At long last, the Avatar franchise has come to an end, at least in terms of the TV series. The Legend of Korra aired its final episode at midnight on Friday and I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.
Especially since Korrasami became cannon.
In my previous LoK post about Korrasami, I analyzed the slow burn that Korra and Asami’s relationship has been from the start of the series and stressed how important cannon Korrasami would be while compromising/validating an ending with no ships at all. At the time of that writing, Book 3 had just ended and, narratively speaking, there weren’t yet enough romantic hints between the two for me to feel angry if Korrasami didn’t happen.
Then, everything changed when Book 4 attacked.
From Korra’s letter to Asami to “you’re looking snazzy as always” to Asami giving Korra warm tea in a pagoda, Book 4 is chock full of nonverbal cues at their closeness, cues that, were Makorra made cannon again, I would have criticized as queerbaiting. Thankfully, Bryke seemed to regain a sense of what they had built up so far. While I’m immensely pleased with the shipping outcome of the finale, The Legend of Korra is not a smoothly told or fully developed story like its predecessor was. Though each season is an improvement on the last, I still hold that the 13 episode structure Bryke had to work with just wasn’t enough for another Avatar story, especially one that changed villains every season.
Book 4 dips into some themes of spirituality, specifically the tension between spirituality/nature and modernization/technological exploitation. Kuvira becomes a walking example of irony as an Earthbender who does nothing but exploit the Earth and a conqueror who does nothing but exploit spiritual power/energy for the sake of destruction disguised as peace. Korra, who has lost her spirituality, suffered the loneliness of spiritual disconnect, and then worked through her suffering on her way back to wholeness, ultimately extends a grace and compassion to Kuvira that relies not on physically overpowering her, but on connecting with her emotionally and spiritually. Unlike past LoK villains, Kuvira becomes human again, stripped of power, but not at the cost of Korra’s physical or mental health.
I might explore some of these spiritual themes in another post, but what I want to highlight here about Kuvira’s non-physical demise is how it parallels the non-physical start of Korra and Asami’s relationship. I think it’s fair to draw a parallel between these two events because the villain’s defeat and the hero’s love life are often the most vital resolutions in a story and LoK follows this path. The importance/necessity of romance plots is debatable, but they do make stories more comfortable since we’re so used to seeing them and LoK isn’t out to change that aspect of storytelling.
What it does change is the perception of queerness both in children’s media and media in general. Korrasami is the healthiest queer relationship I’ve seen in any media created by Western people. Many series about queer women specifically portray characters who are often destructive both to themselves and to their partners (The L Word and Orange is the New Black are two examples). Furthermore, these stories are targeted toward older audiences, perpetuating the notion that the mere existence of queerness instantly necessitates bumping up the age rating. Legend of Korra had to bow to many restrictions, but pushed the envelope anyway (from violent suicide in Book 1 to the overt political themes to Korrasami). If that wasn’t a direction Bryke wanted to take at all, they wouldn’t have done it. Fans simply don’t hold that much power over a creator’s vision. In publishing, many authors speak of how they don’t look into the fandoms of their work at all, be it fanfiction, fanart, or anything else. TV may be different, but I still think that Bryke did what they wanted to do, though they did listen to a lot of the criticisms of Book 1.
Korrasami becomes stronger and stronger as Books 3 and 4 progress, both of which had to be finished or nearly finished around the time Book 2 ended to air as close together as they did. This pairing has plenty of buildup and makes perfect sense for both characters. When Korra was recovering after the events in Book 3, Asami was there to be strong for her. Now, at the end of Book 4 when Asami has no family left, Korra can be that strength. Furthermore, their entire relationship is built on a solid, relaxed foundation of friendship and mutual respect, whereas both girls’ relationships with Mako were sudden and purely physical. They each found that they weren’t emotionally compatible with Mako, and Mako had a lot of his own self-discovering to do before he could understand how to be with another person.
Though I wanted a kiss, I’m okay with the ending and here’s why: it connotes a love that goes beyond physicality, something that a lot of the more adult-oriented queer representations don’t do. Yes, the show was working with a limitation due to foreign markets, but I think Bryke still made it as overt as they possibly could. Tying Korra and Asami’s gaze to entering into the Spirit World adds an ethereal element to their relationship and shows that what they have is quite literally something that carries on beyond this world.
Also, Korra and Asami are at least bisexual and both are women of color. This kind of representation–where both are main characters, aren’t white, are good people, are in a healthy relationship, and end up happy–is immensely important. This sort of thing does not happen often, especially not in children’s media right now. The change is coming and I think Korrasami is the start. Hopefully, the series won’t fade into obscurity and future cartoons will continue to normalize queer relationships. They don’t have to be broken, sexual, dramatic, or unhealthy. They can be like Korrasami: non-pressured, stable, and supportive, which is really what any relationship should be regardless of the genders of the parties involved.
All of this said, there are many fans who interpret the ending differently. While it is my strong view that this is blatant queer representation and nothing can take that away, the ending can also validate a strong friendship for those who really don’t see Korrasami as a thing for whatever reason. I’ve mentioned before that I’d rather not see platonic relationships between women pitted against romantic ones in any sense (and implementing this view myself is something I have to work on, especially when the problem of queerbaiting presents itself). At the same time, queer relationships are so often censored to “good friendship,” that I can’t take that view when presented with cues that tell me otherwise (as is the case with Korrasami). Even so, Legend of Korra depicts, at the very least, a strong, positive bond between two women.