As a long time fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender, I was pumped for the return of the series when it aired. While it isn’t the story of Aang, it certainly has a devoted following for good reasons.
It was difficult going from the young Aang of Avatar: The Last Airbender to the teenage characters of Korra. This was one of the first and hardest things to get over in the transition as an adult viewer. One of the beautiful things of the story of Aang is the simplicity it represents.
That said, Avatar Korra has got to be one of the most mature series on Nickelodeon. It doesn’t matter the viewpoint the viewer comes from, it stands on its own with strength, compassion and fortitude.
I greatly enjoy watching it with my inner child, as it has far more fight scenes, more weapons and more ‘bad guys’. It’s fun. It’s easy to slip into the world it presents and enjoy it just for what it is. The relationships are more complicated than Aang’s story with the confusion of hormones conflicting with the deep friendships of youth. We see our many heroes like firebender Mako, earthbender Bolin, the airbender children of Master Tenzin and the waterbender-by-birth Avatar Korra growing up with their magical abilities, learning more about themselves and their gifts in the process. Even Asami who is not a bender, but very practical we see grow in her own way. This in itself is a beautiful thing to experience as a viewer. It helps youth understand the growing pains of adolescence. It also helps adults remember those growing pains. Watching it as a parent brings a smile to my face. I can’t wait for my boy to be old enough to share this with him.
This time around it isn’t the irascible fire of an angsty adolescent providing antagonism to drive the story forwards. Each season has its own antagonist, and that’s about the best word to describe them. ‘Bad guys’ doesn’t do these bad guys justice. The beauty of the maturity of this series shines here. These antagonists are human. They are flawed, have in-depth backstories, and end up falling by becoming over zealous in their ambitions. There are social tolls they forget about. Amon wants equality for benders and non-benders alike, and his method of removing bending abilities echoes of the creepiest characters of the story of Aang. Unalok is a father-figure, a spiritual mentor to Korra, and his children powerful in their own bending abilities. A hypocrite, his path puts him in direct conflict with the origins of the Avatar soul. The repercussions of his ambitions really do change their world, but its hard to say whether those changes are for the better or worse.
This harkens of a really amazing thing that The Legend of Korra manages; bringing mental health to light and normalizing its challenges. Korra always seems to be under the thumb of an enemy, and it causes depression. In the beginning of the series she acts quickly and impulsively. By the end she is acting slower and feels depressed because she doesn’t know what the right thing to do is.
My personal favorite antagonist ever, Zahir, an evil airbender, hurts Korra severely enough that it takes time for her to heal. He doesn’t have anything directly against Korra, rather she is a stepping stone in his plan of action. What he does to Korra causes mental health challenges for her. She eventually has to face her fears and learn to transcend them.
It is hard to compare a series like Korra to much else. Rarely do viewers get to enjoy a show that mixes magic with present issues in the world. Sadly, it illuminates the fact that almost never is spirituality a theme in shows for a YA audience, which makes it very dear to my heart. The show is serious yet doesn’t get too heavy or take itself too seriously. It has charm, depth and characters that we see learn more about themselves as they grow. We see Korra face challenges, be wounded, seek healing (and even learn to become a healer) and grow as a person. The only time I have seen this in animated form is with Aang’s story, and perhaps ADV Film’s Neon Genesis Evangelion, which is a very different show altogether.
As a parent this is a show I recommend to other parents and kids alike. You won’t be disappointed. As a writer, this is one writing team I would love to work with. With Korra finished for not the first time, I am on to my next anime, Serial Experiments Lain.