This week is a big one for Avatar fans everywhere. The Legend of Korra, Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino’s sequel series about the next Avatar who saves the world, is coming to Netflix this week. It’s a move that should inspire excitement, and yet fans have used it to unearth an old argument, one that we need to address today. No, Avatar Korra is not worse than Aang… She’s more complicated.
Aang’s story was always an easy one to love. Part of that was the fact that Aang was easy to love. Throughout The Last Airbender, Aang was a wide-eyed kid who steadfastly believed in good and evil as black and white. Most of the series revolved around his friends, mentors, and enemies slowly making him realize that wasn’t the case. His story was a relatable one about growing up. Even when he was at his most impulsive and angry, Aang’s emotions and decisions were easy to understand because we’ve all walked a similar journey. We’ve all had to realize that the assumptions about morality we believed in childhood were more flexible than we ever imagined.
That was never Korra’s story. The Legend of Korra picks up when the new Avatar is 17 years old. And from the very first episode Korra is a hard one to support. She’s all too eager to abandon her airbending master Tenzin, Aang’s adult son who becomes the level-headed Aang replacement, to hang out with her friends and join a professional bending league. As a fan who has just left the savage and dangerous world of The Last Airbender, her dismissiveness of mastering the elements seems, frankly, stupid. We’ve seen how horrible the world can get without a prepared Avatar. But Korra hasn’t.If Aang’s story was about growing up, then Korra’s is about the much more challenging road to maturity. Of course Korra is overly competitive and constantly threatens anyone who looks at her the wrong way. All her life she’s been told she’s something special. That reassurance paired with the tornado of emotions and frustrations that come with being a teenager is a recipe for disaster. Unlike stories about childhood, stories about adolescence are not as universal. Everyone’s path to maturity is plagued with different obstacles, different challenging relationships, and most importantly, different stupid decisions. They’re shaped by the personalities of whoever their hero is, moreso than any narrative about a leaving behind childhood. The only thing they have in common is that they’re messy.
Even the very format of The Legend of Korra is more difficult to digest. The Last Airbender presented Aang with a clear challenge: he had to learn the four elements and defeat the Fire Lord before the Fire Nation conquered the world. But Korra’s tale lacks that clear focus. Entire seasons are spent on foes who disappear by the end of a season. Though that structure is far more in line with the day-to-day difficulties most Avatars likely faced, it’s a distinct departure from The Last Airbender‘s intentionally tight story.
What’s left is a messy hero with a story that completely matches her sloppiness. Korra will never be Aang because she’s grown past him. Whereas Aang’s story ended just as he started to realize there was more depth to the world, Korra’s begins well beyond that point, happily following her as she tries on new identities and makes giant shambles of her personal life. Holding this complicated woman to the far simpler standards of her predecessor isn’t fair. It’s time to see and appreciate Avatar Korra for who she is — not a wide-eyed child, but a complex young woman on the verge of adulthood.
Where to stream The Legend of Korra