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Finally finished up Book 1 of Avatar: The Legend of Korra. I am full of questions. And disappointment. (And spoilers.) Hit me up if you've got answers, or more questions.


Republic City

How does the Republic work? So it has a council. There are five people on it. One of them represents Earth… but there are a bunch of different Earth kingdoms and regions and stuff, and canonically they were always the most numerous, so it’s not really representing a single Earth Kingdom, right? Because there was King Bumi, and King Kuei, and there’s nobility in Gaoling, and the Island of Kyoshi’s always been its own business, right? Presumably there are other little pocket lords and kingdoms.

Water, on the other hand, gets two representatives, one for each tribe. It’s not elemental, the way it’s divided, but it’s not really by nation, either. Who chose them? Were they elected, or appointed? How far does their power reach? Is seriously everyone on the council a bender? Are all of the police in the field benders? Earthbenders, even?

Why is there no word for non-bender that doesn’t make out like it’s the absence of a valued trait? Is there slang for one anywhere—a solid? an immutable?

Is there an affectionate nickname or origin or myth involved with the giant statue of Aang? Does it ever get decorated or visited on any special holidays, like celebrations of, say, the founding of Republic City, or the day Aang woke up from the iceberg, or the end of the Hundred Years’ War? Are there little educational plaques and a peace museum with an extensive Aang exhibit? Is there a ferry there?


Air Temple Island

What do most people think of the tiny colony of airbenders off their shore? Is there a farm on the island that can sustain the temple? How often does a ferry come, or does a boat have to be called out special every time? Or do you just have to ask Tenzin or Pema if they’ve got a spare sky bison and a few minutes to fly over?

Who are the other people in orange and yellow at Air Temple Island? Civilian acolytes, probably, non-airbending civilians there for religious and scholastic purposes, but they could have one of them talk. What makes someone decide to live at a monastery? Do any of them have families there? Do any of the women have the half-bald head to emulate air women like Yangchen? Are they allowed money? Do they ever gossip about Korra, in the hushed way you do when you’ve got a celebrity in your midst who wouldn’t welcome curious onlookers? Do they talk to her? Do any of them wonder about Bolin, Mako, and Asami just showing up and hanging out on the island for no discernible reason?

Does Pema miss being a regular person, and not ‘Tenzin’s wife’? How did she meet Tenzin? What did she do before that? Does she have any hobbies? How come the boys have kept with the shaved-hair tradition, but neither Pema, Jinora, or Ikki have the ATLA-depicted women’s variant with the half-shaven head? Is it something the girls only do past puberty, or maybe they’re supposed to wait until adulthood or bending mastery to choose that hairstyle? Picture this: an adolescent Ikki who’s shaved bald from the line of the ears forward… and with the two cloth-wrapped buns of hair at the back. It would be so precious.


The World

What do Republic city residents think when, say, the current rulers of Omashu come to visit? Or farmers or fishers from who-knows-where? Are even the richest seen as obvious country bumpkins in traditional clothes, with their animal labor and old-fashioned habits? Memories run long, and the Republic is only one former colony—in the rest of the continent, is it harder to be Fire Nation, especially a firebender? Is technology distrusted because industrialization was kickstarted by the Fire Nation war effort? Are there ‘new money’ industrial tycoons with second homes in the Fire Nation, or in some forest on the Continent? Are they resented but tolerated for the jobs they provide in the way Californian yuppies are resented but tolerated in Montana, or Washington, or whatever?

What are other, older cities like? How many cars are there in them? Is it harder to drive there because the roads are dusty and narrow, designed with pedestrians and wooden carts in mind? Does everyone know what side of the road they’re supposed to drive on, or does that depend on where you are? Do most farmers have tractors in the rest of the world, or is it too much a bother to buy something like that when it’s so new and strange it’s hard to get them repaired?

Are there radio stations all over? Is there a Republic City newspaper whose subscription ranges the world, like with the New York Times? Does General Iroh have a subscription, so that he recognized Korra from a picture, or has he met her before? Are there pro-bending leagues and arenas elsewhere? Are there traveling teams? Are waterbenders such a hot commodity that they sometimes get paid more than the other team members?


Sports

How does a society that idolizes and monetarizes bending work when most people aren’t benders? What do amateur bending games look like? Where is it played? What’s it like to be a non-bender fan of pro-bending? Do non-benders have their own version involving, like, tennis balls, squirt guns and streamers? What’s it like for Tenzin, Jinora, Ikki, and Meelo to see pro-bending of three elements celebrated when their own element is conspicuously absent because of their history of genocide? Is it harder to people descended from Fire Nation immigrants to cheer on firebenders without looking overly nationalistic? Are there spiritual and bodily consequences for using bending as a sport? Do old-timer bending purists gripe about what pro-bending has done to the whole bender mentality and skill set, and what bad habits it teaches?


Bending

How long can a lightning bender charge a power station for money before they hurt themselves? Can earthbenders charge one through kinetic energy—using stone to push a spring, for example? Could waterbenders spin a turbine, or an airbender turn a windmill? Can you get fined for earthbending a public road, sidewalk, or building? How about a private one? Do you need a license to heal through waterbending? Chi is in the breath, we remember that—can an airbender do anything about someone’s chi, or restore a chi-blocker to health?

How does getting your bending taken away affect your body? Remember, ATLA made a huge deal out of how the spirit and the body and bending were all tied up in each other, and how injury to one affected the whole thing tremendously. Recall Zuko being laid out flat by a three-day fever when his loyalties were in turmoil. The Terra Team after their fight with the Dangerous Ladies outside Ba Sing Se was bedridden and miserable-looking when Ty Lee only chi-blocked them for a few hours or days. Upsetting one’s chi is way hard on the body. Why, then, doesn’t stripping a person of their bending ability do anything more severe than ‘make them a little dizzy’? That is some serious chi-upsetting going on! They should go pale, sweat, be limp and stumbling and feverish for at least a solid day or two. Not to mention it just falls narratively a little flat if the worst and scariest thing that visibly happens to characters when they get their bending removed is ‘they fall over and then they look sad’. Korra’s an allowable exception because she’s the Avatar and she has tremendous natural strength and ability when it comes to chi-manipulation, but what about everyone else?

What about Korra’s airbending? Why would her connection to three elements be severed, but not them all? It’s all chi manipulation that Amon’s doing, not reaching into her body to shut off some kind of genetic switches one by one. And how come she was able to reach for and use airbending only when she was enraged?

I actually kind of got how she connected with airbending movements better when she was in the bending arena. It’s… you ever read the Circle of Magic books, the later ones where the kids all get their own students? Daja had a problem student who does better with moving meditation, practicing the same three staff fighting moves over and over and over, than she did with sitting meditation, breathing in time while sitting quietly on the floor. Aang in his own way was very patient and did well with sitting meditation all his life. Korra connects with her body and herself when she’s in motion, when she has something to focus on besides her own self and her discomfort. That’s how she detaches from herself. It made sense then.

But for her to finally succeed with airbending when she was angry, scared, reaching out to protect Mako-who-she-likes-romantically, made no sense. That relates to being more personal about Korra’s self, than it was about relating to her duty of balance and protection. If she were coming from a place of internal peace, truly facing her fear of Amon, accepting that a source of immense personal pride has been taken away from her—then maybe the sudden airbending skills could be okay. Narratively not a great choice, but okay. But it’s not. Her whole life she has been very invested in her talent with the elements; no one gets over that in under a minute. Finally grasping airbending, only to use it to punch Amon out, seems… flat.

The big reveal as to how Yakone, and Tarrlok, and Noatuk were able to bend when it didn’t involve the full moon was… they tried really hard?


Industry

We’ve seen giant ship-mounted gatling guns and hand-mounted electrocution devices—do hand guns exist? You cannot power a city off of a specialized skill of a comparatively tiny segment of the population, you just can’t, so what do the power stations generate most of their power from? Coal is extremely dirty and has a bad history—remember the Fire Nation ships, and the way everyone shook when their ash started to fall? Coal smoke was a signifier of bad things to come, the sign to hide the children and grab the weapons off the wall. Wave action could do it, maybe, or wind turbines stuck along a particularly windy face of the mountains. Is the old Eastern Air Temple, where the Mechanic and Teo lived, a research and development community now, like a proto-Silicon Valley? When was the telegraph invented, and the radio, and when did widespread electrical power become a reality? How far to the telegraph wires run? Do they cross to and between the Fire Nation islands? Do they reach to the poles? How tough is telegram code shorthand to understand? Does anyone run telegram cons, like in The Sting? Did Yakone?

What’s the money system like? Is it standardized, or are there a handful of Earth Kingdom and water Tribe and Fire Nation systems of currencies that show up every once in a while? What’s the composition like? Could an unscrupulous metalbender make counterfeit coins by redistributing a layer of more valuable metals across worthless disks of cheaper scrap metal? Has that ever happened? Is there anything the mint does to try preventing that?

How has religion fared while industrialization has marched on? Have angry spirits like Hei Bei or the Painted Lady ever risen to plague areas of pollution and industry? Is there a spiritual consulting industry to ensure that doesn’t happen? Are there shrines in the factories? Are there holidays off? Who works in the factories, what are their lives like? Are there blue laws in Future Industries and places like it?


Style

Why did the styles change? Clothes are frequently tighter, more tailored and more layered, and there’s now a wide variety of colors. How did that happen? Are there older, conservatively-raised people who stick to their versatile traditional clothes and grumble about cities ruining the youth today? How come swim suits got more conservative? How do people choose what colors they should wear? Is there a cultural Thing about wearing yellow and orange as street clothes and not as an Air Temple acolyte or a member of Tenzin’s family?

Why don’t Korra and Asami change their clothes? Mako and Bolin make sense with their single outfits because they're broke and always have been, but Asami is rich and a very stylish person—who has been shown wearing one nice dress for a date, the ubiquitous motorcycle-riding outfit, and… not really anything else. Korra has always been extremely well taken care of—she should have more than one set of casual clothes, at least to wear to her practices with Mako and Bolin. In bed in a warmer climate she shouldn't sleep with all of her clothes and her shoes on. When the weather’s cold and snowing, she’s frequently seen sleeveless, even when she had prior notice she’d be outside. Why?

Pema’s a regular person and a mom with messy young kids, she has to have a spare set of clothes. Tenzin’s single outfit makes sense for a lifestyle valuing simplicity and a Council leader who has to be fancy, but it looks awfully cumbersome on a giant dude who can fly. That goes double for Aang, who more than anyone needs freedom of movement to be comfortable. I’m still kind of boggled Toph kept her very intense updo well into adulthood.


Yakone

Is there a reason he sounds like a stereotype of an Italian gangster, down to his name? Does he have a syndicate below him, did he leave a chain of command behind? What exactly did Yakone do, besides bloodbend people into submission? Did he sell drugs? Guns? Stolen car parts? Smuggle things in and out of port without paying the tariffs? How well known is change-your-whole-face surgery? Who’s willing to do that kind of shady shit, and for what price?


Amon (Noatuk)

How did he learn to take away bending? Who did he practice on? Did he advertise that skill before the first rally as a recruiting tool, or was that kept in reserve? How did he survive just running off into a polar blizzard without a thing to his name when it was apparently on a whim? When did he first get the idea to ‘equalize’ everyone, not just as a vigilante in the night but on a grand scale, as a movement? Is there any particular reason he took such an un-water-tribe name, besides anonymity? Does he miss his old life? Did he miss his brother? Does he ever have regrets? Does he feel ashamed, or angry, or proud that his father was a crime boss?

How did he first amass his power base? How long has he been wearing a mask? Do most of his people feel personal loyalty to Amon, or is it more of a ‘we love this movement, and this dude happens to be running it’ kind of thing? Who organizes his rallies? Does he press a thumb to peoples’ heads before they’re promoted, to check and see that he hasn’t got any secret benders?


Mako and Bolin

While they’re up-close and personal with the dark side of Republic City, Mako and Bolin have always been employed and able to make money, because they are benders, even when they were just children. Do they ever think about that? Are they ever confronted about it?

They aren’t seen as having any kind of support network or friends outside of the arena, which doesn’t make any sense. They lost their homes while young and poor, didn’t they or their parents know anyone? Who taught them how to sew and cook and do laundry? Did they go to school? How much can they read and write? Don’t they know shopkeepers, or street musicians, or a handful of people kinda-sorta still affiliated with the gangs but they try to forget that and just hang out sometimes?

Was Mako telling the truth when he said he and Bolin only did nonviolent gang stuff, or did he lie to shelter Bolin from the worst of the violence? Does Bolin feel bad for how hard his brother’s worked to support them, and has he secretly made his own sacrifices? Do they remember their parents very well? Mako has his father’s scarf, but does he have anything to remember his mother by? Does Bolin?


Asami

Does Asami have any friends besides the Fire Ferrets? Did she go to any kind of school? She understands all the technology of Future Industries and the Eaqualists, couldn’t she know something useful about weak points on the tanks, or how to alter Equalist shock gloves? What does she really think of Equalists in general, the casual kind who distribute flyers and stop to listen to the guy who sermonizes by the fountain? Forgetting romantic tension and father issues, what does she think of Korra as a person?

As her father’s daughter, does Asami get invited to political events a lot? Does she have a deeper understanding of local politics than Korra does, and couldn’t that prove useful? Is she very sheltered from poverty, or did her father instill in her a sense of ‘you came from humble beginnings, be aware of that’ from a young age? Is she supposed to inherit Future Industries in the event of her father being unfit to run it? Can she access the Sato family’s money from the bank? Does she have to start talking charge of production and marketing now that her father’s on the run? Who’s looking after the business? Who’s looking after their house?


Korra

How did Korra grow up? When did she first move to the compound on a permanent basis? Who decided that that was a necessary step? How did they convince her parents to let her leave? Do her parents miss her? How often does she get to go home? Does Korra have any aunts or uncles or cousins? Korra seems to have spent most of her life away from home, practicing her bending at the White Lotus compound. Is it ever hard for her to talk to her parents, or they to talk to her, when in a sense they have so little in common? Does she write letters to them after she moves to Air Temple Island? Do Tenzin or Pema write to them? Does Katara ever go and visit their home?

When did she find and train Naga? Was her family or her tribe upset by it? How does she feed her? What’s it like having a large predator as your primary source of transportation when live on a small vegetarian island and you spend most days in an industrialized city that seems to have abandoned animal labor? Has she really gone from a guarded complex in the South Pole to a city of trade, industry, and new friends without missing a beat?

She loves pro-bending but she obviously didn’t even know the rules. Are the sports reporters? Are there arguments in bars about sports teams’ prospects and the strengths and weaknesses of various players? Does she ever get cornered by pro-bending fans who wind up having to totally school her on the history and nitty-gritty of the sport? How does Korra feel about participating in what amounts to a time-consuming hobby when people are angry and scared and she is seen as being a servant of the public?

I’m not knocking her for this, by the way—it’s an important outlet and I actually think it’s a good idea for her to be visible to the public in a professional context, removed from the questions and expectations that freak her out and just being seen as a good team player getting into the game. But I also think she should be doing other stuff, too. I think she’d be good at talking to and helping out the poor and the homeless, and being the peoples’ connection to the Council who could do something about those who need food and a home and decent rights. She loves being the Avatar, she feels a sense of duty towards people as being their person, but nothing is ever done with that in the story—except for the confrontation with the police on that snowy night in the street, which is far and away my favorite scene.

Does she hate city snow, wet and dirty and not half as dry and clean as snow at home? Or is she happy for any kind of snow? Or does she like the warm weather that lets her go where she likes bare-armed and free to move? Does she laugh at Bolin and Mako shivering on cold days at practice and tease them about not knowing the meaning of cold, like a Chicagoan visiting Santa Barbara in spring and laughing at the bundled-up West Coasters every morning? Did her parents teach her how to survive on her own in the South Pole? Did anyone teach her how to survive while out wandering the world, as Avatars tend to do?

Does the White Lotus give her an allowance while she’s in the city, or does she have to beg money off of Tenzin to buy herself and Naga lunch when she’s in the city for hours every day? Are there toll roads? Does she have to pay them when she’s on Naga? Does anyone ride animals anymore?

She has no idea how hard it is to survive the rapidly-industrializing outside world as a non-bender without resources. Does she ever get into arguments with random non-benders on the street? Is she ever accosted by random lower-class benders who live in fear that the Equalists are going to strip them of their abilities, who had this hope that their Avatar is going to save them and then heard about at least two very public occasions where she lost a fight with Amon? Why didn’t she get any kind of press training? Why did no one ever tell her what the world is like? Why is it that when she’s down for the count with her heart crushed, the only people to voice any kind of encouragement or sympathy are her teacher and the boy she kind of likes, when her parents are sitting right there? Why is Mako the only person to follow her, and not her parents, or teachers, or Bolin or Asami, or a White Lotus guard to ensure that if Amon’s still at large she’s not going to get killed?
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killerkaleidoscope: close-up centered on a violet daisy on diagonally-cracked gray pavement (Default)
Karolina Keene

August 2012

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