and a more thoughtful individual. Only when Korra experienced suffering herself did she learn true empathy and compassion.
When the series had its last episode Korra became comfortable with her role as avatar. From the beginning we see Korra start out with an immature nature to a responsible adult. This was a great character, because she was developed and had an enticing personality. She can be confident, but doubtful, impulsive and brave, fun loving , which makes for a lovable character. Korra is the modern archetype that is appearing in entertainment. A female hero that is as capable as male protagonist, but is developed and has flaws. This is a positive change and it is a development that will hopefully continue.
Korra’s character design is a significant shift as well. The creators and animators were not afraid to show an athletic body on their heroine. There was backlash, mostly from people online. Generally, fans accepted Korra’s character design. Many times there is the representation of one female body type. This is the thin body ideal. It seems bizarre in cases were a program is action and the hero does not look like they could fight their enemies. Korra’s not unrealistically thin. Her body is a strong one. This is refreshing to see.
Micheal Dante Martino and Brian Konietzko were rumored to have based Korra’s character design off of a picture they saw of Allison Stokke. She is a champion pole vaulter who has been competing for at least eight years . It is wonderful to witness that there is at least some gradual acceptance of a muscular physique on a woman in an entertainment medium. Normally if a muscular woman appeared in animation it was used as a joke or designed to make a female character less attractive. There are some instances in which they were portrayed positively on rare occasions.
The creators wanted Korra to be the opposite of Aang. Korra was more active and willing to fight, while Aang was more gentle in nature. This is symbolized by her body to put emphasis on her warrior and athletic nature. It was said that Korra “excelled at the physical side of bending, but ignored the spiritual side.” When creating a cartoon character it is best to make it so that it easily is identified by silhouette. Seeing as Korra is designed in a unique fashion, the creation is product special among animated shows. Proving the Nickelodeon executives wrong, fans did respond well to this female protagonist. Her gender and body type did not matter and the viewers continued watching.
For any popular show there is going to be fan art. It is to great delight of many fans of female strength and muscle that a multitude of works were made featuring Korra. She is depicted not just as her standard design, but hyper-muscular.
There are some talented individuals who make all sorts of fan art. There are instances on the show that depict Korra’s athleticism. Many times she is not always reliant on her bending, but some of her non-bending fighting skills. One scene early in the series is of particular interest. When attempting to find Bolin after he had been captured Makko and Korra try to get answers out of equalist agitator. Scenarios such as this usually have the male character do the interrogation, because it it assumed they would be more effective at using physical force. Here it is reversed and Korra finds out the location of Bolin. It is fascinating as it demonstrates that their as been a paradigm shift in regards to women’s capabilities.
The creators refused to change the original vision of their show and it payed off nicely. Korra being female did not harm the program as executives thought. It made the show unique and that is what distinguishes Nickelodeon shows from others on TV.
The philosophical elements of the show added to its charm. Bending is more than just a fighting technique, it has a spiritual side. This is something that Korra struggles to master through out the series. It is obvious that the movements the characters use to do bending are modeled off of martial arts of the Far East. These fighting styles have intricate philosophies behind them. The avatar universe functions in the same manner. The role of the avatar is to create balance in the world. The avatar must be the connection between both spirit and living world. Balance could mean in this sense the reduction of suffering. Buddhist philosophy believes the cause of suffering is desire. The idea is that a person must free themselves of desire to achieve a level of balance and full enlightenment. The avatar universe if examined from this perspective functions of a Buddhist philosophy. The creators were clearly influenced by Eastern philosophy and myths. Both Hinduism and Buddhism believe that reincarnation is possible and this is present in the avatar universe. Korra is a reincarnation of past avatars.She has a spiritual connection to past ones and they provide her guidance. Sadly, her uncle breaks the link between Korra and the past avatars. Korra must navigate the world through her own contemplation. Korra after her fight with Zaheer leaves her in a debilitated state. She could have wallowed in pity, but became more reflexive.
When Korra experienced suffering, she learned to be more empathetic. Starting out as the avatar she liked the celebrity that came with it. As the new dire situations arose , she became more willing to help others. Korra learned to respect selflessness and altruistic values. The show does seem to operate on a Buddhist philosophy. Finding inner peace, harmony, reducing suffering are elements of this religion and ethical philosophy. While there are spirits in avatar, there is no one God that created everything. There are multiple deities that allowed humans to gain the ability to bend the elements. The first avatar Wan went to all of them to master every element. Fusing with the powerful Raava allowed for reincarnation and a cycle of rebirth. This story is not only important to the origins of our heroine, but the the concept of creation myth. Every culture no matter if it is African, Asian, European, or South American has a version of creation myth. This goes across various religions globally. Myths are related to philosophy, because they attempt to explain the nature of existence through stories. This makes it almost ontological in character. The desire to understand, discover, and ponder our place in this universe is as old as humanity itself.
The philosophical dimension in the The Legend of Korra is explored further with the concept of the hero’s journey. This was articulated by John Campbell a scholar of myth and literature. The journey goes in stages. The first stage is ordinary life. Korra starts off being trained at home. There is a call to action or adventure. Korra wants to go to Republic City, because Tenzin comes saying he was ready to train her. After this call, there may be some resistance to it. At first Korra enthusiastically embraces the role of avatar, but later has doubts after the Zaheer fight. She flees and hides, fighting in earth bending matches. Korra later overcomes her fears and assumes her full responsibility as avatar. The most pivotal element of this journey is a mentor. Tenzen provides advice and astute knowledge of the spirit world. He helps her in times of need. He teaches her air bending. Korra realized that he was a great teacher. Korra reaches the stage in the journey known as threshold. She traveled to different lands and places. The next stage is the test and the confrontation between enemies. The hero has allies that they can gain on the way. Korra has loyal friends like Makko, Bolin, and Asami who help her in struggle against numerous enemies. They have no problem coming to Korra’s aid when fighting Amon, Zaheer, Kuvira, or her uncle Unalaq. The stages of approach and ordeal are present constantly in the series. At the end of each season Korra has to fight or stop the villain.
The end of the hero’s journey results in the return to normal life. At the end of the show Korra comes back to a clam Republic City. She has become a fully self actualizing person. This is another element that makes this show great. It has borrowed from a long tradition of myths and storytelling. The hero’s journey has transmitted to other mediums and is truly universal.
Politics and its concepts have been a feature in The Legend of Korra. Freedom, order, and equality are major topics in political science. Korra’s adversaries are symbols of these concepts. Amon was a fanatic for his version of equality, which meant destroying all benders. His equalists believed the benders were oppressing the non-benders. Amon’s solution was an extreme one, which was to overthrow the government of Republic City. The fact is his claims were legitimate in a sense, but he was imposing his beliefs on the population. True equality, would be fair treatment in regards to the law. Having representation and a forum to exchange ideas including disagreements can foster equality . Fair access to education, jobs, and legal protection are measures of equality. Amon’s version demanded that everyone be the same. This is not equality, but conformity by another name. Equality and sameness are often confused. Amon demonstrates this perfectly. Zaaheer is another part of the political spectrum. He wants absolute freedom. Freedom is the most important part of a society that embraces democratic values. Unrestricted freedom however, allows people to do whatever they please. This could allow for other citizens to harm other people. When Zaheer killed the Queen of the Earth Kingdom, it fell into chaos. This is what Zaheer wanted, because he believed the government was at the root of all problems. The consequences of that was people started looting and attacking one another due to the fact the system had collapsed. The primary function of law is not just a system, but a means to prevent abuse by individuals. There are other issues in society that may not require an all powerful government, but an operational system. Public education, healthcare, and infrastructure are just a few of the services the governments provide. Without a stable system to manage a growing complex society, everyone would be at war with each other. If people had the freedom to do anything to anyone, it most likely would be malevolent in nature.
Zaheer wanted chaos as a means to liberate people from what he perceived as tyranny. He wanted to eliminate all government, even if the people were supportive of it. Republic City was going to be one of his targets. The citizens there were more satisfied with their government when the council of benders disbanded and allowed for a presidential system. Zaheer’s flaw was that he believed he knew what was best for everyone. If people no longer see that their government is not serving them, they have a right to change it. If it becomes so criminal that legal means are not possible, there is no choice but violent removal. Zaaheer forcibly made that choice for the Earth Kingdom, which made it a failed state. This disorder lead to the rise of Kuvira. She was probably the most threatening of the Korra villains. Her thirst for power drove her to conquest. She believes in imposing order and crushing dissent. Kuvira’s rigid belief system can almost be comparable to fascism in 20th century Europe. There is no freedom or equality under Kuvira’s system. There is only submission of the citizen to the state. Too much order in a political system gives opportunity for abuse. Disregard for the rights of citizens and extending political authority are attributes of a police state. Anyone watching The Legend of Korra comes to a conclusion when these parables are demonstrated. You need freedom, order, and equality to have a stable society. There must be a balance to have a functioning government.
Unalaq is a unique demonstration of religious fanaticism. He wanted to open the gate to the spirit world at the expense of the living world. Organized religion has become politics. Israel, Iran, and the USA display this in their political culture. The South Pole shows it in The Legend of korra. There was nothing wrong with Unalaq’s initial position that humankind lost tough with the spirits. This was true if one examines Republic City where few have respect or either fear spirits. The difference is Unalaq became fanatic with his faith. He goes as far as to merge with Vaatu. When the spirit portal was open and he merged his next target was Republic City. There he was going to usher in a new spiritual age. This type of rhetoric is similar to many cult leaders and religious fundamentalists. Discussions and predictions of a new age or apocalypse are main topics. They have become so obsessed with their convictions, they are convinced they are the salvation of society. This causes fanatics to violent acts as a means of “saving society.” Unalaq had adopted this concept and became more dangerous. Korra realizes that keeping the portal open is not a terrible idea. Yet, it is important to keep everything in a rational perspective. Spirits and the living must co-exist. This story arc seems to be a parable about how religion must learn to co-exist with the modern world. If not, then it will be a source of conflict.
The Legend of Korra was a program of magnificent quality. Its characters were memorable, the action was exciting, and it had excellent story arcs. The most important part of its success was that it was not afraid to be controversial. The creators had the Korrasami ending, depicted Korra with post-traumatic stress disorder, and showed the murder of the Earth Queen. While viewers may have some disagreements over these events, at least they were bold enough to do them. This is what creators and artists should be aiming for. Pushing the boundaries can result in a great product. This program was special because of its wit and creativity. Korra was a great hero that the viewer could identify with, but also hope for her success due to being in an underdog position. This was very sophisticated for a cartoon show. Hopefully, the creators will continue to produce more material related to the avatar universe. If you have not seen this series, do so. It is an enjoyable non-stop adventure. The Legend of Korra will certainly be remembered as one of Nickelodeon’s best television series.