While some fans of Avatar: the Last Airbender have balked at the sequel series, they're just wrong.
For longtime fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender, it's been a delight to see the series gain so much recognition since it arrived on Netflix this summer.
So much so that a live-action Avatar series is now in the works (though the original creators recently cut ties from the project...) and has fans crossing their fingers so hard they might fall off.
Not many children's cartoons about people with magic powers can break through to a mainstream adult audience quite the way "the Aang gang" has managed to—but not many deserve to. The depth of character, the charming humor, the moments of genuine heartbreak, and the impressive artistry of the animated action combine to make one of the best animated shows of all time.
⬆️ 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' had a record 61-straight days on Netflix's Top 10 ⬆️ 'The Legend of Korra' has be… https://t.co/KYQf3uoV22— Fandom (@Fandom) 1595363945.0
With so much to live up to, it's almost a given that a sequel—much like the train wreck of M. Night Shyamalan's film adaptation—would end up disappointing the fans. And yet... The Legend of Korra, available on Netflix starting August 14th, might be even better than its predecessor. So why have so many fans turned against it?
The Case for The Legend of Korra
Taking place around 80 years after the events of Avatar the Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra picks up after the death of Avatar Aang. After ending the Fire Nation's war for global conquest, Aang established the United Republic of Nations—with Republic City as its capitol—to maintain peace and balance among the four historic Nations—with even the air nomads represented by Aang and Katara's stuffy son Tenzin and his children.
All the while, history and culture have progressed at the accelerated pace of the industrial era. Cars and trains are common. Urban life is taking over. Radio and electricity have connected and revolutionized the world, and professional benders now show off their various elemental skills in a massive arena. Basically, the Avatar equivalent of the 20th century is happening.
And into this context, the cycle of reincarnation introduces the next avatar—a brash, powerful bender from the Southern Water Tribe: Korra.
Korra is tall and muscular, with olive skin, blue eyes, and a slightly crooked smile. From a young age she picked up on earth, water, and fire bending with no trouble and used them as expressions of her aggressive confidence. But what happens to that confidence when she moves suddenly from her secluded training grounds at the South Pole to the chaos and romance of a booming modern metropolis?
Intended for an older audience than Avatar, the main cast of characters in The Legend of Korra are all in their late teens, with the requisite romantic entanglements that demographic implies—though they aren't really central to the plot beyond the first season. But the maturity of the show is by no means as superficial as that might imply.
Delving into complex topics of political philosophy, The Legend of Korra cycles through a compelling cast of seasonal villains who ask questions that strike at the foundations of society—who deserves power? What is the value of progress vs. tradition? Should civilization be united under one nation, or dissolved until there are none?
Along with these heady issues and the frightening fighting skills of the villains—each possessing a unique elemental talent that makes for beautifully choreographed and animated fight scenes—Korra offers a cast of characters that are equal to Team Avatar. Korra herself grows and learns so much about herself, her family, and her role in the world as the series progresses, and her friends and allies don't disappoint either.
Of particular note for a show that deals with so much heavy material are the numerous comic relief characters that never fail to lighten the mood, from the hapless cheerfulness of Bolin (sort of on optimistic Sokka) to Meelo's slapstick energy and Varrick's manic egotism ("Zhu Li, do the thing!").
do not forget legend of korra gave us the best origin story with the most beautiful/ unique animation style i will… https://t.co/rRbjd5a8n8— rea (@rea) 1595352589.0
The show also fleshes out the mythos of Avatar, most notably with possibly the best episode in either series telling the story of how a man named Wan collected the elemental powers and fused with the light spirit to save the world from destruction and become the first avatar. The epsiode diverges from the show's familiar animation style, drawing inspiration from traditional East Asian woodblock prints, and delivers some truly moving moments. But it's far from unique in that respect—Korra knows how to tug at your heart strings.
So with all this going for it, why are there still some Avatar fans who insist that it's not worthy?
The Case Against The Legend of Korra
Okay, so there are some legitimate complaints to be made. The heavy focus on romantic subplots early in the show is just not that compelling. It mostly feels a little forced. Whether the writers aren't really adept at that kind of story or it was shoe-horned in to please network executives, it just sort of drags through a lot of the first season (and a bit of the second). If you can get through those episodes—thanks to everything else the show has to offer—you're in the clear.
Beyond that, the animal sidekicks are somewhat lacking. No offense to Naga and Pabu, but they can't quite live up to Appa and Momo. If that seems like a quibble, that's either because you don't know how great Appa and Momo are, or because there's really not much that's wrong with Korra. What people choose to complain about is hardly surprising if you've spent any time on the Internet, but it's still worth calling out. Namely some Avatar fans—like Star Wars fans before them—don't appreciate being reminded of "politics."
What they mean is that Korra is a girl—and worse still, a realistically badass girl. Like, even without magic powers she could beat most men up if she wanted to. Also, she's not white. Also, she's bisexual.
While the show doesn't quite make that last detail explicit, the friendship between Korra and her one-time rival, Asami Sato, develops organically (as opposed to the first season's approach to relationships) into a sort of intimacy that hints at gay romance—a hint that was later confirmed by the creators. Oh no! The horror! How dare a cartoon represent any of the variety of human romance beyond the most vanilla flavor!
Before Korra kicked off, executives at Nickelodeon were concerned that kids wouldn't be interested in an action show starring a tough female protagonist. It turned out they were wrong—kids just like a badass action hero and don't get hung up too much on her gender.
Unfortunately, some older (particularly white male) fans were not so open-minded.
Fortunately, we can just let them sulk about it while we enjoy the near-perfect sequel that is The Legend of Korra, now on Netflix.