Animation School of Hard NOCs Television

School of Hard NOCs: The Legend of Korra

Vitals: The Legend of Korra is the second animated series by Avatar: The Last Airbender creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino.  Set 70 years after the first series, it focuses on the next incarnation of the avatar, 17-year-old Korra of the Southern Water Tribe.

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Plot: After Avatar Aang and Fire Lord Zuko re-established peace in the region, they built a nation where benders (basically those possessing supernatural mastery over air, water, earth, or fire) as well as non-benders can live peacefully and modernize together. However, 70 years later in capital Republic City, the world is not as peaceful as it seems, as the harsh realities of capitalism and bending-based elitism take hold: the government is entirely run by benders, for example, and there is a bender-led mafia scene that terrorizes small businesses and citizens alike.

There is growing resentment among the non-bending populace, led by Amon of the Equalist Party, a mask-wearing, self-professed victim of fire-bender tyranny, who holds underground meetings to stir up support for revolution. He also somehow has an uncanny ability to permanently take away people’s bending power, and his master plan is to round up all benders and take away their abilities, in order to truly “equalize” society. Book One centers around four teenagers: the new Avatar Korra, brothers Mako and Bolin of pro-bending team The Fire Ferrets, and non-bending heiress Asami Sato, along with a variety of adult allies, in their fight against Amon and the Equalists.

Book Two is set to debut on September 13 on Nickelodeon:

Pros: First and foremost, the main character is a brown female, of Inuit-like origin. She is a multilayered, believable portrayal of a tough teenage girl whose physical strength and temper are stronger than her emotional and spiritual maturity.

There are multiple races and cultures in this universe, mostly resembling Asiatic, Oceanic, and Native American cultures. There is even the concept of mixed-race families: benders marry non-benders, for example, and also families can have children who are benders of different elements.

In terms of gender portrayal, The Legend of Korra is fantastic. It passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. There is a wide spectrum of masculine and feminine role models, including involved fathers, women who fight crime alongside men, women in leadership roles, strong same-sex and opposite-sex friendships, healthy adult-child relationships, and more.

The Legend of Korra was a 2013 NAACP Image Award nominee for Outstanding Children’s Program.

Cons: NOC-wise, there is racial diversity, but no black people (there doesn’t seem to be white people either). Also, save for Seychelle GabrielDaniel Dae Kim and Dante Basco (and Steven Yeun come Book Two!), the voice cast is overwhelmingly white.

Plot-wise, I have one small gripe: near the end of Book One, a teenage love triangle seems to disproportionately take up a lot of airtime. That time could be used to further develop some of the characters instead (like fleshing out Mako and Bolin’s backstory, for example).

Age-Appropriateness: The Legend of Korra offers plenty of good, clean fun for children (including fart jokes and other physical comedy), but there are also several important philosophical lessons: the value of friendship, how adults and kids can interact respectfully and learn from each other, and how growing up is more than just physical development. The show also presents children with perhaps their first taste of class tensions in a balanced and easy-to-parse way.

My daughter, age 6, loves Korra!
My daughter, age 6, loves Korra!

However, I would say because of the fast pace of some of the action scenes and some dark twists in the story line (some adults are duplicitous and physically or psychologically attack teenagers, which may unsettle really young children), The Legend of Korra is most appropriate for ages 5+. Younger kids may enjoy the first series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, better. It may be worth mentioning that one of the subplots is a love story that involves kissing. There is no upper age limit.

To Buy: Season One is streaming for free (with commercial breaks) on Nick.com. It is also available on DVD, Amazon.com Instant Video, and iTunes.

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School of Hard NOCs is a regular weekly feature at The Nerds of Color that will review past and ongoing comic books, sci-fi/fantasy books, TV, and other forms of nerdy media specifically for parents raising the next generation of nerds of color.

12 comments

  1. Great review! My boys and I have been Last Airbender fans since the beginning. I’m not sure we have embraced her as much as our favorite character, Toph, and you are right about all the love triangle stuff, but overall, definitely a winner!

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    1. Thanks so much, JGoTron! 🙂 I am a Toph Fangirl 4 Lyfe as well, and trying not to give too much away, Lin just turned The Legend of Korra around for me. I feel for Korra a lot, having been a teenage girl not too long ago, and knowing what it feels like at that age…all things considered, she’s handling the extra responsibility pretty well! Now she’s gotta stop mooning over boys! She’s got some hella work to do! 😛

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  2. I gotta say, as a rabid fan of Avatar, I was very disappointed in Korra. It moved way too fast, not taking the time to really develop the world or the characters. And the class divide between benders and non-benders was not-so-subtly underscored by the fact that almost all the characters were benders, and the world of non-benders was never explored — particularly not the world of non-bender underdogs. It was very much a “white guy saves the day” kind of story, if bender = white and nonbender = poc majority.

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    1. Hi Claire: I agree, that we could have seen more of the non-bending world, another subplot that would have been more interesting than the love triangle! 🙂 One of Team Avatar’s most vital and kickass members, Asami, was a non-bender…don’t want to spoil anything for people who haven’t watched yet, but you and I both know what an important role she played (besides being part of the love triangle, ha ha).

      I don’t know if I follow your analogy, since the fact that a white guy didn’t save the day (in fact, the opposite, a young woman of color), is awesome in and of itself.

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  3. the reason it moved fast is because, the next season wasn’t really guaranteed till almost half-way the season. in last airbender, the main protagonist was male. In Korra it is a WOC. Even though Toph is one of my favorite characters besides Appa, i feel she was secondary. I don’t feel thats the case with Korra. in addition, Last Airbender was guaranteed for 3 seasons. hence the more episodes and more character development. You have to admit that to try to equal the same impact Avatar had is a tall task. I think Korra did a decent job. Having to watch my 2 daughters get excited when we all were sitting down as a family to watch it. I think Claire brings up good points. But i also think that in this new avatar series, A WOC saves the world. That’s pretty cool in my book.

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    1. Hey RSC, thanks for chiming in with the awesome factoids! I totally agree: a young woman of color saving the world, period, is enough reason for me to give the show a chance…the fact that she’s so well-written and -developed as a character is delicious icing on the cake. My kids, my husband, and I freaking LOVE watching this show together, all for our individual reasons, and that is rare and priceless.

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