Saturday, December 19, 2015

'The Legend of Korra': A Ship Reflection, One Year Later [Contributor: Melanie]

Avatar: The Last Airbender is over ten years old and yet I, at the ripe old age of 23, am still obsessed with what I consider to be one of the greatest animated shows of all time. The show was such a success that it spawned a sequel (no movie, there wasn’t a movie, no movie adaptation was ever made), which did what all sequels hope to do — surpass the original in technical aspects, writing, and critical reception.

The Legend of Korra aired from 2012 to late 2014 on Nickelodeon and developed an extremely devoted cult following. It was praised for addressing some dark sociopolitical issues such as terrorism and social hierarchy, as well as personal issues like post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. And its finale, which aired one year ago this week, managed to cross a boundary few shows before it considered.

Around midnight on December 19th, 2014, the Internet was metaphorically (and literally) screaming. I know, I was one of those screamers. After a well-executed finale and worthy send-off to the Avatar universe, creators Mike Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko decided to script one last inclusion into the series — an epilogue-style scene depicting Korra and her close friend and companion Asami heading off hand-in-hand on a journey together while the camera panned up on last shot of them facing each other in a romantic gaze. It was a pretty insane night on social mesia, and I really didn’t sleep (mainly because I had to be up at 4 AM but that's beside the point).

The weekend following that, however, began a buzz of unfortunate strife. Shipping is not new, and the toxins caused by associating ships with personal and/or Internet identity is also not new. It’s become a way to connect on the Internet and forms virtual cliques that are assigned personalities and stereotypes by those contained with and without the group. I’ve seen it get to the point where someone actually got a tattoo of their ship name (...). However, Korrasami — as it quickly became known — transcended this environment by managing to make itself unprecedented. A large portion of Legend of Korra watchers were vocal of their support of a relationship between the two characters, but assumed it would never see the light of day on a children’s network. And when it did, it became a gathering point for LGBTQA+ youth as one of the greatest triumphs over network censorship and queerbaiting.

For others, it was an Internet game. Rivalries form between opposing ships, because who doesn’t like to feel powerful from the other end of a keyboard? And sometimes such things are even encouraged by the media itself (such as Twilight or The Hunger Games) to detrimental social results, no matter what way you slice it. But to many of the fans, Korrasami and what it represented was above this discourse and not up for debate. I was one of the many who raised some serious and excited eyebrow when Korra admitted to only writing to Asami during her recovery and blushed when they reunited. But heteronormativity is a tricky beast and this also became a shining example of it as fans and some critics questioned whether the relationship was developed enough to support the claim that they ended up together. To which many, series creator Konietzko included, explained that the blindness to their budding relationship was the result of an automatically expected heterosexual ending to Korra’s romantic story.

Of course, all that talk doesn’t sit too well with young fans on social media. Several accusations flew that the creators catered to the most vocal portion of the fandom — though Konietzko shot this down as well, pointing out that no matter who Korra ended up with, it would be seen as catering to someone. And all the anger and occasional downright homophobic responses were the result of shipping mentality gone wrong. Fans who supported the idea of Korra and her ex-boyfriend Mako reuniting romantically were appalled not just at the idea of it not happening, but also at the mere suggestion that Korra could choose a girl over him — regardless of whether or not this woman was her sole confidant and closest friend leading up to their relationship. And, in short, they considered themselves wounded in a game they made up to play on the Internet.

Check out fans recording their live reactions to the end of the episode, though, for positive social media reactions. Korrasami has become synonymous with triumph for many people, even those who haven’t seen the show. And the way it happened was almost more unprecedented than the fact that it happened at all. Korra and Asami started out in a family and extremely tired dynamic — two girls with crushes and one dude. Not only did they start off rocky as romantic rivals, but Korra got on Asami’s bad side when she accused her father of aiding the terrorists harassing Republic City, and Korra (however inadvertently) helped Mako cheat on her. It was not a great relationship. They stayed pretty neutral after that, but come season three not only were they intellectual equals in conversation and interaction, but sparring partners and even (on Asami’s part) driving instructors. It became not as much a friendship as a partnership in conversation, battle preparation, and conflict. And from there, Asami became Korra’s confidant and caregiver while she was wheelchair bound and the only friend she remained in contact with.

To watch two women journey from romantic rivals slaughtering the Bechdel Test mercilessly to friends, respected equals, and romantic partners is incredible. And the commentary it creates on a larger scale about how women are portrayed to other women is so important, especially because this all took place on a children’s show.

And beyond even that, Asami and Korra are equally respectable breaks from traditional female roles in action media — Korra is an athletically-built leader and tough girl who is still capable of getting smitten in the face of romantic interaction, Asami is a highly intelligent inventor and entrepreneur who can hold her own in combat and is still capable of (unfortunately) taking back her unfaithful boyfriend. And there’s also a bit about bisexual representation for all those out there who have to endure the “pick a side” mentality.

And now that we have discussed some characterization that was present on the show, it is time to choose my top three Korrasami moments:

3. The Turtle Duck Date

Okay, so technically this didn’t happen during the show — it was a picture done by Bryan Konietzko that was sold at a convention with proceeds going to suicide prevention. While that in and of itself was amazing, this lovely piece of art also spawned many squeals across the Web and even more confirmation from the creators of the relationship. Also it’s adorable.

2. The Wheelchair Scene

I almost wanted to say the reunion blushing incident, but the amount of trust evident in this scene trumps anything merely deemed "cute." Asami and Korra share a private moment in the beginning of her grueling and isolating recovery process, and the amount of caring evident there is amazing to see no matter how you want to view their relationship. It’s important on a lot of levels to see women looking after other women.

1.The Spirit World Date

We knew this one was coming. It was especially rewarding when it seemed the show was destined to end on a scene of mentor and student talking. But then Asami taps in and some great dialogue, hugs, hand-holding, and heart-eyes followed. It’s the scene that launched a thousand screams. And it was scripted beautifully.

If you haven’t seen Legend of Korra then check it out, because you were probably incredibly confused reading this. It can be bought and streamed on Amazon Prime and Nickelodeon!


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