For those of you that don’t know, Korra is the main character of the phenomenally successful cartoon series, Avatar: The Legend of Korra. Following on from Avatar: The Last Airbender, the series follows Korra, the newest Avatar and reincarnation of beloved cinnamon roll Aang, as she attempts to stop revolutions and secret societies, come to terms with her responsibilities as the Avatar, and, of course, save the world. The series was met with considerable critical acclaim, winning several awards and being favourably compared to the work of animation greats such as Hayao Miyazaki. Korra herself has been hailed as a truly ground-breaking character, particularly in regards to her romantic relationships, one of which is widely acknowledged as a completely game-changing moment for children’s TV.
But does she measure up to the hype? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!
- Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?
Unlike Katara, who chooses to run off and have adventures with the Avatar, Korra is the Avatar. She is destined to have super-awesome magical powers, converse with spirits and deliver glowy-eyed smackdowns whether she likes it or not. Like many other characters before her, Korra often falls into the standard traps of the ‘Chosen One’ storyline. Simply by having these powers in the first place, part of her agency as a character is taken away from her, because all sorts of baddies will always be trying to hunt her down.
That said, this doesn’t completely dominate Korra’s storyline. She may always be the Avatar, so in a larger sense her destiny is already spelled out for her, but she still decides where she goes and what she does. When she’s told she has to wait to begin her airbending training because her teacher can’t move into her compound, she runs away and ends up moving in with his family instead. When she can’t enter the Spirit World, she finds someone who can guide her through the portals. When she is almost killed in an attempt to stop the reincarnation cycle and rid the world of the Avatar forever, she cuts herself off from her friends and family and attempts to live a normal life. She might not be in charge of her destiny in a wider sense, but on a smaller scale she is, so I’ll give her half a point.
SCORE SO FAR: 0.5
- Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?
Korra’s hobbies are pretty well-established. She gets really into pro-bending – which is essentially wrestling except you play in teams of three and chuck bits of the four elements at each other – and she uses this as a way of blowing off steam. Her beliefs are pretty much fixed: she wants to help as many people as possible, will always protect the innocent and has a very strong sense of right and wrong. Her goals tend to vary from season to season – they usually tend to revolve around whichever no-good baddie needs stopping at one particular point in time – but as a general rule, they’re all connected into her long-term Avatar goal of keeping balance in the Universe.
SCORE SO FAR: 1.5
- Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?
Korra is a very consistent character. She’s brave, fierce, compassionate, a little hot-headed, wants the best for her family and friends and has trouble balancing her sense of responsibility with her desire for freedom.
Her skills are also pretty constant, too. She’s established as someone who excels at the physical side of bending and has much more trouble with situations that require a lighter touch – whether that’s spiritual guidance or delicate political negotiations.
SCORE SO FAR: 2.5
- Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?
A hot-headed young woman with incredible powers must learn to control her own abilities and fight to keep balance in the Universe.
SCORE SO FAR: 3.5
- Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?
Korra’s love life is a little patchy, particularly in the first few seasons. Like many other teenage girl characters before her, shortly after she’s introduced to the audience she gets tangled up in a complicated love triangle. She’s in love with Mako, a standoffish firebender, but he’s dating the heiress Asami, even though he might secretly have feelings for Korra too. But what Korra doesn’t realise is that Mako’s brother Bolin, a goofy earthbender, actually does have secret smushy feelings for Korra and she just doesn’t know who she wants to be with and WHO’S GOING TO TAKE HER TO PROM, YOU GUYS??
This wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t factor into her decisions so much. In the first two series Korra is constantly jealous of Asami and Mako, trying to get him to admit his feelings, and constantly questioning Asami’s loyalties. Thankfully the stuff with Bolin stops pretty quickly, but it still dominates the first two series much more than it should – especially considering there’s a baddie running around who can LITERALLY TAKE YOUR MAGIC POWERS AWAY KORRA, GET YOUR HEAD IN THE GAME.
Thankfully, in the last two series Korra’s love life is handled with a lot more subtlety. In series three and four her main focus is on stopping the people who want to destroy her, and her love life very much takes a back seat to this. Korra and Asami are shown gradually getting closer, building up trust, friendship and a real respect for one another in such a way that it doesn’t detract from the plot. They come to confide in each other in a way that’s both believable and meaningful, and when they become a couple, it’s with a much greater sense of maturity than there ever was in Mako and Korra’s relationship. If her relationship with Mako eclipsed the plot, Korra’s relationship with Asami enhanced the plot. For that reason, I’m giving her half a point.
SCORE SO FAR: 4
- Does she develop over the course of the story?
Korra goes through some really strong character development over the course of the series. She becomes more mature, more compassionate, learns to get in touch with her spiritual side and comes to understand and accept her role as the Avatar. That’s some believable development on all counts, so she passes this round with flying colours.
SCORE SO FAR: 5
- Does she have a weakness?
One of Korra’s major weaknesses is just how hot-headed she can be. She bursts in all guns blazing before she really realises what she’s gotten herself into, and this often gets her into trouble. She also has real difficulty handling the softer side of things – whether that’s being open and honest about her feelings in a relationship, or whether it’s handling the subtleties of political negotiations. She’s also very easily manipulated – particularly at the start of the series – and doesn’t actually think things through all that often.
Some of these flaws she manages to work past, some of them she doesn’t – regardless, I’m giving her the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 6
- Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?
While she does get captured quite a bit, she almost always manages to get herself out of trouble – and as I discussed in question one, this is an occupational hazard when you’re the Avatar. But that isn’t her only influence on the plot. Throughout the series she’s a driving force on the plot, whether she’s investigating bad guys, battling spirits, or accidentally starting a civil war.
SCORE SO FAR: 7
- How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?
Korra pretty much smashes all the gender stereotypes into tiny little pieces.
She’s brave, physically strong, and resourceful. She isn’t afraid of getting her hands dirty, is super into contact sports, is utterly unafraid of being seen as unladylike and gross and actually has a hard time coping in situations that call for typically feminine behaviour. Yet at the same time, she has a strong connection to her family and really wants to find a loving, committed relationship (occasionally becoming a borderline ‘clingy girlfriend’ stereotype in the process) and eventually finds this with another woman. The importance that Korra places on love doesn’t undercut her tomboyish nature – nor does this nature disappear or give her insecurities when she gets into a relationship.
What’s more, Korra’s bisexuality isn’t treated according to negative LGBT stereotypes, either. The show treats Korra’s sexuality as something that evolves very naturally and something that she is very comfortable with. Her relationship with Asami doesn’t eclipse her previous relationship with Mako, even though the two were very different in nature – both are portrayed as equally valid. It isn’t played for fanservice, either – it’s a very understated, subtle relationship that leaves you in no doubt of the depth of feeling these two have for one another. In short, Korra doesn’t fall victim to negative gender or sexuality stereotypes, so I’ll give her the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 8
- How does she relate to other female characters?
Korra has plenty of relationships with other female characters. When she meets the police chief, Lin Beifong, they initially don’t trust each other at all, but as they begin to work together they become good friends – despite the fact that there’s a considerable age gap between them. Korra also distrusts Asami initially, but this gives way to friendship and later, to romantic love. She’s friends with Jinora, her teacher Tenzin’s daughter, who eventually teaches her how to cross over into the spirit world. She has a close relationship with her mother, develops a rivalry with her cousin, the Princess Eska, and also comes up against a range of female villains.
FINAL SCORE: 9/10
Korra is a brave, hot-headed young woman with a range of goals, hobbies and beliefs, a range of relationships with different female characters, some solid character development and well-established flaws, who remains consistent throughout the plot. She might not be completely in control of her own destiny, and her love life does sometimes drag the plot down in the earlier seasons, but she’s certainly passed my test!
Next week, I’ll be going back to tone of my favourite authors. Tiffany Aching, I’m coming for you.
And if you’re looking for all my posts on Strong Female Characters, you can find them here.