‘Legend of Korra’ Ends as the Most Progressive Mainstream Cartoon Ever

Source: Nickelodeon
Source: Nickelodeon

It’s not often that we see a cartoon act as a medium for social progression the way Legend of Korra has managed to do in its four-year run. Sure, there have been political cartoons since the American Revolution, but this Nickelodeon masterwork is something else entirely. It’s a cartoon that moves values like gender equality forward, all while constructing an expertly crafted path of character development to rival any of its live-action contemporaries. Spawned from the wildly popular Last Airbender series, Legend of Korra is a show that not only features strong women, but puts those strong women at the forefront of its central conflicts. AV Club summed this up perfectly in their review of the finale that aired in mid-December:

Has there ever been a more feminist series on children’s television? This is a cartoon concerned with actively showing that women are equal to men in all things, whether it’s ruling a nation, playing an action hero, or serving as a romantic interest.

All too often, the iconic heroes of TV and film don’t feature strong, independent-minded women. For proof of this, all you have to do is look at the upcoming slate of Marvel superhero movies: With the exception of the rumored Ms. Marvel film, not a single one features a female lead. Flip over to Legend of Korra though and virtually every character, both villain and hero, is a more-than-competent woman with her own agency and agenda. The result is a story, while watched primarily by males, made as a one-of-a-kind allegory for girls maturing into womanhood while not depending on its lead finding a husband or boyfriend.

In perhaps the most controversial and talked-about moment of the entire series, Legend of Korra concludes with our lead and her “friend” Asami interlocking hands, looking deeply into each other’s eyes as we faded out and credits rolled. There was, of course, room to debate that they were simply acting as close friends would. That is, until one of the show’s creators, Mike DiMartino, made it abundantly clear what that final scene meant:

Our intention with the last scene was to make it as clear as possible that yes, Korra and Asami have romantic feelings for each other. The moment where they enter the spirit portal symbolizes their evolution from being friends to being a couple.

Keeping in mind that the target demographic for this show is the 14-21 age range, such an ending is virtually unheard of in this arena. We see two strong women bonding in a way that no other kids’ cartoon has been bold enough to even attempt in television history. This of course comes on the heels of two seasons where the relationships among all the female characters became the focal point, driving the story forward to its satisfying conclusion. We dig deep into the dynamics of women and the way they deal with and overcome adversity, set to a world they are in charge of in many ways.

Given the lack of strong female leads we have now, Legend of Korra is a breath of fresh air that in its run set the gold standard for how women should be portrayed when it comes to modern storytelling. While the series has officially come to an end, it forever will be the show that fearlessly moved gender and orientation equality forward in a medium where such ambition had never even been imagined.

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