Written By: Kerine Wint
With a predecessor like Avatar: The Last Airbender, any sequel/spinoff will face some unavoidable standards.
When Netflix released all four seasons of the Legend of Korra, many fans had lost interest after Nickelodeon took it off the air. With poor reviews of the first few seasons, many had subpar expectations of the series. From the reviews and unfortunate comparisons to ATLA, there was a standard that Korra couldn’t live up to compared to Aang. But, by Season 4, it becomes clear that Korra’s downfall as a “likable” character was not entirely her fault.
The first hiccup Avatar fans have is that Korra’s personality is the antithesis of Aang’s, which is unfair because a new show with a lead similar to Aang would be a cop-out and simply a remake of ATLA. It would have been a shame if Korra were to have the same obstacles or temperaments as Aang. She was brasher and hot-headed, but she was also sheltered, in a way Aang wasn’t.
The Legend of Korra starts with Korra realizing she’s the Avatar from a very young age and, unlike Aang, she’s excited at the prospect of being strong and powerful. However, later on, that mindset is a little misguided as we see her struggles to effect change because of her resistance and inability to connect with her spiritual side.
In Season 3, we learn that the Red Lotus tried to kidnap Korra as a child, which became the rationale for the adults in her life hiding her in the Southern Water Tribe. That course of action not only limited Korra’s freedom but also shelved an important part of her training for a reason she wasn’t aware of. That is where the first set of influential people in her life went wrong. Her parents and the White Lotus allow her to be irrational and skip over the importance of her spiritual practice.
Thus, throughout the show, her entire “Avatar” identity is tied to her prowess as a Bender and is not properly reinforced with teachings of diplomacy and problem-solving until it is too late. Going to Republic City on her own allowed her to get her airbending training. Her impatience and stubbornness stem from her ignorance about an Avatar’s actual duties. Even with the Unalaq plot in Season 2, Korra’s choice to ignore her father and Tenzin isn’t entirely unwarranted because her uncle knew how to manipulate her desperation for his gain.
Although it was often frustrating to see the irrational decisions Korra made, most are reactionary to every new thing she learns. No one expects her to be aware of everything happening across all nations, but her time in Republic City proved she knew nothing at all. As a peacekeeper of both the living and spiritual worlds, Korra was at a disadvantage.
Tenzin, easily a fan favorite as Aang’s son, had a personal storyline that was done well. However, there’s enough evidence that he wasn’t the only person who could train the Avatar. In ATLA, we saw many spiritual creatures and people outside of the Air nation, such as the lion turtles and Uncle Iroh, who give Aang spiritual guidance. Also, in LOK, the White Lotus is more prominent and involved in Korra’s training, yet there were still few attempts to properly guide her from an early age. Season 4 reveals that Tenzin’s wife, Pema, is an Air Acolyte and has information and experience in Aang’s teachings of the Air Nomad culture and traditions. With Pema on Republic City’s council, Tenzin could focus on training the Avatar.
When Korra learns that the Red Lotus organization believes true peace between humans and spirits begins with ending the Avatar cycle, her lack of training becomes more concerning. With all good intentions aside, it seems irresponsible how many of her shortcomings were unaddressed, when this threat still exists.
With all that said, Korra is still a good Avatar—different but good. As a more mature, darker series, LOK proved with each season how Korra’s lack of freedom and being trapped in the Southern tribe was detrimental to her understanding of the outside world and its problems. Unlike Aang, Korra had the worst-case scenarios: losing her bending (twice), being poisoned and tortured by the Red Lotus, and constantly questioning her identity outside of her sheer strength.
With her lack of spiritual training, Korra felt more relatable and realistic as she had to come to terms with her flaws, especially when confronted by a world that didn’t believe they needed an Avatar anymore. Unlike Aang, who is more in tune with his sense of self, Korra’s arc reminds us that Avatars are humans first, whose flaws can’t magically become better just because they’re powerful. As the Avatar universe is bound to expand, Korra’s tenure and experience deserve the same respect.
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