By Akil Brathwaite
Image Source: Screen Rant
The world of Avatar: The Last Airbender, its sequel The Legend of Korra, and the many other in-universe stories are vast, taking inspiration from real-world aspects. Nickelodeon has created a world filled to the brim with what we as people enjoy in our lives, and sports are no different. In The Legend of Korra, the sport of “pro-bending” is shown in a couple of episodes of the four-season series, greatly conveying the feeling of sports in an animated format. But first, let’s back up and explain the world of this universe.
The Legend of Korra and its prequel stories are set in a fantasy world where people can manipulate one of the four elements, water, earth, fire, and air, but each element is manipulated differently. For water, earth, and air to be manipulated, those elements have to be around the bender. A waterbender can’t bend without any water nearby, while fire doesn’t have that disadvantage.
Firebenders harvest energy from the sun and other heat sources. Though there is only one person who can bend all four elements at the same time. That person is the Avatar, a symbol of everything good in the universe. They are meant to protect the people from the evils of the world.
Bending is a huge part of this world and is the key focus for the plot. In Avatar: The Last Airbender, the major plot is fighting the tyranny of the Fire Nation, who caused the genocide of the Air Nomads, imprisoned the waterbenders of the Southern Water Tribe, and tried to break down the impenetrable walls of the Earth Kingdom, Ba Sing Se.
Bending is a major driving force in The Legend of Korra too. The villain of the first season, Amon, wishes to get rid of all bending. In season two, Unalaq wanted to gain more power through a dark spirit named Vaatu and destroy the world. And in the third season, a new airbender named Zaheer wants to kill Avatar Korra. A lot of the main conflicts in this universe and the themes of these stories stem from bending, but bending is more than that.
Bending is a big part of society as well. The technological advancements in this world exist because of this ability. For example, a subset of firebending is lightning generation, which is used as power. The police force uses metalbending, a subset of earthbending, to do their jobs. Bending plays a huge role in how this world works but it also is a big part of how The Legend of Korra conveys the feeling of sports. They do this through pro-bending.
Pro-bending is a team sport. The teams are made up of three benders—water, fire, and an earthbender. The playing ring is hexagonal, cut in two halves for the two teams playing, one red and one blue. Bouncy ropes are set up at the sides of the ring, the only sides open are the two opposing ends of the ring, and some grates mark certain zones that play a role in how the game is played. Below the ring is a big pool of water. There’s also water in the grates, which allows the waterbenders to fight, and for the earthbenders, there are small rock discs in holes of the ring which allows them to fight using those.
The aim of the game is to gain the most territory in three minutes or knock the opposing team into the water. The grates are also used to mark certain zones where the players stand. If all players are knocked back out of a zone, the opposing team can inch closer and closer into their territory until there’s little to no space for those players. When a zone is empty, the green line in the middle glows, signifying that the opposing team can move up a zone.
The team that has the most territory within the given time wins the match. If both teams haven’t won any territory, the team with the most players still on the platform wins. If neither of those conditions are met, it ends in a tiebreaker: each team chooses one person to go up on a center park of the platform that will rise up into the air, and they fight one another independently, trying to knock the other off the raised platform. Whoever wins that, wins the game.
Pro-bending conveys the feeling of sports because a lot of its aspects are present in real-life sports. It conveys the excitement and tension you feel as you cheer for the team you prefer to win. Teamwork is needed to win, which is a lot like real life. Announcers give play-by-play recountings of what happens, referees that issue penalties to players, and the crowd goes wild as a team pulls off a play by either cheering or booing respectively.
Even with the players, you can see how the series effectively conveys this feeling. Each of the players has their own motivations: Mako and Bolin, two of the main characters of the series, need the money from pro-bending to survive. You can see rivalries and tension between teams, as seen through the rivalry between the Future Industries: Fire Ferrets and the Whitefalls Wolf Bats. The action during the fight is animated beautifully and fluidly showing the players bending their respective elements and highlighting the fighting styles they use through pure strength, grit, and their determination.
All of these elements combine to convey the feeling of sports with an Avatar twist on it. These aspects being present help us draw connections between our world and their world, and they allow us to feel connected and feel excited whenever we see the fictional sport in action.