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Thoughts from a first-time Korra-watcher

So, I finally sat down and watched the full series of Legend of Korra over the course of several evenings this last week. I’d heard a lot of excellent things about the show from various people and for a long time had been curious about it. I agree with several other people that it seems an odd fit amid Nickelodeon’s fart-joke and booger-humor lineup. Since I’m not a Hulu Plus or Netflix subscriber, I watched the series on YouTube, with all of the sound issues and sketchy video quality that this entails (I never did find versions that weren’t cut off at the top and/or bottom). All around, I found Korra to be a smart, well-written saga full of lively, interesting characters. (Warning: contains spoilers.)

I think my favorite aspect of the show is that nowhere during the series does anyone make an issue of the fact that the new Avatar is a girl—Korra included. While characters’ skepticism toward her youth and inexperience come up periodically during the first couple seasons, no one ever suggests that being a girl makes her less an Avatar than any of the previous. Nor does Korra display a need to prove that she’s smarter, tougher, or in any way better than all the boys. From the start I felt like she stayed focused on learning and understanding who and what she needs to be as the Avatar. There’s little I appreciate more in a heroine. While Korra starts out pretty brash and overconfident, occasionally assuming that her Avatar status should automatically command others’ respect or warrant her special privileges, she really grows as a character over the course of the series. My hat goes off to creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino for doing it so smartly and believably—in an era where children’s shows thrive on characters who are stubbornly and stupidly resistant to character development, it was genuinely refreshing to watch Korra and her friends grow and mature over the 50-odd episodes.

Nor do Korra or Asami or any of the other women protagonists ever really serve the function of “damsel in distress.” Sure, Korra gets captured several times in seasons 1 and 3, but each time she makes her captors work to subdue her and on several of these occasions she manages to get herself free without help. I respect that in a heroine.

I like as well the overall level of competence shown by the primary villains of the story. I grew up with cartoonishly incompetent villains like Skelator, Cobra Commander, and the Shredder—characters so unrealistically foolish that the heroes defeat them by virtue of having double-digit IQ points. The masked villain Amon is charismatically evil, with an insidious plan to take over the city and destroy the Avatar—one that allows him to paint a heroic image of himself in the blood on his hands. Not only does he nearly succeed, he defeats Korra at least three times, even succeeding in taking her powers away. Korra’s evil uncle Unalaq may be crazy and obsessed, but he’s still cunning enough to use is superior knowledge of the Spirit World and its lore to stay ahead of our heroes for all of Season 2. It was the dictator Kuvira, however, who quickly became one of my favorite antagonists in all of television. I absolutely love a well-written villainess, as well as intelligent and militant evil dictators. While I’d rather not live under her reign, I respect the way that Kuvira isn’t afraid to use force to unite the squabbling factions of the Earth Empire and put down the thugs and bandits plaguing the countryside.

Nor are Korra’s enemies the sort of villains who lose by surrounding themselves with incompetent help. I liked that even the fight scenes against enemy henchmen and faceless minions tend to be tricky, hard-hitting fights for Team Avatar. The Earth-, Fire-, and Water-Bender bad-guys are all highly competent at their crafts, using their powers in creative and effective ways, forcing the good guys to think on their feet and adjust their tactics to counter their enemies’ fighting style—and even then the heroes don’t always win. Meanwhile, the non-Bender lackeys and henchmen are no slouches either, often expert martial artists and using specialized weapons and technology to make up for the lack of bending. The fight scenes are generally well-done with Anime-style action that I rarely felt was over-the-top.

I was also mostly impressed with the romance in the story. In general I tend to have a preference for tales where romantic tension and drama are secondary (or even tertiary) to the overall plot—thus I appreciated the minimal focus on these relationships throughout the series. The Korra + Mako relationship was one I didn’t really believe in, and I honestly felt like Korra seemed to have a much more fun on the one date she went on with Bolin than all of the time she spent with Mako. I typically hate love-triangles as such an over-played trope, but for the most part I was okay with Korra/Mako/Asami. I wasn’t overly surprised when Mako picked Korra, but I also wasn’t too surprised when they broke up. But I like that they don’t let their personal drama obstruct saving the world.

As far as Korra and Asami’s relationship at the very end of the series, I’m pretty okay with it. I thought ending the series with the two of them holding hands was tasteful and believable—a charming first date between two likeable, mutually-attracted ladies. Admittedly, the evolution of Korra and Asami from buds to potential girlfriends is subtle, but I think I like it better that way. Rather than the flirtation, awkward dialogue, and furtive glances we’re used to with marginally experienced couples, we see a mutual respect and sense of teamwork between two smart, capable heroines. Beginning early in season 3, we start to see a stronger camaraderie between Korra and Asami, influenced in part by their respective past relationships with Mako. I kind of got the feeling that both heroines grew up surrounded mainly by adults and thus neither has ever really had a gal-pal to hang out with before. To me the hand-holding marks the start of a relationship: both of them interested in ‘testing the water’ romantically and wanting to see where this goes.

On the whole, there’s a lot more I could (and would like to) say about Legend of Korra in terms of story, characters, and a lot of the very adult issues that the creators bring up in this truly well-written children’s saga. But I’ll leave off for now with a last set of compliments to the creators. Korra is a genuinely smart, well-constructed story and I offer my thanks for sharing it with the world. As always, thanks so much for reading, folks. Take care, stay awesome!

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