Here’s the Thing is where Rob dumps his random thoughts and strong opinions on all manner of nerdy subjects – from videogames and movies to board games and toys.
It wasn’t that long ago (but also like six thousand years ago because gestures around wildly) that I wrote about the importance of Avatar: The Last Airbender making people with super-human abilities relatable by focusing on the mundane moments of their lives. Now I want to talk about how the series follow-up, The Legend of Korra, did one better. Because here’s the thing: for as much as fans of the show might love Aang, Katara, Sokka, Toph, Zuko, etc, they weren’t particularly flawed. And Korra’s way of bringing some particularly significant character flaws to light through the eyes of their children makes them feel even more like human beings. Exceptional, talented, imperfect human beings (spoilers ahead, obviously).
Original series main protagonist Aang, the titular “last airbender,” was a plucky young kid who had to grow up real fast and accept his role as the world’s biggest celebrity/savior in the middle of a century-long war. He clearly cared about the world and the people around him, but only a couple of episodes into Korra’s second season it’s revealed that he was kind of a crappy dad. Not that he was abusive or anything like that – he clearly loved all of his children – but he favored his youngest son, Tenzin, because he was also an airbender.
Granted, yes, Aang was trying to deal with the literal extinction of his people so obviously he would be excited about the possibility of slowly bringing the air nation back. But he did so at the expense of spending time with his other children, which fostered some amount of resentment, naturally. In his (understandable) enthusiasm he ended up neglecting his family, which honestly sort of makes sense given Aang’s tendency to focus first and foremost on his people and his culture throughout the original series.
Then there’s Toph. Hooboy.
Don’t get me wrong, Toph is great and probably my favorite character from the original show, but wow. Again, her behavior does make a sort of sense when you consider her background: she was the only child in a very wealthy family, but her parents were extremely controlling and tended to treat her more like a precious possession than their own child. She had to run away from home to join Aang & Co. even after proving that she was an incredibly powerful earthbender. Arguably the most powerful earthbender. So when she grew up and had children of her own, she overcompensated by not giving them any boundaries or guidance at all.
Again, this does make sense as a way she would approach parenting, but it was also terrible because it resulted in one of her daughters acting like a hooligan for most of her formative years and the other trying way too hard to please her all the time. On top of this, Toph never really seems to grow as a person, resulting in her becoming a hermit because she just got tired of dealing with people rather than making any sort of attempt to understand why her actions (or inactions, really) might have hurt her family.
All of this is to say that I’m glad The Legend of Korra brings these major problems to light. It’s not necessarily pleasant to discover that a favorite fictional character wasn’t a terrific dad, or was a shit mom, but it makes them feel even more real and relatable – in that we all have some significant imperfections, because we’re human, I mean. And the show manages this in ways that actually do make sense for those characters. I can’t say it’s made me respect or like either of them more than I did previously, but it does make them even more interesting. Possibly even more compelling.
Rob Rich has loved videogames since the 80s and has the good fortune to be able to write about them. Catch his rants on Twitter at @RobsteinOne.