Monthly Archives: January 2014

The subtle world of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra

Herein lies explanations, theories, and a bit of tin foil

 In the Avatar universe, subtlety reigns supreme. Each of the bending styles is based on a different martial art, the designs of circles/squares on background objects like bells, weapons, architecture, etc. are uniform throughout the four nations, Zuko’s physical appearance greatly changes through the three seasons to reflect how he was starving for a while there, and tiny things said during one episode can greatly impact an episode far in the future. Did you know that Toph has a major super crush on Sokka? Yup, subtle.

 But before we dive into Legend of Korra (especially the ending of season 2), let’s explore the ending of The Last Airbender a bit. I’ve heard people say a lot that the lion turtle was deus ex machina. I can sort of see where they’re coming from, but here’s why it’s not for me. One of the main themes of TLA was loss. Aang lost all his loved ones, the Airbender culture was lost from the world for a hundred years, Katara lost her mother, Zuko lost his mother, General Zhao burned the Fire Nation section of the Great Library (information was lost), Wa Shi Tong took his library to the spirit world and vast knowledge was lost from our world forever, Aang didn’t want to lose himself by killing Ozai. Do I need to go on? Because the Avatar has vivid connections to his past lives, he is a connection to ages lost and when he doesn’t know what to do, he turns to the past for guidance and knowledge. So it should not be a surprise that there are things in the past that have faded to legend or myth that are actually still relevant. Also, Lion Turtle details pop up in a few places before it actually shows up to give advice: there’s a huge painting of one in the Great Library, there’s statues of them in the Earth Kingdom, and a few other references that are slipping my mind at the moment. So really, I don’t have an issue with a Lion Turtle seeking Aang out and giving him insight into Energybending. This is simply a method of bending that has been lost. The deus ex machina that I DO have a problem with in TLA is when the pointy rock strikes Aang right in the lightning scar and he can suddenly unlock his Avatar state again. There should have been some sort of reflection period for him when he realizes that he doesn’t have to kill the Fatherlord and this realization means that there’s no cognitive dissonance within him anymore which should be the trigger to reactivate his Avatar awesomeness. But alas, it was not so. We should also remember that deus ex machina isn’t necessarily bad in and of itself. There’s a range of “acceptable to bad” for this literary device. Lion turtle was subtly acceptable; pointy rock was definitely bad.

 So since we just talked about things being lost in the past, let’s talk about Wan and why the Lion Turtles weren’t a cheat. The Lion Turtles merely bend a human’s energy to give them the ability to bend an element, like flipping a switch to “on”. Although the Fire Lion Turtle gifts Wan with the ability to Firebend, he still learns how to properly Firebend from a dragon. In one of the montage Wan scenes, we see him doing the Dancing Dragon form with a red dragon. And that douchey-guard-guy says how Wan bends like nothing he’s ever seen before. So the Lion Turtles still fit into the cannon of how each element learned to bend. Another key theme that we’re supposed to take from Wan’s story is that humans are capable of great feats that even the spirits could not foresee. Raava is amazed at Wan’s depth of compassion and responsibility. No one before Wan had learned more than one element, much less fused with a spirit and lived (sanely) to tell the tale. The writers of this show like to keep open ends that they can play with later so that they don’t write themselves in  corner (which they still do; example: Azula disappearing in a poof of fire after injuring Iroh while still surrounded by 4 awesome benders). Wan’s story is supposed to set up Korra’s fight with Vaatu and give the viewers a clue that she should have to find a new way to defeat him.

 Now on to Korra! One of the big themes throughout Korra season 1 & 2 is the search for identity. The world is experiencing exponential grow now that the industrial revolution has started and the nations are starting to blend together. Now it might not seem like Korra has too much trouble with her identity since she has known from a young age that she is the Avatar. But this is exactly Korra’s problem and why she’s such an irritating brat for the majority of the show. Korra isn’t necessarily supposed to be a likeable character most of the time. All other Avatars (that we know of and besides Aang) were told that they were the Avatar on their 16th birthday. This gave them a chance to be a normal bender. Korra never had this. Korra has always been “THE AVATAR” *very dramatic music swells in the background*. Between being able to naturally bend three elements from the start and her father locking her up in seclusion in the north, she had about 0 chance of being normal or having any decent social skills. But *why* is Korra naturally able to bend three elements? Could this be an indication that the Avatar cycle is about to shift dramatically? Possibly. Korra’s search for her identity blossoms when she’s separated from Jinora in the spirit world and runs into Iroh. Notice how she exclaims “MY TEAPOT!” when she sees Wan’s teapot? Every single time she has introduced herself to a new character up to this point in the show, she always says “I’m the Avatar.” She never introduces herself as merely “Korra” until she takes the dragonbird back to its nest. This is a very important step for Korra that leds into the big blue jolly giant stuff. She has primarily identified herself as the part that is tied with Raava, not the reincarnated human soul that defied all rules and sacrificed itself to save the world. Her search for identity becomes complete when Raava is gone and Tenzin reminds her of the human spirit that saved the world during the last Harmonic Convergence. She then uses the knowledge of Wan and Aang and the opportunity of Harmonic Convergence and the Tree of Time to create an astral projection of herself to defeat Vaatu. While this may seem like a deus ex machina move because the show never *really* discussed astral projection, the ability to project your astral form is closely tied to meditation and chakras in real life. When Aang studies with the Guru and is opening his 7th chakra, that big floating scary glowing Aang is his astral projection. Because of Harmonic Convergence (and possible the Tree of Time), Korra was able to take hers out of the astral plane and into the physical world. I think big blue jolly giant Korra is a beautiful extension of the chakra lesson we received in TLA season 2, although I do admit that it could have been explained better.

 Jinora time!!! Oh my goodness, I love Jinora so freaking much. LoK season 2 had the theme that Jinora is naturally very in tune with the spirit world. The Beginnings episodes’ explanation of Raava emerging from Vaatu if defeated and visa versa linked very well with what the Lion Turtle told Aang before giving him the ability to Energybend: “Since beginning-less time, darkness thrives in the void but always yields to purifying light.” This also ties very well with the lesson that Iroh taught chibi-Korra in the spirit world: that our emotions and outlook can shape the world around us. When Korra is fighting with the groundhog spirits, Jinora tells her to stop because she’s making it worse; so we know that Jinora already understands the lesson Iroh imparted to Korra. How I interpreted Jinora’s action was that because of her outlook and calm, gentle, peaceful nature, she was able to be the light in the darkness; she was dealing with spirits and she used her emotions to impact her surroundings. Her light showed Korra where Raava was in Vaatu. Her spirit was also able to enter the physical world due to the Harmonic Convergence. So I don’t think Jinora was a deus ex machina either; she straight up told Tenzin that she couldn’t go back yet and had something more to do, so we should have expected her.

 As for the battle between Korra/Raava and Unalaq/Vaatu, it doesn’t surprise me that she got her ass kicked at first. A) That’s good story telling and B) Unalaq SPECIFICALLY said in his classic “I’m the bad guy revealing all my plans because I think you’re already defeated” speech that he was more spiritually connected than Korra, so he’d be able to connect with the spirit and wield it better than her. Korra royally sucks at the spiritual side of her Avatar duties. Of course Unalaq/Vaatu pwned her. What’s ultimately impressive is that while Wan defeated a semi-powerful Vaatu with Raava’s help, Korra defeated a fully-powered Vaatu fused with a strong waterbender on her own. Without Raava’s help. Fucking. BALLER!!! lol

 I think I love the ending of season 2 so much as well because we’re now left in a world with SOOOOO many possibilities. *takes on the Probending announcer’s voice* Was Unalaq technically in the Dark Avatar state when Korra defeated him? Does this mean that the Dark Avatar cycle is broken and that Vaatu will eventually be reborn within Korra? If true, what will that mean for Korra’s continuing search for her identity? Or if it’s false, then is there a tiny waterbender born somewhere whose goals are pure evil and chaos!?! Will people be able to live in peace with the spirits like Bumi and BumJu?!?!

 Also, for those of you upset that Korra and Makko didn’t work out, it’s ok. It was a good way to show how Korra grew up. During their first break up, she threw a fissy fit like a child and ran off. Their second break up was so mature and showed just how much Korra had grown. And yes Bolin is a better match for Korra than Makko. But do you know what ship I’m rooting for? Korra and Asami!!!! Get it girls!!! *big cheesy grin* No I’m totally serious, I love Korrasami slash fics… too much probably…

 Ok so that’s all the facts that I have. Ready for some tinfoil?!?! (think people that wear tinfoil hats to keep aliens for reading their minds) Unalaq must have been working under Vaatu’s influence for some time to get as far as he has with his evil plot. So that was going on in the background during Amon’s revolution. There has been some discussion amongst crazies like me about how Amon wasn’t necessarily evil, just very broken. Broken people are easily bent, warped, and manipulated. In the Beginnings episode, Raava yells at the firebenders for making the spiritual imbalance between light and darkness worse by fighting the spirits of the forest. Wan’s last monologue talks about bringing spiritual balance by ending wars between people of different tribes/nations. Unalaq would want to create as much havoc as he could in the physical world so that when he broke Vaatu free, he would be just that much more powerful. Besides just putting the world in turmoil over a war between benders and nonbenders, if Amon did happen to win, then there would be no one left with the ability to challenge Unalaq/Vaatu or some combination of the two. (Unless some more lion turtles show up.) Unalaq appears to have a vast knowledge of the spiritual world and the spiritual side of waterbending. Unalaq and Amon are both waterbenders. What if Unalaq somehow taught Amon how to block a person’s bending? Yes I know that Unalaq isn’t shown to have this power, but Energybending seems to be a very spiritual thing, and we still don’t know where Amon learned to do it. Or maybe Amon did learn from the spirits, but Unalaq was there guiding him with how to get in touch with the spirits?