Movies and TVFour Ways The Legend of Korra Respected Its Younger ViewersMovies and TV - RSS 2.0
Just as Legend of Korra would humanize its villains, the hero of the series was similarly put through struggles most kid-friendly TV would avoid: in this case, depression.
Heroes deal with self-doubt and sadness in almost any story. In ATLA, one of the dominant themes was Aang's internal conflict over assuming the full responsibilities as the Avatar and his seemingly inevitable fight to the death with Firelord Ozai. Korra went through similar issues, such as doubting her ability to airbend, but at the end of the third season Korra was stricken with full-on depression.
After her nearly fatal battle with Zaheer, Korra is left in a wheelchair from her injuries and the last shot of the season is of our hero crying quietly at a joyous ceremony for her friend. Much of the fourth season addressed Korra's struggle to heal from the emotional damage of her confrontation with Zaheer, with the episode "Korra Alone" chronicling most of her three year journey.
Depression is a serious and unfortunately common issue, but it is still largely unaddressed in media, and especially not addressed in children's shows. Legend of Korra respected the weight of the issue, and while it didn't explicitly say what depression is or how to treat it, by showing the hero of the series dealing with and recovering from it, perhaps mental health issues might be normalized (and less oppressive) for those younger viewers.
The Legend of Korra ends with Korra and Asami, her long-time female friend, walking hand-in-and into the spirit world together. For many this was a clear indication of the two women entering into a romantic relationship, and later the creators confirmed the idea. The final scene signified the beginning of a romantic relationship for Korra and Asami.
The idea of ending the series with these two together was something Bryke had considered (according to their posts), but they didn't think they could do it given the network. Leading up to the finale, many fans shared this expectation; Nickelodeon would never allow for a same-sex relationship in one of their cartoons, right?
As Konietzko wrote in a Tumblr post, sometimes characters tell the writers what they need to do, and apparently that is what happened with Korra and Asami's relationship. If this was any other animated series with a young audience, Korra wouldn't have ended up romantically involved with anyone (or maybe with former beau Mako). But Legend of Korra isn't another show, and its creators wanted to take the story this direction.
Bryke didn't put Korra and Asami into a relationship to subvert anything. These characters ended up together because it felt right for the writers and they knew their younger viewers could understand it. Most kids are not strangers to the concept of same-sex relationships. Plenty of families include members of the LGBTQ community and many more as part of their neighborhoods. Hell, some of the kids watching Korra aren't straight, even if they haven't reconciled that within themselves or with their family.
So yeah, kids know that gay people (or in this case, bisexual people) exist. They can process that idea just fine and like many other topics The Legend of Korra addressed, Bryke understood this and respected the maturity of their younger viewers.