The Legend of Korra, the Avatar I remember

The risk of any sequel is that it could potentially denigrate the original that inspired it. Like when Paramount, MTV, and Nickelodeon joined together to attack the Asian American community and Airbender fans by insisting on casting all White actors as lead characters in the Asian influenced story (Learn the full story at racebending.com).

OK, it wasn’t a sequel in the strict definition of the word but an adaptation of the original is just the same to me. And just the same, I have not forgiven MTV or Nickelodeon for their role (and silence) in the attack. Nickelodeon in particular because my children are in its target demographic.

I have fond memories of watching the original Avatar: The Last Airbender series on TV. It is one of the few shows we actually watched together – my boys, me, and their mother. Happily, that’s something M. Night Shymalan’s poor adaptation and Paramount’s anti-Asian fervor couldn’t take away. But I was still hesitant, despite my fond memories and reading that the creators and writers of the original would lead the development of its sequel, The Legend of Korra

Happily, it shares the same appealing characteristics of the original: an interesting storyline, likeable protagonists, and it deftly balances between potentially heavy social drama and humor. We (the boys, me, and their mother) watched the first two episodes of Korra online last Saturday night. Without cable, it was our way of celebrating this new “book” in the Avatar story.

I like that it wasn’t “The Continuing Adventures of…” And that it takes place two generations after the conclusion of the original Avatar story. Doing so gave it an added sense of “realism”. It made sense to me that it would take two generations to recover from the war between the Fire Nation and the other tribes. It seemed reasonable that this new generation would be somewhat “detached” from the war. It’s sort of how I felt reading about World War II in high school. My grandmother and parents lived through the war (albeit in China through the Massacre at Nanjing) but to me it was just another chapter in my social studies textbook. It’s how I expect my children will see 9/11 (they were both born after).

I also like that it is “realistic” about the challenges of creating the harmonious society imagined by Aang and Zuko when they joined the nations to form the Republic. Free from the bonds of war, the tribes find creative ways to fill their newly acquired leisure time like attending “Pro-bending” tournaments, where benders work in teams to compete in public matches. While many enjoy these shows, others protest the inequalities between benders and non-benders.  And there are gangs of benders abusing their powers and extorting money from non-benders. You could say that the tribes have traded one war for another.

I don’t know if future full episodes will be made available online. Everyone in this house definitely hopes so. We started watching the original Avatar series on Netflix this week. Having seen the end, it is interesting to be reminded of how characters like Aang, Zuko, and Katara were when the show started and how they matured by the show’s end.

Korra being 17 and a girl introduces some potentially complex and engaging stories, if the writers stay in tune with the challenges of moving from adolescence to adulthood. If they choose to write Korra into a relationship, will they address the insecurities and jealousies that arise when one partner is more “gifted” than the other? It might be interesting to compare Tenzin’s (as a powerful bender) marriage to a non-bender. Is there tension there between him and his wife caused by his brothers and sisters or his wife’s family? How does that dynamic change if Korra dates a non-bender? 

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