Analysis: The Legend of Korra

The Equalists' Character Alignment.

From the get-go, we, the audience know that Amon and the Equalists wants to rid Republic City (if not the entire world of Avatar) of benders. From a distance, one would see them clearly as a rogue group of villains who clearly want their ultimate goal fulfilled. However, there may be some legit points they raise.

There is a clear drift in social classes in Republic City, as the sudden appearance of Sparky Sparky Bush Man clearly indicates in the first episode. There are also Street Urchins like Skoochy that wander the streets of Republic City asking for money from strangers. There are sets of gangs who terrorizes civilians and actively participate in illegal activities, like bribery and extortion. The citizens in question would probably be pretty sick and tired of seeing benders impose their will in this manner, if they have not already have resentment about their powers. This is where Amon comes in. Here we have a charismatic guy with a passion in his voice that probably mirrors their complaints about benders. They look at him and say to themselves "Wow he's been through the same things we have" and they quickly find a connection with him that they can easily identify with and understand. The massive crowd that showed up at Amon's rally rectifies this. They see Amon as a Robin Hood-esque hero who tries everything in his power to help his fellow people. Of course, this could all be smoke and mirrors so Amon could replace the Avatar as a world hero that succeeded in riding the world of benders, so this all could be an elaborate ruse. So, this really depends on the viewer's interpretations.
  • Amon is intended to evoke comparisons to the Communists (and to a lesser extent, the various fascist movements of the 1920's).
  • Skoochy is actually an earthbender street urchin, according to the Welcome to Republic City flash game.
  • In the Magic: The Gathering Character Alignment stance (which is quite Grey, to say the least), the Equalists pretty much count as White villains, being fundamentally a Well-Intentioned Extremist organisation that fundamentally desires equality, only that they went too far and use methods like terrorism and stripping benders of their identity. Even from a practical stand point in regards to attack mechanics they are very White, preffering to incapacitate their foes above lenghty combat or killing.

Technology in Korra

In "The Legend of Korra's" parent series, Avatar: The Last Airbender there was already the seeds, if not the outright saplings, of Steam Punk technology. Much of the Avatar world was quite primitive, due to a combination of reliance on bending, a lack of resources and technological isolation. For example, the Water Tribes were able to build elaborate cities thanks to their control of water, but still relied on sail-boats. Travel in the Earth Kingdom seemed mostly Ostrich-Horse driven, with the occasional aid of Earth-Bending.

The Fire Nation, however, were far more technologically advanced. Fire powers and access to coal allowed them to develop a variety of steam based technology, everything from jet-skis to battle-ships. The war seemed to have spurred technological innovation, much as it did in the real world. However, in many ways technology was even more advanced than what we have today. For example, they were able to build a gigantic drill capable of burrowing into mountains, all powered by steam.

By the time Korra arrives in Republic City, seventy years have passed, so its expected some technological progress was to be made. Early auto-mobiles are just begining to become common place, mostly due to Hiroshi Sato, who like Henry Ford in the real world made them more accessible. People are often heard listening to the radio, and many of the mechanisms in the pro-bending ring seem driven by electrical power.

How feasible is this technological jump? Opinions vary. Gut instinct for many was to say it was too fast. However, a closer inspection shows the development of technology closely mirrors the real world. Imagine all the things we have created in the last 70 years; in the 1940s the ability to read this very text anywhere in the world on a device that allows you to store thousands of songs, read maps for almost every city and talk to people you've never met would have been ridiculous. Human innovation is a lot faster than many think.

To be specific, Korra takes place in an equivalent to our 1920s, as reflected in the fashions and music. Indeed, many of the technologies on display in Korra were already being used in this time period, and in some cases had existed for decades, such microphone and radio (first used in 1876 and 1873 respectively.) In fact, some people have even levied the criticism that technology in the show seems to have progressed more slowly than expected.

Whether the development was too slow or fast, no one can deny the creativity and ingenuity the show's technology shows off, thanks to the inclusion of bending into the world's tool-box. Earth and metal-bending allowed for taller buildings and better infrastructure. Fire Bending is used to weld, while the related lightning-bending can generate electricity (definitely cleaner than coal!). We can imagine that this is only the tip of the ice-berg. With something as versatile as the bending arts, one can imagine that its helped spur and aid industry in all sorts of ways.

Another question raised about The Legend of Korra's technology is whether or not it can truly be classified as Steam Punk. This was the way much of the advertising described the setting, and some of the art style does seem reminiscent of it, especially when we catch glimpses of the factories. Many have noted that actual steam power seems fairly scarce in the new series, as most things seemed powered by electricity. Also, Steam Punk as a genre is usually combined with Victorian England in terms of style, since that's where this technology was most prevalent in Real Life. Some might argue that the distinctive Asian stamp of the Avatar universe erodes a lot of the tropes and styles usually associated with true Steam Punk. Perhaps a better classification would be Diesel Punk, as the setting combines electricity, combustion engines and Magi Tech.

The Government of Republic City

It is ruled by a five member council with far reaching and so far totally unrestricted power that has been in authority for more than forty years. There may be some form of constitution, given mentions of due process, but if it has any authority over the council even Tenzin has failed to bring it up. Because of this a militant bender with a small amount of support can easily pass laws that severely restrict the lives of non-benders that make up an unknown but large portion of the city's population. Tenzin's protest appeared to be the only defense non-benders had against the sudden change in laws.

No explanation has been offered as to how council members rise to power. Given that they are apparently representatives of their various nations it is extraordinarily unlikely for them to have been elected by the people of the city. There is no guarantee they had even seen Republic City before being handed absolute power to control it. In this case, the people of Republic City have no control over who forms this unchecked council.

The government appears to have functioned better in the past, with its degeneration beginning around the time of Avatar Aang's death seventeen year before the start of the series.

After Book 1 it seems that the council has disbanded and put in their stead a democracy headed by a president. It is clear that while all benders despised the Equalists, the council members understood enough that the circumstances that led to the rise of the Equalists were really bad for non-benders and they needed fair representation.

Korra as an Audience Avatar

What happens when you combine the Author Avatar with the Audience Surrogate?

There is a trope called Author Avatar wherein the writer of a piece of fiction essentially inserts themselves into their own story. The role the author avatar plays can range from passive expositor of information to an idealized (or depreciated) self. The Legend of Korra introduces (or codifies) another trope known and the Audience Avatar. Compare to the Ascended Fanboy (or girl), this character essentially represents what or who the general fandom would be like if they inserted themselves in the fictional world. Bryke essentially summed up the ideal self of the Avatar fandom with Korra’s creation. To illustrate this I will examine Korra by dissecting the three dimensions of her character: Personality, Race, and Gender.

Korra’s Personality:

  • Up until the start of Legend of Korra, we have seen what “being the avatar” felt like from the perspective of two past Avatars: Roku and Aang.Both of these Avatars were very reluctant in becoming the Avatar. Aang’s entire story is built on him overcoming this feeling and fulfilling his destiny (after running away for 100 years). Roku’s story was about how his reluctance in being the Avatar manifested itself in the 100 year’s war of the fire nation.
    • When the Legend of Korra starts we get a 4 year old southern water tribe girl named Korra bending fire and earth and declaring “I’m the Avatar, you got to deal with it!” She is excited about being the Avatar, and generally speaking, who wouldn’t be? And when she feels like she cannot fulfill her duties as the avatar she's devastated. Not just out of destiny or necessity, this is who she wants to be. Without this part of her she feels lost.

Korra’s Gender:
  • Korra is female, but not necessarily feminine or masculine; as her gender rarely comes up in the show. That being said, Korra’s body shape is decidedly feminine (particularly when idealized by the fandom). However, she is also particularly muscular, and the show (probably due to it’s Y7 rating) emphasizes her buffness over her buxomness. Arguably, Korra’s Amazon-like nature makes her appealing and relatable on a visual level.

Korra’s race/ethnicity:
  • After the race-bending fiasco of the “Last Air-Bender” movie, making Korra a southern water-tribe native seems to be a reaction to that circumstance. Not to mention she is noticeably darker than her friends Mako, Bolin, and Asami.

Korra and other characters:

  • Mako: Unlike Korra (and his brother) he seems to be much more aloof about the world around him. Even after finding out Korra was the Avatar (and not some groupie), he still contains his excitement for (and attraction to) her. Mako seems to be an ordinary part of the world. He can lightening bend, but it’s fairly mundane to him. Note his reaction to meeting Lord Zuko compared to Bolin’s (and the fandom’s). Bolin was visibly excited to see him, while Mako calmly bowed and vocalized how much of an “honor” it was. Also, the Makorra ship seems to the spiritual successor of the Zutara ship. Made worse with his name being both the named after of uncle Iroh’s original voice actor and not-so-subtlety similar to “Zuko”. When Mako did finally become an item with Korra, his characterization was centered around pleasing her. Their relationship became strained once he became focused on his work.

  • Asami: Is essentially a female Mako in terms of her reaction to the rest of the world (and how mundanely her abilities are viewed). While it was an “honor” for her to meet Korra, she also had a fairly aloof reaction to her. She’s a non-bender who did not sympathize with the equalists (which we would obviously expect from a good aligned character). The most unique aspect of Asami, is that she opens up Korra’s feminine side. Korra feels more comfortable speaking to her than Bolin or Mako when she’s vulnerable. We see them casually complimenting each other’s looks, etc. This has led to the fandom’s Korrasami ship (which has gained popularity since the 3rd season). Similar to the canon Makorra ship, the Korrasami ship usually involves Asami being obsessed and defined by her relationship with Korra (as seen in the fan-art and writings).

  • Bolin: Is an audience avatar too. He is actually excited about the world he’s living in and the world also seems to revolve around him almost as much as it revolves around Korra (from what we see). Bolin is excited about meeting the Avatar, unlike his aloof brother. But he noticed “something special” about Korra before she even mentioned who she was. He was honest enough to say Verrick wasn’t levitating which led to his career as an actor while his brother was merely a detective (a normal job for a normal guy). When Bolin discovered he could bend lava, we never stop seeing him use it. It’s like a crescendo or finishing move to a combo-attack. Both of Bolin’s ships are replacement goldfish for the Borra ship. First he dates/is engaged to Korra’s cousin Eska. Now he’s in a relationship with Toph’s granddaughter Opal. Opal’s connection to Korra is indirect. She’s connected/related to a past avatar character and Korra’s new hair cut makes them almost indistinguishable. Like with Makorra and Korrasami, “Bopal” essentially shapes Opal’s character around her relationship with Bolin.

As a final note, Korra seems to be the only character to raise concerns about her disconnection to the past lives. Not even Rava seems to be bothered by this. The explanation given by some fans is that Lo K is supposed to be Korra’s story. She is the focus of this show. Like any of us would want to be….

Korrasami is far more than a fanservice-y ship and what in means in real-world society

*WARNING SPOILER ALERT*

At first, it was easy to write off Korra and Asami Sato being an actual couple as the usual Avatar shipping mess right up there with Korra/Bolin, Korra/HOWL and even Korra/Amon simply because it was “Anyone But Makorra” no different than “Anyone But Cena” yet a rewatch of Seasons 1, 3 and 4 paints a much broader picture of not just a relationship, but one as organic and nuanced as Aang and Katara or any serious romance instead of just “Oooh yeah, Girl-on-Girl Is Hot!” purely for shock value’s sake. After all, Bryke are no strangers to Getting Crap Past the Radar and doing so in the name of progressivism.

In “Air,” Korra admitted she expected Asami to be “prissy” because she was pretty and rich, which not only Asami was used to hearing, but didn’t take it personally and just kept proving her mettle as a teammate not a Damsel in Distress as a different yet equal kind of female figure than Korra that quickly earned her respect. The Meet Cute between Mako and Asami is the sugary, too-good-to-be-true stuff of cliché rom-coms yet how the ice is broken between Korra and Asami is more organic and fitting of the show’s intended tone. At this point, they’re foils regardless of a male love interest as Korra’s definitely a tomboy at face-value, wants to be girlier as seen with the powderpuff in “The Aftermath,” but cleans up nicely anyway compared to the overtly girly Asami who’s “not afraid to mix it up,” even if that means fighting, driving and coordinating attacks simultaneously without even smudging her makeup. Not just to avoid being labeled The Scrappy (despite what some of the fans thought otherwise,) she remained kind and supportive of Korra to a fault even as the Love Triangle got messy because there was not only a little thing called saving the world going on, but kept the blame squarely on Mako considering Korra’s sheltered upbringing making her practically a child in the ways of love and he actually knows better. All of this displayed a maturity beyond her years that laid the groundwork of her being a consistent confidant to Korra when she needed it most rather than be another teenager also figuring herself out. However, this connection wasn’t as one-sided as it appeared to be as while Korra needs Asami’s support in being the Avatar, Asami needs Korra just as much upon futher notice that despite her friendly demeanor/reputation, she’s never seen with actual friends like the expected Girl Posse, only servants and businesses, in other words, only people reliant on her money, so between the betrayals of her father and Mako with Bolin being both a package deal with Mako and never particularly close with him to begin with, Korra’s both all she’s got and birds of a feather in their ordeals.

The ship was just a seedling here that could go anywhere from ordinary gal-pals to sisterly with the You Are Not Alone talk and Asami’s insistance to Mako in Pema’s kitchen that she still liked Korra being the closest taste of there remotely being anything more between them. This is a fine contrast to how rushed Asami and Mako’s relationship was, even by real-world standards and especially in-universe, which was doomed to fail no matter what given their ages and the shallow basis of it even though she was genuinely and deeply in love with him compared to the “friends first” foundation of her and Korra.

“Change” would finally lampshade and toss the Love Triangle mess of Season 1 like yesterday’s garbage right from the get-go and further slowly and subtly build on the two’s closeness as more than interchangeable teammates and gradually setting the plausible stage of them being more than best friends beginning with Korra learning to drive where it’s food for thought where the talk could’ve gone to had that vine not blocked the road then on with little gestures like eating and training together without even Naga around, Asami covering for Korra as the better liar to the Earth Queen to buy time in “In Harm’s Way” and being an intuitive Action Duo in “Long Live The Queen” then the big tell of Asami guarding Korra when meditating into the Spirit World, which has always been a role reserved for love interests at the exact same time as P’Li to Zaheer and previously shown with Katara to Aang. Finally, the season ends with the implication that Asami had been acting as Korra’s caretaker right down to dressing her for weeks and this is before getting to the suggestive declaration of undying loyalty while Holding Hands. It’s the details involved in the line “...or anything” that make all the difference as spoken flatly with no pause and with unbroken eye contact and it could simply be interpreted as light/empty and platonic or still spoken with a soft voice, pause and broken eye contact and it could be read as Asami being unsure about what else she could do yet being positive she’d be there for Korra in whatever it is, but the emotion in all three of those combined factors is a shyness and tenderness she’s only displayed with Mako and with just as much physical contact implies her coming to terms or “Coming Out” to Korra as feelings evolving beyond mere friendship before quickly changing her tone and the subject as this is clearly not the time or place, but had to say it.

Here, they’re definitely not the same tenuous pairing of Season 1 and have a genuine and distinct bond which takes to heart Korra’s statement in “A Breath of Fresh Air” about “never having a girlfriend to hang out with and talk to before.” After the necessary talk about Mako in the same episode, the pair routinely pass the Bechdel Test as their conversations are about the current mission and/or their current conditions rather than anything “girly” and nothing about “boys” unless it’s logically mission-related like being split off from Mako and Bolin or dealing with Zaheer. There’s more credence to the ship now that the love triangle’s undeniably disposed of and explicitly without damaging things between them, the previous traits of Asami emotionally supporting Korra and backing her up with plans are even more emphasized and there’s a clear dynamic as intuitive as a non-comedic version of Varrick and Zhu Li where they instinctually cover each other’s weaknesses with their respective strengths.

And finally, “Balance” is where the limits against S&P are pushed as far as possible and dismissing the relationship as still a Crack Pairing is comparable to believing Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune are “just cousins.” In “Korra Alone,” despite still having a company to run that’s shed it’s bad rep, Asami clearly enjoyed looking after Korra to the extent she was ready to drop it all and be the only one to volunteer to join her on the trip to the Southern Water Tribe where the best healers in the world are, so she’d “only” be useful as moral support. The same episode is a taste of the bond remaining strong enough between them even after three years that Korra only feels comfortable/close enough to Asami to actually write her, let alone with the full details about the Avatar State and while in “After All These Years,” Asami is friendly enough with Mako and only tolerates Prince Wu, she only truly perks up when she hears Korra’s name is brought up, but it’s “Reunion” that really cements it right from the get-go. Korra blushing at Asami complimenting her new hairstyle is hardly the tip of the iceberg as Mako’s painfully steps behind the two in both conversation, as a third wheel in effectively finding out his ex-girlfriends are now dating each other as well as arguing with Korra on the train where Asami is silent, and in combat where he’s arguing with Asami’s route in the car yet Korra silently and intuitively aids her driving during the chase as effortlessly as hunting Equalists back in Season 1 followed by both already getting into position to jump off the train where a Freeze-Frame Bonus confirms Asami is held closer/more intimately to her than Mako. Even “Remembrances” squeezes in a little more focus with not only them bonding over the tea Asami made and Korra complimenting her for it, (which is another call back to the Pema’s kitchen scene minus Mako both physically and emotionally,) but of all the stills from the episode Konietzko could post on his tumblr page, it’s that one despite it not being particularly scenic as a stealth nod to the audience. However, it’s not until “The Last Stand” where after the day is saved and the series winds down where the relationship undeniably evolves far beyond the realm of mere crack pairings and wishful thinking is cemented/blessed by the creators as canon as much as Nick will allow. Asami is the first to put a congratulatory hand on Korra after Kuvira’s hauled away, they sit together during the wedding with Bolin’s speech about “the longest of long shots” also being applicable to them and Korra is the comforter to Asami this time around in grieving over Hiroshi more emphatically than Mako, (who’s not only unmentioned in this conversation, but not seen again after his declaration of loyalty to Korra,) and Asami bonded over their dead parents in Season 1 before Korra suggests the relaxing vacation. Mako even came out of the fight worse than Korra or anyone else on the team yet Asami outright states she couldn’t have been able handle losing both Korra and her father in the same day.

And here’s where it gets to the ultimate moment of the relationship where any diligent fan since the original series can see the writing on the wall.

The last few minutes of the show could’ve gone anywhere from Korra riding off into the night on Naga as a bookend to the very first episode, the whole party playfully running off into the spirit portal, all four members of the Krew doing so as a group of young friends or if still just the two of them, an unquestionably platonic arm around the shoulder/upper back to anger the shippers and so on to leave the shippers to rot on the vine, but instead, a number of continuity nods and nuance points to a romance that’s gradually grown from a friendship since Season 1. It’s a Call Back to simultaneously the ambiguous kiss in “The Cave of Two Lovers” and last scene in the original series as well as Korra reciprocating the hand holding from the Season 3 Finale right down to the same hands now that she’s mentally and physically in the right place. The walk up to the spirit portal resembles a wedding altar and the helix/crisscrossing lights also symbolize them joining together as it synchs perfectly with their hand holding before the episode/series/franchise closes out with them serenely looking into each other’s eyes and holding both hands despite it not being a requirement to entering the spirit world to put the exclamation mark of their happy ending. The final scene is so poignant that even if the network somehow did allow more such as an exchange of clearly spoken “I love yous” like the end of Season 1 as they gaze into each other’s eyes, it’d be obviously bold, but superfluous relative to all the instances of their connection being silently intuitive.

Overall, switch either woman out with Mako, (regardless of past history or lack thereof) or any unrelated male and it’d obviously be romantic just at face value yet there was always skepticism that Korra and Asami were just good friends because heterosexual women can be closer than their male counterparts without any question of their sexuality. However, contrary to their respective relationships with Mako that ultimately proved to be shallow as a romance, (Korra liked his looks, Asami put him in the lap of luxury,) and stronger as friends, the trials and tribulations of the series from conventional villains to their own personal hangups have fire-forged the young women into an unbreakable bond beyond friendship where love is simply love. In Asami, Korra has a reliable right hand as much as physically possible when it comes to machines, planning and combat, but oh so much more when it comes to emotionally/psychologically as an eternal and unconditional supporter when she needs it the most where as soon as they got on the same page, they stayed on it to the end. In Korra, Asami has the one person to love/attach to that’s never let her down and never had to apologize as far as she’s concerned, so she’ll loyally follow at the drop of a hat. Both desperately seek love, need comfort and acceptance whether it’s Korra growing out of her sheltered upbringing to experience life and live up to her status as the Avatar at the expense of the consequences of those desires or Asami who just wants to do the right thing even though life keeps kicking her down in spite of it with those exact same hardships bringing them all the more closer together. Both are even responsible for positively transforming Republic City with Asami upgrading the infrastructure and Korra adding in both the Spirit Wilds and new portal.

What this all means in the Avatarverse: Although the series is set in a fantasy version of the Roaring 20’s, the creators have always aimed for more modern values as the original series tactfully addressed issues such as racism and sexism among others, so it’s a natural progression to seriously tackle sexuality beyond the implications of what some unsupervised teenage couples did in the original series. Korra’s already acknowledged as one of the most trailblazing Avatars in history then combine that with the franchise’s consistent theme of the importance of love and it makes sense that she’d trailblaze an ostensibly unlikely kind of love as well.

What this all means in the real world: Ostensibly/at first, it’d be easy to say the ship’s popularity was based on the usual lust and spite, but there’s not only nothing sexualized about the two being together such as them in swimsuits or bathing together, there’s been subtle and gradually growing instances as the series progressed that could logically be argued as being more than just the friendship between two young women that otherwise couldn’t in a typical show on Nick (“As Told By Ginger” was close, but never had such a strong following and was more comical about it anyway.) In just the few years alone since the original series, support for and positive portrayals of the LGBT community across media have been on the rise, more than a dozen states legalize same-sex marriage and there’s clearly an audience that wants the heroine to find love, (tastefully, at that,) even if that special someone isn’t the pretty boy from Day 1, so the creators are equally open-minded enough to agree.

So in closing, the franchise has beautifully broken racial and gender barriers before and earned a broad fanbase for it, so the relationship between Avatar Korra and Asami Sato is the natural battering ram to the sexual barrier.