As some of you may know, June is LGBTQIA+ Pride Month. This year I felt that I should do something relevant to show my support, and with the first Legend of Korra comic being released later this month this seemed like an appropriate choice for something to write about. Before I get started I just want to say a couple of things. One, if you have not yet watched Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, then you need to because they are both absolutely wonderful. Two, I just want to take a moment to appreciate the representation in these shows, especially The Legend of Korra. The nations in the Avatar world draw inspiration primarily from Asian cultures, meaning none of the characters are the Western white people who still dominate our media. The female characters are as varied and capable as the men, with both shows achieving roughly equal numbers of men and women. And, of course, The Legend of Korra has two bisexual main characters, plus a couple of other characters who were later confirmed as queer. Considering how underrepresented, and often misrepresented when they do appear, bisexual characters are, this is a significant achievement, particularly for a show on a children’s network.
Anyway, with that gush out of the way I can move on to the actual article. The first thing I want to discuss is the opinion of a minority of the show’s fans that Korra and Asami’s romantic relationship was rushed. While I can to some extent understand why someone might be of that opinion, I would have to respectfully completely disagree with them, for a large number of reasons.
Since I am a relatively unimaginative person, I’m going to start at the beginning, namely the beginning of Korra and Asami’s interaction on the show. Now, when they first meet they obviously don’t exactly get along, what with them both liking the same dude and all. However, what I did notice right from the first time I watched the show was how persistent Asami was in trying to become Korra’s friend. Korra is nothing but abrasive and aloof with her, even referring to Asami as a “prissy, beautiful, elegant, rich girl” (side note: it’s interesting that even while trying to dislike Asami, Korra manages to compliment her just as much as she manages to criticise her in this quote). There is really no reason why Asami would want to be around Korra at this point in the show, and yet she keeps on not just being friendly towards her, but even actively trying to spend time with her (such as when she takes Korra for a spin on the race track).
I can only conclude that Asami found Korra exceedingly fascinating right from the beginning, because I sure as hell wouldn’t be that nice and forgiving to someone who was almost constantly rude to me the first few times we met (side note: I’m not saying she had a romantic interest in Korra at this point, just that she had a strong desire to get to know Korra better). Then again, perhaps it isn’t surprising that Asami seems drawn towards Korra this early considering the writers have said that they considered the idea of putting them together as a couple as early as during the writing of Book 1. In short, it was clearly not a last minute decision to end the show with Korra and Asami about to begin a romantic relationship.
Since Book 2 is fairly devoid of important moments in their relationship, the next things worth noting come in Book 3. It is immediately apparent from the first couple of episodes of the third season that the dynamic of Korra and Asami’s friendship has shifted significantly. They’ve both moved on from Mako, and with no awkward love triangles to get in the way it becomes obvious how well they complement each other as individuals. Korra’s growing spiritual side and Asami’s technical innovation make for a powerful combination; an excellent example of balance between the natural and the man-made. This is exemplified in the show when we see Asami teaching Korra to drive, and Korra repeatedly opening up to Asami about how uncertain she is of her own ability to be a good Avatar.
As Book 3 goes on, their friendship grows more and more solid. Asami not only lends Korra and the others a brand new Future Industries airship to search for new airbenders, but also leaves her company to her board members in order to go with them (side note: at least I’m assuming she left her board members or someone like that in charge, otherwise she probably wouldn’t have had a company to come back to). Now, it’s not like finding the new airbenders is vital in order to save the world or anything, so there is no logical reason why Asami has to go with them; she could just have given them the airship and stayed in Republic City. She and Mako have been broken up for well over a year at this point, and she was never really close to Bolin or Tenzin or any of the others. Therefore the only reason for her to go is because she knows that restoring the air nation is important to Korra and she wants to support her. I would also like to add that while I would happily lend my friend an airship if I had one, I wouldn’t follow them halfway across the world to do something that was of no real relevance to me personally, especially if I was the CEO of a company.
The season continues, and the amount of screen time that Korra and Asami share without any of the other main characters being present increases noticeably. They go to retrieve the money for the Earth Queen together, they get captured by the Earth Queen together, and they end up stranded in the desert together. Then of course at the end of Book 3 is Korra’s fight with Zaheer. This is Korra at the most vulnerable we’ve ever seen her, and it’s Asami who steps in to look after her. It isn’t surprising that out of the gang Asami seems to best understand what Korra’s going through since she’s the only person we’ve really seen Korra open up to in this season apart from (to a much lesser extent) Tenzin.
It’s interesting to compare the two times on the show that Korra loses her bending. When Amon takes it at the end of Book 1 it’s Mako who tries to be there for her, but he’s too overbearing and when he tells Korra that he loves her she runs away because she can’t process it on top of everything else she’s going through (side note: I don’t dislike Mako at all, in fact I quite like him, but I really don’t think he and Korra were at all right for each other in the long term). On the other hand, at the end of Book 3 when Korra’s recovering from what Zaheer did to her Asami tells her that none of them expect Korra to get better right away, and that she should take the time she needs to heal. Basically, she puts the emphasis on Korra’s wellbeing and what Korra needs to do, as opposed to making it about her own feelings (I don’t think Mako was deliberately being self-centred, but in that particular instance he did shove his emotions on Korra at a time when she needed unconditional support rather than declarations of love).
Asami is also the only one of the gang to offer to go with Korra to the South Pole, despite being by far the busiest member of Team Avatar (apart from Korra herself of course). She is also the only one whose letter Korra replies to, probably because she’s the only one to say that Korra’s absence has had a significant effect on her life beyond simply missing her friend. Unlike Mako, however, she doesn’t express it in a way that forces Korra to say something in reply; Asami’s not saying it to get it off her chest, she’s saying it because she simply wants Korra to know how much she cares about her (side note: I have to say, it is wonderful how healthy and supportive this relationship is, and we seriously need more examples of this on television). In my opinion, it’s not a stretch to say that Asami is already in love with Korra when Korra leaves for the South Pole, although she may not have realised what those feelings were at that point.
At last we reach Book 4, and this is where we see another change in the way they interact, in this case the first more overt signs of the possibility of romantic interest. The clearest example of this is the restaurant scene when Korra first returns to Republic City. Firstly, it’s worth mentioning that Asami meets Korra in the foyer while Mako and Prince Wu wait inside at the table. It’s a small detail but the writers are subtly establishing that Korra’s relationship with Asami is becoming different to her relationships with her other friends. Then there’s the distinctly less subtle flirting in their conversation here, which is obviously a cover for deeper emotions but is still cute as hell. I have to mention the fact that Asami actually makes Korra blush here, a feat only before achieved by Mako (at least I think he probably made her blush at some point, I don’t remember for sure). And to top it all off, even Mako notices that something’s going on between them, and he’s normally pretty oblivious when it comes to reading other people’s feelings.
There are other small moments throughout the second half of Book 4 that further solidify the idea that Korra and Asami’s relationship is moving beyond just friendship, such as Asami bringing Korra tea just for an excuse to be around her (I don’t believe for a second that Asami forgot that Korra is a firebender and can therefore warm herself up without the aid of tea, proving that the tea was just a way to start a conversation). Another example of this is the group hug (pictured below) in which Asami is literally only hugging Korra despite Mako being right next to her and Korra is quite clearly leaning into Asami although she has an arm around Mako (side note: you almost gotta feel sorry for Prince Wu here, getting hugged by no one). These are all little details, but they’re the kind of things that make a relationship much more convincing and believable.
Now that I’ve gone over how Korra and Asami’s relationship is developed during the show, I want to briefly cover the other main source of evidence for them as a romantic couple. What I’m talking about is the parallels between Aang and Katara, and Korra and Asami. Most of these I didn’t notice when I first watched the show, with the exception of the obvious visual parallels in the final scene, but rather they occurred to me afterwards.
While Korra is far more combative and quick to anger than Aang, they are both undeniably eager and often impulsive. In Avatar, Katara serves the purpose of tempering Aang’s rashness with her own ability to remain calm and think things through. Asami fulfils a similar role in The Legend of Korra; for example, she speaks up against Korra facing Zaheer alone. When Aang was worried about the power of the Avatar state Katara accepts every part of him, even those that scare her; when Korra feels like she’s failing as the Avatar, Asami reminds her of all the good she’s done in the world. When Aang is badly injured after Azula hits him with lightning, Katara is the one who looks after him; when Korra is badly injured after fighting Zaheer, Asami is the one who looks after her. In fact, there is a noticeable similarity between the scene in which Katara gets Aang to safety after the lightning, and the scene in which Asami gets Korra to safety after Zaheer’s gang find them.
As one can see below, the most obvious comparison of the two relationships is in the final scene of the two shows, which are clearly meant to be reflections of each other.
Finally, there are some more subtle parallels. For example, Aang and Katara first bond by going sledding; Korra and Asami first bond by going driving. Katara and Asami also share some aspects of their background; both of their mothers were killed by firebenders when they were very young, and they both have an at times rocky relationship with their fathers (albeit for very different reasons).
In conclusion, I think it’s utterly unfounded to say that Korra and Asami’s romantic relationship was rushed. Just because the writers actually developed their connection realistically and didn’t hit the viewer over the head with clumsily obvious hints that they were interested in each other doesn’t mean that those feelings aren’t easy to see for someone not watching the show through heteronormative glasses. They have one of the most positive relationships to appear recently on television, and like a lot of the best love stories it started with a strong friendship which slowly developed a romantic dimension. I can’t wait to see where the writers take things in the comics, and since they’ve done such a stellar job so far, I’m fairly optimistic that it’s going to be good.