The problem with swords in children’s animation

Children’s animated programs, particularly action shows, often feature characters with swords. However, due to the inherently violent nature of swords, creators are hamstrung in portraying the accurate use of weaponry.

Fantasy action shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, and ThunderCats feature a lot of fighting, but the violence is often sanitized since these shows are technically for children. In this post, I want to explore the use of swords in children’s animation. Many action heroes carry swords, as they seem—on the surface—less violent than guns. But any kid knows that swords are instruments of death.

Which is why creators of animated programs need to abstract how swords work, creating fantasy worlds were swords do not operate the way they should, or characters don’t use them the way they are intended. While these sanitations might fool some, I never bought them as a kid. I didn’t have the vocabulary at the time, but I always felt that these shows were lying to me in how they depicted the use of swords.

I’ll show you why.

Using swords in combat

Swords are meant for cutting, slicing, and chopping, yet cartoon characters cannot hit each other with swords, as anybody knows that a sword will leave a mark. Ranged weapons are easily sanitized. Children’s shows typically use lasers in place of guns with bullets. A character can shoot a glowing pink or green projectile at another character, and the impact is usually shown. Laser guns don’t exist in real life, so there’s no harm in showing kids this form of violence.

Melee weapons are meant to hit a person, and in some ways, the close-quarter combat of melee weapons is a more primal, visceral experience than shooting guns.

The challenge for animators is: how to depict these weapons in shows targeted to kids?

Some shows, like Dungeons & Dragons (1983), limit the use of swords all together. The Barbarian, or fighter character, carries a club instead of a sword.

Barbarian in Dungeons & Dragons

The Cavalier, a Paladin scrubbed of religious overtones, carries a shield.

Cavalier in Dungeons & Dragons

And Diana, the Acrobat, carries a staff.

Acrobat in Dungeons & Dragons

These weapons are fine, of course (except for the shield. No kid role-plays as the guy with the shield), but swords are so much cooler!

Think of the Sword of Omens in ThunderCats (1985). It’s such a powerful weapon. Lion-O, however, chained by the constraints of 80s moral television, doesn’t use his sword to hit people.

In the following example, the Thunder Tank is stolen by Mumm-Ra’s henchmen. Lion-O attacks, not by cutting his enemies, but by slicing the barrels off the tank’s guns.

Lion-O attacks

Guns on Thunder Tank sliced off

He stands over his enemies, and instead of attacking them, let’s them run away.

Lion-O stands over henchmen

ThunderCats

How many of the ThunderCats’ problems would’ve been solved if Lion-O actually used his sword on his enemies? If he wants to live a life of peace and refrain from killing, then carry a stick, not a sword.

Cartoon characters often find ways of using swords in ways that defy logic, even to children.

The sword as a defensive weapon

Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005) is my favorite animated show of all time. The show has been praised for its accurate depiction of war, genocide, and child abuse. The show is meant for kids, and the creators are usually successful in not talking down to children, but in adapting these serious issues in ways that make sense to them.

However, even Avatar pulls its punches.

One of the main characters, Sokka, isn’t a bender. He cannot manipulate the elements of fire and earth and water like his friends. Instead, he uses melee weapons, like a sword and boomerang, in combat. However, he frequently uses these weapons for defense, rather than offense.

In one episode, he helps rescue his sister and the earthbenders from a Fire Nation prison. The guards attack the kids with spears, and Sokka uses his sharpened boomerang not to attack the soldiers, but to break their weapons. As he slices the heads off spears, he tosses them up to Aang’s flying lemur Momo.

Sokka slicing spear

Sokka slicing spear

Momo catches spear heads

In Season 3, Sokka is feeling sorry for himself because he can’t do cool things like all his bending friends. His friends suggest that he needs a master to teach him how to fight. He becomes the pupil of a Fire Nation sword master, and later crafts his own sword out of a meteorite. As I watched that episode for the first time, I got really excited. Sokka finally has an awesome sword! And he’s trained in using it!

Sokka's master

Unfortunately, the space sword merely becomes a stylized version of his boomerang. He uses it not for offense, but for defense. On the Day of Black Sun, when the resistance fighters invaded the Fire Nation, Sokka led the charge, once again resorting to disabling weapons.

Sokka on the Day of Black Sun

Sokka on the Day of Black Sun

What’s strange about swords in animation is that they are often shown to be more powerful than swords in real life. In many shows, they are simply lightsabers made metal, able to cut through anything. For example, in Samurai Jack (2001) Jack uses his sword to cut through robot after robot as if they were butter.

Samurai Jack

Samurai Jack

In the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012) Leonardo slices through the Kraang in much the same way. The Kraang are brain-like aliens that control powerful robots by residing in their stomach cavities. Leo has a remarkable ability to slice exactly through the center of the robot without somehow cutting the brain, as seen in the opening.

Leo fights Kraang

Leo fights Kraang

Holding back

Even though swords can’t really cut through metal, having the good guys cut through robots, cannons, and weapons with their swords is okay from time to time. Just because a hero uses violence to solve problems doesn’t mean they always have to kill.

That said, in some cases, it would make much more sense for the character to use the sword to at least injure or incapacitate their enemy.

Let me give you a couple more examples from TMNT.

The Kraang control these deadly robots, and while disabling the robots is sometimes part of Turtles’ mission, it doesn’t really solve their problem. The Kraang, the brains, are the problem. Destroying the robot only makes the problem go away temporarily.

In one of the early episodes of the 2012 series, the Turtles infiltrate a Kraang base. Leo slices through a Kraang droid, leaving the brain exposed.

Leo fights Kraang

Leo fights Kraang

Leo fights Kraang

The Kraang tries to run away, presumably to alert the other Kraang in the base that the Turtles are here. Even though Leo would be perfectly justified in killing the little brain (after all, the Kraang are trying to terraform planet Earth into a replacement Dimension X, a move that would likely kill all life on earth), Leo steps aside so Mikey can clobber the Kraang with his nunchuk.

Mikey hits a Kraang

Mikey hits a Kraang

Given the cartoony stars floating around the Kraang’s head, I’m guessing he won’t be out for very long.

In another episode, Donatello invents a robotic turtle, Metalhead, to do his fighting for him. Metalhead is a little slow and clunky, but has incredibly high-powered weapons. While initially devastating a squad of Kraang droids, one brave Kraang plugs himself into Metalhead, takes control, and starts attacking the Turtles!

Kraang on Metalhead

The Turtles expend a lot of effort attacking Metalhead the robot, even though their weapons are useless against him. Leo in particular swings his swords not at the Kraang placed conveniently on top of Metalhead like a cherry, but at Metalhead’s face.

Leo attacks Metalhead

Leo attacks Metalhead

Why, though? The problem is not with Metalhead, but with the Kraang on top of Metalhead!

One of the worst examples of holding back comes from Avatar, season 3. Sokka and Zuko break into a Fire Nation prison, the Boiling Rock, to save Sokka’s dad. As Team Avatar is escaping, Azula, the baddest princess around, confronts Sokka and Zuko atop a cable car.

Azula attacks Zuko and Sokka

Azula shoots fire at Zuko, which he blocks. Sokka, hiding in the wing, rushes ahead, sword pointed at Azula’s face.

Zuko blocks fire

Sokka attacks Azula

Azula

For a split second, Azula is actually terrified. Sokka points the sword inches from her face, and then mysteriously, pulls back so Zuko can attack Azula again!

Sokka attacks Azula

Zuko attacks Azula

Zuko attacks Azula

Sokka had the perfect opening: Azula so rarely lets her guard down. Every time I watch this scene, I cringe. What’s the point of Sokka having this awesome space sword if he can’t even use it?

Predictably, Azula flies away, escaping harm yet again.

Azula escapes

The loopholes

Children’s animators clearly feel pressure to restrict the use of swords, especially when it comes to harming other human characters. However, animators are clever at bending the unspoken rules of television to include more palatable forms of violence.

Samurai Jack, for example, predominantly fights robots. He frequently dismembers robots, and sometimes oil and sparks exit the robot’s wounds as if they were blood.

Samurai Jack attacks robot

Samurai Jack attacks robot

Attacking robots is fine, though it should be noted that children’s shows like Samurai Jack and TMNT often feature very lifelike and humanoid robots: it’s a way of having graphic violence without technically hurting anybody.

What bothers me most about swords in children’s animation is that they are frequently used to cut or kill other living, non-human creatures—monsters and fantasy beasts.

In one episode of the 2011 ThunderCats, an ocean’s water is stolen by a giant plant monster, turning the ocean into a desert. Lion-O gets sucked inside this monster, then slices it open from the inside, restoring the water.

Lion-O cuts plant monster

Lion-O comes out of plant monster along with water

Plant monster returns water to ocean

TMNT uses this same cop-out. The Turtles fought a giant plant creature with tentacles and claws called Snakeweed. Leo slices through one of the tentacles, spewing purple guts everywhere.

It’s okay to show this kind of violence, apparently, because Snakeweed is “not real” and it’s not really “blood” coming out of it.

Turtles fight creature

Leo cuts tentacles

I guess in the minds of the creators? the censors? the television execs? parents? violence against monsters is okay because MONSTERS ARE BAD and MONSTERS ARE NOT REAL and MONSTERS ARE NOT PEOPLE.

As a kid, though, I never made those distinctions. To me,monsters and mutants were just as human as the human characters. Mutants and monsters are living creatures with their own goals, intelligence, and spirit. Harming a mutant should be no different, in these fictional universes, than harming a human.

What’s interesting is that TMNT, in particular, often goes out of its way to show that the mutant enemies were in fact humans at one time. Snakeweed, moments before the fight with the Turtles, was a misguided gangbanger named Snake who teamed up with the Kraang. In the midst of the battle, a ton of mutagen, the substance that creates mutants, spilled on Snake the human. Look at the pure terror on his face as he transforms into a vile mutant.

Snake transforms into Snakeweed

Yes he’s a bad guy, but does that mean his humanity is stripped away simply because he becomes a mutant?

At the end of the episode, Leonardo burns Snakeweed up with a power core, leaving him for dead.

But remember, by the standards of children’s television, this is okay because Snakeweed is NOT A HUMAN.

Overcoming the problems of swords in children’s animation

One children’s show that pushed the graphic use of swords pretty far was ThunderCats 2011. From time to time, they actually showed Lion-O hitting enemies with his sword. True, he never sliced through the more human-like enemies, and there was never any blood, but at least there was an impact.

Lion-O attacks Lizards

Lion-O attacks Lizards

Lion-O attacks Lizards

While this is uncommon, it’s apparently okay by the censor’s standards as the lizards aren’t human. The world of the ThunderCats is populated entirely by anthropomorphized animals who are quite human in their emotions, rationality, and goals.

So how should swords be depicted in children’s animation?

One possibility is to get rid of them entirely, the same way realistic guns are largely absent from children’s animation. I’m not sure, though, that this solves anything. No matter what method of violence a character uses—lasers, fists, magic, throwing rocks—some amount of sanitation is usually applied.

If swords are left in, then they should be depicted somewhat realistically. If a character is going to flash a sword against another living creature, then they should use that sword on the creature. The gore can be sanitized a bit—I’m not advocating for Kill Bill levels of blood in children’s shows.

But children’s animation should show the consequences of violence, and show that swords and other weapons really do hurt people. I think kids can accept this even at an early age. Avatar: The Last Airbender is the gold standard when it comes to showing the consequences of war: if only they’d pushed the realism of violence a bit farther when it came to swords.

After the closing credits roll, kids will go into the backyard to reenact the shows they just saw. My brother, cousins, and friends did this all the time. We role-played as Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, soldiers, professional wrestlers, even Freddy and Jason from horror movie fame. We used sticks for swords and bananas for guns.

And we learned early on that if we got too rough, and somebody got hurt, then we needed to pull back.

Using swords to slice through robots and mutants and monsters is a distraction. These sanitations might make the violence acceptable to network execs, parents, and censors, but kids can see right through it.

Give kids more credit: they understand what swords are meant to do.

~Dennis

Book Two: Spirits Retrospective: The Legend of Korra

Book Two: Spirits has finished. It was a quick half-season, but a successful and innovative season in many ways.

As the season progressed, many websites gave reviews of individual episodes as they aired. This is fine, but mostly these “reviews” end up being half summary, half speculation about what it could mean going forward.

But now that the season has concluded, let’s take a retrospective look at the season in its entirety to find out what worked and what didn’t.

Full spoilers ahead. Obviously.

The world's eye opens

When Korra destroys Vaatu, it’s as if the world is opening its eye to light again.

Improvements over the first season

The first book of Korra had a lot of pressure to be successful. It was coming off the hugely successful Last Airbender, a show I easily regard as my favorite visual programming of all time (including television shows, movies, animation, and live-action).

The co-creators, Michale Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, decided to approach Korra differently than Airbender. In Airbender, DiMartino and Konietzko occasionally wrote some episodes, usually episodes that were pivotal to the story. So they had some direct influence on the story, but not complete influence.

For Book One of Korra, they decided to write all the episodes themselves, 12 total. At first, I was excited. I thought, “If those two are writing all the episodes, then Korra will be on its A-game the entire time!” But I was also leery. Remember when George Lucas obtained complete creative control of the Star Wars prequel trilogy? The prequels ended up being hugely disappointing compared to the original series. Why?

Well, there are many reasons, but I think the main reason is that audio-visual storytelling is a collaborative enterprise. One author can write a novel, but it takes a team to create a television show or movie. Give one or two people complete control over everything, and the audience loses out on the creative collaboration that (usually) enhances the final product.

While Book One of Korra was great, it was no Airbender, the audio and visuals being the exception: Korra hit that out of the park. But when it came to the story, Korra noticeably felt rushed.

Part of the reason Korra was rushed has to do with Nickelodeon. Korra was originally intended to be a one-shot 12-episode mini-series. Midway through production, they expanded Korra to 26 episodes, then 52. The creators decided: instead of telling one coherent story for 52 episodes (Airbender had 61 episodes), let’s tell four smaller, independent stories.

As such, Book One had all the makings of a long, drawn out series. In the final episode, Korra lost her bending, and I thought, “This is great! Book Two will be called Spirit [I almost guessed right; it’s called “Spirits”] and will be about Korra struggling as an Avatar without any powers, gaining them back, and eventually defeating Amon, who becomes an Avatar antithesis.”

Nope. About 5 minutes after Korra loses her powers, Avatar Aang appears “deus-ex-machina-style” and gives them back to her. She gives everybody their bending back, everybody is happy, the end.

For Book Two, the co-creators thankfully relinquished some of their writing credits. Dimartino still wrote, but only a few episodes. Book Two also had 2 more episodes to work with than Book One (14 compared to 12), so they had a little more breathing room.

The realities of war are left unexamined

The great thing about Airbender was that it showed children and adults the consequences of war. This was a fighting show, a violent show, to be sure, but it didn’t revel in the violence. It acknowledged that people died in war. People got burned by the Fire Nation and had permanent scars. Families were broken apart by war. The Fire Nation committed genocide of the Air Nomads. Aang wrestled with the morality of killing the Firelord. This was all very deep stuff, and Airbender was applauded for discussing war in an honest, adult way.

I personally think Airbender shows the realities of war better than any adult movie or television show that discusses war.

Unalaq sucks out Raava

Unalaq sucks Raava out of Korra. I think this scene is easily the most violent in the season, paralleled only by the violence of energybending at the end of Airbender. This is spiritual violence, destroying the core of a person. Not all violence is physical.

Unalaq destroys Raava

Unalaq’s destruction of Raava was just as violent. The line of Avatars is broken forever. It really felt like this was a loss.

Book Two of Korra introduced new aspects of war that Airbender had never explored before.

  • There was a civil war between the northern and southern water tribes.
  • Asami and Varrick became war profiteers, merchants of death, selling tanks and weapons of war to the southern water tribe.
  • Varrick crassly used Bolin to spread war propaganda.

These three issues had the potential for instructing children about even more facets of war. And yet, all three were shortsighted.

The civil war that never was

Something has always bothered me about the southern and northern water tribes: are they composed of only one city each? In Airbender, we see one giant city in the north and one tiny village in the south. In Korra, we see one tiny village in the south, and one pretty big city in the south, but nothing in the north. Are these three cities all that constitute the water tribe, or are there more cities we just never see?

It’s an important question: if we knew the full extent of the water tribes’ boundaries, maybe the civil war would seem more real. But because we have such a narrow view of the water tribes, the civil war also seems insignificant.

Korra ditches the southern water tribe just as war breaks out and doesn’t return until the end of the book. We have no idea what the civil war is doing to the southern water tribe. Are people oppressed? In what ways? We don’t know. We never see the effects of war.

Effects of Korra's civil war

We do see this small scene of wounded, Katara too overwhelmed to heal them all. But this small scene is only a few seconds long.

In Airbender, we clearly saw the effects the Fire Nation had on the people. We saw people in the Earth Kingdom who had burns: we know they got those burns from somewhere. We saw Fire Nation flags draped over the Earth Kingdom city of Omashu.

We don’t see such things in Korra. It would be interesting if waterbending actually left permanent scars on people the same way firebending does. I grew up in North Dakota: I know that ice and cold can burn you–it’s called frostbite. When waterbenders encase people in ice, do they not get frostbite? People who suffer frostbite often lose toes and fingers, hands and feet.

Tanraq battles

Tonraq leads a small group of insurgents against Unalaq’s army, but scenes of civil war are rare in Korra.

Korra missed a real opportunity in this regard. What if Korra had returned to the southern water tribe, only to find that not only were people injured, but many had suffered frostbite? What if many waterbenders had their hands frozen off and could no longer bend? Typing that out sounds very dark for a children’s show, but Airbender did it. The main antagonist of the first season, Zuko, was permanently burned on his face via his father. Can anybody say child abuse?

Is nobody bothered by Bolin’s propaganda?

Bolin becomes a mover star (read: movie star) as Nuktuk, water tribe warrior of the south. Varrick’s propaganda films were clearly influenced by real-life World War I and II propaganda films. Bolin was finally given a unique identity this season. His mover scenes provided a lot of comic relief, but also had something to say about the morality of stretching the truth for a good cause (supporting the southern water tribe).

Bolin acting out a mover

Bolin’s big fight scene in “Night of a Thousand Stars” was probably my favorite fight this season. The animators really went out of their way animating Bolin twice in each scene: as a waterbender and an earthbender.

But nobody ever raises any objections to the propaganda, which is unfortunate. Bolin is a blockhead, so maybe he fails to see the significance of the propaganda. But what does Asami think? She watches Bolin’s movers and says nothing at all?

What about Korra? Bolin impersonates a waterbender and basically “borrows” Korra’s polar bear dog Naga for weeks on end. Is Korra not bothered by it? Why doesn’t anybody say to Bolin, “Hey, do you think these movers are acceptable?”

Nuktuk poster

For some reason, Nickelodeon is really slow to capitalize on merchandising for Korra. This poster, though, needs to be made!

Asami: the merchant of death

Asami’s company Future Industries is on the verge of bankruptcy following her father’s actions in Book One of Korra. Asami has no money; her inventory is stolen at one point; and she’s in desperate need of doing something to save the company. So Varrick comes up with an idea: why don’t you sell your mecha tanks to the people of the southern water tribe? They are being oppressed: they need weapons. It’s a win for them and a win for you.

Asami immediately agrees, which is fine at first. She’s just a teenager and maybe is thinking in the short-term. But throughout the entire season, she never once considers: I am profiting off the destruction of life. People are dying because of my weapons. Am I okay with this?

Useless Asami

Asami doesn’t even hang around for the final battle. She’s only an ambulance driver. She’s sad because maybe she realizes there’s nothing special about her this season.

When Team Avatar returns to the southern water tribe, it would’ve been really interesting to get Asami’s reaction to the way her tanks were being used to kill people. When Korra led the assault on the southern spirit portal, mecha tanks, controlled by Unalaq, surrounded it. Did Unalaq (who’s from the northern water tribe, remember) somehow steal the mecha tanks intended for the southern water tribe? Where did he get them? Why doesn’t Asami comment on this?

Bolin certainly had no qualms about blowing up the tanks.

Unalaq says he will fuse with Vaatu

When Unalaq said he would fuse with Vaatu, Eska and Desna are briefly surprised. Korra’s non-verbal storytelling, at least, is on top of its game.

The problem with a “tight” story

The overall problem with Korra is this: by writing “tight” stories, seasons with no “filler” episodes, the creators thought they were enhancing their storytelling capabilities. In reality, Korra has proven that the “filler” episodes in Airbender really weren’t so filler after all.

Let me show you. Below is a list of every episode of Airbender. I’ve classified the episodes in three ways: essential episodes, filler episodes that become important, and straight up filler episodes. Korra was supposed to be like Airbender, but without any filler.

Book One: Water

  1. The Boy in the Iceberg (essential)
  2. The Avatar Returns (essential)
  3. The Southern Air Temple (essential)
  4. The Warriors of Kyoshi (filler that becomes important)
  5. The King of Omashu (filler that becomes important)
  6. Imprisoned (filler that becomes important)
  7. The Spirit World (Winter Solstice, Part 1) (essential)
  8. Avatar Roku (Winter Solstice, Part 2) (essential)
  9. The Waterbending Scroll (filler that becomes important)
  10. Jet (filler that becomes important)
  11. The Great Divide (filler)
  12. The Storm (essential)
  13. The Blue Spirit (essential)
  14. The Fortuneteller (filler)
  15. Bato of the Water Tribe (filler that becomes important)
  16. The Deserter (filler that becomes important)
  17. The Northern Air Temple (filler that becomes important)
  18. The Waterbending Master (essential)
  19. The Siege of the North, Part 1 (essential)
  20. The Siege of the North, Part 2 (essential)

Book Two: Earth

  1. The Avatar State (essential)
  2. The Cave of Two Lovers (filler)
  3. Return to Omashu (filler that becomes important)
  4. The Swamp (filler that becomes important)
  5. Avatar Day (filler)
  6. The Blind Bandit (essential)
  7. Zuko Alone (essential)
  8. The Chase (essential)
  9. Bitter Work (essential)
  10. The Library (essential)
  11. The Desert (filler)
  12. The Serpent’s Pass (filler that becomes important)
  13. The Drill (essential)
  14. City of Walls and Secrets (essential)
  15. Tales of Ba Sing Se (filler)
  16. Appa’s Lost Days (filler that becomes important)
  17. Lake Laogai (essential)
  18. The Earth King (essential)
  19. The Guru (essential)
  20. The Crossroads of Destiny (essential)
Korra's cosmic energy

I love the callback to Book Two of Airbender when Korra fuses with her cosmic spiritual energy.

Book Three: Fire

  1. The Awakening (essential)
  2. The Headband (filler)
  3. The Painted Lady (filler)
  4. Sokka’s Master (essential)
  5. The Beach (filler that becomes important)
  6. The Avatar and the Firelord (essential)
  7. The Runaway (filler)
  8. The Puppetmaster (filler that becomes important)
  9. Nightmares and Daydreams (filler)
  10. The Day of Black Sun, Part 1: The Invasion (essential)
  11. The Day of Black Sun, Part 2: The Eclipse (essential)
  12. The Western Air Temple (essential)
  13. The Firebending Masters (essential)
  14. The Boiling Rock, Part 1 (filler that becomes important)
  15. The Boiling Rock, Part 2 (essential)
  16. The Southern Raiders (filler)
  17. The Ember Island Players (filler)
  18. Sozin’s Comet, Part 1: The Phoenix King (essential)
  19. Sozin’s Comet, Part 2: The Old Masters (essential)
  20. Sozin’s Comet, Part 3: Into the Inferno (essential)
  21. Sozin’s Comet, Part 4: Avatar Aang (essential)
Black and White Pabu

I love that Pabu is briefly shown in black and white. Back in the early days of film, animals and objects were sometimes painted black and white to help them show up on the camera better. I’m glad Korra contains little details like this, even if they are never explained. Airbender was good at leaving small details unexplained as well.

We could quibble about the designation I gave some of these episodes: I’m not entirely satisfied with these classifications myself. But one thing you might be wondering is: why were some episodes deemed “filler that become important?”

Airbender had a very special way of taking episodes that seemed useless, pointless, “filler,” and making them important episodes in retrospect. Characters, locations, or ideas introduced in the early episodes are referred to in later episodes. A character who seems like a throwaway at first, like Suki, ends up becoming extremely important.

The number of “essential” episodes from Airbender is as follows:

  • Book One: 10
  • Book Two: 12
  • Book Three: 12

As you can see, about the number of essential episodes is about a half-season of Korra.

The number of straight “filler,” useless episodes per season is as follows:

  • Book One: 2
  • Book Two: 4
  • Book Three: 6

Most episodes in Books One and Two eventually became important: I think Book Three has the most filler episodes because they were nearing the conclusion of the series and didn’t have time to expand upon the themes raised in some episodes.

But Airbender was about more than just filler and essential episodes. As somebody who’s watched Airbender five or six times now, I’ve found that the filler episodes were never a waste. Characters were developed, and themes of war explored in more detail. In my next blog post, I’ll discuss the character arcs in Korra in more detail, but for now, let’s speculate on what some “filler” episodes of Korra could’ve looked like.

Vaatu almost trapped

I also love the callback to Airbender when Korra bends all four elements to put Vaatu back in his prison (unsuccessfully).

Filler Idea #1

The southern water tribe, we are told, was repopulated following the Hundred Years War by people from the northern water tribe. What if a soldier in the northern water tribe fights in the southern civil war and ends up facing against his cousin, uncle, or even brother? How do the two relatives feel about being on opposite sides of the same conflict? This is what Union and Confederate soldiers had to deal with in the American Civil War.

Filler Idea #2

Asami realizes that her war machines are killing people and sees directly that the more tanks she sells, the more money she gets, but the more people die. Perhaps at the beginning of the episode, she’s living the life of luxury, buying new clothes, new cars, a new house. But when she witnesses first-hand how her money comes at a consequence, she has a crisis of conscious. Perhaps she sabotages one of Varrick’s own ships, which is bringing a fresh supply of tanks to the mainland, because she doesn’t want to profit off murder anymore.

Filler Idea #3

Desna and Eska go back to the north to take care of something. While there, they remark on how empty the northern city has become now that all the ships and soldiers are gone. Perhaps some rabble-rouser tries to take advantage of the leaderless and soldierless north and stages a coup. Desna and Eska realize that the civil war is hurting the north just as much as the south. They debate what to tell their father Unalaq. They want to support his goal of reuniting the tribes, but not if it means weakening the homeland in the process.

Maybe those aren’t the best ideas, but you can see how they might work. The good thing about Korra is that there are still 26 episodes to go. Hopefully plot points raised in Books One and Two are returned to later: there’s still time.

I really hope the creators don’t drop any of the ethical questions raised in Book Two the same way they dropped the ethical questions raised in Book One. What happened to all the anti-bender sentiment from Book One? Are you telling me everybody immediately abandoned Amon once he was shown to be a fraud? Didn’t the non-benders have real concerns about being oppressed? Why is there suddenly harmony in Republic City? Book Two never answers these questions, and Korra suffers for it.

Season rating: 5/5 (a story I live my life by)

~Dennis

Tenzin's family is reunited

Tenzin’s family is reunited in the spirit world.