Posted by: brookenado | March 13, 2015

Celebrating Female Characters: The Women of Avatar

Dear readers,

You may have heard that International Women’s Day was last week, and that got me thinking about the awesome female characters I’ve admired over the years.  In turn, this got me thinking about entire series that feature many awesome women.  Obviously, the natural next step was to be inspired to do a blog post!  I jotted down some ideas here and there during breaks at work, then sat down at home to write a bit more, then went back and wrote some more…

It quickly become apparent that there doing this in a single post was simply not an option.  Instead, I bring you the first installment in a celebratory mini-series of ‘series with exceptional ladies’:

The Women of Avatar

**Caution: May contain spoilers

All of the ladies in Avatar are pretty stinking awesome. Seriously, all of them. Heroes and villains alike are fully fleshed out, complex women. The shows creator’s Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko and their team have done such a wonderful job with this series, not only tackling mature, and sometimes delicate issues, but also bringing very dynamic relationships to life with very believable and diverse characters. One thing I feel is often misrepresented in shows today are the relationships between female characters, but here, too, they got so much right.

Women of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra

Let’s start with Avatar: The Last Airbender, where it all began (when everything changed, after the Fire Nation attacked)…

In the original series, Toph and Katara are the female leads and they can bring out the extremes of each other’s personalities due to their differences. Yet despite that those differences, the focus was more often on how they respected each other because of them – Toph with her disregard for the rules and strong sense of independence, and Katara with her compassion and sense of responsibility.

Toph and Katara - Tales of Ba Sing Se gif

How Beifongs show affection

They did an amazing job with the more minor female characters and the villainesses as well. Mai and Ty Lee may seem one dimensional at first, but with small bits of dialogue and back story are given such great personalities and roles as non-gimmicky, by no means flat comic relief. And Azula is…terrifying. And that’s hard to do while making a character believable, but they did it. Ruthless and strategically-minded to the extreme (and she knows it), we also see glimpses into the cracks beneath the surface and, incredibly, have moments when we can actually feel very sorry for her.

Then there’s the follow-up series, The Last Airbender: The Legend of Korra, which recently ended and was just as brilliant as the original. Korra is the lead as the new Avatar, and in word (or three), she kicks ass. What made her an even better character, however, were the moments when she seemed lost. The fact that she could be a strong character while also at risk of succumbing to a break down every now and then made her a very real and relatable character. Hey, maintaining the balance of a chaotic and always changing world is a tough job!

Korra Fanart -- Legend of Korra

And actually, admittedly, as someone who struggles on and off with depression I really appreciated seeing a female character deal with similar issues.  Despite the moments of frustration and seeming hopelessness, she was always able to overcome her fears and find her own way to resolve things; a hopeful motif around a topic that isn’t easily discussed.  Just another reason why storytelling and having characters like Korra is so important.

I love how they dealt with Korra’s relationship with the other female that rounds out the new ‘Team Avatar’ as well – another badass but somewhat more feminine character, Asami. Again, they could have taken the easy route and created a negative, rivalry-type relationship with a love triangle, but almost right from the start they refused to let that be the case.

They took it in a much more positive direction, with Asami becoming Korra’s best friend (and even potential love interest as the series progressed) instead, using them to explore the strong bonds that exist between women. The ending truly cements that theme, and whether you read their relationship as romantic or not, the final scene was beautiful, ending the series on another bold and brave note.

Korra & Asami - Avatar Legend of Korra finale

And I’d be terribly remiss not to at least mention both Toph and Katara’s descendants. The Beifong women still completely rock (pun both intended and true), and Katara’s daughter and two granddaughters are just as awesome. They are their own characters with distinctive quirks and aspirations, not defined just by their tie to the original women of Avatar.

Then there are characters like Zhu Li (do the thing!), who’s great because at first glance, we don’t give her too much thought. But as her character is revealed more and expanded beyond the view of just ‘assistant’, we learn that she’s brilliant, loyal, believes in progress, and yes, she’s in love, but she can clearly take care of her self. And there’s Eska, of course, who stands up her power hungry (crazy) father in order to protect her brother, and later, Team Avatar.  I sorely wish we could have seen more of her in later seasons!

Like the original, the female antagonists in The Legend of Korra are wonderfully nuanced characters who bring about discussions of complicated themes. While you may not always like them or their methods, the series certainly plays around with larger questions and moral grey areas.

Kuvira - The Legend of Korra Book 4 antagonist

Kuvira, the ‘Great Uniter’

At times you have to admit a grudging respect for their abilities and determination in their visions knowing that at some earlier point, those beliefs weren’t inherently bad, but had become twisted and extreme. Kuvira acts as the dominant female antagonist, and she doesn’t play second fiddle to the male antagonists.  Her role adds just as much to the overarching themes of the show and Korra’s development.

The verdict? I haven’t been able to mention all of the fabulous characters across both shows, but rest assured that they do, in fact, all kick ass – all for different reasons.

All I can say is that if you’re looking for a series with a strong cast of female characters and diverse role models, look no further than Avatar: The Last Airbender and the The Legend of Korra. Ladies, men, kids, adults…the overall series has something for everyone, and in my opinion, it’s some of the best t.v. to have been created in past decade (and features some beautiful animation to boot!).

Thanks for reading, cheers!  Another installment celebrating amazing fictional females should be headed your way soon, and if you’ve got some favorite characters or series featuring interesting women, by all means please share – the more the merrier!  Until then…

Mischief managed

 Bonus:Legend of Korra, 'Did they send me daughters?'

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Responses

  1. Agreed on all counts. Avatar (both cartoon series) were great in their own way, and the female characters all were full-bodied and fleshed out. While they were strong, they had flaws that made them seem human.

    • Thanks for the comment! They really did do a nice job on both series. I’m torn between being content with where they’ve left it, and wanting more because they’re so brilliant!

  2. That last picture is the BEST in the world!
    So true!!!!

    • Haha, isn’t though? When I saw it I pretty much went, ‘yup, that’s got to go in.’ 😄

  3. I was really glad to read this! My 7 year old son and his grandmother recently finished watching all of Avatar and Korra together (it took a while!) They both enjoyed it equally, and I knew it was high quality but I’m glad to see that it has so many awesome women and girls in it. My son has always been equally happy to read/watch female and male characters, but it’s been tough finding high-quality animation with strong female characters!

    • That is one awesome grandma your son has! I’m glad to hear they both enjoyed it – I do believe it’s one of those rare shows that appeals to all. And props to your son for appreciating a good character, regardless of gender! I’ve always wondered why companies feel the need to make such a big deal about the distinction for male/female driven stories/toys/games, etc.

      But yes, this is definitely one series that really invests in giving their female characters dimension and complexity. Thanks for the comment!


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