“The Legend of Korra” (LOK) ended its series this weekend with a finale that wrapped up most plot threads, however I think the real story is how it secretly became one of the best shows on (online) television. First, we have to look at how we got here.
“Avatar: The Last Airbender” (A:TLA) was a very unique show because it featured a very unique plot and a very diverse character roster. The main character, an airbender named Aang, was awakened from a 100-year sleep to fulfill his destiny to save the world from a genocidal tyrant. The show was ultimately a coming-of-age story filled with themes referencing culture, war, and youth angst among all of the chaos. The show is considered a classic to me and millions of other fans. Thus, creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino were able to take a step forward with “The Legend of Korra.”
KORRA CHANGED HER WORLD AND MAYBE OURS
Korra’s journey is vastly different from Aang’s by taking place in a different time, about 70 years after the end of A:TLA; by its setting within the unified metropolis of Republic City; a lack of reliance on the previous show’s characters except for meaningful cameos; and exploration of some very adult material.
Mind you, LOK is a TV-Y7 rated show aimed at teens. Yet, over the course of the four seasons, we were treated to not one, not two, not three, but MULTIPLE strong women in leading and important roles as heroes and villains, and no love triangle stories (except at the beginning however it pays off and ends well).
Also there was no white-washing to be found as in the horrendous film adaptation. Within the Avatar’s history bending, the four nations seem to be based upon Tibetan (airbenders), Chinese (earthbenders), Japanese (firebenders), and Inuit (waterbenders) cultures from their skin tones and manner of dress, including political ideologies from unification, favor of monarchies, and isolationism and neutrality.
Furthermore, LOK provided multiple grown-up themes and commentary on power, greed, pride, family secrets, and anger and wrath. The show’s more visceral content included a murder-suicide (more or less off-screen), a suicide contemplation, a political assassination, one of the coolest kills ever put to any media (wrapping metal around the head of an explosive fire bender to turn their power against them and make them go ka-boom! It does happen off screen, sort of), and the big one… wait for it.. a
highly implied confirmed lesbian relationship, according to Bryke.
THE RELATIONSHIP TRUMPS THE VIOLENCE
The relationship (to fans that like to pair characters, the phenomenon is called “shippong”), among the themes of war, facism, revolution, and allegories to the U.S. war on terror and even having a weapon of mass destruction, is the big stand out.
Well, because in American animation, it has not been so visualized before, especially so outwardly and directly implied. Violence is nothing new for cartoons however a potential same sex relationship is the buzz target. It was a bold move forward for Nickelodeon to greenlight it. Konietzko and DiMartino (known on the internet as Bryke collectively) pushed the envelope with Korra’s journey and build the relationship aspect in the background so that only the most attentive viewer, or fan of that particular ‘ship, would pay attention. The series peppered in hints through its seasons. Therefore when the final frame was seen, it delivered one of the most sincere, heartfelt, and earned moments I’ve ever seen.
ONE OF THE BEST SHOWS… EVER.
The studio took the show off TV and moved it to online distribution only for the second half of the third season and for all of season four, both released this year. I remember when it happened and thought Nick was trying to screw the show, just as other studios have done to their extremely superb series (word to Young Justice). It was a blessing we did not recognize because for one, digital distribution is the future of television, and two, the show’s impact and presentation would have been subverted had it stayed on the air in today’s world where parents have eliminated Saturday morning cartoons.
The only downside with a digital release is that some people missed it. LOK’s cult following now has the responsibility of spreading the word about this incredible piece of fiction, what it did, and how it set a new bar. The mainstream audience maybe is not be ready for what animated young woman had to offer in light of Shonda Rhimes’ ever racier plotlines. It’s a funny world we live in. Cartoons are OK to show death and destruction, however when a different type of relationship blooms, some people signal the end. Maybe it is because animation = children to many people. Societal stigmas, I tell ya.
I put “Legend of Korra” on my list of all-time best TV shows ever and maybe in a few years, we can go back and watch again with fresh eyes and appreciate it after another animated series takes similar steps on a bigger stage.