Monday, April 15, 2024

Pushing the Envelope of Kids’ Cartoons with Korrasami

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It’s no secret that Avatar: the Last Airbender (AtLA) was not the usual fare for Nickelodeon when it first aired. With AtLA’s story of a young boy and friends working to save the world from the Fire Lord and his tyranny, viewers got a lot more than expected. Legend of Korra giving us Korrasami is the same.

LoK, like its predecessor, too was about saving the world. Due to multiple factors like low TV ratings—despite a strong online presence— and leaked episodes, the final two seasons aired exclusively online.

Now—full disclaimer—I actually quit the show two episodes into Season 2 because of the horribly unnecessary love rectangle that existed between Korra, Asami, Mako, and Bolin (and the Korra, Mako, Asami love triangle). Plus what I thought were a lot of lost opportunities to deal with the oppression storyline and the time spent on the Pro-bending plot-line.

However, LoK obviously rectified some of these issues or it wouldn’t have managed to remain as popular online as it was. With a time jump to begin the final season, the show shifted into exploring Korra learning how to walk again, and the fight against Kuvira, and her attempts to reclaim the United Republic of Nations as part of her Earth Empire.

Korra has always been a pretty subversive show. Konietzko, one of the creators even told NPR some Nickelodeon executives balked at backing a show with a girl lead. Boys didn’t care. They were too excited about Korra being awesome (as it should be)!  LoK continued to explore the role of women in the Avatar mythos, oppression dynamics (to a degree) as well as the Avatar’s importance, the meaning of family, PTSD, politics and more.

Korrasami Is Canon

Then, the series finale blew all of that out of the water with a masterful final battle between Korra and Kuvira, a wedding between Varrick and Zhu Li (they did the thing), and—after all the characters have their “bows”—Korra and Asami walk off together into the sunset.

Well, the Spirit World anyways. Which is a pretty BIG DEAL.

When was the last time that we’ve seen ourselves represented?

On a cartoon no less.

(The gifset has four testimonials from viewers, one of which is a gut punch. “I feel like a real human now.”)

So often, those of us who are marginalized because of our gender identities and sexual and romantic orientations are erased from the mainstream media. Princess Bubblegum and Marceline were at one point an item. Kaiou Michiru (Sailor Neptune) and Tenoh Haruka (Sailor Uranus) had a canonical relationship that the American dub erased and presented as cousins.

People who support Korrasami being canon have been debating whether or not they are lesbians since their only relationships with men have been Mako, or if they’re bi- or pansexual.

Ultimately, there’s no way to dictate a label. The key is that they are two women who love each other romantically!

Of course, there are detractors. Makorra shippers have been the worst lamenting that their ship didn’t sail. They continue to insist that Korrasami are just “friends” and “super-platonic”. After all, they’re only holding hands. Some even re-edited the final scenes with Mako rather than Asami on the way to the Spirit World…

Which also brings me to the hand-holding.

Pushing the Envelope

This show is a Nickelodeon property. Even if we did want to see kissing, that wasn’t going to pass the censors. Especially when the only same gender kiss on Nickelodeon was Josh kissing Drake in Drake and Josh, and it was mostly played for laughs and the show’s demographic skewed a lot older. Het kisses are shown all the time! Yet American media and audience treat the idea of LGBTQIA characters or affection as too adult for kids.

Yet Bryan Konietzko and Michael DiMartino didn’t choose to have the final scenes of LoK explicitly parallel the final scenes between Katara and Aang in AtLA(or even parallel the wedding between Varrick and Zhu Li) to suggest that Korra and Asami’s relationship was platonic. Especially not after they moved away from the ridiculous love rectangle into developing the Korra and Asami’s relationship.

Honestly, had Asami and Korra’s relationship been platonic, there wouldn’t have been any need for the hand-holding.

Heck, Korra even apologizes in the finale for disappearing on Asami and not coming back earlier.

Now, we have no idea what Bryke and DiMartino will say in their interviews. I highly doubt—okay, at least, I hope—that they wouldn’t detract (and retract) from their ending.

Now, if only other cartoons would continue to push the representation envelope so that there would be more normalized depictions of LGBTQIA+ people.

Until then, I’m gonna go marathon the heck out of this show.

Images courtesy of Nickelodeon

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