Before COVID-19 hit the Maltese Islands, I was watching Avatar: The Last Airbender on Netflix. You might think it’s a simple kids TV show however watching it from an adult’s perspective, it is way way more than that.
I just recently finished watching Avatar‘s spin off TV show called The Legend of Korra on one of those illegal websites. I try to stay away from these shady websites however I just had to watch The Legend of Korra. My friend (Emma Galea) and I are obsessed with the Avatar world.
After finishing all four seasons of The Legend of Korra, I have mixed feelings. Let’s start off explaining why Avatar was so incredible. Keep in mind that there are gonna be loads of spoilers coming your way.
Avatar is based on Aang and his two friends, Katara and Sokka who are siblings. The three of them travel the world and for their age they are very wise. They face difficult situations throughout their journey yet have more courage than I will ever have in my lifetime. Keep in mind that Aang is about 12 at the beginning of the show and Katara and Sokka are a few years older than him. Traveling the world at such a young age, providing yourself with food and facing horrible people that want to kill you (Zuko and his army, pirates, the big scary owl in the knowledge library, the Dai Li in Ba Sing Se and many many more incidents) is just mind-blowing.
What makes the show a work of art is its strong character development. We see how Aang starts off his journey as childish yet by the end he becomes very wise to the point that he cannot kill Firelord Ozai. Katara started off as stubborn yet she becomes strong-willed and caring of others. Sokka had a lot of funny jokes and had his dumb moments, but we see how he develops into a strong warrior and matures into a young man by the end of the show. He also learns how to respect women and consider them equal. The three of them also left an effect on each other. Their strong connection was of a family.
Later on in the show, we meet Toph who joins Team Avatar. Toph may be blind but she’s the greatest Earthbender in the world. And she was only about 12 when she ran away from home to teach Aang how to Earthbend. Toph is a strong and independent person yet this is her flaw; she is not capable of depending on anyone besides herself. Her parents kept her hidden from people because they were too scared of people hurting her, resulting in never being able to make true connections with people. However, when Toph joins Team Avatar, we see how the other characters affect her to the point that she allows herself to be vulnerable with them. She realizes that there’s nothing wrong with being dependent on others and letting them support you.
And finally, Zuko. My favorite character in the show. He starts off the show as the bad guy who wants to capture the Avatar to return back home after being exiled. Zuko starts off as irrational and full of anger. Zuko believes in honor and thinks the only want to obtain it is by being accepted by his father, Firelord Ozai. However, Zuko’s uncle, General Iroh, stands by him and tries to direct him in the right path. It is only later on that Zuko realizes how mistaken he was and turns his life around. He realizes that helping the Avatar to defeat his father is the way to obtain honor and help the world. Iroh is an important figure in the show because he represents the fatherly love that Zuko never got from his own father. Zuko does manage to prove himself to Team Avatar and we see how Aang and Zuko eventually become the strongest of friends.
Furthermore, we cannot write a review about the Avatar World and not mention Azula. Azula probably is the most interesting character on the show. She is manipulative, clever and has a natural passion to lead. Her mother considered her a monster to the point that she was scared of her. Her father did not really love her. He simply knew the power she had inside her and used that for his advantage. He brought out the monster in her even more. Azula had a lonely life and no one to lead her in the right path. The fact that Azula could not trust anyone and was paranoid of being betrayed the same way her mother betrayed her, led her to go crazy towards the end of the show since her friends betrayed her. However, Azula was a very skillful and powerful Firebender.
The characters in Avatar are truly deep. When you’re watching the show, you can define who they are. They are also properly differentiated and individualized. Such analyzing of the characters comes with appreciation of the show through such a lens. I’m a literature student, analyzing characters is what we do best.
We also must take note of the roles Appa and Momo played in the show. They too were recurring characters that formed part of Team Avatar. As pets, they were highly important and structured the workings of the journey.
Looking at the political context of the show, the Fire Nation basically represents Western culture being imposed on the rest of the world. It also brings out the notion of extreme nationalism AKA Nazism, along with its propaganda. We must also note that Ba Sing Se is basically a representation of China with its wall, chaste system, the Dai Li secretly kidnapping people and the brainwashing.
Finally, the parallel between Firelord Sozin and Avatar Roku along with Zuko and Aang is just mind-blowing. Firelord Sozin and Avatar Roku were best friends until Sozin decided to start his nationalistic war against the rest of the world. He ended up betraying Roku and let him die. The fact that they started as friends and ended up enemies whilst Zuko and Aang started as enemies and ended up friends just marvels me.
To focus closely on The Legend of Korra, there’s a lot to comment on. Firstly, Korra is very different to Aang. Korra was raised knowing she was the Avatar whilst Aang was told when he was 12. Aang took it badly at first whilst Korra was dying to start helping people. Aang also had to bare the burdens of being the last Airbender, the entire Air Nation was whipped out and he did nothing because he was frozen in a block of ice, he let the Fire Nation take over the world, and eventually had to fight off Firelord Ozai. Korra bared none of these burdens growing up. We also need to keep in mind that Korra is about 20 years old when the show started, unlike Aang who was still a child.
Korra also starts off the show as hot-headed and rash. We can see how she is not able to learn Airbending because she doesn’t know how to concentrate and focus on her mental state. She is so desperate to start on her journey that she’s a train with no destination. We also see how she is not connected to her spirit self in the beginning. Again, because she is not capable of concentrating.
However, throughout the show, we see how Korra learns what being the Avatar in real life is all about. Korra also learns what it is like not being able to bend to the point that she manages to Airbend out of appreciation for the ability. Korra eventually connects with her spirit self in season two and decides to leave the Spirit World portals open to help humanity connect with the Spirit World too. At the end of the show, Korra is wise, a strong leader and a determined warrior. Most importantly, she has managed to define herself as her own Avatar, different to all past Avatars.
Now, here is what makes The Legend of Korra somewhat disappointing compared to Avatar. Firstly, The Legend of Korra is too industrialized and this impacts the show a lot. We see how this is a reflection of our current world. Humanity is too mechanical and has technology involved in its life to the point that it does not appreciate natural things such as friendships, family, nature and spirits.
Secondly, what made Avatar so enjoyable to watch was seeing the strong bond Team Avatar had. In The Legend of Korra, Team Avatar does not have this major bond. Mako is very underdeveloped. Asami was slightly more developed since she represented the bendingless but fierce character we all appreciate with the wits for technology and revolution. Bolin is the slightly dumb but funny character every team has, who is also caring and a great warrior. The disadvantage that The Legend of Korra had was a big cast. We meet Tenzin and his children, Lin and Sue Beifong, the new Airbending Nation, President Raiko, Tenzin’s siblings, amongst many many more involved characters. The fact that Korra’s polar dog, Naga, was not involved much on her journey is also problematic. An Avatar’s animal is supposed to hold a strong bond to the Avatar.
Thirdly, the ending of the show. After watching Avatar and seeing Team Avatar go through so much together, you suddenly feel like there’s a whole in your heart that you can’t replace with anything. Therefore, you start watching The Legend of Korra with the same attitude as watching Avatar. Avatar is the OG and I always say this; the sequel will never be as good as its predecessor. (That’s why I don’t think I’ll ever write a trilogy or series in my writing career). The way The Legend of Korra ended was problematic in my opinion.
In season three, Korra was poisoned which resulted in her not being able to enter the Avatar state since she was haunted by the battle with Zahir, as well as her previous battles with Amon and Vaatu. We can see how Korra in season four is battling with these mental health issues as well as problems with her spirit self. She eventually meets Toph who helps her realize that Korra needs to learn from her past battles and turn them from fear into strength. However, when she faces Kuvira, Korra again finds difficulty bending and entering the Avatar state. Furthermore, earlier in season two, Vaatu disconnected Korra from her past Avatar lives.
Therefore, by the end of the show, you expect that Korra is going to transcend herself to overcome her mental and spiritual problems as well as reconnect with her past lives. We do not see any of this at the end. Instead, Korra turns the spirit vines power into another Spirit World portal. I love the idea however Korra is still not back to her Avatar self. The show does end with the world being in balance but Korra definitely is not. It pains me to think that the show ends with Aang, Roku, Kioshi, along with the other Avatars, being lost forever.
However, not everything was wrong with The Legend of Korra. Yes, it was not as iconic as Avatar but it definitely had a lot of political depth to it. Korra faces four strong enemies; Amon, Unalaq and Vaatu, Zahir and Kuvira. Amon wanted everyone to be equal. Unalaq wanted the world to be open to the Spirit World. Zahir wanted to destroy the monarchial system in the world. Kuvira wanted to unite the Earth Kingdom and restore peace. Each one can be related to our present world however these characters took their ideologies to an extreme. This is what makes the show a work of art. Art reflects the time.
Furthermore, The Legend of Korra was enjoyable to watch. The story lines for each season were spot on, well-developed and it was interesting to see them unfold. It was also nice to see the legacy of all of Avatar‘s characters and how they impacted the world. I loved getting to see the older versions of Aang, Katara, Zuko and Toph, as well as their offpsring. The fact that the world has changed due to Team Avatar in a positive way is amazing to see. The message it leaves to us is that a few regular people with the right mindset can contribute to the world on a major scale.
FINALLY, I hope this makes you understand why I am so obsessed with Avatar. The artistic and cinematic depth in the show is just mind-blowing.