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Posts Tagged ‘friendship’

!!Series finale spoilers ahead!!

If you haven’t already heard, The Legend of Korra ended this past Friday, bringing an end to the Avatar: The Last Airbender sequel and generating a wave of chatter online. After four seasons and 52 episodes, the series hasn’t always hit the right notes. One of the elements of The Legend of Korra that I had voiced concerns about in the past is the show’s handling of romances. The series’ first two seasons fell into many of the deadly traps of fictional romances, from convoluted love triangle drama to drawing comedy from a certain male character’s suffering in a relationship with a controlling woman. But how the series ultimately ties up its relationships leaves plenty to discuss.

In seasons three and four, we saw those aforementioned problematic relationships fizzle out, leaving most of Korra’s gang single. In their place, the show focused on the steady maturation of Korra and her friends, and the creation of bonds much stronger than the rather superficial romance-of-the-week of the previous two seasons. In a way, the most generic relationship drama–the infamous love triangle between Korra, Asami, and Mako–turned out to be the most innovative, namely because the romance drama got ditched.

By turning to a scenario in which neither girl ends up with Mako, creators Bryan Konietzko and Mike DiMartino shed a restrictive, not to mention overused, element of storytelling that ends with someone winning the love interest’s heart and thus, winning happiness. Instead, Korra offers its viewers a revision that doesn’t disregard love, but simply adjusts our expectations of what kind of love really matters. Take Mako and Korra for example. They’re romance may have crashed and burned, but they become friends who have each other’s backs. This is their happy ending. They’ve moved passed their passionate adolescences to find more stable relationships that don’t necessarily register with the standard comedic ending. It’s not an unheard of conclusion for the lead male and female characters, but one that seems much more natural than their previous on-and-off romance. Bonds of friendship and family prove sturdier than anything in Korra. Even Baatar, Jr. discovers the love of his family to be stronger than his romance with this season’s antagonist, Kuvira!

Of course, we did get a good dose of classic comedic endings as well. You can’t get more classic than ending with a wedding, and that’s exactly what The Legend of Korra gave us as a conclusion for wacky genius duo Varrick and Zhu Li. Yet even more standard relationships like this one ended up putting a heavy emphasis on partnership above anything else. While Zhu Li had been colored as Varrick’s assistant in seasons two and three, the show made a notable effort to depict Zhu Li asserting her equality and Varrick beginning to recognize Zhu Li as a partner in both their professional and personal relationships in season four. While played for laughs, their marriage vows raise some doubt as to how much Varrick has actually changed how he expects his relationship with Zhu Li to work, but perhaps this brief moment is a good way of acknowledging that change doesn’t happen so easily.

My favorite change, however, is the relationship that bloomed between lead women Korra and Asami. Konietzko and DiMartino made a smart choice earlier in the series by making Asami and Korra friends despite their mutual love for Mako, avoiding much of the typical underhanded fighting between female rivals-in-love. This relationship reaches new heights in this last season, as the girls grow into women who depend on each other more than anyone else, supporting each other during the most turbulent periods.

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With a final shot of Korra and Asami holding hands and looking into each other’s eyes as they prepare to embark on a journey at the end, Korra creators have pushed the envelope one last time in the show. There’s a debate about whether this final shot sends a message of prevailing female friendship over romance or cements Korra and Asami’s relationship as more than friendship, but lovers. (UPDATE: Korra creators confirmed that they are, in fact, lovers. Thanks, Megh!) Whether you see them as just friends or as a couple, you have to admit that The Legend of Korra leaves its viewers with a wonderful break from standard stories. Not only do the leading women not have to end up with the guy to find happiness, but they each find their most important companion to be another woman. Their relationship is defined as a bond much stronger than a fairytale romance between a prince and a princess. It’s one of support, love, and partnership between women.

The Legend of Korra ends with a bang just as it began with one by sticking with its muscular, kick-butt heroine when doubt was expressed about the appeal of an action show with a female protagonist. Korra marks herself as a heroine never to be tied down by standard storytelling, leaving gender stereotypes and romance cliches far behind in this last season.

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9a2149f150155b275461a2d912498eeaAt the suggestion of one of my readers, I recently started reading the Korean webtoon, Cheese in the Trap. Since I ended up spending most of my weekend reading all the chapters that have been translated into English, I can confidently say it’s addicting.

Hong Sul is a 23-year-old college student who has just returned to school after taking a leave of absence. Much to her surprise and suspicion, Yoo Jung, a handsome, popular, and super rich upperclassman, suddenly wants to hang out with her. While he seems like the perfect guy to just about everyone else, Sul is convinced he’s hiding a dark side.

cittThe premise may sound typical, but the execution is anything but. Switching between the past and the present, readers (and Sul) try to piece together what happened before the heroine took her leave of absence and reconcile that with the present situation. At first this can be a little disorienting, especially since some of the characters’ relationships are so different in the past compared to what they are in the present, but after a chapter or two, the pattern becomes clear and a good back-and-forth flow is established. Flashbacks often reveal something about Sul’s relationships and her experiences with people while simultaneously deepening the mystery.

Along the way, issues like bullying and stalking pop up and so far, those issues have been handled well. Those instances add drama yet are presented as serious problems. Perhaps that’s why watching Sul deal with bullies has been inspiring. Although she keeps many things (like her worries and problems) to herself, Sul speaks up and rationally confronts others when she needs to. Her attempts don’t necessarily end the problem and more often than not someone else–usually a guy–has to intervene, but there’s a sense of satisfaction at seeing her stand up for herself and others. She never feels like a damsel in distress who frivolously tries to make a stand. Her words and actions mean something and the help she receives–be it from a man or not–seems realistic.

There’s also much enjoyment to be found in the daily life of Sul and her classmates. While I’ve read slice-of-life manga before, Cheese in the Trap is one of the few that tackles the realities of college students in a way that is both entertaining and down-to-earth. How often have you seen your favorite slice-of-life characters complain about the cost of tuition? We see Sul talking to friends about school-related issues, dealing with horrid group projects, and trying to balance top grades with jobs. It’s common for school to become just a backdrop for the social drama that is the focus of the story.

Additionally, slice-of-life dramas/romances often center on the school-age heroine’s search for romance. When academics are mentioned, it’s customarily at the detriment of the heroine who is revealed to be a poor student. Making some heroines of school-based series struggling students is one thing. It’s good to represent a variety of people so, depicting such a protagonist strikes a chord with those of us who struggled in school or know someone who did. Yet at the same time, like with many of the trends and tropes I discuss on this blog, seeing the majority of those heroines fail academically gets old. Ultimately, the school girl heroine, who is supposed to represent an average, likable girl, coincides with academic underachievement and that’s not a particularly good message.

Therefore, the fact that Sul puts an emphasis on her academics set this comic apart from others that I’ve read. She works hard to get good grades so 97245321that she can get scholarships takes on jobs to support herself and get through school. She doesn’t even bother with romance because she’s afraid it will distract her from her academics. It’s made clear that Sul’s top grades aren’t the result of genius, which might have made her hard to relate to for a major of readers, but rather the result of hard work and sacrifice. Sul’s character is still that of a normal young woman, but she represents different struggles that are just as important to depict as the struggles depicted by the typical school girl type.

The rest of the cast and Sul’s relationships with them are equally remedying. The joys and troubles of relationships explored in Cheese in the Trap are not limited to those of dating and romance. Instead, there is a healthy mix of friendships, potential romances, classmates, family, and everything in between. Another nice change is that the romances aren’t presented as rosy dreams of young lovebirds, driven by destiny and the search for “the one.” While Cheese in the Trap‘s romances can be as touching as any good romance, these romances also feel more reality-bound. There are sweet, blissful moments mixed with tenser ones as the couples try to overcome issues and make their relationships work. The relationships aren’t limited to heterosexual relationships either. As the series goes on, a homosexual couple is introduced and I thought the series did a good job of creating two realistic characters who happen to be homosexual instead of two caricatures of gay stereotypes. When this couple becomes more involved in the plot, the difficulties of being homosexual when those around them aren’t so accepting is explored.

There’s so much more I’d like to say about this series, but for now, I’ll leave you all with this: Cheese in the Trap certainly has drama and mystery (and exceeds nicely at both), but at the heart of the story is a twenty-something woman trying to work her way through life, learning just as much about herself and relationships with others as she is about academics. Three-dimensional characters and relationships, a good mix of genres, entertainment, and serious issues, and an excellent execution make this a series I highly recommend.

Edit: Here is the link to a site that allows you to read the comic in English while still supporting the creator. Make sure to follow the site’s instructions on how to access the translation or you’ll just see the comic in Korean.

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