In which author Joel Cornah waxes fanatical about his favourite Fantasy show in a way that is hopefully endearing and not just a bit weird.
Friday 3rd of October marks the beginning of the end for The Legend of Korra, Nickelodeon’s epic fantasy series, with its fourth and final book. This is a show that I am fairly passionate about, as anyone who has seen my Tumblr blog of late will testify. I will not apologise for art!
The moral and political dynamics of the world, the complex characters and the thematic thrust of each book have been a tremendous influence on me and my own writing. If you have read The Sea-Stone Sword, I hope some of this shines through.
Back in 2005 Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko released the first “book” of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Ostensibly a children’s cartoon, it has, in the intervening years, become known as something much, much more. A cult following of loyal and dedicated fans from across the world, inspiring passion and creativity in ways you wouldn’t expect from an obscure kid’s cartoon.
Its characters are entertaining, and deeply complex. Rarely do you find a one-dimensional character, and you feel like everyone is making decisions that make sense to them. It poses questions about right and wrong, heroes and villains, guilt and acceptance. There are philosophies profound and emotional, there are destinies and there are free choices.
The show did not challenge stereotypes; it had them hung, drawn and quartered. So many of the lead players in the story are breaking from what you may be used to in your regular fantasy. Female characters, disabled characters, and characters of every race and religion in their world; old characters, young characters, pacifists and warmongers – Avatar keeps giving you more and more.
The Last Airbender ended in 2008, but a new, spin-off series, The Legend of Korra, began in 2012, revitalising the story.
Korra is a very different character. She is strong minded, physically athletic and she initially solves problems by kicking down doors and kicking ass, whereas Aang, the previous avatar, had been a pacifist who looked to his monkish upbringing for guidance and strength.
The Legend of Korra takes place across cityscapes littered with airships and machinery and media. The magical system – elemental bending – has been incorporated into the technological advancements of the world in ways that I have rarely seen done well in fantasy and science fiction.
There’s plenty of political and moral philosophising in the show. We see Korra faced with very immediate consequences for her actions not only from the antagonists, but from the public circle. She has approval ratings, now, and a series of world leaders to appease. And in book three we were given a glimpse of a truly intriguing villainous group who were intent on bringing down the very world leaders who had been causing Korra so much trouble.
It is not without its flaws, obviously. Book One ends in something of a rush, and the desire to tell a completely different story in Book Two left a lot of unanswered questions. There’s a somewhat clunky and uninteresting love triangle through the first two books, but by Book Three it has been neatly dealt with and all the characters have become better and stronger as a result.
Nickelodeon decided to shift the show off television broadcast and onto digital only. Given that the shows online viewership massively dwarfed its television audience, it’s easy to see why. This hasn’t stopped a lot of disappointment flooding the internet and the fandom. Nickelodeon perhaps wish to maintain a certain brand image – with Spongebob Square Pants being given its four millionth season we can probably guess what that image is. The Legend of Korra certainly aims at a much older audience than Nickelodeon usually cater for. I am in my late twenties and know people twice my age who watch and adore the show.
But for now, the final book is on the way. A long goodbye to a fantastic fantasy series. If you have the time, I highly recommend curling up with a box set of Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. You will not regret it.
– Joel Cornah
As a side note, M Night Shyamalan’s live action film of The Last Airbender is not worth your time. It is, perhaps, a good lesson in how to ruin good source material. Peter Jackson’s got nothing on Shyamalan.