Minorities in cartoons: “The Legend of Korra”

This week’s minorities in cartoons entry is “The Legend of Korra.” A spin-off of Nickelodeon’s “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” “Korra” aired for four seasons (of 52 episodes) from 2012 to 2014.

Background

To sum up both series, “Avatar” was a popular Nickelodeon adventure/fantasy series about the ability of some (“benders”) to manipulate various Earth elementals (fire, water, earth, and air). The show’s star was a 12-year-old character named Aang, an “Avatar”—someone capable of manipulating all of the above elements. “Avatar” focused on Aang’s adventures in the series’ world. Japanese anime and Western animation both were heavy influences on the series.

“Korra” is set 70 years after its predecessor series. It stars Korra, a 17-year-old girl who’s the successor of Aang/the newest Avatar. The series shows the world having changed from the previous series, but still features Korra and her friends dealing with various problems (political/cultural unrest, etc.) in and outside the show’s main setting, Republic City.

Korra’s friends and allies include:

  • Siblings Mako and Bolin, who’re an firebender and earthbender respectively.
  • Asami, the daughter of a wealthy industrialist (and not a bender).
  • Tenzin, an airbender (the adult son of Aang).
  • Lin Beifong, the chief of police.
  • Several animal friends.

The show received much praise for its writing, animation quality, and its subject matter, and gained a very large online fan following. However, its TV ratings started to slide; during the third season, Nickelodeon decided to remove it from TV and release the remaining episodes online only. The series not matching any of Nick’s other shows (no talking sponges, fairy godparents, or adolescent martial-arts-using reptiles) in style or tone might not have helped its ratings, though that didn’t stop “Avatar” from staying on TV. Of course, unlike “Avatar”‘s 2005-2008 run, the shift in the 2010s to online viewing (Netflix, YouTube, etc.) means this move didn’t hurt “Korra”‘s popularity one bit.

The series finale

The series finale became much talked about, even in mainstream media outlets. “Korra” featured love triangles early in its run. Over the course of the series, said triangles were replaced by a growing friendship/bond between Korra and Asami. The series finale ends with the two holding hands and walking off, in a clearly romantic gesture.

As I noted in my “Steven Universe” and “Clarence” posts, American children’s TV is still quite skittish about portraying LGBT characters. However, as these shows have proven, things are (finally) starting to change.

Many online enjoyed seeing these two popular characters finally become a couple. However, some felt didn’t go far enough. Some felt it should’ve been more explicitly done and/or earlier than the series finale. Others worried Korra and Asami could be interpreted just as “being good friends” or in the “strongly hinted at without saying so” treatments of possibly-gay characters in most kids’ shows (flamboyant hairdressers, etc.).

Being able to show same-sex couples openly is of course preferable, and should be on an equal treatment as straight ones. “Korra”‘s fellow Nick show “Fairly OddParents” has entire episodes centered around Timmy Turner’s (heterosexual) crushes/romance attempts, not to mention the mere existence of Timmy’s (heterosexual) parents/godparents.

Still, Korra—the star of a children’s TV show—being non-heterosexual is a big step forward.

Voice actresses

Janet Varney voiced Korra. Varney was the host of TBS’ “Dinner and a Movie” movie nights.

Seychelle Gabriel voices Asami. Gabriel starred in TNT’s “Falling Skies.”

(Updated 11/25/16)

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