2020 has been the year for Avatar fans, no doubt about that, but there’s one thing that this fanbase can’t seem to agree on and no it’s no Zutara: The Legend of Korra. If you ask the average Avatar fan how they feel about The Legend of Korra be prepared; I’ve seen emotions ranging from hate and disdain to love and admiration. Which begs the question: why such polarizing views? I was among the millions of Avatar fans who tuned in to watch Korra until the very end. Is Korra Aang? No. Does that mean The Legend of Korra is any less impactful or a ‘bad show’? Not by a long shot, in fact quite the opposite.
In a span of just two years, the show shifted pop culture; it showcased how to depict strong female characters, create storytelling for LGBTQ+ characters and how to do all of that in a kid’s show. The Legend of Korra was a pioneer for the animation we see today and broke many glass ceilings. So let’s look at Korra’s impact on pop culture and diversity. So Zhu Li do the thing!
The Legend of Korra was destined to break barriers and separate itself from her predecessor, starting with the protagonist herself. Korra’s appearance and attitude alone ruffled some feathers; her muscular frame, darker skin, stubbornness, strength and bravery showcased the beauty of diversity. I’ve never seen anyone like Korra as the lead of a fantasy adaptation, but once again Konietzko and DiMartino realized the importance of representation. I related to Korra in ways I couldn’t relate to Aang; Korra’s imperfections, the fact that she stumbled along her journey made her realistic. We see Korra lose on various occasions (keeping in mind she does face three major villains unlike Aang), and there’s nothing wrong with normalizing failure, in fact we should do it more. The average person isn’t perfect so why should the avatar?
However, these guys are no strangers to strong female characters; creating characters like Katara, Toph, Azula and Mai to then create a plethora of strong female characters in Korra. From Asami, Kya, Lin, Kuvira, Suyin and Jinora; these women come in a wide array of ages, skin tones, sexual orientations, but make no mistake they’re all bad ass. With such a large amount of female characters we’re allowed to have villains, heroes and everything in between; the ability to have choices of flushed out female characters don’t go unseen.
In fact, 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.
Aside from a female protagonist, The Legend of Korra set itself apart by tackling darker and more mature topics. Avatar: the Last Airbender received praise for this same thing, but it doesn’t go the lengths Korra does, nor does Korra have as much childish humor. Korra comes down with PTSD and depression which starts a much needed conversation about mental health; it’s truly a dark period in her life and it’s not sugar-coated. Having a children’s show protagonist do this (and do it right) was groundbreaking. Topics ranging from fascism, privilege and racial supremacy.
The mature themes and great representation were building blocks for what occurred in the final season. Korra coming out as bisexual in the season finale and walking off into the sunset with Asami, was as significant as Aang’s kiss with Katara in the Avatar finale. At the time people unjustly showered Korra with backlash (it didn’t help that Korra was forced to finish her last two seasons online and not on television) or many denounced it as ‘two close bffs’ (wake up people). Korra and Asami’s relationship blossomed from rivals for Mako’s interest to genuine close friends to a beautiful relationship. Their bond, love and affection for one another replaced their romantic interest for Mako.
Korra sprinted so shows like She-Ra and the Princesses of Power and Steven’s Universe could run. This moment was monumental for young adults who grew up on Avatar, and with the help of Korra saw a character they could identify with. This wasn’t admitting a character was gay long after the series ended, which have limited value (you know who I’m talking about). Korra and Asami’s climatic moment was acknowledging the power of representation and utilizing a moment in television history to reach millions. Even with all the opposition along the way, The Legend of Korra forever impacted pop culture and diverse storytelling.