The Legend of Korra, the animated sequel to Nickelodeon’s 2005-2008 Avatar the Last Airbender, is quite the enigma when it comes to television programming. When Korra premiered in the spring of 2012, it received rave reviews, noted for its fine storytelling, character development, exquisite animation, with an east-Asian, jazz-influenced soundtrack. However, for fans, the show has had to deal with programming accessibility; traditional television broadcasting versus online streaming.
Now in its fourth season (or Book as they are categorized with episodes called chapters), the series tells the story of Korra, a 17 year-old girl who is the Avatar, or the “chosen one.” She can “bend,” or manipulate the four elements; fire, earth, air, and water. Her destiny is to bring balance to the world.
The themes of this show are greatly diverse and unique in comparison to other animated programming, or sci-fi dramas for that matter. It sets a girl as the main protagonist and the general audience embraces this non-issue. Where most programming feature typical characters in their lead and supporting roles, the Legend of Korra portray characters that have an ethnic look to them but yet appeals universally. For today’s generation, it’s imperative to have characters to identify with. For me, I had GI Joe, He-man, and other superheroes. But they didn’t look like me.
American creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante Dimartino write Korra as a show that has an Asian-inspired, anime adjacent aesthetic (in fact, the animation is produced by Studio Mir, which is based in Korea). The writers have explored political themes including inequality (benders versus non-benders), tyranny, fascism, and anarchy. They’ve also dealt with familial dynamics and relationships, and drama that could give Shakespeare a run for his money. In fact, Book 4 finds Korra suffering from PTSD, an adult related issue but yet presented so that young people can access. There are comedic and witty moments too and the action sequences are breathtaking, which does not drive the show. More importantly, the overall story does.
The Legend of Korra continues the mythology from its predecessor Avatar the Last Airbender and builds upon it. Not only does Korra have her own journey, but the supporting cast has character development as well. From Airbending mentor Tenzin to her friends; fire-bending Mako, Earth-bending Bolin and industry heiress Asami, Team Avatar makes the show an ensemble piece. The antagonists of the series are not simply the “bad guys” but villains whose motivations are understood and compelling.
The voice acting is top-notch featuring the talents of Janet Varney, J.K. Simmons, David Faustino, P.J. Byrne, James Remar, Keirnan Shipka, John Michael Higgins and Mindy Sterling. Though the actors are not widely known, you end up going, “Hey, I know that voice!”
2013 saw the premiere of Book 2 but general consensus concludes that it was the weakest in the series. In 2014, a far superior Book 3 debuted on Nickelodeon with a Friday night time slot. In the television broadcasting industry, this is a death sentence for any show.
The dilemma that Nickelodeon faced was that Legend of Korra has (and for several years now) been skewing to an older audience and cult following. This is not consistent with their regular programming like Spongebob Squarepants or The Fairly Odd Parents. So the network, with little promotion, broadcasted eight episodes of Korra. Then Nickelodeon decided to pull the show and stream the rest of the season on-line, a move unprecedented. Yes, the fans would be able to find and enjoy Korra. But what was the true intention? Did the network want to push Legend of Korra aside because of its low ratings (due to a Friday Night time slot)? Or was it because it didn’t know what to do with it because it didn’t “fit” with its other programming? With Neflix, Hulu and iTunes being the trend in online streaming, Nickelodeon felt that this move was warranted (Legend of Korra can also be seen on Nick.com). However, the fans felt like Nickelodeon was not treating one of the best shows on television as it deserved.
The writers of Legend of Korra carefully weave their story as to not be too graphic or violent. This allows for a wider audience including families to enjoy the show. Much like how Disney movies are entertaining for children and adults, Legend of Korra is a serial that fits within that genre. So if you’re interested in mythology, beautiful animation, amazing score, and comedic and dramatic storytelling, check out The Legend of Korra Books 1 and 2 on blu ray and find new episodes online. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever experience before!
Check out the Korra Trailer and tell us what you think in the comments below.
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A. Michael Cruz is an avid popular culture and tech enthusiast, runner, educator, curriculum author, and seat tweeter. Follow him at @mikeycruz