I have tried to watch and like The Legend of Korra, and I just can’t get into it.
I feel like it’s a hard series to love after watching the epicnness that is the original Avatar: The Last Airbender. It’s shorter, for one. The storytelling, at least in the first season, was haphazard and all over the place. Characterization was off, and there was just so much that seemed half-baked about the series. I watched a video on YouTube that was trying to declare how perfect The Legend of Korra is, but everything they said (and seemingly every video they made) was about how to reorganize and basically rewrite the series so that it made sense and was actually…you know…good. So suffice it to say, I think The Legend of Korra leaves much to be desired.
However, one of the highlights of the series for a lot of fans is the relationship between Korra and Asami. This relationship is highly important in American animation as one of the few overt same-sex relationships in a show geared towards children. Thankfully, there are beginning to be more animated shows that are giving LGBTQ characters and relationships their proper shine, but Korra and Asami were among the pioneers.
With that said, I just think that Korra and Asami’s relationship isn’t written to make any sense, and that makes the relationship hollow.
Why Korra and Asami matter–and why the writing was sus
Korra and Asami’s relationship is groundbreaking–no one is contesting that. During the show’s run in the 2010 and years afterwards, Korra and Asami were in a field by themselves. As pioneers, their relationship has allowed for other same-sex relationships in cartoons such as She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Adventure Time, The Loud House, Steven Universe, The Owl House and others to take center stage with much more overt storytelling.
Rich Knight argues for CinemaBlend this very point, as well as the fact that The Legend of Korra allowed Korra to explore who she was attracted through via her relationships with Mako and Asami. Knight discusses how the show allowed Korra to “[discover] for herself whom she was attracted to…In this way, the showrunners allowed Korra to feel out where her attractions lied, allowing the viewer to go along with her on this journey of self-discovery until she realized she was attracted to a woman.”
However, even mentioning the opinion that perhaps Korra and Asami are overrated as a relationship could earn you getting a lot of negativity thrown your way.
Case in point, this Redditor in the Legend of Korra subreddit starts out their post on the relationship with an immediate concession of defeat.
“I’m ready for the downvotes,” they wrote. “As much as I love the idea of their ship and I love what they’ve done for LGBTQ+ representation in cartoons/kid shows, I just didn’t get it…1. I never got that vibe from them in the entire series. They just felt like sisterly/best friends to me. Idk I just feel like if that was the intention, they didn’t set it up very well. 2. First Bolin likes Korra, then Mako likes Korra, Korra likes Mako back, then Mako likes Asami, Asami likes him back… all of this hetero BS going on and then after 2-3 seasons of pretty much no other romantic dealings between them, now Korra and Asami like each other? They decided that Mako’s BS bonded them and now they’re into each other? Not saying it can’t happen, but a little development/set up would be nice… instead of the ONE instance where Korra tells Asami she looks snazzy after Asami compliments her hair.
“Maybe the letters they wrote to each other foreshadowed it a little bit? Since she didn’t write to anyone else? But it still just felt like best friends to me,” they continued. “I obviously understand the ‘let’s dress up and travel’ thing now (because of Reddit), but at the time it sounded perfectly platonic to me… (I’m a flight attendant, so dressing up and traveling with my best friend sounds like a pretty ideal good time to me 😂) Did I miss other hints/moments throughout the series? Or is my gaydar just garbage? Or could it have been done better?”
While there were several in the Reddit thread who argued that Korrasami wasn’t forced and had been set up throughout the seasons, other Redditors also gave the very valid reason behind why Korrasami wasn’t as pronounced as other fans would have liked. That’s because of Korrasami’s pioneering status. As one of the first out queer couples in children’s television, Nickelodeon felt like it was threading a thin line with what it could and couldn’t show without certain parents getting upset. Because Nickelodeon’s hands were tied, The Legend of Korra’s writers’ hands were also tied. So they could only hint at things. It is because of Korrasami’s existence that other big shifts in Nickelodeon’s programming, such as LGBTQ representation in The Loud House, were able to occur.
One Redditor synthesized everyone’s points quite succinctly in their post.
“I would say it wasnt forced per se, but there wasn’t a whole lot of build up of the pairing throughout the show, but that was the higher ups interfering,” they wrote. “I liked the idea of Korrasami just bc of the lgbtq representation it brought to the universe, but I didn’t really ship it and I didn’t really think it would ever be addressed on the show. Korra’s blush in s4 is what made me realize that the creators were pushing for that pairing, but I didn’t think they would be allowed to do anything more than that (and they really weren’t).”
“I do think them getting together was sort of fan service. But I think it was more so the developers of the show seeing such hype for a pairing from the fan base, and realizing there needs to be more representation of same-sex couples in their show. And I so wish they were allowed to do more than a handhold,” they continued.
Bryan Konietzko’s point of view
The Redditor’s response regarding fan service is kinda corroborated by Avatar co-creator Bryan Konietzko’s Tumblr post on Korrasami’s canonical status. While stating that Korra and Asami are canon, Konietzko does say that the two weren’t intended to be together in the beginning.
“Was Korrasami ‘endgame,’ meaning, did we plan it from the start of the series? No, but nothing other than Korra’s spiritual arc was,” he wrote. “Asami was a duplicitous spy when Mike [DiMartino] and I first conceived her character. Then we liked her too much so we reworked the story to keep her in the dark regarding her father’s villainous activities. Varrik and Zhu Li weren’t originally planned to end up as a couple either, but that’s where we took the story/where the story took us. That’s how writing works the vast majority of the time. You give these characters life and then they tell you what they want to do.”
In fact, Konietzko gives a very detailed description of how the Korra team tried to drop breadcrumbs of Korra and Asami’s relationship given the parameters they had to work within.
“We approached the network and while they were supportive there was a limit to how far we could go with it, as just about every article I read accurately deduced. It was originally written in the script over a year ago that Korra and Asami held hands as they walked into the spirit portal,” he wrote. “We went back and forth on it in the storyboards, but later in the retake process I staged a revision where they turned towards each other, clasping both hands in a reverential manner, in a direct reference to Varrick and Zhu Li’s nuptial pose from a few minutes prior.”
“We asked Jeremy Zuckerman to make the music tender and romantic, and he fulfilled the assignment with a sublime score,” he continued. “I think the entire last two-minute sequence with Korra and Asami turned out beautiful, and again, it is a resolution of which I am very proud. I love how their relationship arc took its time, through kindness and caring. If it seems out of the blue to you, I think a second viewing of the last two seasons would show that perhaps you were looking at it only through a hetero lens.”
Konietzko added this caveat, though: “Was it a slam-dunk victory for queer represntation? I think it falls short of that, but hopefully it is a somewhat significant inching forward.”
He wrote how “encouraging” it has been for the media and fans to embrace the pairing, but it was also disheartening to get the “homophobic vitriol and nonsense” regarding fans who truly hate the pairing for bigoted reasons.”
Hilariously enough, he also addressed the Kataang and Zutara shipping war when discussing if Korrasami was just fan service.
“There were plenty of Makorra shippers out there, so if we had gone back on our decision and gotten those characters back together, would that have meant we caved in to those fans instead? Either direction we went, there would inevitably be a faction that was elated and another that was devastated. Trust me, I remember Kataang vs. Zutara. But one of those directions is going to be the one that feels right to us, and Mike and I have always made both Avatar and Korra for us, first and foremost.”
Could there have been more hints? Looking back at the Avatar franchise’s romantic track record
I think where the argument about Korrasami gets lost is in the issue around the Avatar franchise and romance in general. Overall, the franchise doesn’t have a great track record with writing romance. Action scenes and drama? The franchise excels in that department. Other, more heady feelings like expressing romantic love? It’s hit or miss.
Konietzko admitting in his Korrasami explanation that he felt having Aang end up with someone at the end of the series “felt a bit forced to me” is, to me, a damning statement regarding one of the most legendary pairings, Kataang (Katara and Aang). After all of the Zutura and Kataang shipping wars with Kataangers declaring themselves canon, we have the co-creator saying Kataang was actually not that great?
That statement casts a shadow on a lot of the other pairings that did and did not happen within the franchise (chief among those being Zutara, as a person firmly in Camp Zutara myself). I won’t get into the *clear canonical evidence* that supported a Zutara endgame, but there have been instances in the Avatar franchise where pairings happpened or didn’t happen despite little contextual evidence as to why that would be the case. And when pairings did work–like Sokka’s relationships with Yue and Suki–then tragedy strikes, or in the case of Katara and Jet, the other person just isn’t on the right path. For me, Jet and Katara is one of the most successfully written pairings in the series because we can see why Katara would like Jet–he’s a bad boy full of mystery–but we can also see why he’s bad for her. He’s not trying to reform in the slightest, and his reasoning for doing what he’s doing ultimately doesn’t make sense. Katara has to get over her infatuation with him to see that he’s actually just a chump. To me, her evolution with Jet is the most realistic relationship she’s had, next to her growing to become friends with Zuko.
The network constraints around Korrasami are very important to factor in when we talk about how Korrasami were represented in Korra. But barring that, were there more hints the writers could have thrown in about Korrasami? Was there more that could be done to build up Korrasami’s friendship so more fans could be swayed towards a romantic outlook? Who knows–hindsight is 20/20. I think it’s clear to point out that there’s not much anyone could do to sway anyone bent on being actually homophobic about Korrasami–if you’re gonna hate them, you’re going to find any reason to. But if you’re someone who was annoyed with Korra’s storytelling from the beginning, I think it’s fair to ask why Korrasami makes sense when everything you’ve seen in prior seasons has just seemed too random and too hastily concocted to serve as a gripping story.
What could have been
Ultimately, I think Korrasami’s saving grace is that it’s such a pioneering couple. When same-sex couples weren’t on children’s television, Korrasami paved the way. I applaud the show and its creators for going the extra mile and giving LGBTQ+ fans representation in this way. And maybe I do need to rewatch the series and check for any hetero lens I might have. But with that said, we can applaud a groundbreaking couple while also questioning the writing that got us to that point. Perhaps if Korra was written today and writers didn’t have to rely on hints, we’d be able to get that sweeping love story Korra and Asami truly deserve.