US animated tv series (2012-2014). Nickelodeon. Created by/executive producers: Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko. Writers: Michael Dante DiMartino, Joshua Hamilton, Tim Hedrick, Bryan Konietzko, Katie Mattila. Directors include Ian Graham, Colin Heck, Ki Hyun Ryu, Joaquim Dos Santos and Melchior Zwyer. Voice cast includes Steve Blum, P J Byrne, David Faustino, Seychelle Gabriel, Anne Heche, John Michael Higgins, Daniel Dae Kim, Henry Rollins, Adrian LaTourelle, Stephanie Sheh, Kiernan Shipka, J K Simmons, Mindy Sterling, Janet Varney and Zelda Williams. 52 23-minute episodes. Colour.
A sequel to the US Anime fantasy Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005-2008), set seventy years later (note that the live-action film The Last Airbender (2010) [see M Night Shyamalan] is emphatically not canon). The world, not our own, is divided into four kingdoms: Water, Earth, Fire and Air. Some people in each kingdom can manipulate their Element through Telekinesis, called bending. One person, the Avatar, can bend all four: their role is to keep the world in balance. The current Reincarnation of the Avatar, Korra (Varney), is seventeen and somewhat headstrong – preferring the physical side of bending, neglecting the spiritual. Naturally lessons are learnt, but not easily.
In each of the seasons (called "Books") Korra and her friends confront a threat: in the first, Amon (Blum), leader of the Equalists sect, strips benders of their talent; in the second Korra's uncle, Unalaq (LaTourelle), allies himself with Vaatu (the spirit of darkness and chaos) to open portals which allow spirits into the human world; in the third the anarchist Zaheer (Rollins) wishes to overthrow all governments; in the fourth Kuvira (Williams) brings order to the collapsed Earth Kingdom, reuniting the splintered states regardless of their wishes. Most of the Villains are portrayed sympathetically, as to some extent are their goals; indeed, at the end of Book Two Korra chooses to keep the spirit portals open and in Book Four the imprisoned Zaheer helps Korra.
Though primarily a fantasy, The Legend of Korra has SF elements: Republic City, where much of the action takes place, is a blending of 1920s New York/Shanghai with some advanced Technology including giant Airships and Mecha – conveying a dieselpunk atmosphere – while both the metal city of Zaofu and Kuvira's army are technologically advanced. There are also prominent scientific industrialists: father and daughter Hiroshi (Kim) and Asami Sato (Gabriel), and the amoral Varrick (Higgins) – who is likable despite his propensity for attempted Presidential kidnapping and blowing up (empty) cultural centres to start Wars ("I own that building! A man has a right to blow up his own building!") – though, after inadvertently inventing a Death Ray, he discovers his conscience.
Ostensibly a children's show and often very funny, the series can nevertheless be dark: Book One ends with a sibling murder/suicide, whilst at the end of Book Three a wheelchair-bound Korra is broken both physically and mentally. More upliftingly, there are many strong female characters (see Feminism; Women in SF), increasingly so through its run; while Book Four ends with Korra and Asami hand in hand, the music swelling as they stare into each other's eyes ... making them the first bisexual characters with the first lesbian relationship shown in western children's animation (beating Steven Universe and Adventure Time to the punch). Also of interest is that all the characters are Asian or Eskimo/Inuit: Korra herself is brown-skinned (see Race in SF).
The Legend of Korra was initially planned as one season: another was commissioned during the production of the first, then later a third and fourth. This meant that the (otherwise good) first Book jars a little with the remainder, while the second – though often impressive – has character and plotting flaws (in particular its underdeveloped villain and head-scratching resolution): but the excellent third and fourth seasons are more consistent. [SP]
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