Avatar: The Last Airbender blowing up has probably been one of my favorite things to happen during quarantine. As a huge part of my childhood, seeing Avatar return to my life now as a college student was like being knocked over by a wave of nostalgia. After rewatching the series again and again, I was so excited when The Legend of Korra arrived on Netflix.
So, let’s discuss the controversy around Korra. (Spoilers ahead!)
First off, the characters. I don’t think the main characters in Korra were anything comparable to the Gaang. They tried to recreate the Gaang’s dynamic with Mako (who I hate) and Bolin but it just didn’t really work out, in my opinion. I think Asami was a great addition, though, and the side characters were really fun, like chaotic Uncle Bumi, impatient Tenzin, and of course, Varrick with his iconic line, “Zhu Li, do the thing!”
The biggest criticism people have is for the new Avatar. When watching Korra, you can’t go in with the same mindset as with Avatar. Korra is not the same person as Aang. In fact, they are polar opposites. I can see why a lot of people dislike her and find her unlikeable — she’s stubborn, hot-headed, and sometimes very arrogant — but like most characters, she makes mistakes and undergoes a huge character arc. She lives through a lot of traumatic crap, but she comes out of it so strong. I’m not saying she was the best Avatar (I personally still prefer Aang), but don’t discredit her. She was pushed into the Avatar role at a very young age and spent her entire life training for it. Korra was the Avatar learning to become a teenager, while Aang was a teenager learning to become the Avatar.
Worldbuilding wise, I thought Korra did a decent job. A lot of people dislike how technologically advanced everything became, but I think it was really cool and actually made a lot of sense. Sokka didn’t become a genius inventor for the world to just… not change at all. I understand a lot of people liked the aesthetic of the older and simpler world, but seeing how advanced Republic City became was strangely satisfying. It’s still fundamentally the same world, but things are bound to be different. After all, 70 years have passed.
However, The Legend of Korra has a lot of logical fallacies. It contradicts Avatar a lot, especially in its depiction of spirituality. Suddenly going to the spirit world is not about meditation, but using Spirit Portals? The introduction of Raava was rather abrupt, as none of the previous Avatars ever mentioned her and Vatu in the original series. It was also strange to see powerful bending styles like metal bending, blood bending, lightning bending, and even lava bending become so common, especially when everyone in Korra seemed so spiritually disconnected.
But it was still really cool to see the beautiful animation to these bending styles, as we were introduced to a lot of interesting villains. I personally think The Legend of Korra had great villains (besides Unalaq). While having a new villain every season might have weakened the show a little, I argue that Amon, Kuvira, and Zaheer were very well-developed characters with complex motives. Azula remains superior, but you can’t argue that the villains in Korra were one-dimensional. They were extremely powerful benders that fought for a strong cause, as opposed to Lord Ozai’s generic goal of world domination. They also make the show a lot darker than Avatar. In Avatar, death was avoided at all costs, as Aang went through a whole dilemma about not killing Ozai. Meanwhile, in Korra, there were some pretty brutal deaths: Tarrlok blowing up the boat to kill himself and his brother, the Earth Queen literally getting the air sucked out of her, Ming-Hua being electrocuted, and so much more.
And with these villains, that brings me to the next point: the politics in the show.
Now that I’m older, there’s a lot more to analyze and understand about this cartoon world. Korra’s villains revolve around various political ideologies, each season respectively relating to communism, colonization, anarchy, and nationalism. The show actively criticizes these, by painting Amon and Kuvira out to be such extremists, but glorifies capitalism and industrialization as Varrick is praised even after kidnapping the president and selfishly profiting off the civil war by providing arms to both sides. There is also the aspect of Korra upholding the status quo by shutting down revolutions led by oppressed groups like the non-benders. It’s problematic if you think about it because “if bending is wealth and power, [Korra] is Jeff Bezos.” There’s a lot to unpack here, but Kay and Skittles on YouTube go into a deep dive into the politics in Korra. Avatar: The Last Airbender is also a political commentary about anti-imperialism and maintaining balance among four independent nations. In the comics, Aang faces a lot of political issues as well, such as the fight he has with Zuko over the fate of the Earth colonies.
You could say we’re looking too much into a cartoon show meant for kids, but it’s a discussion worth having.
I personally think Korra really isn’t that bad. Avatar is undoubtedly way better in terms of scriptwriting, plot, and general dynamic, but Korra was a fun watch for those who love the bending world. And it made me so emotional every time they referenced or showed the Gaang!