My Legend of Korra rant

Over at Reaxxion, Joshua Wise has been writing up a storm about the Legend of Korra. First he penned an article about why “men love” the Last Airbender sequel. Then he took to the comments to vigorously defend his arguments. When it became clear that he was drowning in a sea of critics, he took up the megaphone once again to address the chief complaints about his original piece and explain why his detractors are wrong.

korra

First of all, Joshua is welcome to his opinions, and I think they are defensible ones. I’ve argued many times with my friend Magnataur about the merits and shortcomings of the Legend of Korra. The short version is that I think it falls way short of its predecessor and has few redeeming features. But I won’t get too deep into my laundry list of complaints about the show. Many of them are, probably, just preferences. For example I strongly preferred the medievalish setting of TLA and was put off by the practically overnight jump into TLK’s industrial age.

Before we dive in, I’d like to disclose that I didn’t finish watching Korra to the very end, so that may erode my credibility a little, though I did watch most of the series. I got a few episodes into the last season, found out about the last episode, and quit watching in disgust. Perhaps at some point I’ll go back and watch the handful that I missed, but I’m not tempted at the moment.

Oh, and of course the obligatory SPOILER ALERT.

Now, let’s have a look at what Joshua liked about the show. Here are his main bullets along with my thoughts:

1. Male characters are treated with respect 

Debatable. It’s true that the characters in Korra do grow and develop. Tenzin’s arch was notable to me. But many of the male characters (or perhaps all the characters?) just came across as rather two-dimensional from what I saw. Bolin was a goof who did get more serious with age and experience but still struck me (and some of Reaxxion’s commenters) as a watered-down Sokka-type. Mako was just painful to watch. He threw away a relationship with the beautiful, kind, rich Asami to pursue Korra. And then he gave up on that because, um…feelings? Oh the angst! Going back to Tenzin, he had his moments. But the overall message I got was that he was a stuffy, conservative monk who was only able to reach his full potential once he loosened up and became more open-minded. Tolerance and progressivism!

2. The action was never disappointing

There was a lot of action, I’ll give it that. Whether this was always to its credit is another story. From early on in the show, there’s a lot going on. We’ve got metal benders on the police force, firebenders shooting lightning in the factories, and the flash of pro-bending. The way the writers escalated the action reminds of Dragon Ball Z, in a way. There’s a famous meme that involves Vegita exclaiming that Goku’s power level is over 9000. By the close of the series, however, enemies usually have power levels somewhere around 100 gazillion. In Korra, the bending and the fights just ramp up and up until you have villains that can take on all of the protagonists almost singlehandedly. Personally I’ll take clever, coherent plot over mindless action anyday.

3. More relationships, less romance

Again, perhaps chalk this one up to preference. I know that “romance” persay isn’t manly, but I’d argue that neither is the abundance of relationships just for the sake of having relationships. So we have Mako and Bolin screwing up their courtships left and right, and then Korra and Asami ultimately deciding that they like girls. Score? For my money, give me an Aang-Katara arch or one of Sokka’s pursuits. They were perhaps a bit more sappy and had their own share of teenage angst, but they also had depth that felt lacking in Korra. I might not go so far as to say Korra’s take is more advocative of the contemporary hook-up culture, but its characters seem like they could use a little more romance and perhaps less relationships.

4. Korra crossed lines that Airbender didn’t

Preference once more? It’s true that Korra got darker than TLA in general. There was some straight up killing. But again, this didn’t feel like it really added much. It was shock value. Killing off characters can be a very powerful storytelling tool, but when you’re offing a random minor character who no one cares about or a villain who’s outlived his story arch, the effect is going to be diminished. I found the struggles of Zuko and Aang much more stirring.

Then we have Joshua’s rebuttal piece, addressing his critics:

1. You are wrong about Korra

Joshua begins by addressing one of the chief complaints of the anti-Korra crowd.

“Yes, Korra begins the series as an entitled cunt, but many of you fail to notice this is never considered to be a good thing? In fact, much of the time her behavior reinforces her personality as naive and destructive.”

He then elaborates that these negative characteristics give her room to grow as a character. And this is true; she learns from Tenzin and others and her powers grow as a result. This is a point well taken. However, I’d like to raise two objections to this defense of Korra. First, while she grows as a character, she remains both abrasive and cocksure. Her tendency to brood doesn’t help. I get that she’s both a teenage girl and that world’s equivalent to Superman (she bears a heavy burden), but generally it’s a good idea to at least build a likable protagonist. While she does have her fans, she’s a lot more polarizing than she should have been. 

Second, Korra follows the Wonder Woman archetype. That’s perfectly fine for some people – Wonder Woman is a popular enough superhero. But I’d like to draw from a post written recently by JC Wright on why he likes Supergirl:

“For the record, this is the reason why I think that Wonder Woman is a poorer character than Supergirl, even though they are both simply female versions of Superman. Wonder Woman is competing with men at what men do best. The Amazon is more macho than a masked Mexican wrestler, at least in the recent versions of the character. Supergirl is stronger than any man but is not competing against men for the man-prize. She is still feminine, with all the mystery and paradox and allure that word implies.”

Korra is an Amazon. It’s true that bending is a great equalizer (hey, is Avatar pro-gun?), but I think anyone would be hard-pressed to characterize Korra as feminine. She competes with men on their level and is ready to kick their asses.  And in the end she decides she doesn’t need men at all! It’s true that this female masculinity isn’t unique to Korra. Avatar Kyoshi struck me as a similar figure – strong-willed and unflinching at the prospect of a good fight. At least Kyoshi wore some makeup though, eh?

kyoshi

Ultimately I’d say that creating a strong, feminine heroine is perhaps challenging but certainly doable. Look at Katara from TLA – she may not have been the Avatar, but she was simultaneously both soft and tough. She learned to become a strong water bending fighter and even mastered the terrible art of blood bending, but she was also a healer and a nurturer. She worried over and cared for both Aang and Sokka, and eventually wound up becoming a wife and mother. Not in the cards for Korra. 

2. You are wrong about Mako and Bolin

 Joshua makes another sensible point here:

“Mako is not Zuko, and Bolin is not Sokka. Yes, they share similar molds and hold similar roles. First off all, saying Zuko is Mako is an insult to Zuko, who was the best character in the show. I’m not saying Mako is a bad character, but where Zuko started compared to where he finished is astronomical compared to Mako.”

He then goes on to say that Bolin is more modeled after Toph than Sokka because of his jock-ness, and winds up being a lava bender because he’s a Fire Nation / Earth Nation hafu. That was a cool development, I’ll agree, but it wasn’t game changing. 

Bolin was better written than Mako, granted. But they were still weak characters that felt like rehashes/mash-ups of TLA’s Team Avatar.

3. You are wrong about bending

This is the section where Joshua points out that bending is the great equalizer in the world of Avatar. 

“Some of you take issue with the idea that in Korra, the women are as strong as the men. I don’t see you hating on Toph, Katara, Azula, Suki, Ty Lee, or Mai.”

I would just say that he’s right that the idea of strong women is not new to Korra. As he points out, there were plenty of strong female characters in TLA. But again, most if not all of these characters display a degree of femininity. In most cases their physical strength or the strength of their bending are not their primary attributes. Toph may be gruff and unkempt, but in an unguarded moment she lets Katara give her a makeover and beams when she is told how pretty she looks. That was a rich and heartwarming moment! I’ve already extolled Katara’s feminine virtues, but will reiterate that they go beyond bending; she has a softness to her. Azula, Suki, Ty Lee, and even Mai – they all display feminine traits. I’m not arguing that Korra never does, but her character usually feels like a man in the body of a teenage girl; that’s the way she has been written and balanced. She is supposed to be strong, so she is made to be borderline butch, arrogant, brash, and loud.

Once again I’d like to point to JC Wright, who has written a series of excellent pieces on the execution of the strong female character. Men and women have different strengths, and the best female characters are those who possess those particular strengths. The Amazon is a great example of a politically correct female character – one that refuses to recognize that men and women are different.

4. You are wrong about the villains

Here Joshua asserts that every Korra villain is a SJW. Thus the SJW agenda is the true antagonist and ultimate loser. The representations that he illustrates for each villain are definitely interesting and hadn’t occurred to me – Amon as an allegory for white guilt, Unalaq as a radical, destructive equalist (I like the way he puts it “Unalaq wanted to free Vaatu because the only way for everything to be fair is for nothing to exist.“), Zaheer as a naturalist, and Kuvira as a control-maniac. 

I can’t speak to whether or not any of that was intentional (I kind of doubt it), but I like his thought process. For me, the main problem with the villains was that each one was an extremist beyond reason, with increasingly more power, a ‘la my Dragon Ball Z complaint. The fight below made me yell at the screen.

Setting aside the fact that years (presumably) in prison have not dulled the skills or reactions of any of Zaheer’s posse, you’d think Unalaq’s kids (who have demonstrated they’re a match for Korra and her friends), Korra’s father the chief, and Lord Zuko and his fucking dragon could put up a good fight. But nope, swatted aside. 

The villains in Korra are interesting to different degrees, but once you realize they’re just different variations of crazy, they become less so. There was potential for more development – between Zaheer and his cyclops woman girlfriend, for example, but these venues go relatively unexplored.

In the end, I think most fans agree that TLA was the superior series; the argument is often framed as “Was Korra a good show?” Of course there are those who preferred Korra. But all of this is largely opinion. Although I disagree with a majority of Joshua’s points, it’s an interesting conversation to have.

-Bushi

bushi

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My Legend of Korra rant

3 thoughts on “My Legend of Korra rant

  1. Magnataur says:

    Well I figure I’m long overdo for posting on this site, and there’s nothing like seeing the Legend of Korra get swung at a couple times, for me to finally get up from my computer chair to offer the show some support. For starters, I’m THE Magnataur who’s been to referred to in a couple of these articles, a close friend of the author with similar interests in various media, and usually hold an occasional diverging opinion. All of this said, while I do intend on defending the show on some points, I do also agree with a vast amount of what has been said in this article.

    SPOILERS AHEAD: Alright so where my main difference in opinion lies is in the strength of the villains. Having watched the show from start to finish, no villain got to the points described in the article where they can take on Korra + her crew with ease with a partial exception to Unalaq since Korra needed help from one of Tenzin’s daughters to ultimately defeat him. Amon is defeated by Korra alone using only airbending. Unalaq didn’t give me the impression of being exceptionally powerful, and needed help from the icebender twins who were very strong ice benders, and when he does get “too strong” it’s because he’s fused with Vattu which basically turns him into a dark avatar. Zaheer while powerful, practically loses his final fight against a Korra who is poisoned and greatly held back by that fact.

    I won’t spoil the latter half of the final season but this trend continues, and even half way through the season Korra “defeats” Kuvira, only losing because of her inability to keep focused due to some trauma issues (which were kind of annoying but don’t change the fact that she basically won). While the fights do scale up to almost dragon ballz like levels I didn’t feel like it broke the mold of what the show’s predecessor set as as standard when you consider the final fight Aang had, basically revolving around him flying around and shooting tons of elements all over the place. The one fight I totally do agree with my friend on though is how easily Zuko and his crew lost to Zaheer and his. A more realistic scenario would have been Zaheer and friends barely escaping, but I suppose that would have left him feeling like an almost negligible threat. While I don’t think all the villains were perfect, as Unalaq felt very much like generic villain who wants to destroy the world, and Kuvira being generic villain who wants to take over it, Amon was outstanding in comparison. Amon was an extreme threat and hardly used any bending. His goal to equalize the city given the disparity between benders and non benders was a noble goal, just executed in too extreme a manner.

    As far as the fights in general go they were a visual marvel, and an absolute delight to see in how far the animation has come along since the original show. The villain deaths didn’t feel like a waste of space, or negligible in the least too me. Yeah Amon’s arc ended at the end of season one, and he dies with said arc, so what? It was done in an amazing fashion. You’ve got him with his brother escaping on a speed boat, with Amon’s brother basically realizing how much of a monster his brother had become, and how he has done more than his fair share of misdeeds as well. He basically gives Amon a speech about how everything is going to be alright, and sets the boat to explode with both of them on it while Amon is caught up with all his thoughts and the moment. It felt like the equivalent of putting down a monster like Frankenstein. Amon had a noble goal as I mentioned before, but just couldn’t realize how extreme he had become. This could have easily have ended with them escaping and Amon LIVES TO SEE ANOTHER DAY, but they went a unique route and put the character to rest, giving a very nice sense of closure for the first season. The alternate example of Zaheer’s laser shooting girlfriend having her head blown up was definitely a shock value, but I do feel she was fleshed out enough that her death held value. That said I do think they could have given a bit more on the past between her and Zaheer to give it a better feel.

    For my final point I agree that Aang was much more likable than Korra, and while I get the idea of them giving her room to grow, she just came off as annoying in most instances, where as Aang was a character that was easy to like and respect.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Mag,

      Yeah, I can see where you’re coming from. I think of all of Joshua’s points at Reaxxion, his observations about the villains are the most interesting and the hardest to argue with. To a large degree it comes down to taste. Amon was a mysterious villain with a pretty good story arch, and I do remember being surprised at how they ended him. By and large, though, I just felt like each opponent got more and more ridiculous. Of course you’re right – this wasn’t always by merit of their own strength; there was always something else going on, like their minions were helping them, or Korra was poisoned, or Korra was suffering PTSD, or Korra had lost her Avatar powers. A lot of that stuff felt forced and really weakened Korra in my eyes. But as long as you enjoyed it, I guess there’s something redeeming in it.

      Like

  2. Magnataur says:

    Yeah as a whole I enjoyed the series, and would still recommend finishing it up. I’m totally in the same boat with not being a fan of the arbitrary decision made by the writers to randomly have her fall in love with Asami but wouldn’t say it ruined the ending either. It was a very good last episode despite the inclusion of that, I’m glad it wasn’t something as heavy handed as them kissing, but would have much preferred they kept it more ambiguous and not have bothered to go to the extend of them holding hands and looking at each others eyes.

    I loved all the nods to the old show, and seeing a bad ass chin strapped Aang in flashbacks gave an even greater appreciation for what he’d become, but as you said all the random difficulties they gave Korra made her character feel weaker in every way which was unfortunate.

    Like

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