Ladies and Gentlemen… welcome to another edition of The Anime (or in this case Animation) Pulse. This week, I’m ditching the Japanese anime talk to discuss something created here in America: The Legend of Korra.
Whether to call this anime or not is a fickle debate. There is no doubt that the art style borrowed from Eastern influences, but at the same time, it still boasted some styles that were reminiscent of American animation. Regardless of what you want to classify this as, there is one thing we can all agree on… that there will probably never be another show like The Legend of Korra…
…or will there?
First off, what is The Legend of Korra? It is a sequel to the highly successful Nickelodeon series, Avatar: The Last Airbender. What made Avatar so great was the direction Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, the show’s creators, took it. Right away, people were quick to dismiss Avatar because of the sole fact that it was on Nickelodeon and for those of us who grew up in the 90’s era of Nickelodeon; especially with the Nick at Nite block, we instantly thought this was just another garbage cartoon being produced by a television company whose quality declined over the past decade. I should know because I was one of those people until a friend of mine brought the DVDs over and forced me to watch it with him.
But there were some people that gave the show a chance and those people were amazed by it. They told more people who then told more people, and by Book 3, when series began to turn a little bit to the darker side to appeal to a more teenage audience, the show had become a smash hit. It was no wonder that many people waited with baited breath for the sequel to come out and when it did, the praise was there, the attention was there and THAT is what led to this becoming one of the most controversial shows to air on Nickelodeon in quite some time.
Now… I’m not going to dive into personal opinion about how society has changed, but I will say that we have definitely become far too sensitive. What flew twenty years ago doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of flying on television today. Something like Ren & Stimpy would be downright outlawed and you can even cite the recent Sony fiasco with The Interview as a testament to that. So what did Korra do to cause Nickelodeon to throw it off television and onto the internet?
They depicted death in a cartoon meant for children. At the end of Season 1 (and yes, I should have mentioned that there WILL be spoilers in this column), we saw the demise of the main villain Aman when he was on a boat (insert your “Hey! Aman a boat” jokes here) that, for all intents and purposes, blew up. Even I was a bit taken back.. not because Aman died, but in this day and age they actually aired death in a children’s cartoon. I was actually perfectly fine with Aman dying because I didn’t really see it coming and I thought it was a pretty fitting end for everything that he put Republic City and The Avatar through. Despite my view on the death, it really pushed the new millennium envelope for sure. If this aired in the 1990s, kids would be at school the next day talking about how awesome the episode was, but today, in 2014, the phones would be ringing off the hook at Nickelodeon’s headquarters with paranoid parents condemning the studios for airing such a piece for their children to see.
The second season of Korra didn’t really do the show any favors. It was, at most, watchable. The story, while interesting, added the spirits into the mix as an attempt to appeal to children once again. Almost as if it were an apology for pushing that envelope a bit too far. The fight between Korra and Unalak/Vaatu was something you’d probably expect out of a comic book, but it seemed a bit… well… out of place… especially since we had so many serious moments and battles with Aman. That season really caused the ratings to fall and that couldn’t help Korra’s case after the controversial ending to season one.
Thus, Nickelodeon decided to stop airing Korra and have seasons three and four air exclusively online. This was a blessing in disguise for DiMartino and Konietzko because now they didn’t have to worry about censorship, ratings, sponsors, or anything else associated with something airing on network television. They went back to pushing the envelope with Korra starting in season three when they introduce Zaheer as the new main villain.
Zaheer, in my eyes, took a shot at the religious fanatics across the world. Those who desire peace, but want to create unbalance and chaos in order to achieve it because that’s what they believed in. When Zaheer received his air bending, he learned the history, he learned the teachings, and coupled them with his ideals to create a world free from rule knowing full well that would throw the world into chaos, yet, he believed civilization would be better off this way.
They took some dark turns here as well and for the second time during this series, they depicted death when Zaheer used his air bending to suffocate and kill The Earth Queen. Unlike the Aman issue, they didn’t shy away from it and flat out stated that Zaheer killed her. If that wasn’t enough, Zaheer ended up poisoning Korra and that set up season four which dealt with internal struggles and the pasts that haunt us. This is something that people deal with every single day of their lives. Nobody walking this planet is perfect. We all have things in our past that we regret doing… we all have those moments that continue to haunt us whether we want to admit it or not. It creates those situations where we want to give up because no matter how hard we fight we never seem to gain any ground. This is what The Legend of Korra harnessed in season four when she couldn’t get the poison out her body. She let that experience and her battle with Zaheer take over her mind and create that internal struggle.
We’ve all seen main characters crippled before, but it’s usually to something the big evil did to them. We get the same here, but rarely do we get to witness internal conflict and the emotional distress those situations put the heroes through. Often times, the hero will just overcome it and become strong again because it’s expected. He/She is the hero afterall, but in Korra, we got to see the human side effects of these situations which served as a reminder that the people in The Legend of Korra are just that… they’re human.
The show continued to push the envelope even more. If you thought Zaheer was a bit too risqué as a main villain than you would downright believe Kuvira to be outrageously unacceptable. Kuvira was the epitome of taking a stab at today’s politics and foreign policies. Kuvira was, essentially, Adolf Hitler… trying to conquer all land in sight and unite her people under one rule. She went from town to town and forcefully demanded those towns to surrender their rule over to her and the Earth Empire. She also built a spirit weapon with the ability to annihilate a town in a single blast. Weapons of Mass Destruction anyone?
And then we have the ending. Massive spoilers ahead so if you haven’t seen in, I thank you for reading this column! Avert your eyes!