Why are Korra and Asami in a Romantic Relationship?

Yep, spoilers for all of The Legend of Korra in here, in case the title of the post hasn’t scared you off already.

It will surprise no-one that I am a huge fan of The Legend of Korra. Back in the early days of Korra, I used to ask myself which I loved more: the original Avatar: The Last Airbender series, or Korra, and I could never quite make up my mind. Into the third season and then the fourth, any doubts were decisively pushed aside – there was no longer any question about it that (for me, at least) Korra had far exceeded Avatar.

So it will also surprise no-one that I loved the ending of Book 4 of Korra (like the vast majority of the internet and the Korra fandom). Korra decides that she’s finally had enough of the love-triangles and relationship-dramas of Books a 1 and 2 and decides to head off to explore the world with Asami instead? Brilliant! But it took me all of two minutes to realise that the reasons I adored the finale were kind of different to what everyone else was squeeing about. You see, what I was most excited by was the fact that Korra and Asami didn’t kiss.

Yup, they made it super clear that both girls were extremely close to each other, probably closer to each other than they were to any other character on the show – and it was amazing watching their closeness and trust and emotional intimacy slowly develop over the last two books. So they decided that they wanted to run off and explore the spirit world together. They held hands and looked into each other’s eyes and disappeared into the light. And yet they didn’t kiss, as any two characters in the same situation would have in 99% of every novel, TV show, movie, fanfic ever written.

Let me make one thing abundantly clear: I don’t want Korra to get back together with Mako (as I thought would happen in that one terrible moment a few scenes earlier), or Bolin, or any of the male characters on the show. I don’t want her to be just another straight character in a whole world of straight characters. If you made me pick between Korra being straight or queer, I’d go queer all the way, no question about it.

But the wonderful thing for me about Korra and Asami not kissing was that it left the door open for Korra and Asami to not be in a traditional romantic/sexual relationship at all. It left the door open for them to be absolutely anything to each other: best friends, (queer)platonic partners, significant others, romantic partners, girlfriends, whatever. The important thing was that I felt like for one time in my life, two characters I loved were also incredibly important to each other, but not necessarily in a romantic way. I got to have the option of reading their relationship as something I – an aromantic asexual person – could actually relate to. I could have my headcanon be just as valid and possible as the next person’s headcanon. Because you know what’s even rarer than positive, well-developed queer representation on TV? Positive, well-developed aromantic and asexual representation on TV. Or at least the open possibility of it.

The thing about kissing is that it is commonly seen as THE marker of romance and romantic interest in TV shows and other visual and literary media, especially when a show has an intended audience that might preclude it having any more sexual content or themes. Regardless of whether real-life aromantic and asexual relationships actually include kissing or not, ‘the kiss’ is pervasively seen as saying ‘yes, these two people are into each other in a romantic and probably sexual way, there is now no doubt about it whatsoever.’ So when Korra and Asami didn’t kiss at the end of Book 4, I saw it as a big flashing sign that yes, they’re super important to each other, but maybe not in a standard romantic way. And I was excited. Beyond excited. I’ve always read Korra as potentially aromantic (if not asexual – they don’t always go hand in hand, after all). Given her somewhat awkward and clueless attempts at making a romantic relationship with Mako work in Books 1 and especially 2, I figured there was a strong possibility that Korra wasn’t really a romantically-oriented person. So it was like having my own theory confirmed – or at least, not shattered, like every other theory about every other character inevitably is.

But like I said above, it took me all of two minutes to realise that yes, the world has imploded, but not for the reasons I assumed. Because I looked around and almost immediately there were thousands of people exclaiming in joy that Korra/Asami was finally a canon ship, and that there were now more awesome lesbian characters on TV, and all the fanfic of Korra and Asami hooking up started appearing (well, proliferating, seeing as it had existed since Book 1), and all the speculation about whether we’d see them kissing (with more implied) in the future. Because absolutely everyone had just gone on the assumption that yes, Korra and Asami are now in a standard, normative romantic relationship, and are actually off having amazing sex as we speak.

And then, you know, the creators came out and said that Korrasami was now canon and that yes, they fell in love and are now in a romantic relationship with each other. Because there is no other possible way for people to be in a relationship. Because being really, really close friends just isn’t anywhere as good or valued or important as being romantically involved. Because there are no other possible alternatives that see Korra and Asami as each other’s people, as the person that each is closest to and trusts completely and shares all their secrets with than being in a romantic relationship. Cool. Just kill a girl’s hopes completely.

And then there’s the recent news that Korra will be continuing as a comic book series, and that the books will definitely focus on Korra and Asami’s relationship (as well as other plotty things). And I am excited. And I’m not saying that the creators have the right to do whatever they want to with their characters. And I still love the show, and Korra and Asami, and the fact that it’s Korra and Asami over Korra and anyone else.

But I am also sad. Sad because the subtlety of the Book 4 finale, the slight ambiguity that made me so excited and happy when I first saw the episode is now lost. Instead of continuing on that path and ultimately leaving open the possibility of multiple readings of Korra and Asami’s relationship, everything seems to have been consumed by the all-too-familiar insistence that romance is the only valid and valued way of loving someone and wanting to share your life with them. That romantic relationships are the only relationships that are explored and legitimated and valued. That ultimately, romance still rules all, and there is absolutely no escaping it.

Addendum: Since writing the draft of this post it has come to my attention that actually, Korra is a great show for portraying complex non-significant-other-type relationships – see for instance Korra’s relationship with Tenzin, or her continued friendship with Mako and Bolin, and even Tenzin and Lin (clearly the two best characters after Korra herself). I think that’s really great, and it’s one of the reasons I love the show to bits. But I think that the history of good, complex relationships on the show doesn’t take away from my point here. It maybe even justifies my disappointment that Korra and Asami are only seen as going down the traditional-romantic-relationship path instead of leaving things a bit more open. At the end of the day, there are stories that have good depictions of friendships, but still very, very few where a significant-other-type relationship that is not romantically coded takes centre stage as Korra and Asami do. That’s all, I think.

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9 thoughts on “Why are Korra and Asami in a Romantic Relationship?

  1. I had the same reaction as you when I watched the show. Wasn’t quite as good rewatching it and knowing the relationship had been labelled romantic. But the non-traditional relationships throughout the series do make the show very enjoyable to watch.

  2. Hmm… I think I’m torn. On the one hand, I am 1000% a proponent of queer platonic relationship portrayals, whether they be healthy or not (Hannibal is an EXCELLENT example). So yes, I’d be ecstatic if the comics showed Korra and Asami either in a queer platonic relationship OR a nonsexual romantic one. On the other hand, we’re still so far from getting good representation of even alloromantic queer characters in major media that I can understand why the creators did what they did. I’m not saying aromantic people SHOULDN’T have representation – we should! – but we’re still in the time when any positive representation for anyone is a good thing. And the creators being VERY CLEAR about the nature of their relationship leaves no room for homophobes to claim people are just “reading into it” – and no room for people to say the creators just did another “gal pals” move like everyone else does.

    Of course, being a writer, there’s also the part of me that says “If the characters chose to be this way, there’s nothing the creators could do about it anyway while still being true to their creation”.

    1. Oh, I have the same feelings of torn-ness. At the same time, I don’t think that the world needs to have perfect representation of every other queer identity before asexuality/aromanticism can finally have a go as well. The beauty of leaving things somewhat more ambiguous is that you clearly say ‘well, Korra’s not straight,’ while still allowing space for different queer readings.

      1. That’s true. I think they clarified it after the ambiguous ending so people couldn’t claim she was still straight, that’s all. It’s unfortunate how networks limit what can actually be “said”, though. I think that’s why Hannibal is going so all-out in it’s last season – NBC has no real say anymore over what they do, so they’re just making every queer thing canon. 😄

  3. No offense and sorry that your representation wasn’t addressed but you can’t have it all. There isn’t a fuckload of bisexual representation, heck it’s one of the first I’ve ever seen in a tv show. I’m not bi myself but for the love of god: Why does everyone want to take that away? A few folks cry that Korra isn’t pansexual (I’m pan and do you see me crying? No…), some want her ace, some want her straight, some want her homosexual etc., etc.
    They can’t make her all at once. Every orientation thirsts for representation and now that bisexual people got them everyone has to shit on that? Wtf is wrong with you?

    So in short and with words from Drawn Together: sorry Korra can’t be a jewish, conservative, pro-life, born-again, overweight, asian, homophobic lesbian broad who cuts herself.

    1. I figured I’d get comments like this. I believe my post makes it clear that I’m not begrudging anyone their representation, and I’m not actually asking to have it all. But I also don’t think it’s everyone else’s turn to have their representation perfected before asexuality or aromanticism can finally have it’s turn as well. I don’t think your reductio ad absurdum is really helping here.

      Like I said in response to another comment, leaving it somewhat more ambiguous as to what the exact nature of Korra and Asami’s relationship is only means that there’s room for multiple queer readings – the only thing that is actually excluded is that she’s perfectly straight. Asami’s still her person, whether you have the space to read it as non-romantic/queer-platonic or not.

  4. This. Thank you for writing this. I’m okay with Korra and Asami being bi (even if I’m currently writing a fanfic where Asami is ace) What bugs the hell out of me is the fandom’s whole Kya/Lin thing, which is mind-boggling because, for the life of me, I cannot recall a single interaction they had with each other during the entire series. I always read Kya as aro ace and I really hope the comics don’t ruin that.

    1. I’m with you on reading Kya as ace – it isn’t too often that you actually see a middle-aged woman (Kya would be in her 40s?) who doesn’t have a partner/significant other and seems to be quite happy doing her own thing. I’ve been getting increasingly irritated at fandom over the years, because of the incessant need to sexually ship any and every possible combination of people on the slightest interaction. That said – if Kya has to be shipped with anything, Lin (my second fav character) is still the most acceptable choice. 😛

  5. While there were a few hints that Korra and Asami might have more than friendly feelings for one another in season 3 and 4 (them going for a car ride, writing letters, etc.) these actions could still be attributed to them being just good friends. When the finale actually happened, I wasn’t totally sure (though I still suspected) that they might have become an item. However, I still didn’t know for sure until the following morning until Bryke confirmed in in an online post. I thought it was strange that the creators would have to confirm themselves rather than just show it. Though the network was aimed at younger viewers, this still doesn’t excuse this as you should either do something all the way or not at all.

    I remember Bryke saying that Aang and Katara’s kiss at the end of ATLA felt “forced” despite the fact that they had several interactions throughout all three seasons of them becoming closer and gaining stronger feelings for one another. On the contrary, when questioned about Korrasami Bryke says people must have been looking through “hetero lenses” for the past two seasons despite the fact that they only had a few direct personal interactions in either. In season 3, they went for a car ride together, they hugged before Korra gave herself up to the Red Lotus, and Asami comforted her in a brief scene after she had been crippled (these could still be just considered friendly interactions). In between seasons Korra wrote solely to Asami rather than Mako or Bolin (which could just be girls being more comfortable talking to each other than with boys). In season 4, Korra blushed when Asami complimented her hair (which could just be attributed to a girl-crush) and Korra called her sweet when she brought her some tea for their talk in the clips episode (again could just be considered friendly interactions).

    In season 1 their interactions were mainly through Mako and the whole love-triangle thing. In season 2 I can’t remember any personal moments they had together. This, combined with the few interactions they had in the last two seasons don’t seem like enough build-up for them to “fall in love” like Bryke confirmed. This leads me to conclude that they only did it because they wanted a queer relationship in the show. While that is fine in and of itself, you should constantly provide enough interactions between them to show such a relationship is clearly building rather than just adding it ambiguously at the very end.

    This kind of writing inconsistency shows that LOK suffered from having far less writing staff than ATLA, and in particular the absence of head writer Aaron Ehasz (who was the driving force behind the storytelling of ATLA). It also shows that ATLA is still far better written, and thus a superior show.

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