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Spoiler Alert: This article contains some spoilers for The Legend of Korra, sequel series to Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Badass lady heroes are often in short supply, and those that are depicted are often either one-dimensional or sadly in need of male rescuers. This is one of many reasons why I fell in love with Korra from the second Avatar animated series, and I think you will too. Not only does she fight sexist misconceptions about her role in her culture and kick a lot of bad guy booty, she also battles severe post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of her experiences in war. She is flawed, complex and overall an amazing character.
For those who’ve never see Avatar, it has a simple, elementally-based mythology. The animals, however wild they seem, are generally a mash-up of two real-world species (like Korra’s beloved polar bear dog). There are four nations, each representative of one of the four elements (Earth, Air, Fire and Water). These nations are culturally and genetically distinct from each other, but co-operate and live peacefully together. Within each nation, there are those with the inherent ability to manipulate the element associated with their heritage. They are called benders. Only one person in each generation, called the Avatar, can control all four elements. There have been many reincarnations of the Avatar, and the most recent is Korra.
It has been known that Korra was the Avatar since she was very young and displayed a gift for airbending. She has grown up independent and confident because of this knowledge, embracing the physical aspects of being the Avatar, while ignoring the spiritual ones. She is headstrong and a bit of an adrenaline junkie. She is muscular and tough. She has broad shoulders, muscular arms, sturdy thighs and a take-no-prisoners attitude. She falls in love easily, but also gets upset easily. She is, in short, a very human and realistic character. The show is, in many ways, the story her maturing and finding her place in the world.
Spoiler Alert: This is where we begin talking about plot. You’ve been warned. Over the course of the next two seasons, Korra learns to embrace her spiritual side (along with the world’s spiritual side) and battles some very powerful foes. In the third season, Korra is targeted by a group of militarized radicals that also happen to be powerful benders. They imprison and poison her, nearly killing her. While the series never uses the medical term PTSD, it is clear that her imprisonment leaves her with psychological wounds, not unlike PTSD, and this proves to be one of her most difficult challenges.
She is bound to a wheelchair, weakened still by the poison, three years after it happened. She has essentially turned her back on her duties as the Avatar, choosing instead to travel in an attempt to improve her health. She accidentally runs into a character from the original series, a powerful, stern female bender who helps her to overcome her physical and psychological limitations and regain her power as the Avatar.
BIGGEST SPOILER ALERT: The very final scene of the show was considered by some to be one of the most powerful moments of television in 2014: in a scene that mirrors the end of the original Avatar series, Korra and her closest lady friend gaze at each other, holding hands, about to step through a portal to the spirit realm. The creators and writers of the show have since confirmed that this scene was meant to imply the two are embarking on a romance. Since the conclusion of the series, a still image has been released, showing the two in love in the capital city.
In short, The Legend of Korra is an amazing piece of American cartoon artistry. It has a powerful mythos, excellent illustrations (and beautiful settings, bizarre animals, etc) and compelling human drama throughout its four seasons and fifty-two episodes. It unsurprisingly passes the Bechdel test. Its message of the reality of combat/imprisonment (that it can leave both physical and emotional scars) and the inspiring way Korra overcomes so many hurdles will certainly help shape the next generation of humans to be more compassionate.
Verdict: It is definitely worth a watch if you like complex female characters, fantasy action or adorable combination animals, like the fire ferret or the flying spirit bunny.
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Photo Credit: Promotional images from the Legend of Korra Facebook page