Well, here we are at the end Korra’s journey. It was quite the trip.
Sure, I could track down the graphic novel sequels, but I’m gonna pass.
Now, normally, I would write these up largely as plot summaries with some mildly snarky commentary, but this is the end, so I’ll just say that, since I got to consume the entire series more or less all at once, and as I said in one of the earlier write-ups, thanks to cultural osmosis, I was well aware of who Korra ended up with, so when Korra and Asami joined hands, looked into each other’s eyes, and walked into the new spirit gate in the middle or Republic City, I knew it was coming.
So, instead, I chose to focus on how much the series set that all up. Now, hindsight being 20/20, I don’t know how much of a surprise this thing ended up being for people who, you know, had no idea it was coming, but I will say, the series did set it up pretty well. We know from previous episodes that Asami was the only person Korra kept in touch with, and just before they exit the episode, Asami mentions how the possible loss of both her father and Korra would have been a bit too much for her to bear.
So, really, it wasn’t an out-of-left field revelation. The show had arguably been building towards it since at least the end of Book Three when Asami, and only Asami, offered Korra someone to talk to after her horrible experience nearly dying at Zaheer’s hands.
And the other thing was the final confrontation with Kuvira. Yeah, it’s Korra’s show, and we should expect her to win in the end. However, after everything Korra went through since she first arrived in Republic City, particularly since she had that great chat with Toph over how all of her opponents were people with noble causes perverted into something terrible by extremism, that caused the nature of Kuvira’s defeat. It wasn’t so much as Korra overpowered her (though she arguably did that as well), but Korra actually just talked to her and listened.
Why shouldn’t she? Kuvira wanted stability in her chaotic country. Prince Wu, at the start, wasn’t exactly a responsible person though he grew into one by the episode’s end, and the one person who could have united the Earth Kingdom and brought everything more or less under control was Suyin, and she wasn’t interested. Kuvira wanted her country to no longer be a lawless hellhole. She just wasn’t really the person to do it in the end, and she even realized it. She, like Korra in the beginning of the series, was just too bull-headed to see it that way.
That’s quite a change for Korra, the girl who led with her fists when we first met her, coming into her own as a mature and contemplative young woman who sees something of herself in one of her fiercest enemies and manages to do something even Aang couldn’t: talk an enemy into simply surrendering and showing repentance. God knows the Fire Lord never considered that.
And that, perhaps, is one of the biggest things to set The Legend of Korra apart from The Last Airbender. Aang’s enemies, his real enemies like the Fire Lord and Azula, were largely unrepentant people who seemed to glory in causing pain in others. Zuko was different, but he always had that potential as seen by the fact he kept Iroh around for no discernible reason, and we were told early on his deal.
Instead, as noted, all of Korra’s enemies had good motives carried out in extremely bad ways. We saw people fighting for equality, a greater connection to the spirit world, freedom, and order in a chaotic world…and they were the villains. It says something that while Last Airbender wasn’t exactly a show full of black-and-white motives, particularly since it showed how a long-running war affects people on both sides of the conflict in negative ways, that Legend of Korra tried to up the ante a bit with more complex political and social movements reflected in the world Korra lived in. If Varrick can marry his assistant and treat her like an equal and Prince Wu can abdicate in favor of a democracy, then there was hope for a lot of people in this show’s universe.
That said, as much as I liked Legend of Korra, it isn’t quite as good as Last Airbender. Last Airbender told one coherent story with strong characters over three seasons. Legend of Korra had four different stories told over four different seasons, each with its own antagonist. That makes sense since Book One was originally meant to be a stand-alone sequel mini-series that Nickelodeon decided to pick up for a few more seasons afterwards. It’s probably why the show didn’t go for the better title of The Legends of Korra since arguably each “book” told the audience of a different legend featuring Korra and her friends. And Korra’s show does have a few advantages over its predecessor. The advancement of technology, the more nuanced antagonists, and just having some older protagonists so I wasn’t constantly wondering how much I wanted to see the romantic problems of a 12 year old was nice.
That said, the characters on Korra’s show often had more stereotypical problems for teenagers in a lot of other shows with stuff like love triangles–and there’s some small irony that Mako ends the show with no one but he doesn’t seem to mind–and I often found myself more interested in adult characters like Tenzin and his siblings who had more direct connections to the original show’s cast. I was curious what happened to Aang, Katara, Sokka, Toph, and Zuko between series. I am not particularly curious about what happens to Korra, Asami, Mako, or Bolin going forward. Heck, Asami didn’t seem to have much to do most of the time anyway.
Then again, I may not have been so curious about the Aang Gang if this show didn’t occasionally have one of them pop up or at least make a reference to something that happened with them between shows.
Ultimately, this was still a highly creative universe with a lot of smart writing no matter which series I was watching, and bending may be the most creative superpower/martial art I’ve seen on any show in quite some time. I’m rather glad I watched these two shows, even though one is in my mind clearly better than the other.
Let’s say 10 out of 10 smelly air bisons for Last Airbender and 8.5 out of 10 forgotten polar bear-dogs for Legend of Korra.
So, that’s a lot of weeks spent covering cartoons at the 2PM hour. What’s next? Um, nothing for now. Maybe something else in the future. But this was fun. I’ll be sure to do it again sometime soon.