The Legend of Korra, A Forrest Review
As a disclaimer, this article is full of spoilers for The Legend of Korra. These next few paragraphs are spoiler free, but the warning in bold below is the start of said spoilers!
The last time I watched The Legend of Korra was back when it aired on Nickelodeon. I’m a huge fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender, so I was delighted to see a continuation of the world and the possibility of seeing Aang as an adult. But for some reason, the show just didn’t vibe with me.
Now, hear me out… My opinion changed on the rewatch.
The Legend of Korra is a sequel series to the show Avatar: The Last Airbender that aired in 2005 to 2008, with three seasons. LoK premiered in 2012 and ran until 2014, with four seasons. AtLA is a more kid-friendly show with a comical, but serious when need-be eleven-year-old protagonist, whereas LoK features a seventeen-year-old, in your face beat-’em-up sort of protagonist.
The Avatar series is set in an Asiatic-world where there are humans who can ‘bend’, or manipulate, the four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. The Avatar is a bender who can bend all four elements and connect to the Avatar spirit, which embodies the Avatar either upon command or in life-or-death situations, and greatly powers them, enabling them to do things normally impossible with the elements for a normal bender. The purpose of the Avatar is to bring balance and peace to the world.
I know, I know, there’s a huge divide in the fanbase of those who like it and those who don’t. Korra is unlikable, too brash, so unlike Aang… I wasn’t married to this opinion, but it did resonate with me at the time. I didn’t like how Korra treated Bolin early on in the first season, or her and Mako’s relationship later on in the series. Or how she already knew all the elements but air bending at the beginning of the show. (Silly, I know.) There were other elements later on in the series that I found myself bored with as well, but I think it was more of a lack of understanding more than any kind of bad storytelling.
Now that LoK is on Netflix, I decided I should give it a second shot. Maybe I was just being too hard on the show, there are definitely fans, and it went on for four seasons. Anyway, I’d recently rewatched AtLA, so why not go back to the sequel?
I’m glad that I gave it another shot, because this show is fantastic.
Yes, The Legend of Korra is darker, grittier, more serious and intense. Korra starts off impulsive and kind of brooding (she’s a teenager!), but she is so strong inside and out, despite how little she thinks of herself in regards to her spiritual side, including her connection to her Avatar spirit.
It makes sense that LoK goes in the way that it does: Aang and his friends have grown up, and so too have many of the original viewers. And so it comes down to Korra, the next Avatar. Here’s the ticket, though: Korra is not Aang, nor should she be. She is her own person, and as we learn as the series continues through Korra’s eyes, as well as her air bending master, Tenzin (Aang’s son), Aang wasn’t perfect either. They are individuals with past traumas and hangups, and Korra is still learning and growing!
As an original water bender, her opposite element, air, is much more difficult to master. In fact, due to Korra’s impatient, forward personality, it seems as though Korra will never learn how to air bend. Frustrated with her training with Tenzin and still unable to produce even a wisp of air, Korra runs off to Republic City to compete in pro-bending, a tournament type battle between two teams of three: earth, water, and fire.
This is what Korra knows: to fight, to go head on, to force her way through life and her problems. Air bending is about patience, stepping back, and getting in touch with your inner spirit. At one point during her training with Tenzin, she blames him for failing to teach her properly, and they’re both left frustrated and unsure as to how to move forward. I remember originally being frustrated with Korra, too: just slow down! Stop being so impulsive! I couldn’t relate, and so I couldn’t see where she was coming from. But I get it now. Again: Korra is not Aang. Of course she’s frustrated. She’s a teen, she wants to prove herself, everything else has come so easy for her, but now she has to really work at something that she’s seeing zero results with.
But then, after Tenzin catches her pro-bending and confronts her, something clicks… She’s the last one on the court, she could get knocked out easily, and then she has a huge comeback. The training she’s been doing with Tenzin seems to set in, and while she doesn’t end up air bending, she dodges the enemy’s attacks like a leaf on the wind, just as Tenzin taught her, but that she thought she couldn’t learn.
Tenzin and Korra both realize what works for Korra when it comes to training.
I found that scene to be incredible. It shows that teaching is not universal, regardless of trade, age, or skill level. This is something I’ve seen so often growing up, and what I’ve heard others experience: that school doesn’t work for them like it does for the majority, etc. So it’s really important to have a lesson like that shown in media for kids and young adults.
Korra still needs to learn to be patient, but it comes a little easier now that she knows she can do it, rather than constantly feeling like she can’t because she doesn’t understand what she’s doing. Tenzin allowing her to continue pro-bending gives her an outlet, as well as real-world situations to practice air-related skills (without actually air bending).
As the show continues on, Korra is faced with choices she either has to, or wants to make. I remember hearing complaints about how Korra is disliked because she—
**HUGE SPOILERS BELOW**
—breaks the Avatar cycle and loses all the previous Avatar’s lives. Her entire arc that leads up to that moment, as I rewatched this series...doesn’t appear like it’s her fault at all. I mean, yes, she’s the Avatar, and she made the choice to work with Unalaq instead of going with Tenzin to the Air Temples, but it was because Tenzin is not very spiritually inclined and cannot teach her the things Unalaq clearly knows. It was a tremendous opportunity, and Unalaq is her uncle, so why shouldn’t she trust him? To watch him soothe an angry, dark spirit, to someone like Korra who knows nothing of spirits or how to connect to her spiritual side, has got to be an incredible thing to see! I don’t blame her at all for these choices. She is so close to the Water Tribe, and wrapped up in what is expected of her as the Avatar. How could she have predicted the outcome of all this?
The arc of learning who Raava is, and Wan, the first Avatar, was especially fun to watch. And wow, the art is awesome! AtLA has great worldbuilding, but LoK really dives deep down into the origins, even so far as showing the viewers something that was never really touched on in AtLA: the spirits in general. You learn of the Lion Turtles and their purpose as element givers and homes to protect humans from the more dangerous spirits. I really enjoyed these particular episodes, and really the entire buildup to the end of that season. Korra is a badass. She’s so worried about her spirit-side all the way up to now, but she keeps learning and she always finds enough inner strength to defeat the darkness. That’s my jam!
LoK is full of character growth, imaginative and ever growing lore, and impressive new villains and obstacles that Korra and Team Avatar uncover and battle as time goes on. The world never stops, and for Korra, that’s got to be an enormous burden.
A huge part of the series focuses on mental health, especially PTSD. Aang has his moments in AtLA but it’s nothing like what’s shown in LoK. Korra is constantly in life or death situations, things that I can’t even imagine Aang having to deal with: Amon has the ability to take away your bending for good, and he’s weaponizing it. Only the Avatar should have that ability! And the Avatar uses it for good, not for control or power.
Unalaq is her uncle and yet he cares nothing for Korra, only so much as to use her for his own gain. He rips Raava from her and “destroys” the spirit, and she’s put under immeasurable pain. Amon was already incredibly traumatizing and his ghost follows her subconscious even up to season four, but Zaheer, the villain of season three, is what takes the cake. Zaheer is a radical revolutionist bent on destroying the Avatar for good and taking out all of the current world leaders in order to “free the world”. He kidnaps Korra several times, and is the entire reason she was isolated in the Southern Water Tribe due to the fear that she would be kidnapped and murdered, although she is oblivious of this until she encounters Zaheer for the first time. He chains her up and poisons her, probably the most pain Korra’s ever been in in her life despite all the battles she’s already been through (again, as a seventeen-year-old!), and after everything is said and done, Korra is left with a broken spirit, and a broken body. She is paralyzed, and has lost her connection to the Avatar spirit, even after winning the fight.
To say that Korra is weak is a gross misinterpretation and misunderstanding of what she’s gone through. Everything she’s done until now has been with good intentions, and the trials and tribulations of growing up. Not even the Avatar can predict the future. But even after all of that, Korra works through the mental and physical pain of everything that has happened to her up until this point. It takes three years, and when season four starts, she’s still not quite over it, and can’t understand why. More PTSD! I found that kind of character development to be crucial for Korra and for the viewers, personally, and at the end of the show, Korra even admits that without all the suffering she sustained, she wouldn’t have learned how to properly handle her battle with Kuvira. Not that I think Korra deserved to suffer, she certainly didn’t and I feel for her, but learning how to grow from our suffering is an incredibly important lesson to learn, rather than letting it break us. Most people would have broken from that kind of pain and suffering, and it just goes to show how powerful and resilient Korra is.
I’m not saying The Legend of Korra is a perfect show, but the mass disappointment I’ve seen around seems to me like it’s coming from a different place than the actual writing of the show. Korra clearly develops as a character throughout every season, even if that development comes off subtle or minor to some, depending on the season. For example, between season one and two, I found that the development was quite great: Korra is still hard-headed but honestly it just comes off as her normal forward personality, and she’s become more focused on the spiritual side of things, rather than wanting to brush it off and act like it’s unnecessary to develop in order to be a good, strong Avatar, which seemed to be her sentiments during her frustration with air bending in season one.
I think my only gripe with the show is the ending. And by that, I don’t mean Korrasami: I’ve read the complaints that their relationship didn’t have enough build up to become romantic, but a lot of it is mentioned in passing from off-screen scenes. I’ll admit, it surprised me, but it wasn’t a deal breaker. It just would have been nice to see more of that repertoire!
I did feel a little disappointed after such a big buildup and excitement with Kuvira in season four for the show to simply end right after that battle finale. I understand they were cancelled, and they had restraints on what they had left, so I’m not saying it’s bad writing, just disappointing.
Overall, I give the show a 4/5 stars. The continuity, worldbuilding, character
development, mental illness, friendship and found family, and forgiveness were all done exceedingly well in my opinion. I definitely recommend giving it a watch, and perhaps a rewatch for those of you who didn’t enjoy it the first time. :)
What did you think of The Legend of Korra? What were your favorite, and/or least favorite parts? Let me know in the comments! Don’t forget to like and subscribe. :) Thanks for reading, see you next time!