Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra both explore a world created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko in which some individuals possess the ability to “bend” one of four elements: water, earth, fire, or air. The two animated series follow Aang and Korra, two incarnations of the Avatar, whose duty is to maintain balance in the world and act as a bridge between the human and spirit worlds. The Avatar has the ability to bend all four elements, and is reincarnated into a new body each time they die.
Avatar was added to Netflix in May, and despite it being a kids’ show that aired from 2005-2008, it quickly made its way into Netflix’s top 10 list where it stayed for 61 days, breaking the record previously held by Ozark (57 days). I didn’t watch Avatar when it first aired, but when I watched it this summer, I loved it. I think what makes Avatar so successful is that even though it’s intended for a younger audience, it doesn’t shy away from serious topics, which expands the target audience. The show addresses themes from gender discrimination to war, imperialism, and genocide. Another way the show is successful is in how it’s structured: it’s episodic, so the episodes can stand alone, but they all contribute to the overall plot. This makes the show more exciting, as each episode tells its own story.
Not only does Avatar have a great plot, it also has unique and lovable characters. Even the side characters have their own personalities and motivations. Since Avatar is a kids’ show, the creators did not show any onscreen deaths, and they were able to work this as a character trait into the main protagonist, Aang. Aang is a monk and also twelve years old, and refuses to kill the man who was responsible for the genocide of his people. This man, Fire Lord Ozai, is the main antagonist of the show, and when he and Aang finally face each other, the conclusion is unexpected but original, and overall very satisfying. One very popular character is the son of the Fire Lord, Prince Zuko. I believe that I can reasonably claim most people that watch the show love Zuko. He’s essentially Kylo Ren and Jaime Lannister, but actually written well, and with motivations that actually make sense.
Recently, there have been plans to develop Avatar into a live-action series on Netflix. However, the original creators of the show, DiMartino and Konietzko, both announced they would be leaving the show. They stated that Netflix had a vision to make the show more mature, but they still wanted the show to be for kids. I initially was 100% on the creators’ side, but after watching Korra, I’m intrigued by what a more mature Avatar show would look like.
The Legend of Korra is intended for a more mature audience – for the kids who watched Avatar and then grew up. The show’s villains essentially represent communism, theocracy, anarchy, and facism – and it gets pretty dark. In season 4, Korra has PTSD and spends a good part of the season in recovery, and her character isn’t the same as season 1. It’s quite sad that Korra started off as a cocky and fun-loving young woman, but in order to be humbled she had to process a great deal of trauma. The creators of the show have proved that a more mature story can successfully take place in the world of Avatar and Korra, and it’d be interesting to see Netflix’s spin on an already iconic story. However, if Netflix is going on the Riverdale-maturity route, then I completely understand why the creators chose to leave. I also understand the creators’ frustration with a lack of creative freedom, as there are reports that Nickelodeon gave the creators a really difficult time during the production of Korra – not only because she is a female Avatar, but also because she is a woman of color. The ending of season 1 is a little rushed, and the beginning of season 2 is rather slow, but Nickelodeon initially only gave the creators one season, and greenlit season 2 halfway through the airing of season 1. Then, seasons 3 and 4 – the strongest seasons of the show – weren’t aired at all and were uploaded to Nickelodeon’s online streaming service instead.
Overall, Korra gets a lot of hate, but I think you can be understanding of the circumstances surrounding seasons 1 and 2. Both seasons are still very good, and season 3 is on the same level as Avatar. I’m interested in seeing what’ll become of the live action show as the creators did say some individuals they hired themselves have stayed on the show. But for the time being, watch Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra on Netflix!