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!!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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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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