[This article contains SPOILERS from the entire Legend of Korra series.]
Nickelodeon’s The Legend of Korra was given birth in the face of immense opposition created by its own writers, namely Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. They had already created an iconic group of heroes in their first outing (The Last Airbender), with loyal fans touting the series as one of the best on television. So how do you reinvent an iconic franchise that’s already soared beyond your wildest expectations? Simple, you look to the future.
DiMartino and Konietzko’s future resided in the sprawling metropolis of Republic City, which was crafted from Avatar Aang and Fire Lord Zuko’s hard work to bring about peace among the four nations. This Roaring Twenties-esque marvel would be the primary setting for series’ first two seasons, and the beautiful young waterbender named Korra would soon to call it her home.
Unlike Aang, Korra embraced the idea of being the Avatar from an early age. She reveled in the excitement of combat, always rushing in to take charge even if she wasn’t prepared for what lay ahead. Korra’s age difference was also a significant change, as she was already a young woman at the beginning of Book 1: Air. Her maturation in comparison to Aang’s was of a different nature, but it was no less dynamic. It was almost as if we were watching her become a woman instead of the personification of what the Avatar should be. Perhaps they are one and the same?
While there is no denying the excellence of The Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra felt like more of a personal expression from the creators. This may have been a direct result of the controversial happenings between the show and its parental unit, Nickelodeon. We’ll probably never hear the full story, but the lack of promotional backing, mixed with the decision to take the series off the air, has seemingly persuaded DiMartino and Konietzko to call it quits with the franchise in terms of animated programming. Dark Horse Comics will most likely continue with its adventures into the world of the Avatar, but only time will tell.
After a somewhat disappointing second season (Book 2: Spirits), Korra roared back with a season rivaling any from its predecessor. Book 3: Change took Korra through a crucible against the best villain this series has created, Zaheer. The half-monk half-revolutionary airbender defeated Korra in both mind and spirit, rendering her all but useless through the first half of Book 4: Balance. Her journey through this metaphorical fire forged her into the hero we see before us in the epic two-part series finale.
Like her creators, Korra had to battle against herself in the final outing. Kuvira, for all of her ferocity and determination, was a darker version of Korra we (fortunately) never saw. The Avatar’s willingness to forgive, protect, and sacrifice herself for the sake of her enemy is a beautiful realization of what it means to be a hero.
As a female, Korra defies the meaning of a hero in the literal sense. If you look at the classical definition of what it means to be a hero, you’ll find the word “man” somewhere in the description. When given examples, titanic names like Odysseus, Samson, and King David grace the pages. In keeping with their looking forward motif, the creators chose wisely when they picked an ethnically ambiguous, strong-willed female character as their lead. Sure, TLA had Katara and Azula, but never had a young lady been featured so predominately in the franchise.
By the end of series, Korra’s own sexuality was called into question. Some may consider the timing of hinting at a romantic relationship between Korra and Asami as off, but it definitely pushed the boundaries of what we are used to seeing on American cartoons that air before 10pm. Many series that have faced the same turmoils as Korra would have been canceled immediately, so like our heroine, DiMartino and Konietzko deserve praise for persevering in the midst of opposition from a network that presumably no longer wanted the series to exist.
These two men stuck through it all for the fans and delivered one of the best finales of 2014. Where do you think Korra’s series finale stacks up against the rest of The Last Airbender franchise? Let us know in the comments.
The Legend of Korra aired from April 14, 2012 – December 19, 2014.