Posts Tagged ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’

For those of you who couldn’t wait to see the finale premiere on Friday and watched it online (thanks to the generosity of the creators), The Legend of Korra Book 2: Spirits has come to an end after just about two months since it began. A new storyline begins in Book 2 as dark spirits start popping up in the physical world and attacking people, leaving it up to Avatar Korra to find and solve the problem. But spirits aren’t the only issue. Despite having defeated a couple of dangerous men from bringing chaos to Republic City, new human threats are rising and a little to close to home for Korra, bringing her back home to the Southern Water Tribe as family secrets are revealed and war looms once more.LegendOfKorra0201_Group02

Book 2 introduces some attention-grabbing new elements to an old bag of favorites, mixing things up in the Avatar with spirits. Now, this is hardly the first time spirits have come into play, given that the Avatar–the protagonist of both the original series and sequel–acts as the link between the spirit world and the physical world inhabited by humans. Fans of the original series will be familiar with Aang and friends’ various encounters with the spirit world/spirits, from Aang’s numerous conversations with past lives and spirits to the moon spirit’s involvement in a very emotional season one finale. But Korra takes things to a new level by exploring why the two worlds are separate which requires delving deep into the Avatar’s past. For those of you who missed the combination of the spiritual and physical world adventures in The Legend of Korra: Book 1, your wish has been fulfilled nicely in the second entry in the series.

images-3The adventures in the spirit world lead to several characters’ discovering new strengths, including the title character, Korra, and her mentor’s daughter, Jinora. Korra continues to grow from last season, physically strong as ever and connecting more deeply with her spiritual side. As I mentioned in my previous post on Korra, this female protagonist has never been the type that needs more physical power so, it was good to see her challenged once again to explore her connection with a spiritual, emotional side as she enters the spirit world and deals with the problems rising within her family. Korra has matured even more by the end of Book 2 and, while it is a little bittersweet for reasons you’ll have to watch to find out, the series has pushed her to a new level of independence.  Of course, I also love a good action scene and Korra is in plenty of them. In addition, Jinora, who played a minor role in Book 1, gets a fairly substantial one as she discovers that through her strong connection to the spirits she can help Korra in a way no one else can. As always, there are no shortages of strong, dynamic female characters in the Avatar world as the series brings back the old ones and adds new ones from Raava the light spirit to Kana, the daughter of Aang and Katara, and Korra’s slightly frightening cousin.

While I wholly enjoyed many of the new additions to the story, there was one reoccurring aspect from Book 1 that I could have done without: the love triangle between Korra, Mako, and Asami. I appreciate a good romance, but rather than add to the overall story, this trope takes away some of the charm of Korra for me. The fact that the creators of Avatar are employing one of the oldest tricks in the book is not so much the problem as is the execution. Love triangles exist to add drama and an obstacle to what could otherwise be a clean shot to romance (of course romance is never so simple). But as commonly used a plot convention as it is, I actually think it’s difficult to pull off in a satisfying fashion. In many cases, for example, someone in the triangle is clearly a third wheel and no real threat to the main couple’s relationship.asamikorra-1024x574

The Legend of Korra‘s love triangle doesn’t fall victim to that scenario since Mako displays confusion over his feelings for the two girls, Korra and Asami, but that leads to another problem. After pining for Mako, losing him to Asami, then ending up together by the end of Book 1, Book 2 opens with Korra and Mako as a couple. I like that the series tries to explore an established couple instead of leaving it at the misleading “happily ever after” point, but the relationship ended up feeling contrived to me. By the end of Book 2, the audience has once again been thrown into a whirlwind of make ups, break ups, broken hearts, and confusion. While I appreciate the attempt, things just happen too fast to make a real impact, although the end of the season suggests perhaps things will be more stable in coming Books.

Even with some aspects that didn’t work for me, overall The Legend of Korra: Book 2 was an enjoyable second entry in the series. It brings back a colorful cast of characters and story elements while mixing in new ones that add new charm and intrigue to the series. The finale of Book 2 leaves us with a bang and a lot of questions for the next Book so, check it out.

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When Nickelodeon aired Avatar: The Last Airbender back in 2005, it quickly became a favorite and has remained so for the past several years since. Now it’s 2012 and the creators of Avatar are back again with a sequel called The Legend of Korra. Having just finished Season 1, Book 1, I thought I’d ramble a bit about it.

First of all, I have to say that the creators of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, did something so many people who work on action/adventure stories seem afraid of doing; presenting audiences with female characters who are obviously just as important and dynamic as their male characters. The original tale did have a male protagonist, but absent were those flimsy token female characters who sit on the sidelines. In The Legend of Korra, they didn’t let fans down. Not only did they keep the same level of quality in their characters but DiMartino and Konietzko  decided to make the protagonist of their new action show a girl.

Apparently, they had to do some convincing with some of the executives at Nickelodeon who were doubtful about how successful a female protagonist would be in an action show. Why? Because boys wouldn’t be happy with a show starring a female lead, they thought. Hearing this annoys me on so many levels. Girls watch and read fiction and play video games with male protagonists all the time yet boys supposedly can’t accept a female protagonist? Thank all that’s sane in this world, the creators stuck by their female lead, Korra, and a test screening of the show proved those executives completely wrong. (I myself have seen young boys crowded around a computer at a library, eagerly watching episodes of Korra.) It seems that the fact that The Legend of Korra has raked in an average audience of 3.8 million has slapped some more sense into Nickelodeon as they recently officially requested 26 more episodes, bringing the series total number of episodes up to 52.

As for Korra, I like what DiMartino and Konietzko have come up with. Certainly, she breaks the stereotypical mold. She’s headstrong, bold, and independent; Korra is a force to be reckoned with and isn’t about to be someone’s punching bag. In a smart move, the creators decided to make Korra the opposite of their previous protagonist, Aang. While Aang was gentle and more spiritual than action-oriented, Korra is aggressive and has much more trouble connecting with her spirituality than her martial art-inspired “bending” skills. Not only does this create protagonists one won’t have trouble seeing as distinctly different but it also avoids stereotypes for both genders.

The other thing I really like about Korra is her character design. She’s muscular and not afraid to show it. I have to say that in all my time of watching animated TV shows, I hardly ever come across female characters who are realistically muscular like Korra. When I have, the characters were muscular as a joke or to make them unattractive. Seeing a muscular female character who isn’t a joke is a nice change from all the wispy or unrealistically big-breasted designs and promotes the idea that muscle on a girl isn’t a bad thing. As one of the creators of the show said in an interview with NPR, “She’s muscular, and we like that. It’s definitely better than being a waif about to pass out. I know, I look like a waif — who am I to judge?”

Finally, I want to point out how the show has made adult characters a big part of the show. Often in shows with teenage protagonists, it seems the focus is on young people in their twenties and younger. The Legend of Korra took a different road, incorporating characters who are clearly established adults with family and/or a career. I think having older characters play a crucial role in the show gives The Legend of Korra yet another distinctive feature. Isn’t nice to see there’s life beyond your twenties for once?

That’s it for now. I’m sure I’ll be rewatching the first season again so, don’t be surprised if I talk more in-depth about it at some point. What else am I going to do while I wait for the next installment Korra?

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Ok, I just have to come out and say it; I love Avatar: The Last Airbender. I’ve loved it ever since I watched the premiere episode for this show back in 2005 on Nickelodeon. The artwork is beautiful, the storyline is perfectly balanced with drama and humor, and the characters captivate and develop wonderfully over the series’ three seasons. It’s one of those rare forms of fiction that comes along that can still bring all the emotion and excitement on the second or third viewing as it did on the first. The other nice thing about Avatar: The Last Airbender is its ability to be relatable and be liked by a very large age group–the creators of the show managed to bring us a story with complex issues without either dumbing it down (my sympathies go out to those parents who most see more and more potty joke-filled, impossibly immature kids’ movies) or trying to make it “more adult” by adding unnecessarily graphic content.

Katara & Sokka

I could go on and on about this show, but rather than prattle on too much, for this post I’ve decided to narrow down my focus to the first season. While the entire series boasts a great cast of strong female characters and plenty of shining moments for them, the first season is particularly interesting for its dabbling in sexist/feminist scenarios which surround two of the main characters, Sokka and Katara. From the very first episode, these two introduce the issue so, I want to look at three particular examples.

To start, for those of you who don’t know, the basic story of this show is in a world divided between four nations–Water Tribes, Fire Nation, Earth Kingdom, and Air nomads, each with their own ability to “bend” a.k.a. manipulate an element. One person is able to control all the elements who is called the Avatar is supposed to keep the peace and reincarnates after death. But 100 years before the start of the show, the last Avatar vanished, no new Avatar came, and the Fire Nation began a war to take control of the other nations.

When we first meet this brother and sister, they’re living with their war-battered tribe (the Southern Water Tribe) in an environment much like the South Pole. These two are the oldest children in the tribe (both are in their mid-teens), their mother has passed away, and their father is away with all the men of the tribe left two-years prior on a war mission, leaving a lot on these two’s shoulders. With that in mind, on this particular day, Katara has accompanied her brother on a fishing trip in a tiny canoe floating along in silent waters with large glaciers scattered about them. In typical brother-sister fashion, the two get into a fight and this momentary distraction leads the two to getting stranded on an iceberg. Within the first several minutes, this show is already introducing the audience to the dynamics of Sokka and Katara relating to sexism/feminism. Sokka puts the blame on Katara, saying he should have left her at home and, as a final insult, “Leave it to a girl to screw things up!” Now some of you reading this might roll your eyes at this. “Big deal. No brother has ever said that before.” Well, sadly these little jibes are the types of prejudice most people had in past centuries and some still cling to. For example, I’m reading a non-fiction book called Mistress of the Vatican about an Italian woman named Olimpia Maidalchini, a powerful woman credited with being the mastermind behind Pope Innocent X, and during her time (1600s), Sokka’s rather juvenile jibe was believed so strongly that according to Eleanor Herman (the author), “There was an Italian saying of the time–‘to make a girl,’ which meant failure, disaster, plans gone awry.” (11) (For any history buffs that are wondering, that’s a great book so far.) So, while it seems a silly taunt to many people, statements like the one mentioned in Avatar have been quite harmful. This show brings up those G-rated but detrimental beliefs at various times throughout the first season, including comments about how girls are better at domestics and guys are better at bringing food to the table and fighting.

Katara doesn’t let these comments slide though. Avatar: The Last Airbender is actually a pretty humorous show so, Katara’s retorts to her brother are often a nice mix of sarcasm/humor and spot-on point. (One of my favorite scenes is a scene where while Katara is stitching back together a hole in his pants, Sokka says one shouldn’t bother a girl when she sews. Katara demands to know why Sokka says girls specifically which is when he explains girls are naturally better at domestics. Suddenly, Katara beams. “I’m done with your pants! And look what a great job I did!” she announces cheerfully, holding up the pants to show the gaping hole in them.) In the scene I mentioned above, Katara actually blows up at Sokka. Her bending skill unintentionally activates because of her anger, cracking open the large iceberg behind her to reveal the lost Avatar (named Aang) who had been frozen inside. He’d been lost for 100 years and probably would have continued to be if Katara hadn’t gotten mad and used her bending. Thus, in a sense Katara is rewarded for her outburst against Sokka’s unfair sexist comment.

Sokka, however, doesn’t embody deeply rooted sexism, but rather ignorance. Perhaps because of the environment he grew up in where the break up of work is more traditional, Sokka has accepted this as the natural order of things. I know, it’s shocking, but he just doesn’t believe his younger sister when she says otherwise. It takes others to prove him wrong–a group of nimble female warriors that kick his butt to be exact, but once they do, he’s able to reconsider things. After Katara, Sokka, and Aang are ambushed and captured by this group of female warriors, Sokka makes excuses for why he, a guy, could have been outdone by girls and continues to insult the warriors. But when he attends one of the young women’s practice sessions as a guest and is once again completely outmatched, he begins to change. Sokka is not so steeped in beliefs of women’s inferiority that he can’t open his mind to new ideas. He changes his feelings of humiliation at being beaten by a girl into an opportunity to learn from someone–even if she is a girl–who is more skilled than him and apologizes for his behavior. This ends the sexist comments from Sokka who develops newfound respect for women.

In my next post, I going to continue this talk about Avatar: The Last Airbender‘s handling of sexism and compare Sokka’s more ignorant sexism to the sexist beliefs of another Avatar character whose sexism is derived from his culture’s rigid traditions.

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