‘Legend of Korra’: Nickelodeon heroine is Saturday morning Katniss

March 20, 2012 | 4:01 a.m.

Korra demonstrates earth-, water- and firebending in "The Legend of Korra." (Nickelodeon)

Janet Varney, left, voices waterbender Korra, the Avatar and title character in "The Legend of Korra." (Paul Smith; Nickelodeon)

J.K. Simmons, left, voices Tenzin, an airbender who is one of Aang's children, in "The Legend of Korra." Tenzin serves as a mentor to Korra. (Nickelodeon)

David Faustino, right, voices Mako, a firebender who is friends with Korra in "The Legend of Korra." (Nickelodeon; Brad Buckman)

P.J. Byrne, right, voices Bolin, an earthbender and friend to Korra, in "The Legend of Korra." (Nickelodeon; Bjoern Kommerell)

Daniel Dae Kim, right, voices Sato in "The Legend of Korra." (Nickelodeon)

Mindy Sterling, right, voices Chief Lin Beifong, an earth- and metalbender, in "The Legend of Korra." (Nickelodeon; Leslie Bohm)

Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, co-creators of "The Last Airbender: The Legend of Korra." (Robert Voets/Nickelodeon)

"Avatar: The Last Airbender": Katara, a young Waterbender and her warrior brother Sokka rescue a strange boy, Aang, from a cavernous iceberg. (Nickelodeon)

It’s doubtful that they have Saturday morning cartoons in the police-state future of “The Hunger Games” (in fact, they probably don’t even have Saturdays in the no-fun nation of Panem), but if they did, Katniss Everdeen would see a kindred spirit in “The Legend of Korra,” the ambitious new Nickelodeon series that premieres April 14.

Flinty, brave, loyal, impatient, impertinent, fierce and dangerous — Katniss and Korra have plenty in common and both live in a world that is close to our own but tilted by desperation and dark miracles of magic or science. If the pair attended the same high school, they could go out for the archery team and commiserate about how their names sound like two new lines of Ikea cabinets.

For “Korra” co-creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, it’s heartening to see teen heroines get a major spotlight in any medium. “But you know,” Konietzko said dryly, “there’s room for a lot more than two.” Kim Possible, the Powerpuff Girls and She-Ra are among the animation heroines who beat the gender odds and got their own series, but, really, when it comes to legacy and expectations, the biggest rival for “The Legend of Korra” is the show’s own heritage.

The new series is a sequel saga to one of Nickelodeon’s signature successes, “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” which premiered in 2005 and won over a wide, loyal following (it consistently ranked in television’s top five animated shows among boys ages 6-11) with the tale of a boy named Aang who can manipulate fire, water, air and earth. Those abilities mark him as an “avatar,” and a figure of destiny in his world, which seems like a more supernatural magical and tribal counterpart to 19th century Earth.

“Avatar: the Last Airbender” found its animation aesthetic in anime but to fill out this other world the writing and art team drew on a wide range of influences (Chinese history, Hinduism, Inuit culture and yoga among them) and that gave the three-season series a surprising richness; “SpongeBob SquarePants” may possess a special genius of its own but “Avatar” is the only Nickelodeon show with a Peabody Award on the mantle.

The new show takes the story forward 70 years. Aang is gone but hardly forgotten — there’s a majestic statue of him in the harbor of bustling Republic City, which feels like old San Francisco and Hong Kong mashed-up and dropped into the topography of Vancouver, Canada. This is where the new avatar — a headstrong 17-year-old named Korra (voiced by Janet Varney) — arrives for the training she’ll need to become a worthy heir to Aang and a champion in a troubled time. Her mentor is Aang’s son, Tenzin (J.K. Simmons).

"Avatar: The Last Airbender"

"Avatar: The Last Airbender": Katara, a young Waterbender and her warrior brother Sokka rescue a strange boy, Aang, from a cavernous iceberg.

“All the old characters — Aang, Katara, Sokka — as these heroic figures and Aang casts a constant shadow over Korra and Tenzin who are trying constantly to live up to his legend,” DiMartino said. “Tenzin is trying to be the man that his father was and expects him to be and he’s carrying on his culture.”

The show is packed with steam punk touches and a culture that takes on different shapes as magic and technology combine and compete; flying beasts circle the skyline and other people who possess the ability to “bend” fire or water or earth (none of them can bend all three of those plus air, that’s the distinction of the avatar) have professional sports league where they test their skills in a sport as fantastical as Quidditch in the “Harry Potter” stories.

The characters are hand-drawn, a point of pride for the “Korra” team that fills an entire wing at Nickelodeon’s Burbank studios, but the approach might test the traditional assumptions of that term with a stylus and screen replacing the art table approaches of the past. The backgrounds of the series are infused with light, detail and texturing that go far beyond most shows — art director Konietzko set the bar high and he admits that the workload has been grueling.

“We have to live up to what we’ve done in the past and now we have to live up to the goals we’ve set, which are even higher,” Konietzko said. He added that the new series is leaner in its focus — it will stay on the core mythology and not meander as much as the previous series — and meaner as the world it presents. Politics and cultural divides will also push the show’s ambitions up another notch as far the content expectations of a cartoon series.

Korra and her friends Mako and Bolin. (Nickelodeon)

Really, though, the biggest question facing Korra is with her audience. With her powers and fighting ability, she can hold her own against any boy in her world, but will she be able to win over the affections of a young male audience here on Earth? She’ll need that for the show to qualify as a hit. Brown Johnson, president of animation for Nickelodeon, said the avatar will prove herself with any fan who watches, no matter their age or gender.

“There’s a generational shift that encourages girls to feel powerful — and for boys to see them as equals and partners,” Johnson said. “Korra takes the female hero to the next level and we are very proud to showcase her as the passionate teenage girl that she is.”

– Geoff Boucher

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Comments


33 Responses to ‘Legend of Korra’: Nickelodeon heroine is Saturday morning Katniss

  1. Frankie says:

    I don't know isn't Katniss' Hunger Games itself just a ripoff from that japanese manga/movie Battle Royale?

    Strong female heroines have been around forever, it's weird this article has to promote Hunger games more lol

    • candace says:

      I think it was more along the lines of "hey you've read Hunger Games right? You like Katniss right? Well Korra is just as awesome!" Trying to relate it to an audience who might dismiss it simply because its anime or animated.

      I am so jazzed for this show. Airbender was awesome in the fact that it treated its female characters like characters and that their gender didn't affect their badassery. I'm fairly sure that Korra will at the very least be treated the same.

    • K says:

      I heard somewhere that the author intended it as an interpretation of the prometheus myth.

      • Candy says:

        It's the Theseus or Minotaur myth, not Prometheus (he's the fire guy).

        Also, this next part is directed towards Frankie. You aren't begin original when you compare Hunger Games to Battle Royale. This topic has been beaten to death. Yes, both have kids killing kids. No, HG is not a ripoff because it's thematically different. The kids killing kids thing is a simple premise that many works share–it doesn't mean any one work is a ripoff of another because it has similar elements.

      • Ciella says:

        Actually it was the myth of the Labyrinth of King Minos of Greece with the Minotaur in the middle that Theseus slew. Unless Katniss got her liver eaten by a buzzard everyday in that book and I just missed it? ;P

    • Cookie says:

      -Sigh- The Hunger Games is not a ripoff of anything but rather influenced by historical contexts and our society's obsession with reality tv. Battle Royale is hardly original itself.

      And yes, there has been strong heroines, but they haven't entered the mainstream or been as prominent in more mature series for young people as they are starting to. Katniss and Korra show grit, allowing boys to take them more seriously, rather than the "gurl power" flavored heroines that have gone before (though I don't mind them much).

    • Jamie says:

      Don't mind the butthurt Hunger Game fans. They're in denial that the HG books rips off the BR book in so many ways that they'll fanatically try and defend and make excuses in any way possible.

      • sara says:

        Look, I saw the Hunger Games movie and the Battle Royale movie. I actually honestly like Battle Royale better, but they are actually really different. Is it so impossible for two people to have similar ideas?

    • Yachiru says:

      Look, hear me out, most of the Hunger Games haters have only watched the movie. Hunger Games is a series which means it's more than just kids killing other kids. It shows us issues like severe poverty, starvation, oppression, and war between people (Collins said). The Games are just an example to show how people with higher status have control over people with lower status. I mean, they hated Katniss for making fools out of the Capitol (where the rich people are). And if she didn't fix things, they would put her friends and family in danger. Now, isn't that different?

      Anyway, enough of that. MAKORRA! I SHIP MAKORRA! YEAH! XD

  2. Ying says:

    Yes! Avatar: the Last Airbender was an absolutely incredible show, and not just for boys ages 6-11 (I watched it as an adult). So thanks for featuring this follow up series in your article! It has a lot to live up to, but fans are excited to see what the show creators have to offer. I'll also point out that Korra takes another bold step beyond having a female hero in an action series — Korra is also a woman of color. I am hard pressed to think of another action show (or Hollywood movie, for that matter) that has a female of color as the lead.

    • KJT says:

      "I am hard pressed to think of another action show (or Hollywood movie, for that matter) that has a female of color as the lead."

      Agreed. Some people are still coming to grips with the fact that the Airbender universe consists of fictional characters of color. It's something new for a change.

      A hero is a hero, no matter the skin color, but we all know Hollywood prefers to favor one shade over the other unless that hero's name is Will Smith.

    • Jess says:

      “I am hard pressed to think of another action show (or Hollywood movie, for that matter) that has a female of color as the lead.”

      Nikita.

  3. Linda says:

    I don’t mean to be rude, and I get that you’re trying to push The Hunger Games since it’s opening this weekend, but why on earth would you say that Korra would try out for the Archery team?? Bending is hardly similar to archery. That was the biggest stretch for a plug that I’ve seen in a while.

    Not that I’m against TLOK or THG (trust me, I’m a HUGE fan of both!!) or heroine stories (again, LOVE ‘EM!) but really, aside from being strong, intelligent, independent female leads, the parallels stop there. Not sure why you had to take it a step too far.

  4. Anna says:

    Not to be THAT PERSON, but I feel compelled to point out that the fuzzy red creature in Image 10 is not Naga the polar bear dog, but rather Pabu the fire ferret.

  5. TTS says:

    I hope that the new show will be as good as the older one.I'm exicited and eagerly waiting for the nicklodean premiere

  6. Elizabeth Ravenclaw says:

    Yes!! i LOVE avatar so this so cool!

  7. Chris says:

    My wife and I can't wait! We came late to the original series, but watched all three seasons in about a week once we were initiated. We were both so sad when it ended (with SUCH an amazing ending, I might add), so we are busting at the seams to watch Aang's son train the new Avatar! I have faith in the creators that they will do their original creation justice.

  8. Gabrielle says:

    Can.not.wait.

    I’ve been a foam-at-the-mouth fanatic (going as far as a fanfiction series and fanart)since I was 14. Now I’m twenty and really excited for the spin-off. I hadn’t thought the next Avatar would be quite like this, but I don’t really care that much. THIS IS GOING TO BE AWESOME!

    I really love that someone actually wrote an official article about it, rather than, “Oh, a new cartoon series, yay for the children”

    I do wonder where Bryke got their ideas for the series from…because a LOT of the series sounds very similar to my fanfiction line

  9. Justin says:

    Are you freaking serious? Let's think about this for a second.

    1. Korra wants to live in the Capitol. Katniss hates the Capitol.
    2. Do you think Korra was ever truly hungry a day in her life? No. Katniss almost starves to death.
    3. Korra is super confident in her powers all the time because she's the damn avatar. Katniss thinks she's going to die all the time.
    4. I'm not sure how to put this respectfully and delicately, but here goes: Korra's figure is, uh, quite a bit fuller than Katniss's figure (at least in the books). See #2 above.

    etc. etc. etc.

    I get it though. If you are a heroine, you are like all the other heroines there are, because you are brave and loyal and flinty. Girls are all the same I guess!

  10. Orwill Yatke says:

    The Avatar ( because this is about the REAL avatar and indeed the ACTUAL DEFINITION of the word) speaks for itself. The series is amazingly inspirational and if you can make enough time to emulate the philosophy of the the show(s) YOU will be a better individual.

    The LA Times is about as yellow as a journalistic endeavor can be. There is no need to compare a worldwide phenomenon's sequel to a story that comparably very few individuals have knowledge of. The Native Americans (those Indians the colonists wiped out) living in ancient southern california spent only five hours a day gathering, that's right gathering from nature, to sustain their needs. People should wake up and see the good in Nature and the elements, that's what the show inspires, not a newspaper article written to make the editor feel good.

    Racist people should really silence themselves. The mixed individuals of the world do not appreciate a color label especially cartoon characters in an internationally based show.

  11. joe says:

    Comment Part 1

    My only problem with the show is that the creaters introduced electricity into the show/Avatars world. I mean avatar : the last airbender took place in a 14th century asian influanced world and withen 70 years, not even a century mind you, they manage to not only discover electricty but use it and convert it into energy which is used for early 20th century american styled technology, I'm surprised this hasn't striked odd to anyone else yet!

  12. joe says:

    Comment Part 2

    not only that but the only sign of electricties existance during the original series was either during thunderstorms or when being bended, but even then, only the most powerful and elite of firebenders could even attempt to produce such energy for bending and even then benders like that were extremely rare and hard to find. for petes sake, there were only 3, maybe 4 characters max in the entire original series that could produce lightning. so with this case in mind it'd be completely illogical to think that withen less then a century in an old traditional asian fashioned world that electricty could be obtained and coverted to electricity for use early american tech!

  13. joe says:

    Comment Part 3

    I know what some of you are thinking, "but what about the ships and tanks?".well for the ships they either powered it like they did the hot air balloons, through firebending or used coal to power it, need an example, then watch the last few epispdes of the show, its all there. Now for tanks, like said before, they probably used coal, but firebending for ammunition. by the way, the use of coal power was still quite a bit before electricty so you can't counter me on that either.I'm not trying to be mean or anything, I love the avatar universe, and I think the new korra show is kinda nice.

  14. joe says:

    Comment Part 4

    the thing is, is that when it come to legend of korra, the storys stable enough, the characters are enjoyable, the animations flawless, but the setting technology/energy source-wise is not that good and could use some adjusting.

    P.S. what I'm about to say is directed towards the creaters of the show or anyone who has control over the show whom pass through this site and sees this post.

    please take what I've said into mind and delay the release of the show on air and adjust the already made episodes accordingly, please. I say this not as some critic, but as a voice of the people (fans really). if you think about it, the majority of your veiwers will be those loyal to the original show and if thats the case, they'll probably, like me, be expecting the avatars world to not even fathom the use of electricty as an energy source but as a rare technique to firebending.

    • Katie says:

      I like what they have done, the world has developed (like it should) and grown.

      This is a new show, stop comparing it to the old one. It is set in the same world and has characters related to the old ones but that is all it has in common.

      If people stopped comparing it to the old one, they would see that it is a pretty good show. It starts off great, and so far looks like the episodes tie together BETTER than the first show. Instead of some random adventure off in some random town, we have episodes woven together.

      Think about it, if they tried to make another Aang adventure, then there was no way they could compete with what fans have already come up with in the few years the show has been off air. So, they made a new protagonist.

      The change in settings is another way to differentiate it with The Last Airbender.

      Anyways, I hope they don't delay it. I am looking forward to the third and rest of the episodes. :)

  15. joe says:

    Comment Part 5

    believe me there are fans out there (a lot actually) that'll think like this and if they see their beloved show altered in this way they may start to lose both faith and interest in the new show causing a small but existing financial problem for your network to deal with which could be avoided by just adjusting the existing episodes and future episodes by only a small amount. theres a chance this may occur but do you feel its a chance worth risking?

  16. Christian says:

    WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! Cannot wait.

  17. hooyah says:

    You may feel that way, but the creators do not. You have already credited the series with great animation, characters and even story. Should that be enough? Or will the setting stick out like a sore thumb, an you will never be able to get over it? Besides, the intention of the new setting, at least what I think, is to prevent the series from being a rehash of the old one. The steam-punk technology provides a fresh new perspective and offers many interesting situations. (But wait there's more!) I feel if the series was modified, the show would be screwed up from lack of continuity and ideas that were made up on the fly and not fully developed.

    By the way, steam power appeared in the 19th century, it is not much of a leap to think that Korra's technology could be developed in 70 years.

    This comment comes with the understanding that we all have different perspectives. Here is mine; don't change the show. I believe that many fans are disgruntled with the new setting. I also believe that there is an equal or greater amount of fans that like it or don't care. I also believe our beloved creators (I cannot spell their names) will gain M. Night Shamalayn popularity if they modify the show.

  18. Daniel Dosier says:

    What kind of bugs me is that there are none of the original characters in this new series. Some of the older individuals in the old series were well past 100 years old. but somehow 70 years go by and katara sokka and aang are all dead? Some of these characters should still be alive and for me it would make the new series a lot more enjoyable to watch.

  19. rawr says:

    ok this show rocks theres action and romance hehee cant wait for next episode!!!!!!

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