Over the summer, Netflix released “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and “The Legend of Korra,” calling back fans of the Nickelodeon classics, while simultaneously spawning a new generation of viewers.
The union of old and new fans of the Avatar universe sparked a fandom that perfectly embodies pop culture in 2020. With plenty of TikToks and memes centered around the shows, fans refuse to let their love for the series become a memory of the past.
“Avatar: The Last Airbender” had a successful debut in 2005, and today, it is met with the same universal love and appreciation for its compelling character arcs, well-crafted world building and emotionally wholesome tone. The 2010 film adaptation, “The Last Airbender,” was not so lucky. Unlike the cartoon series, the live-action film was met with universal hatred for its terrible acting, lazy fight choreography and the whitewashing of its characters.
However the 2012 spinoff series, “The Legend of Korra,” was, and still is, met with severe controversy. Some “Avatar: The Last Airbender” fans argue that the series is an extreme let down while others argue that it perfectly continues the story of the Avatar world.
“The Legend of Korra” takes place 70 years after the events of the original series, in the same world where some people have the ability to control one of the four elements: water, earth, fire and air.
One individual, the avatar, can bend all four elements and is responsible for bringing balance and peace to the world. When the avatar dies, they are reborn as a new person, and they are able to utilize the wisdom and knowledge of their past lives.
The original series followed Aang, a childish young airbender who learned to own up to his responsibility as the avatar and end a 100-year war. “The Legend of Korra” follows the next avatar after Aang, reborn as a waterbender named Korra.
One thing is for sure, if people decide to watch “The Legend of Korra” as a way to satisfy their need for more “Avatar: The Last Airbender'' content, they can expect to be deeply disappointed. Korra is nothing like Aang.
Korra initially has a headstrong, aggressive personality and her first instinct in any conflict is to attack. She struggles at solving tensions peacefully and understanding opposing perspectives despite it being critical to her responsibility as the avatar. While Aang’s high moral code stopped him from ever taking a life, Korra has no problem killing if she deems it necessary.
A crucial difference between the two is that Aang didn’t want to be the avatar in a world that desperately needed him, whereas Korra idolizes her avatar identity more than anything, despite being told that the world doesn’t need her. It’s because of these differences and how she matures over time that make her a compelling protagonist, rather than merely a copy of Aang.
Through each season, Korra is broken by her internal and external conflicts, but as she recovers, she learns to be a more compassionate and competent hero.
A critical flaw of the series is the lack of development of the secondary characters, primarily Korra’s friend group. Mako, Asami and Bolin, although lovable at times, fail to reach the same level of depth and development as Korra.
One could argue that it’s reasonable for the secondary characters to be less complex than the lead protagonist, yet the original series stood out for its well-crafted characters. Viewers going into “The Legend of Korra” expecting to fall for a group of lovable, layered characters that often steal the spotlight will be very disappointed.
The best part of the show are the villains. Each of the four seasons center around a specific villain and Korra’s mission to defeat them. What makes this compelling is that none of them have malicious intent.
Each villain fights for something ideally good to society. They are convinced that what they are doing will bring equality, spirituality, freedom or order. However, every villain goes to extreme lengths to accomplish their goal and does more harm than good.
Not only do the antagonists stand alone as complex characters, but they allow the hero to grow. Each villain damages Korra’s identity and temporarily breaks her. Rather than Korra developing through her journey with her friends, she develops through her villains. With each season, Korra learns about a new injustice in the world and how to resolve conflict in the best possible way.
A major problem with the series is the incorporation of technology. The world has changed dramatically since the original series, mainly due to its rapid technological advancements. The lack of realism that comes with technology developing from Aang’s world to Korra’s can often be distracting.
Unlike “Avatar: The Last Airbender”, where the characters have the intention of taking down the same villain throughout its three seasons, each season of “The Legend of Korra” has its own plotline and villain.
“The Legend of Korra” was originally supposed to be a one-season show, which is why there is a completed storyline in the first season, and the same concept applied to the second season. On the other hand, the creators knew they were going to get a third and fourth season, which is why the last two seasons have slower storylines.
This can be seen as a downfall since there’s a lack of consistency with the conflicts. However, instead of a single conflict being the root of the series, Korra’s character journey defines the show.
For fans of action, the show will not disappoint as practically every episode offers an action-packed fight scene. The incorporation of bending allows for creative uses of action. Watching people bend the elements at each other while using their environment and creativity to best their opponent never gets old.
Although “The Legend of Korra” is far from perfect, the world-building, action, villains and main character make the experience entirely worth it. If viewers can set aside their love for “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” they will enjoy a beautifully developed character arc and a world that is far more interesting than our own.