The Legend Of Korra, a show that easily ranks as my favorite animated series to ever be produced in the U.S., came to an end last Friday, and it's taken me a while to process through my feelings. It's been a rockity ride over the last four seasons, with a lot of good, a bit of bad, and a whole ton of amazing.
What leaves me feeling the way I do, out of sorts, is not how it ended, but that it ended. I am not ready for it to be over. It's rare that I say that, that a television show gets into my head and under my skin the way Korra did. When it happens, I'm never ready for it to end. Some shows seem to go on and on forever, without purpose or meaning, while others leave us feeling as if they departed too soon. Korra is definitively in the latter category.
My love of Korra's world began in 2005, with the debut of Avatar: The Last Airbender on Nickelodeon. It was pretty different from the kind of things Nick usually put out there, and caught my attention quickly. It took maybe two or three episodes before I was deeply hooked on the show. Not just because of their awesome secret tunnel songs, either, though I admit, those did not hurt anything.
|Secret Tunnels Are The Best Kinds Of Tunnels. Yup.|
Created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, the series was, in brief, set in a world where some people are born with ability to manipulate a specific element. These people, called benders, had long ago grouped into nations based around their common element. So, we had the Fire Nation, the Earth Kingdom, the Water Tribes, and the Air Nomads. Each was given a distinct culture, and the bending was based on actual martial arts that complemented the element they used. Also part of this mix, the Avatar, a person born each generation with the ability to bend all four elements.
The series followed Aang, the last of the Air Nomads, after he awoke from an accidental 100 year deep freeze, to discover that the Fire Nation had launched a world war after he disappeared, leaving the world without an Avatar. His own people had been completely wiped out early in the war, thus giving us The Last Airbender.
Seriously, it's an awesome show. You should go watch it.
|Ain't No Business Like Avatar Business|
The thing is, after three seasons the story was done. Aang ended the war, and the series wrapped up. I left it with good feelings, fond memories, and while I was kind of sorry to see it be over, there was a solid feeling of completion. The main story arc was done, the character arcs were beautiful and complete, and in all, the finale gave us closure. It's a truly excellent example of television writing, and how powerful animation can be once we get over our Disney affliction.
Then, in 2012, came Korra.
|Deal With It|
Not just a return to the world of Avatar, this was the next Avatar, the one that came after Aang. Right away, Mike and Bryan let us know, this was not the Avatar we had known. Set 70 years after the original series, we step back into the old familiar world to find it in a full scale industrial revolution. Cars, airships, and early modern cities with beautifully rendered skylines greet us almost immediately.
More importantly, there is Korra herself. A child of the Southern Water Tribe, she is brash, kind of rude, and tries to solve everything by beating it up. She's a polar opposite of the gentle Aang we knew nine years ago. Korra also faces much different threats than Aang did. There's no global conflict to resolve, but a more difficult obstacle in the form of the Equalists, normal non-benders who feel that benders have an unfair advantage in the world.
And their leader, Amon, has a point. Sure, he's a super creepy guy, and doesn't turn out to be as cut and dried as he seems, but the larger point about inequality remains. Right out of the gate, Mike and Bryan tell us that this is a more grown up Avatar, unafraid to tackle bigger issues, a promise they make good on through the entire first season. Nothing is black and white in Korra's world. Everything exists in shades of gray. The bad guys are people, often as not following goals that are just as righteous as Korra's. In other words, Korra finds herself trying to be an Avatar in a world that may or may not need one anymore.
|Because I'm Batman!|
This is a theme that continues through the four season run of the show, as every enemy she faces reiterates this belief. The world doesn't need an Avatar anymore. The worst part is, Korra's entire identity is tied up in being the Avatar. Where Aang didn't want it, and actively ran from it, Korra has embraced it from childhood on, and as the series progresses, brings us to a moment of such power and poignancy, that it is literally heart breaking.
The moment Korra herself believes that the world doesn't need an Avatar.
|Not My Feels!|
I cannot express how much I enjoyed seeing a story be told where the hero suffers such a profound crisis of faith. We have a lack of great storytelling these days, of real heroes in fiction. Square jaws and emotionless uberheroes have made a comeback, lessening every genre. To see one struggle with the very essence of their own identity, that's what we need more of, not less. These are the heroes that inspire us, that drive us to be more, to be better. In her deepest grief, her terrible loss, and her darkest moments, Korra serves to remind us that we all find ourselves there, and like her, we can all get back up, find a way forward, and overcome.
The final season of Korra dealt with all of that. The struggle to redefine herself in a world where she is no longer truly needed, to discover who she is outside of that singular title of Avatar, is the journey we all make in our lives. To escape that which others expect of us, to learn who we are without the societal trappings forced on us from birth, is the nature of living, and something the makers of Korra showed us with such a deft hand, it was beautiful.
Then, in the end, Korra walks off, into the figurative sunset, with her girlfriend. Yeah, her girlfriend. Now that, folks, is how you take a story about self discovery and put a real cherry on top. Korra and her long time friend, Asami, saying without words, what words never needed for them to say.
|You Read That Right!|
There's always one of those, isn't there? Always has to be a but.
But, unlike with The Last Airbender, I find myself feeling not complete. Instead, I feel left behind. Where The Last Airbender had a complete story arc, I can't help but feel like Korra is far from over. Perhaps that was what Mike and Bryan intended, but it hurts, more than a little this time, because I'm not ready for Korra to go. I want to spend more time with her, see her grow, and follow her through a world that is changing. I'm not done, and I'm not ready, for the end this time.
Don't get me wrong, it was a gorgeous ending. Simply beautiful in every way. Powerful, elegant, and respectful. Just, not something I was ready for. Korra has so much left ahead of her as her world struggles to figure out the future. Despite the constant calls that the world doesn't need an Avatar anymore, and her own acceptance that she is more than that one word, I want to stay with her as she navigates the treacherous future.
I care about Korra. She's important to me. I'm not ready for her to leave me behind.
|Please, Don't Go|
I admit, this is fiction at it's very best. This is what it should do. The story is complete, and it feels finished, but I want to see it carry on anyway. I am emotionally invested, and because of that, even knowing the story is over, and it should be over, I don't want it. Because that is fiction at it's best.
I must also admit that it's because after four years of watching Korra and Asami grow close, seeing them together at the end, without a word, leaves me feeling as if I want more. I want to see them grow together. I want to know how the Avatar and the head of multinational corporation make it work, and how they get through the hard times.
Mostly, I want to see how these two amazing women do in the future.
It's no secret to anyone who has read this blog before, but I am a huge supporter of equal rights for all. My little sister, Amber, and her amazing wife, Jesse, are who I thought of as the final frames of Korra played. It felt like the world had become a better place, for everyone. That's what equality is about after all, making the world a better place for everyone.
Feel free to call me a Social Justice Warrior, too. I don't take it as a insult, thought I know it's meant as one. The thing with that, though, is that when people hurl it as an insult, they are saying equality, compassion, empathy, and justice are bad things. I feel bad for those people, since they clearly have some issues to work out.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. There is no morality that supports inequality.
Serving as a beautiful counterpoint to Korra and Asami was the final episode of Sword Art Online, another animated series I have followed for some years now. Like Korra, the final episode of SAO aired this weekend, and brought us a story of love between two very strong, capable, intelligent women. Unlike Korra, it was a literal goodbye, as Yuuki finally succumbed to her illness, and died in Asuna's arms.
|BRB... Tearbending... Everywhere!|
I won't lie. It was very emotional. Because unlike with Korra, Yuuki got to say the words. She was smiling as she passed away, telling Asuna that it was okay, because she was with the person she loved most. Not the person she was in love with, mind you, because their relationship was based on friendship, but that's the thing. Yuuki, such a powerful, vibrant woman, got to say she loved Asuna, and we, the viewers, understood it, and felt it with her.
Korra and Asami didn't get to say that. Their ending was argued as friendship, because they didn't say it. Yuuki did say it to Asuna, even though it was the love of a friend, and nobody batted an eye.
This is how screwed up our world is. We accept the love of friends when they are both the same gender, but not the love of lovers when they are.
Nothing against Mike and Bryan. I think they did an amazing thing, and honestly, that Korra and Asami never had to say it for it to be real, clear and true, was artful writing. They didn't have to say it. We knew, and they knew.
It isn't the writing of either, as both shows were beautifully done, moving and powerful. It was the reaction of people that bothers me. How easily one is accepted while the other is dismissed. It feels like despite how far we've come, we still have so terribly far to go. That mountain, it is so very tall, and the summit is miles away yet. I can't help but wonder if we'll ever see it reached in my lifetime.
I'm not done with Korra. I feel like her story was just beginning. I'm not ready to for her to be gone, leaving me behind. I want more, because she took us a step closer to that summit. To a world where we're all equal. We're all accepted. A place it's okay to be just ourselves.
That, I admit, is just good writing, though.
|How I Wish It Had Ended|