In the 1990s, Xena: Warrior Princess — starring Lucy Lawless — ruled TV. Her chakram, armor, and famous warrior cry helped elevate Xena to one of the 25 best TV shows of all time. It’s 2015, and we have a new TV super woman, and her name is Korra, the Avatar (voiced by Janet Varney). The Legend of Korra is the Nickelodeon animated series that tells the story of a young woman who has the power to control the four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Her power to control the elements makes her the most powerful human on the planet. Korra is tasked with bringing balance to the world by merging the spirit and human world in perfect harmony.
Being a fan of both Xena and Korra, the wheels started turning in my head, so I came up with a theory that the creators of Legend of Korra had a little Xena inspiration.
After watching every season of both shows, it left me to wonder if creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko had Xena in mind when writing the story for Korra. There were three major components of each show that I found comparable: warrior ethos, their connection to spirituality, and the lesbian canonical subtext. BUT before I go into detail, click on the comparison charts below between important Xena and Korra characters:
At the start of the animated show, Korra is out to change public opinion about element benders. Most benders are good people who are not out to hurt society. However, Korra is very cocky and stubborn. This is the reason it took her so long to learn to master the element of air, although the power is innate. Her mindset led her to think of her role as the Avatar should be focused on the physical aspects of bending.
While she is on the side of good, she caused a lot of chaos and destruction in her path. It wasn’t until Korra accepted Tenzin’s spiritual teachings that she is humbled in her role as the Avatar.
Similarly, Xena was a warlord whose existence centered around combat as a means to an end. After the death of her brother Lycus, she embarked on a path of violence that left a trail of destruction in her quest for power. As a warlord, Xena was brash, skilled, and apathetic toward her victims.
Once Xena met Lao Ma, she was able to connect with her inner spirituality. This connection gave Xena a taste of what it is like to be on the right side of the law, so to speak.
The Legend of Korra is heavily based in its own self-sustaining spiritual mythos. The Avatar is a spiritual being who has a connection to many spiritual entities. It is said the Avatar is the bridge between the spiritual and physical worlds. Over the course of four season of the show, Korra eventually merged with Rava, the spirit of light and the source of her power. Also Korra was connected to the spirits of all the past Avatars (sadly, she lost that connection and she never reconnected), and through Tenzin’s teaching, Korra was able to master the art of air-bending. By the shows end, she finally achieved full spiritual alignment with the spirit world and nature.
Even though Xena is of Greek origin, she traveled the world in search of adventure and spiritual enlightenment. After meeting Lao Ma in China, Xena gained knowledge about pressure points, and was taught telekinesis (which is technically some type of bending if you think about it). Xena has also been connected to the entire pantheon of Greek Gods, dealt with the fall out of Christianity in Rome, Buddhism in Japan, and merged with Krishna in India. While in India, Xena’s mission was to protect a person called the AVATAR (the person sent to bring balance to the world).
If you don’t believe me:
Spirituality is a big theme in both shows. Korra and Xena moved through the Earth while learning to become more compassionate and understanding. By the end of both shows, they were looking at the world with different eyes and different philosophies.
LESBIAN RELATIONSHIPS AS CANON
Its pretty obvious that Xena and Gabrielle were officially lovers by the end of the show run. However, I don’t remember hearing an official announcement of the relationship being canon. That is until I stumbled upon a 2003 interview in Lesbian News with Lucy Lawless confirming what most fans already knew:
Xena’s and Gabrielle’s relationship was definitely gay… there was always a ‘well, she might be or she might not be’ but when there was that drip of water passing between their lips in the very last scene, that cemented it for me. Now it wasn’t just that Xena was bisexual and kinda liked her gal pal and they kind of fooled around sometimes, it was ‘Nope, they’re married, man’.
Xena always had a huge LGBTIA following. So it makes sense that there was much debate about whether Xena and Gabrielle were lovers. But lack of an official announcement was probably due to real life debate going on within society of where to go next within the LGBTIA community.
Things were very much taboo even 10-12 years ago. I’m convinced what drew the two of them closer is that Gabrielle was able to give balance to Xena’s headstrong personality with gentility and wisdom. She was a nurturing companion who kept Xena on the right path. Of course Xena had other love interests, but her connection was strongest with Gabrielle.
Korra and Asami (#Korrasami), was a little more ambiguous. I think fans found this news confusing because it was not as obvious as Xena and Gabrielle. Although, the two of them being in a loving relationship is unprecedented for a major network animated children’s show. The relationship between the two female leads was not a quick one-shot thing (like Makko and Korra in season two), but developed gradually over time.
When the announcement was made by the show’s creators, it made sense to me. Once the show ended, I think fans began to remember moments where a relationship between Korra and Asami began to blossom.
Here is a great video by Michael Vera giving some insight on how the Korrasami relationship developed across the four seasons of The Legend of Korra:
Normally, I don’t pay too much attention when it comes to shows I watch, but in this case, the similarities were too obvious for me to ignore. Especially, the similar way both characters developed. With the strongest comparable components of warrior ethos, spirituality, and companion relationships.
For its time, Xena:Warrior Princess revolutionized the way we viewed women on television. Legend of Korra has also raised the bar for animated shows by pushing the boundaries beyond societal limits. Both shows dared to be different. But without Xena, there may not have been a Korra show to enjoy in the first place.
Thanks to my friend Nick Grue for inspiring this article!