Avatar: The Legend of Korra

September 10, 2020

I have to be honest:  I had a rough time with The Legend of Korra.

It’s just so dark.

The world of Avatar is really wonderful. It’s rich in worldbuilding, a fascinating magic system adaptable to all kinds of stories, and the arcs of all these young characters developing their powers and learning to work together is just great. I was interested in some of the extrapolation of Korra, envisioning a stylish steampunk world.

But it’s also a world filled with megalomaniacal psychopaths. Like, Aang ended the Hundred Year War and brought peace and all that. . . and the subsequent generation apparently spawned, like, all the psychopaths. (Particularly the Northern Water Tribe, what is up with them?) And not just the big bad(s) of each season, but a whole slew of minor psychopaths as well, like Varrick and the Earth Queen.

Sure, I’m fully aware stories need antagonists. But in Korra the antagonists seem particularly bent on destroying the entire fabric of the reality they live in. It takes some Spirit-world ex machina to keep things from completely unraveling. It’s the escalation problem:  the next obstacle has to be even more horrifying and more difficult than the one before. By the end, there’s almost nothing left to save.

This has all led me to question the philosophical underpinnings of the entire Avatar world:
  • Only the Avatar can master all four elements and bring balance to the world.
  • The Avatar is always reborn after death.
  • There is never not an Avatar. The Avatar must always work to bring balance to the world.
  • Therefore, the world is never in balance. Or whatever balance it achieves does not survive the Avatar’s death and rebirth.
  • The Avatar’s rebirth, by definition, puts the world out of balance.
  • The quest can never truly be achieved.
  • That is the true balance.

3 Responses to “Avatar: The Legend of Korra”

  1. Andrew Says:

    You make a really interesting point. The quest can never be achieved. To be fair, that is life. Life does not stop because we achieve a goal. We may reach a point of stability, but that stability is never absolute. That’s true on personal and societal levels.

    Really, aren’t stories about the characters? We want the characters to emerge triumphant and get their happy ending in, but we want the world to go on with all the flavors that engage us in the story. Without the potential for conflict, the world gets a bit boring and loses the flavors that make it, and us, unique.

    What we’ve seen with the two Avatar series’ is that the Avatar does not vanquish the threat until s/he achieves balance. That’s the happy ending. But the world goes on. The cycle continues. I’m no expert on the Asian religions that inform the world-building in Avatar, but what I understand about them is that they are more oriented toward balance than the Abrahamic faiths which emphasize the absolute defeat of evil.

    The really interesting question about Korra is whether there will be a third series. Again, I’m no expert on Asian history, but with ATLA, I think we see new uses for the elements emerging (lightning, combustion, metal-bending) which clearly spurs a technological revolution that is in full swing in Korra. By the end of Korra, she has unleash spirit energy which is clearly a metaphor for atomic energy and weapons.That’s to say nothing of the emerging political backlash of benders vs. non-benders. There’s a lot more storytelling to be done, and when the balance is upset again, the stakes will in fact become higher.

    Sorry for the long post. I guess I had some opinions on the matter, 🙂

  2. AKK Says:

    I’m OK with the idea that the world never stays completely in balance. When you drive, you are constantly making small course corrections and then you see a pothole or swerve to miss a squirrel. The problem seems to be that in so many stories you swerve to avoid a squirrel and then a deer runs in front of you and then you’re almost sideswiped by drag racers and then a guy you cut off pulls a gun on you in a case of road rage. I mean, any of those things can happen but it’s really mostly squirrels. Obviously, authors create worlds and situations where you get more than squirrels but so often it feels like things get tossed in because of the need to top the last big thing not because they’re really organic to the situation at hand.

  3. Andrew Says:

    I don’t disagree, and with bad writing, it can go over the top real quick. I don’t think Korra is in that category. The change in the world is jarring at first until you compare 1920 to 1850. Then you can look at how many really horrible event our world faced between 1910 and 1945, and suddenly the progression of villains makes sense, even if it is compressed to keep the whole story in Korra’s young adulthood.

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