Happy Valentines Day! To celebrate, here are some of my OTPs to end all OTPs (note, for this list I’m using canon/official couples). They are…
Short post because it’s been a long day (I’m starting my Christmas vacation) but I needed to talk about this now. This has been a big week for queer women.
December 19th marked the two year anniversary of the series finale of Legend of Korra, where it was revealed that Korra and Asami are bisexual and in love with each other, and will go on to be happy together. The fact that people have been celebrating this on social media proves just how major this was, and how many lives it touched.
And just a day later, Overwatch (which never fails to impress me), as a warm Christmas gift, released a comic confirming that Tracer, the face of the hit franchise, is gay and in a happy, healthy, explicit relationship. Tracer was the first announced gay character from Blizzard (they had teased that at least one of their characters was gay), and hopefully this will pave the way for further LGBT characters in the franchise and for others.
This is huge. Two significant series that have given representation to the LGBT community. Not minor characters. Not offscreen relationships. Nothing that ended in death or misery. But main characters in loving relationships.
In a world where LGBT representation (especially for women) is rare and not well developed, it’s wonderful knowing that we’re getting closer and closer to showing happy, living characters together in mainstream media. And in our current troubled climate, lots of young LGBT fans will take comfort in knowing someone cares.
Merry Christmas, my wlw friends. You are valid and you are loved.
Perfect Blue is widely hailed as one of the greatest and most influential anime films of all time. You can actually read about the influence it (and other Satoshi Kon films) had in Hollywood HERE, but I think there’s another piece of media Perfect Blue had an impact on: The Legend of Korra.
PB is about a young woman, Mima, who decides to give up being a pop idol and instead become an actress in a rather seedy production. The stress and pressure of the new part (including a part where she has to film a rape scene and it feels TOO real) begins to wear on her, and the ghosts of her past eat away at her. Most notably, she keeps seeing a vision of her old self, who routinely taunts and haunts her. Mima begins to lose her grip on reality and then shit hits the fan. I can’t really explain the film because it’s so off the wall, but I think I got the basic gist of it.
I think something really similar happens in Korra; at the beginning of the fourth season, Korra is still reeling from a traumatic incident (also akin to a rape scene). She gives up being the Avatar (like Mima gave up on being a pop idol) and is trying to pursue her own path, but every time she tries to move on, she’s visited by the ghost of HER past; a dark version of herself, when she was poisoned and tried to kill her attacker.
This apparition (like in PB, it’s not clear if it’s real, or if it’s in the character’s head, or something else entirely) also taunts and haunts Korra, relentlessly following her and preventing her from getting better. It drives Korra over the edge and nearly kills her. Both Mima and Korra have to fight against this new apparition, even when it takes the form of someone they know who has a personal grudge against them.
These women tell the main character that she is worthless and not needed anymore and essentially not REAL, and they can be replaced. Ultimately, the heroines decide to save/spare the lives of their enemies, stop hallucinating, and are very confident in their identities (at least for Korra; Mima’s case is a little more ambiguous).
It’s a little hard to make a written comparison since most of the parallels are more visual (and there are probably other parallels I missed), so I recommend watching the first few episodes of the fourth season of Legend of Korra and Perfect Blue to see for yourself.
HEAVY CONTENT WARNING FOR VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND SEXUAL ASSAULT/RAPE ALLUSIONS
We need to talk about The Legend of Korra.
When Korra herself is introduced, she’s a strong, brash, confident, wide-eyed, ambitious, free-spirited young woman. She’s also one of the few prominent woman of colour leads in animation, and she can be muscular but still beautiful. Great! Brilliant! What a refreshing lead! I could do without the love triangle, and I wish she has a little more autonomy and wasn’t constantly chastised, but hey, still a great lead.
Now, how can add some more depth to her and help her grow? Can we see her become compassionate and caring to non-benders and find a way to solve the conflict in Republic City peacefully, putting aside her bias for fighting and bending? Can we have her learn airbending by finding her way to spiritual freedom in a more unique way? Can we show her dealing with her fear of the Equalists by talking about it with others and working on coping strategies?
Oh wait, no, we’re not going to do that. Not only are we going to solve the conflict in the most violent way possible, we’re also going to give Korra some depth by having her be violated and threatened by a man. First when she’s alone, restrained, surrounded by masked men, and have the leader uncomfortably grab her by her face and warn her about what he plans to do with her before knocking her out; and later, by the end of the series, have that man take away her bending, leaving her broken inside (despite finally finding a way to airbend). But don’t worry! We’ll have another man come and restore her bending out of nowhere!
Well, maybe now she’s learned to be more careful and less reckless. Maybe we’ll see her really grow from there! At least she now she finally has a support system with her previous incarnations and…
Oh wait, she looses that connection? In the most violent and intrusive way by literally having her source of power ripped out of her through her nose and mouth (by her own uncle no less)? And she needs a man’s help to get back in touch with her spiritual side? And even when she gets her powers back she looses that support system forever?
Alright, so the stakes have been raised a bit. Now Korra has to deal with a bunch of anarchists who want to destroy her to restore chaos to the world. But she’s grown up a bit, now she’s finally making a mature choice. She’s going to surrender herself, but her friends will make sure she gets out safely. How does that end for her?
Okay, this is where the show goes from questionable to absolutely disgusting. In this scene, the villains decide that the best way to take down Korra is to poison her, thus forcing her into the Avatar State, and hope to kill her and bring down the Avatar cycle then.
The whole scene is akin to a scene of sexual assault; you have Korra stripped down, restrained, penetrated, writhing in pain and trying to keep her, ahem, reaction under control. Luckily she is able to stay alive and bring her captor to justice, but not without lasting consequences.
After being poisoned and assaulted, she FINALLY really gets to grow and develop as a character. She becomes humbled, more spiritual, and finds a way to defeat the new villain peacefully and even sympathize with them. Yet not without people constantly telling her she’s weak, she’s not needed anymore, and that they don’t believe in her. And while she manages to get most of the poison out, she’s still reeling, having PTSD flashbacks and hallucinations, even having to resort to visiting her assailant in order to try to move past what happened to her.
And what does she make of all this in the end?
“I know I was in a pretty dark place after I was poisoned. But I finally understand why I had to go through all that. I needed to understand what true suffering was. So I could become more compassionate to others. Even to people like Kuvira.”
NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO.
NOBODY HAS TO GO THROUGH THAT. NOBODY HAS TO OR DESERVES TO BE POISONED, ASSAULTED, AND DEAL WITH TRAUMATIC FLASHBACKS AND HALLUCINATIONS, LET ALONE TO BECOME A BETTER PERSON. THAT IS LITERALLY ON PAR WITH ABUSIVE APOLOGISM.
And you know what’s worse?
The writers literally couldn’t find a way for Korra to grow and develop as a character organically. They literally HAD to put Korra through a traumatic incident with long lasting effects in order to make her compassionate and understand ‘true suffering’.
You know, when Aang was the Avatar, he understood true suffering when he was told about the genocide of his people. A horrible thing that didn’t personally violate him, and he was able to find a way to make things better by slowly rebuilding the air nation. Avatar Roku understood true suffering when he couldn’t save his oldest and dearest friend from himself. Avatar Kuruk understood true suffering when his wife was spirited away forever. Yet why does Korra need to understand true suffering by being poisoned?
Why not have something bad happen to her loved ones? What about having to lose a close friend to the dark side? Why not have her NOT be poisoned, break out, and have her kill her would-be assailants in a rage, and have to deal with that?
Considering all the abuse Korra had to deal with from men before, the third season could’ve made a bolder statement by have Korra look at the poison, go “I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”, enter the Avatar State on her own accord, and break free and punish the villains. The fourth season can have her trying to prevent herself from ever becoming that violent ever again, and deciding to deal with villains peacefully. That would be actual character development.
Instead, the writers need to violate and traumatize Korra. What’s worse, her mental health problems aren’t fully dealt with. The most we get of her recovering is having to confront her assailant (and actually show him sympathetically despite what he did to her). After that, we’re just supposed to assume she’s mostly all better.
All in all, the show took a bright young girl and had to physically, mentally, and emotionally break her down in order for her to become a better person and raise the stakes of the final season.
As you can see, this is all absolutely disgusting. I’m honestly shocked very few people seem to be upset over this. But it’s important that we talk about it. Why?
Because the show is still popular. Because many people are getting into this show. Because it’s being sold on Blu-Ray. Because it’s available for all to watch online. But most of all, because this is a show aimed at CHILDREN, and it’s telling them that going through a traumatic assault is necessary.
After all Korra had to go through, I’m very glad that she goes to the Spirit World with Asami. After all the abuse she had to go through (especially from men), she deserves to spend some time alone with someone who genuinely loves and cares for her. It’s just upsetting that more people tear apart the show for the ending and its supposed underdeveloped final couple than for the unnecessary violence it put the main character through.