Following in the footsteps of any great franchise establishment is a daunting task. No, I’m not talking about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I’m talking about The Legend of Korra, a sequel series to Avatar: The Last Airbender. Both series suffered from awful updates via the prequels, or a live-action adaptation, but the official follow ups lead the stories in substantial and exciting directions. What happens when one generation finishes their journey? It’s time for a new generation to make their mark in the world.
Enter Korra, a character who is not just a person of color, but an independent and headstrong young woman who is initially more interested in fighting than diplomacy. A complete inversion of the previous Avatar Aang, whose peaceful methods secured world peace, Korra’s journey is far more personal. Korra begins the series fitting comfortably into her role as the Avatar, keeper of peace and balance in the world, whereas her predecessor’s story was about living up to the title of the Avatar. Master of all four elements, Korra’s journey is one of self-discovery.
Who is Korra without her title? Personality-wise, she blends Luke Skywalker’s sincerity and Han Solo’s attitude. She was sheltered until she was sixteen for her own protection, and never had an opportunity to experience life before going on her own adventures. She knew the title of the Avatar was a burden, and made sure to always jump headfirst into action. Her methods were unorthodox, but Korra had people’s best interest at heart. But for the literal avatar of peace and balance in the world, violence should not be the first course of action. That being said, Korra’s identity was intrinsically tied to her title, but not her personality. Until she lost the connection to her past lives, she had no requirement to look deeper within herself. She was able to master all elements of nature faster than any Avatar before her. However, Korra was never in touch with her inner spirituality.
The final season saw Korra undergoing years of physical therapy, while overcoming PSTD after nearly dying at the hands of an anarchist terrorist group. In one of the most depressing and inspirational episodes of either series, we follow Korra’s solo journey across the world, searching for a reason to continue living. We find she has saved an entire nation of people and helped them establish a new legacy nearly at the cost of her own life. This history furthers her exploration into who she truly is now after having been on the verge of death with a world that seems to no longer desire an Avatar figure.
Remarkably, The Legend of Korra reveals in its final season that each arc had its own role to play in Korra’s development. “Book 1: Air,” deals with Korra’s first chance at freedom, with persistence and endurance. In “Book 2: Spirits,” establishes Korra as a trailblazer, making her way through new spiritual frontiers and changing the world in the process. “Book 3: Change,” details the fallout that Korra’s actions have upon herself and the world, for better or worse. “Book 4: Balance,” the series’ final arc, displays Korra’s sense for and of inner and outer peace, and although there is a showdown with Korra and the seasonal big bad villain, she no longer gains victory through excessive force. Her final victory is won through empathy and offering her own life to save her enemy; continuing the Star Wars parallels, akin to Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi. But there is no, “I am a Jedi,” moment. Instead, we’re treated to a marriage between lovable supporting characters, and Korra realizing which of her friends she had come to care about in a romantic fashion, namely Korra and Asami.
Where Legend of Korra understands love and acceptance, it also understands the culmination of intimate and healthy relationships. I would go so far as saying that this might be the healthiest example of a functional relationship I’ve ever seen on television, only it didn’t start out that way. Korra and Asami spend nearly the entire first season pining after the same man. When the man subsequently reacts in the least mature way, everyone gets their feelings hurt to the point where the writers just make Korra and Mako’s relationship happen to appease the expectations created by traditional gender roles. And while Mako and Korra worked well together as characters, they form a pretty faulty romantic partnership, as they spend most of their private time together clashing, which is a telling sign that the romance is just not working. As solidified by their final shared scene in the series, Mako and Korra will always care for each other and will remain friends until the end of their days, but will never be the lovers that Korra and Asami become.
Then there was Korra’s rivalry with Asami budding into friendship. More similar to acquaintances than outright friends, the two have each others’ backs. Who gets Korra to safety after the Red Lotus attacks? Asami. Who helps Korra attend a ceremony for their young friend Jinora? Asami. Who is the only person Korra feels comfortable enough to write to during her four years away from her home in Republic City? Asami. When the finale aired it was clear many people were turned off to the idea of “Korrasami,” a speculated impending relationship between the two, because it didn’t follow traditional romantic structure. Unless a character is clearly defined as homosexual, bisexual, or any other identity that falls under the LGBT banner, some people may erroneously project a character’s sexual identity as inherently straight, which is an unfortunate phenomenon that we need to work towards eliminating. But there is, or at least should be, no requirement that fictional characters are required to state their sexuality, nor should they be assigned gender stereotypes. Characters don’t need to go through a will they, won’t they phase to become a couple. It doesn’t happen in real life. We should stop expecting it of fictional characters. Besides, something making people this happy is far more important than any other narrow-minded complaints.
Remember the Lion Turtle from The Last Airbender? Some called it a cop-out because there was little-to no physical evidence it existed in the first place. But whereas the Lion Turtle literally felt like it popped up out of nowhere, Korra and Asami’s relationship had already begun blossoming through friendship until the two tapped into a romantic undercurrent grew into the beginning of a relationship in the series’ final moment. You know why the Lion Turtle is a brilliant piece of writing? It let Aang choose his own path. No matter what anybody said about him absolutely needing to kill Fire Lord Ozai, Aang was steadfast in his personal beliefs to avoid taking a life. He was in charge of his own fate. Aang and Katara worked for The Last Airbender because of their straight forward determination. Korra and Asami worked because it relates to The Legend of Korra’s thematic conceit.
Now take a hard look at what this ending says thematically. Korra was always struggling to live up to her past lives, as did the show for a short period of time, before deciding to explore progressive ideas of change and balance in the world. The Avatar series never played coy about relating to real world issues of identity but it was never more prevalent than the final two books of the series. Like the world around her, Korra underwent massive changes to become an Avatar, unlike anything we’d ever seen. It’s only fitting for Korra’s ending to be unlike any animated finale prior. Korra’s romantic entanglements could have only brought her to one path: the one she chose for herself. She was never one for traditional structures. She was showing the world to explore different avenues that would help people find the virtuousness of self-acceptance. That’s what the relationship between Korra and Asami represents. This is who she is. We had our love at first site with Aang and Katara. Korra and Asami grew an actual, loving relationship through nurturing and care. Korra and Asami weren’t made for each other. They grew into each other.
In every finale prior to Book 4’s ending, Korra sheds tears after what she had gone through – Book 3 showcasing her ultimate breaking point. In Book 4’s finale, Korra sheds no tears. She wins her final battle by saving the very person who sought to destroy her. She joins a party with all her friends and family before acknowledging how far she’s grown alongside her mentor. In the final act of the series, Korra walks through the sunset spirit portal with the one person who truly understands her. She’s at peace. Doesn’t that sound perfect? See you on the other side, Avatar Korra.