If you’ve read this blog before or follow me on twitter, you will already know that I am a huge fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender (the cartoon obviously, not the live-action abomination squirted onto cinema screens). A:TLA is a gem, and a rarity, and I could talk forever about all the things it does right; the story is fantastic, pairing personal journeys with genuine peril, every character grows and learns, there is humour in buckets (“My cabbages!”) and more than one moment that will leave you sobbing like a small child (Uncle Iroh sitting under the tree, singing. Enough said). In short, A:TLA is some of the best television I’ve ever seen, animated or not, and it even ends well, something that hardly ever happened in the cartoons of my youth.
And now there’s a sequel. In Legend of Korra our Avatar Aang has passed on and been reincarnated in a water-bender called Korra. We’ve moved on a couple of generations from the time of the first series and this is reflected brilliantly in the new landscape of Republic City; the fashion, the architecture, the vehicles – everything has a slightly 1920’s feel to it. It’s clear time has passed, and yet there are enough nods to the original series that you feel you already know this world quite well; for example, Toph’s revolutionary “metal bending” has become a genuine offshoot of earth bending, and the police force of Republic City use it for some spectacular action sequences (and, oh my god, Lin Bei Fong, Toph’s daughter – new favourite character? Quite possibly).
So, new Avatar, new Team Avatar, new setting, new troubles. I don’t want to talk too much about what actually happens because I don’t want to accidentally spoil anyone, (the new baddie is excellent, the pro-bending tournaments are fab, and the animation is looking better than ever) but I did want to talk about Korra herself for a bit, and what a tremendously exciting character she is.
When I was small I was dead keen on all the action cartoons – Thundercats, He-Man, Defenders of the Earth, Dungeons and Dragons. I was also extremely averse to what I perceived to be “girly” cartoons (I have, my friends, never seen an episode of “Jem”). In the cartoons I liked there would be female characters, but they were never particularly interesting and they were very clearly not the main characters. My favourites were Eric the Cavalier, Tygra, Panthro, Orko (god help me), Mandrake the Magician. The female characters were usually quite girly too, something I, as a relentless tom-boy, thoroughly disapproved of. I grew up with token women, inserted to fill out the ranks and create a toy that someone’s sister might buy (I was never particularly into She-Ra, before you mention it, which seems like a bit of a shame).
Now we have Korra. Korra is the main character. She is not “girly”, but she is very clearly a girl. She hasn’t been stuck in there to give your eyes a break from the boys. She is strong, and stubborn, occasionally makes rash decisions, and she is cool, and powerful, and stands up for what is right.
She is also a teenager, and has regular teenager problems. There’s a boy she likes and she’s not sure if he likes her back, and she’s struggling to understand herself and her powers while the world around her is in turmoil. She is confident, and yet she has a lot of doubts.
I would have killed for a character like this when I was eight, because I would have recognised myself in her (hey, I’m a girl and I like to wear trousers and play rough and hang around with boys) and I would have seen someone to look up to (I want to be brave enough to do the right thing, and to be myself).
And the beautiful thing about it is LoK is full of excellent female characters. There’s Asami, who is brilliant and capable in her own right, Lin Bei Fong, the grumpy chief of police who absolutely kicks arse, Tenzin’s two daughters Jinora and Ikki, Pema… I don’t feel like my gender is a token effort any more.
I’m not sure what my point here is, except a) I love Korra, b) you should watch it and c) cartoons are amazing these days