You Like “Brave”? You’ll Love Korra

If you’re excited about Brave’s strong, independent, animated hero Merida making her way to the big screen today, then check out Nickelodeon’s animated television hero Korra, who makes her way to the little screen this Saturday for the season finale of “The Legend of Korra“. For those not already hooked on the fantasy superpowers of “bending” the four classical elements, “Korra” deserves your attention for its gender bending.

Like Brave, “The Legend of Korra”created by two men, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko–upends gendered stereotypes in its resourceful, self-reliant, fearless and complex characters. “Korra takes place in the same universe as the creators’ 2005-2008 series “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” a world in which a special race known as “benders” can manipulate either earth, fire, air or water. The Avatar—a being who represents the spirit of the world and is reincarnated each generation into a human body—is capable of mastering all four elements, and therefore has served as a peacekeeper throughout this universe’s history.

Having already mastered “firebending,” “earthbending” and “waterbending,” 17-year-old Avatar Korra (voiced by Janet Varney) must now learn airbending from her mentor and airbending master Tenzin (voiced by J.K. Simmons) in Republic City, a place where benders and non-benders live together in harmony.

Upon her arrival, Korra discovers that the 1920s-inspired metropolis isn’t all it’s cracked-up to be. She finds herself in the middle of a non-bender revolution instigated by a group known as “The Equalists,” led by mysterious and charismatic Amon, whose misguided utilitarian goal is to “equalize” the world for non-benders by taking away benders’ abilities.

Viewers might expect Korra to follow in the physical footsteps of her animated woman predecessors: busty, a slender hourglass figure (think Wonder Woman and Angelina Jolie’s portrayal of Lara Croft in Tomb Raider), or a team of super-tight female helpmates (turn to “Powerpuff Girls“, “Sailor Moon and “Totally Spies!). Korra is large-chested, but she also has toned biceps and a broad back, boasts a fiery disposition, sports a makeup-less face and, most importantly, plays hero in her story–without a man’s assistance.

In Episode 9, after being captured by one villain and almost re-captured by another, Korra escapes on her own—with some aid from her trusty polar bear-dog—but without the help of friends who are searching for her. Though she struggles to navigate a chaotic city careening toward all-out war, resilient Korra never ceases to amaze with her passion, strength and humanity.

She isn’t the only character in this series with some serious woman-power. Earthbender and metalbender Lin Beifong, the 50-year-old chief of police in Republic City, kicks just as much butt as Korra when fighting the rebellion and protecting civilians. Even Korra’s non-bending ally Asami Sato, for all of the emphasis on her physical appearance (she fills the archetypal “pretty girl” spot), plays a part normally assigned to male characters: She drives a souped-up, stick-shift car, uses martial arts to fight Equalists and even deserts her own Equalist-conspirator father to help Korra and her friends.

Clearly, these women are valued for things outside of the traditional feminine script. Just listen to Korra’s two men friends, brothers Mako and Bolin, when they wax eloquent about her qualities. The younger Bolin tells Korra in Episode 5 that she is the “smartest, funniest, toughest, buff-est, most incredible-est girl in the world!” In a preview from the first episode of the two-part season finale, the elder Mako calls Korra “the most loyal, brave and selfless person [he’s] ever known.”

(See, guys? There are ways to connect with women without busting out the “beautiful” card. Not that Bolin doesn’t think Korra’s beautiful, but it’s a tertiary priority falling somewhere below strength and fun.)

There are a few cliché elements to these unconventional female characters: Lin Beifong’s martyrdom when she sacrifices her own bending to protect Tenzin and his family; Korra’s sometimes-forced attraction to Mako; Asami’s jealous-girlfriend tendencies. DiMartino and Konietzko have given their broad audience of males and females, teens and 30-somethings and kids and parents, imaginative access to a story that eclipses standard TV fare. (If you don’t believe that males watch this show, check out users AvatarJesal and Avatarinsider on YouTube; Republic City Dispatch hosts Matt, Dave and Devindra; or simply type in “Legend of Korra” on Tumblr, Facebook and more. Guys love Korra’s toughness, too.)

With Season Two in the works, and episodes featuring the creators’ commentary airing weeknights at 9 p.m. from July 9- July 20 on Nicktoons, viewers will have much more to talk about, and even more to look forward to.

The one-hour season finale of “The Legend of Korra” airs this Saturday, June 23, at 11 a.m. on Nickelodeon. All previous and forthcoming episodes of The Legend of Korra are available for free on nick.com/korra or for purchase on iTunes and Amazon.com.

Photo courtesy of Nickelodeon press site

Comments

  1. Might wanna put a spoiler alert warning. Not everyone is up to date on this show, and you’re recommending it to new viewers.

  2. (See, guys? There are ways to connect with women without busting out the “beautiful” card. Not that Bolin doesn’t think Korra’s beautiful, but it’s a tertiary priority falling somewhere below strength and fun.)

    I have to mention an interesting parallel to that and how objectifying and unnecessary mentioning physical beauty first can be. FROM LAUREN FAUST’S MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC. :0

    In the Season Two Finale, The Royal Wedding Part 1, Twilight’s first Description of her BABYSITTER (or foalsitter), Princess Cadence is that she’s “beautiful,” with ACTUAL character characteristics such as a PERSONALITY, like “She’s Caring, she’s kind,” being second and third in the list of importance. At least when you describe someone first for being strong, physically, at least that’s more possible to achieve with effort than the impossible standards of beauty that’s forced down on girls throats much more than boys.

    And it didn’t even MAKE SENSE, unless Twilight’s homosexual or bisexual (and doesn’t mind her brother marrying her, too), what child cares about if their babysitter is hot?…. *Facehoof*

    • And I forgot to mention that if Twilight had said she was beautiful BECAUSE she’s caring and kind, instead of it just being made obvious that she’s talking about Cadence’s physical beauty, it would’ve been okay.

      But, sadly, Lauren Faust’s decent “show for girls” can have its indecent moments, sometimes, too. :(

      • happy snail says:

        There’s a difference between thinking a someone is “beautiful” vs. finding them sexually attractive. For instance, I’m not attracted to other women, but I think Felicia Day is pretty. She is aesthetically nice to look at (and freakin’ hilarious and wonderful, but that’s outside of this example).

        And, perhaps more importantly in this case, there’s a very profound difference between two people of the opposite sex, especially two people who are set up as possible love interests, describing a character as beautiful vs. a character describing someone (…somepony) they look up to and admire as beautiful. In this case, I see Twilight’s reaction as more chaste and not so much an indicator of how Cadence actually looks so much as how Twilight perceives her.

        And back to actual topic of this article-Korra’s a wonderful show, and I highly recommend it to people looking for a good show with a strong female (and person of color!) protagonist. Or if you just want to watch a good show in general. :)

  3. As an avid watcher of the new (soon-to-be) Avatar Korra I enjoyed this article! If I may, I would like to raise some of my own concerns.

    Does it pass the Bechdel test? From what I have seen (I have watched 11 episodes so far) it may barely pass – once every other episode.

    Lin is mostly shown as still having feelings for Tenzin and her animosity towards others is a direct result of their failed relationship. On top of that, while she was the police chief, it seemed like her opinion mattered to nobody. Not sure if Lin “sacrificing herself” is cliche in the way it was done. Traditionally, that is a male gender role and I think the show problematizes that concept.

    The note on Asami is spot on and also possesses some concern from me. She only seems to matter in the series because she has a thing for Mako. Her jealousy of Korra seems like a step back.

    Overall, I agree. This wonderful articles reflects how the show is a good step towards freeing women from traditional gender roles in television shows. This show is probably years ahead of most others broadcasting right now. Plus it is aimed/directed at children!
    Would I like to see more done, sure, but the revolution will not be televised.

    • The “Bechdel test” barely applies to films and tv shows that already star women, since a film with two women talking only about boys for the entirety of the film would turn everyone off. It applies to films and tv shows that have purposeless women characters with the implication that these women characters are just flat one-dimensional props for other male characters to have a reason to get to the next plot point.

      Brave, for all we know *spoiler* we don’t understand half the conversations */endspoiler* but they also do a bunch of things together that don’t involve conversations. So it passes.

      Korra isn’t distracted by boys during the show, but if you go episode by episode, some episodes may not pass. As a whole, it does.

      When you apply the test against shows and films that star male characters, or star with male characters, that’s when you start noticing which films and shows only have women characters to meet some gender quota or plot point, hence they are just props.

      In my opinion, boys will see shows that star girls, and girls will see shows that star boys provided that the the level of action is the same.

  4. As much as I loved Avatar: The Last Airbender, I am thus far exceedingly disappointed in this series. The relationship cliche is pushed early on before we get to know any of the characters, each episode ends jarringly, none of their actions contribute to the big picture, and nobody learns from their mistakes! Perhaps Tenzin learned a thing or two (he concedes to pro-bending in the first episode), but we barely see any of him or his (half-annoying) family. We saw the trials and growth of Aang throughout his series, but we don’t see any of Korra’s training. We’re TOLD that she has trained well and has learned much, but I don’t recall seeing ANYTHING that indicated growth or wisdom. Even Korra’s fear of Amon is only one episode long. As for Amon, we learned about Ozai gradually through Airbender, but in Korra, everything we know about Amon is basically ret-con’d at the last minute.

    I thought the creators would take more care with the budget they’d rightfully earned from Airbender, but instead, it looks like they threw it all into the visuals. I accepted their decision to cut out filler episodes, because “The Great Divide” was a joke, “The Fortuneteller” didn’t contribute much (aside from none-too subtle hints about Katara and Aang), and while “Tales of Ba Sing Se” was charming, I suppose I could live without it. I wouldn’t have given it a second thought if we didn’t have “Appa’s Lost Days”, seeing as, in the hands of anyone else, it might be tedious to just follow a big, inarticulate creature around. Unfortunately, the creators seem to believe that episodes such as “The Storm” and “Zuko Alone” are filler.

    One of my concerns is that, when Korra does not receive as much critical acclaim as Airbender, Hollywood and their kindred spirits will chalk it up to having a female protagonist.

    I should probably straighten this out and put it in my own blog, instead of text-bombing someone else’s post. My apologies, on that! Google for and check out “SF Debris” for a close analysis of “Avatar: The Last Airbender”. I think most fans will enjoy it. :)

    • I agree – as a big fan of the original Avatar: The Last Airbender series, I was really happy when I found out the new series would feature a female protagonist and saw great potential for it right at the start – then it went on to waste that potential. The characters at the start all seemed new and interesting, with back-stories we wanted to know and intricacies to learn along the way, but with each new episode they seemed to get flatter, and the romantic element sort of succeeded at nothing but turning them all against each other, reminding us of all the horrible ways teenagers can think and behave sometimes.

      Like you said, I’m afraid viewers’ negative reception of Korra might be misconstrued as a consequence of the female protagonist when it is seriously not that at all, it is the unfortunate plots they put her in.

  5. Chocolateice says:

    Merida did not care what anyone thought of her and she knew that she did not need a man in her life. Korra on the other hand could not let go of a “tall dreamy firebender boy” and it makes Korra angry when people disapprove of her.

  6. Korra does pass the Bechdel Test in the first season. The conversation with Katara (similar to the one she had with her own gran-gran in season 1 of Avatar) and the one with Korra and Lin in her office in the first episode. I admit the romance can be a bit forced, but the show is beautifully animated, and progressive in so many ways, like a Woman of color protagonist and avoids sexualized or pixalized imagery. Plus, watching the show makes me feel like a kid again, getting excited for saturday morning cartoons. So respecting freedom of speech, anyone says a blatantly negative attack against The Legend of Korra, check again.

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