[section_title title=First page title] The Legend of Korra may as well be a pivotal mark in cartoon history – not for its witty dialogue, well-choreographed action, or funny moments – but for its commentary on the portrayal of women in society, patriarchy, and what makes truly good and proactively positive television. Part of its impact is due in part to the original series the show is based on. Avatar: The Last Airbender, which aired between 2005 and 2008, followed the story of a young boy gifted with the unique power to restore balance in a world of war.
The Last Airbender created the universe The Legend of Korra is set in, except his role is now taken up by a girl, Korra, who takes on the duties of the Avatar in a world that has become more modern and more fast-paced. This isn’t to say that the ending of The Legend of Korra had a perfect touch to its spiritual liberalism, but there are some ground-breaking points to provide. But prior to visiting the world of Korra, it is far more important to look at what it was based upon: the world established in The Last Airbender that seems to be based on human society 200 years ago, with the engaging inclusion of the art of bending (the ability to control one of the 4 elements: water, fire, earth, or air). But The Last Airbender also had a facet to it that directly corresponded to a startling trend in history: the oppression of women in society.
The Last Airbender was not a sexist show, however. Rather, it demonstrates and then subverts a sexist society. The world is run by men in power, but the women in the show actively question this fact and match or even outstrip them in ability. The show itself begins with a moment of confronting sexism: Katara accidentally discovers the Avatar frozen in an iceberg because she is yelling at her brother for making a sexist comment. Later in the show, she directly confronts gender roles and patriarchy when she decides to be a water-bending fighter, rather than the typical female role of a healer. She has to spend an entire episode facing sexist comments and physically fighting for a chance to learn watebending. Once accepted as a student, she proves to be exceptionally powerful and quick to learn, and attains the position of water-bending master for the Avatar in just a short time.
And Katara isn’t the only character in the old series to fill this role. Toph, an adolescent blind girl, proves to be a pure defiance of our society’s gender roles and conceptions of disability. She prides herself in using her disability as an advantage – that is, compensating for her lack of vision by using earth-bending to “see with her feet” (sensing the vibrations in the earth). She discovers the art of metal-bending by identifying and controlling the earthly impurities found in metal. These accomplishments and more make her the greatest earth-bender of her time—at the age of 12! She completely destroys men in battle, doesn’t care about her appearance, and often directly challenges the way that people value appearances.
The female villains, too, demonstrate a remarkable depth and capacity. Although she is young, fire princess Azula possesses a calculating nature and rare martial arts abilities, and as such she is portrayed as one of the strongest villains – if not the strongest – of the show. She stages a governmental overthrow, has an entire army of elite earth-bending agents bow to her, and would have become the leader of the imperialist Fire Nation had it not been for her last encounter with female adversary Katara in the finale.