The Legend of Korra (Personal Blog Post)
“The Legend of Korra” (LoK) is the critically-acclaimed follow-up series to “Avatar: The Last Airbender” (ATLA). For those who are unfamiliar with the original series, The Last Airbender (not the movie) takes place in a heavily Asian-influenced world and is divided into four nations, each pertaining to the four basic elements—fire, earth, air, and water. Some of the population of each of these nations possess the innate ability to manipulate one of these four elements (depending on their ancestry) through the use of chi. Chi refers to the concept metaphysical energy which flows throughout the human body; the term itself was coined in ancient Chinese philosophy, around 5th century BCE. In this series, they refer to this manipulation of matter as “bending”. Aang, a young air temple monk discovers he is the reincarnation of the Avatar, a master of all four elements who is put on this earth to maintain balance between the four nations. He basically freaks out and encases himself in ice for 100 years before being discovered by two waterbenders from the Southern Water Tribe. He discovers that the Fire Nation has thrown off the world’s balance by trying to take over the other nations, and only he, the Avatar, can stop him. However, he must master all four elements in order to do so, as he only knows airbending. They then go on for about a two-year long trip that lasts for about 61 episodes, travelling to each nation to find a master in each form of bending to teach him and defeat the Fire Lord.
A visual representation of the four nations.
The story of The Legend of Korra is basically this: after Aang from ATLA saves the world from the dominating Fire Nation, controlled by Ozai, the Fire Lord, he then devotes the rest of his life to form Republic City, a metropolis where benders and non-benders of every race can ideally reside peacefully. 70 years from Ozai’s defeat, Aang and most of his friends are long gone, but the Avatar is always reincarnated after his/her death. The new avatar, Korra, has to travel to Republic City in order to train with Aang’s son, Tenzin, to master her airbending skills. She soon discovers that there is an “anti-bender” movement lead by a faceless leader named Amon, who hopes to rid the world of all benders. What struck me about this particular character before taking this class was how much he reminded me of one of those stereotypical “Asian criminal masterminds” seen in all sorts of stories. We can easily relate this to the Yellow Peril, a derogatory concept that originated in the xenophobic 19th century. It was popular at the time to portray Asians as conniving villainous characters due to the historical context of World War II.
World War II propaganda with the Japanese as the subject.
During this era, films such as Daughter of the Dragon were released with Asian characters playing the mysterious villain of the East. Amon is no different from Fu Manchu in the sense that they both portray the concept of the Yellow Peril.
Can you honestly not see a resemblance?
The reason this series is considered critically-acclaimed is because it is an emotionally deep story packed with underlying sexism, racism, and other controversies but has a target audience of pre-teens. It sprinkles each episode with these topics while still maintaining a culturally respectful representation of Asian tradition, whether it be music, character design, or visual representation of the Asian-themed Republic City.
A panoramic frame of Korra on the outskirts of Republic City. (click for more detail)
I highly recommend this series to anyone who is a huge fan of ATLA or anyone who is a huge fan of animation in general. I definitely am looking forward to season 2, which will be airing some time in 2013.
-Joshua Weiss ’15