Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Why Legend of Korra is Still Significant

 After my "Why Avatar the Last Airbender is Still Significant" post, you know I had to do a follow up on the Legend of Korra

As usual, there be spoilers ahead. 

The Heroes Journey

Where Aang had one overall goal, stop the Fire Nation, Korra's goals are more inward focused, namely what does it mean to be the Avatar. Yes she still has to stop the bad guys, of whom includes some terrifying individuals that make Firelord Ozai look like a baby turtle-duck, but her main focus is one of self discovery. 

Throughout the series we see her doubt herself, question her motivations, trust the wrong people, make mistakes and at one point even run away from her Avatar responsibilities (Luckily not to somewhere she could get trapped in ice, we know what kind of mess that makes). Like Aang Korra is learning to be the Avatar, but unlike Aang it goes far beyond her learning to master all four elements and learning what it means to bring balance to the world. 

A Changing World

Legend of Korra takes place over 50 years after the end of Aang's adventures, and the world has changed significantly since. A new nation, the United Republic, has sprung up and technology has reached the level of around the 1920's. After season two, the world goes through another drastic change when Korra opens the portals to the spirit world, allowing spirits to live in the physical world alongside humans. This causes the entire world to change overnight, with encroaching vines invading metropolitan areas and the return of airbenders. 

Sound familiar? 

Our world has been changing dramatically over the last year, from the ongoing pandemic to riots to natural disasters, and we have had to learn how to adapt the best we can. While we don't get adorable Studio Ghibli spirits to play with (Except we got Baby Yoda, which let's face it, has been the saving grace of the last year, that and Animal Crossing), our world still looks vastly different from what it used to. Legend of Korra is about learning to adapt to change, knowing that change is a natural part of life and to make the best of whatever situation you find yourself in. 


Season three gives Korra her most significant story arch. She begins in hiding from literally everyone, fighting the demons of her past. By this point she's already had her bending taken away by Amon, had her connection with Rava the spirit of peace severed and with it her connection to the past Avatars, and been poisoned by Zaheer which put her in a wheelchair for nearly a year. She has lost the connection to her spiritual self and is seeing visions of an angry Avatar state Korra who wants her dead. 

While she defeated each villain, the battles have taken their tole on her physically and mentally. To the mind time isn't really a concept it can process, and with severe trauma it can tend to become stuck in moments, not realizing that the danger has passed. Korra was experiencing this as she fought her memories of her past enemies. She was told by Toph that some of Zaheer's poison lingered in her body, which creates the perfect metaphor for the trauma still swirling inside Korra's head. 

Most narratives the hero beats the bad guy, sometimes by the skin of their teeth, and the next day they shrug off just having been in mortal danger as just part of the job. Legend of Korra doesn't do that, instead giving our hero actual consequences to her fighting and showing the emotional tole that having to repeatedly fight for your life can have on a person. This is a lesson that needs to be taught in far more settings, remembering that not every hero always bounces back. 

Power of Mentorship

Korra has her team of friends to create the new Team Avatar, which are all as helpful as they are fun to watch, but the truly significant relationship throughout the course of the show is the one Korra has with Tenzin, the airbending master and son of Aang. At first the two clash on almost everything, since Korra's temper and energy clash with Tenzin's reflective calm. But eventually both learn from each other as Tenzin mentors Korra first in airbending then in how to be the Avatar in general. Again in most media this would either be glossed over or relegated to a single training montage with the hero needing to be shown to be strong enough to figure everything out on their own. 

The truning point in Korra and Tenzin's relationship comes in season one, when the dangerous cult leader Amon confronts Korra at Avatar Aang Memorial Island. Amon has demonstrated the ability to permanently take away someone's bending ability, and Korra is terrified to face him but does so anyway. During the confrontation, Amon has Korra helpless and lets Korra believe that he's going to take her bending only to instead threaten her before disappearing into the night. Moments later Tenzin finds her, bending in tact, only for her to collapse into his arms while she sobbs about how terrified she was of Amon. Tenzin gives her the space to cry and lets her know that it's okay to be afraid. The strong independent hero teaches the greatest lesson of all in this moment: That it's okay to not be the strong independent hero and to ask for help. 


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