Television

A Fond Farewell to the Legend of Korra, an Anti-Authoritarian Delight

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Korra
Nickelodeon

The Legend of Korra ended its run Friday with an action-packed finale that saw the hero, Avatar Korra, thwart a fascist dictator bent on world conquest. This final season, like the previous three, has drawn praise for its trailblazing feminist and progressive values, ending as it did with the hint of a same-sex romance for the lead character, a teenage girl.

Some Reason readers undoubtedly eye those descriptors cautiously, associating modern progressive feminism with a host of liberty-unfriendly attitudes. But Korra, thankfully, espoused individualist feminism and voluntary progressivism, and frequently engaged libertarian themes. The show celebrated the awesome power of individuals, extolled the virtues of open borders, and scrutinized state-initiated violence—going so far as allowing an anarchist sect to makes its case for a world without government.

The anime-influenced cartoon series, which debuted on Nickelodeon in 2012, was a sequel to the beloved Avatar: The Last Airbender. The original show was set in a fictional world divided into four territories (the Air Temples, Water Tribes, Earth Kingdom, and Fire Nation) filled with people who could manipulate—or "bend"—the four representative elements: air, water, fire, and earth. Only one person, Avatar Aang, had the power to control all four, and it was his job to keep the world in balance. The sequel series concerned the exploits of the reincarnated avatar, a 17-year-old girl named Korra, who took over the job after Aang's natural death several decades subsequent to the events of A:TLA.

Though aimed at kids and teens, neither series shied from including sophisticated political themes. A:TLA dealt with the Fire Nation's genocidal wars against the Air Nomads and Water Tribes. The heroes eventually fled to the Earth Kingdom capital, only to discover that the constant threat of war had motivated the city's bureaucratic elite to establish an Orwellian police state. The Fire Nation itself invited obvious comparisons to Nazi Germany and fascist Japan.

Korra extended these themes throughout its four-year run. In the first season, Avatar Korra faced a populist uprising against the rule of the "bending" elite. The leader of the revolution, Amon, a Leninist figure, was eventually exposed as a hypocrite, legitimate though some his gripes were. Similarly, in the third season, Korra confronted her most dangerous enemy of all, Zaheer, an anarchist philosopher and terrorist. Zaheer's goal was to abolish world government, and he even succeeded at assassinating the queen of the Earth Kingdom. While his use of violence to achieve these ends relegated him to villain status, his ideas were not written off entirely. Instead, Korra eventually conceded that there was some wisdom in them.

Among Korra's crowning achievements was her decision to re-open the spirit portals, allowing spirits to mingle with people in both the physical world and the spirit world. While this caused some difficulties, the show firmly pushed the idea that people (and spirits) should not be segregated to the lands of their birth; there is greater balance in the world when everyone in it has the freedom to travel.

Both series thrived off the underlying notion that all people—young or old, male or female, black or white, rich or poor, bender or non-bender—are individuals capable of greatness. Our traits are part of what we are, of course, but they aren't definitive and don't pre-destine us. Individuality transcends even the four elements; Korra's friend Bolin, for instance, may have been just one of probably thousands of earth benders, and yet he was uniquely able to control lava as well, something almost no one else in the world could do. Asami, another ally of Korra (and potential love interest), possessed no magical bending abilities, but was a brilliant engineer and pioneering businesswoman. (She even builds trains! Paging Dagny Taggart…)

It would be wrong, of course, to claim that Korra is deliberately, or primarily, libertarian. (If it were, it might not have been any good, anyway—ideological propaganda rarely makes for great TV.) But as with other recent staples of kid culture, like The Hunger Games and Divergent, it would be equally wrong to ignore this anti-statist trend in teen entertainment.

A generation that hears the word "elements" and thinks Korra is certainly going to be more libertarian than one that hears the word "elements" and thinks Captain Planet, that's for damn sure.

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  1. Captain Planet was totally gay, and thus libertarian.

    1. Dub it into Spanish then watch it while high. That’s a libertarian moment!

  2. As ‘liberty friendly’ as Korra is, the plot tends to suck. I stopped watching after Season 2’s Deus Ex Machina Godzilla fight.

    1. As awesome as The Last Airbender was, it ultimately couldn’t resist Deus Ex Machina in the form of a giant turtle. Which was disappointing, but not enough to dampen a really awesome show.

      1. I can at least get the stupid turtle. Korra’s second season basically rebooted all of her character development for the sake of the plot and drama. Airbender was great because it had a continual, gradual built up of character development not just for the main characters but a lot of side characters/villains too.

        1. The third season was a lot better, but you’ve basically described the major flaw of the show. It’s got a lot of cool ideas and designs and characters, but they’re always sacrificed for the sake of a muddled plot. They could never stick to an idea or keep a character consistent. What mattered was ending an episode with some reveal or twist.

          Airbender was very much about characters and arcs and a living world. Korra has largely been about cliffhangers and action. It’s been a disappointment ever since Aang appeared outta nowhere and returned all of her bending like it was nothing. Every season needed a writer to look over their scripts and ask, “What are you trying to do here, and how can we do it better?” Airbender had that with Futurama writer Aaron Ehasz. This series felt like the imaginative creators were let off the leash.

          1. you’ve basically described the major flaw of the show. It’s got a lot of cool ideas and designs and characters, but they’re always sacrificed for the sake of a muddled plot. They could never stick to an idea or keep a character consistent. What mattered was ending an episode with some reveal or twist.

            …said every person who watched LOST.

            The third season was a lot better

            Oh, wait. Never mind.

      2. Meh, the turtle’s not that bad. The drama of the fight is whether Aang will kill the guy, and he has plenty of opportunities to do so. The problem is they couldn’t really establish the stakes of the whole energybending strategy. I think it was supposed to be a more dangerous solution than just killing him, but it doesn’t really feel like that. Just feels like some glowing then everything’s done. It is a deus ex machina, but it’s more of a “Oh, McClane had a gun taped to his back the whole time!” kind.

        For a comparison, the deus ex machina that John Titor is talking about is a glowing spiritual being that literally descends from heaven to save Korra and end the fight.

    2. If you did, you missed out! Season three was BY FAR the best season.

      Season 2 was produced by a different design studio than the other three seasons, and I think suffered as a result. Also, the plot was not as good, sure.

      3142 for me.

  3. This final season, like the previous three, has drawn praise for its trailblazing feminist and progressive values, ending as it did with the hint of a same-sex romance for the lead character, a teenage girl.

    Wow! A teenage girl? How progressively trailblazing. I too wish to join you in praising these intrepid artists.

    1. Teen Lesbians? I see common ground here.

    2. If you want trailblazing show me a cartoon where the lead is a gay male who makes out with other men on screen. It won’t happen. Kids won’t watch it. I know, I try to get them to watch “progressive” cartoons with me all the time. They refuse and I usually get a call from their parents.

  4. Ahem! Technically, Korra was a 20 year-old by the end of the series, so no longer a teenage girl. And it was a three year run, having premiered in 2012 and airing distributing its third and fourth seasons this year.

    And I already have a wedgie, thank you.

    And actually, the two seasons from this year had a lot of Randian undertones. They have a lengthy detour to a city built by an elite woman as a haven for other elites away from the Earth Queen’s control. And the Earth Queen is decried because of over-taxation. The final episodes are basically an orgy of super men and women fighting each other for the world.

  5. Also, if we’re talking about anti-authoritarian animes, I dig Psycho Pass. Basically takes place in a dystopian future where people are judged by a system that determines their psychological well-being. Those with high ‘crime coefficients’ are deemed ‘latent criminals’ who can either accept ‘treatment’ at psychological faculties, working for the cops (in order to protect the police’s psychological well being, the series points out that when the system start a ton of cops were automatically classified as ‘latent criminals’) or death. The show’s theme can be summed up as ‘utilitarianism is bullshit’.

    1. What about full metal alchemist: brotherhood?

      The government is literally composed of non human monsters. There is genocide, militarization (has to join the military to access what he needs), calls for peace, war for distraction. The villain in the first season ends up being one of the heroes.

      It is epic- but too long. Great libertarian themes, though. Especially taking responsibility for one’s own actions.

      1. I like Brotherhood but yeah, it tends to go a little long (everyone’s got to get their big speech in about their motivations when they die too, which is an anime cliche I’m not a big fan of).

        It’s also really, really optimistic, which is refreshing when it’s not long-winded. Compare that to Psycho Pass, where you get to play Gen ‘Butcher’ Urobichi Bingo.

      2. I prefer the first Fullmetal Alchemist show.

        *sips organic espresso, adjusts suspenders, eats spoonful of artisanal mayo*

        1. You forgot “pushes rim of Buddy Holly eyeglasses back on to bridge of nose…”

  6. Nerds.

  7. “individualist feminism and voluntary progressivism”

    M….hm.

    I have a circle to square.

    1. No, it makes total sense.

      Everyone volunteers to give away their free speech and their income to the Government Enforcer to produce “Social Justice”.

      The ones who don’t are obviously the enemy and will be destroyed.

      They HAD A CHOICE!

  8. “its trailblazing feminist and progressive values, ending as it did with the hint of a same-sex romance for the lead character, a teenage girl.”

    I had no idea every single young gay female was necessarily a marxist.

    1. also, i totally misread that sentence as

      “”its tribalizing feminist and progressive values…”

      if i gave enough of a shit i’d probably write a piece on how the increase in homonormativity in fantasy entertainment is really a sign of puritanism, because homosexuality is simply treated as a ‘signal’ to hetero audiences to suggest political orientation and make them sympathetic and yet not ‘threatening’. its never given any actual opportunity to flesh itself out into an actual ‘real’ relationship with all the associated pitfalls and foibles; its just an ‘easy out’ to give the character a ‘love interest’ while keeping everything otherwise very disney

      IOW, “My Own Private Idaho” it ‘aint.

  9. Our traits are part of what we are, of course, but they aren’t definitive and don’t pre-destine us. Individuality transcends even the four elements; Korra’s friend Bolin, for instance, may have been just one of probably thousands of earth benders, and yet he was uniquely able to control lava as well, something almost no one else in the world could do.

    WTF. You are reading way to much into a cartoon. Distinguishing traits for characters is pretty common and I would say a prerequisite for success.

  10. Sometimes you jsut have to roll with the punches.

    http://www.Anon-Wayz.tk

  11. I didn’t even know it was back yet!

  12. “its trailblazing feminist and progressive values, ending as it did with the hint of a same-sex romance for the lead character, a teenage girl.”

    Putting on progressive critic hat: It is misogynist that the only way for a supposedly feminist protagonist to get a suitably submissive love interest is for the love interest to be female, even if that means a same sex relationship. Removing critic hat

    If that’s what you value in your entertainment, then you enjoy earnest and preachy for some reason. It strikes me as creepy and Orwellian.

  13. I just threw up a little in my mouth.

  14. I have read this news here

    libertarianhippie

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