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Homophobia and the West in the ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ Universe

Updated: Mar 12

TW // Discussion of homophobia, colonisation, genocide, and pederasty.

Dear Asian Youth,

Like many young Asian people, ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ has a special place in my heart. The show is loved for its complex characters, intricate plotlines, and worldbuilding, inspired primarily by Asian, Inuit and Yup’ik cultures. So when I heard about ‘Avatar’ comics, novels and even a sequel, I was excited to dive deeper into the ‘Avatar’ universe. As a queer fan, I was particularly intrigued by ‘The Legend of Korra’ and ‘The Rise of Kyoshi’, as I had heard from other fans that both Avatar Korra and Avatar Kyoshi are bisexual and have relationships with other women.

Oh, how naive I was… but before I get ahead of myself, let’s look at ‘The Legend of Korra’.

After spending her whole life training to be the Avatar in the Southern Water Tribe, Korra arrives in Republic City to learn about Airbending. (Something feels off already. Republic City, an ex-Fire Nation colony that is now independent from the other nations, is clearly inspired by 1920s America, straying from ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’’s Asian, Inuit and Yup’ik cultural influences. Sure, this series takes place seventy years after ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’, but why does it look like an American city, devoid of Earth Kingdom or Fire Nation influence?) Korra meets pro-benders and brothers Mako and Bolin, joins their pro-bending team, and soon develops a crush on Mako. Maybe it’s his broody nature or his confusing eyebrows, I can’t be certain. However, Mako begins to date Asami, a mechanic and the heiress to the Sato-mobile industrial empire. There’s a painful love triangle, but despite everything, Korra and Asami are great friends.

By season four, something shifts. While recovering from an almost fatal battle, Korra finds that the only friend she wants to write to is Asami. When they finally reunite with a close hug, Asami compliments Korra’s new shoulder-length hair (gasp, The Bisexual Haircut) and Korra blushes. The two have an easy and fun kind of chemistry. The season ends with a wedding, during which Korra and Asami decide to go on a trip together to the spirit world. As the two pass through the spirit portal, they hold hands and look deeply into each others’ eyes before the credits roll. Their pose seems to parallel that of the wedding a few moments before or even Avatar Aang and Waterbending master Katara’s ending in ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’. But was this enough evidence to say that Korra and Asami had romantic feelings for each other?