Monday, October 22, 2012

The Legend of Korra and Republic City Politics

Moving on from Asami Sato's dire situation, let's take a look at the general political situation in Republic City at the end of the first season of The Legend of Korra. Though the crisis with Amon has been resolved and Korra has claimed her place as the Avatar not just through providence but through deeds, the general situation in Republic City is still marked by a lot of uncertainty and problems that are likely to escalate unless they are handled deftly.
The main lens for this analysis is the bender/non-bender split, which incorporates problems surrounding technological development, political structure, and the risk of a wide-spread ressentiment for both sides. Before going deeper into the situation, it should be mentioned that obviously there are plenty of people and families who exist in the middle and have no problems with either group, but since this is a political analysis, such nuance will of course be completely ignored.
At the end of the first season, Korra and her friends have defeated Amon and the Equalists, while the rather fascistic Tarrlok is dead, leaving the governing council of Republic City in wise hands that do not approve of oppression of non-benders. So, to quote a dancing demon in Buffy: big smiles everyone. You beat the bad guy.

But if we look at the bender population, what have they learned through the conflict with the Equalists? That they are, for the first time, vulnerable to attack from non-benders. As we have seen throughout both The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, benders are a bit of a privileged class, being the go-to group for the military, law enforcement and rulers of different stature are often benders. Though well-organized groups of non-benders could have created a danger in the past using bows and sneak attacks, I daresay that the Equalists were the first group that had the methods and the means to defeat benders regularly, through the equalizing effect of technology. Thus, I would claim that the general bender population are in a state of greater uncertainty after the defeat of the Equalists than before they came onto the scene. The form this uncertainty will take in practice is of course up for debate. I would claim that, since it was revealed that the main non-bender in the Equalist organization (Amon himself being revealed as a bender) was the industrialist Hiroshi Sato and that technology was used with great effects against the bender-based police and military, the benders of Republic City will react negatively towards technology itself and start pushing to keep technology out of the hands of non-benders and restrict technological advancement to keep their privileged position.

The non-benders, on the other hand, had a lot of understandable resentment that obviously generated significant support for the Equalists under Amon, and the behaviour of the Republic City government in response to the Equalist threat most likely reinforced that resentment against discrimination of non-benders. The reveal that Amon was actually a bender himself probably reinforced resentment against benders as well, since it could lead them to think that benders consider them pawns in their own power games. At the same time, the Equalist success and use of technology will probably make more non-benders realise the potential of it. As we could see in the beginning of the series there are bender mobs running protection rackets against non-benders - the existence of the Equalist technology will thus most likely lead to the rise of non-bender businessmen banding together to protect themselves. If the Republic City government tries to restrict the electro-gloves and other offensive technology, that would probably mean that these group would be extra-legal in nature and, as such things go, create the foundation of a shadow economy and more deeply entrenched mafias such as the Cosa Nostra.
The advances of technology also means that there is less reason for the police and military occupations to be exclusive to benders, so non-benders would probably push for those to open up (with corresponding opposition by those wanting to keep bender privilege).

Taken together, this balance presents a formidable dilemma for the Republic City government. In our world, of course, we have plenty of examples to draw from where a previously protected and privileged class (the aristocracy) got threatened and overtaken by a rich merchant class (the bourgeoisie), but in the world of Avatar, there really is an innate difference between bender and non-bender, which might well lead to more problems.
We'll see how much of these problems actually show up in the series.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The end of season one of The Legend of Korra and Asami

Or: what the hell did they just do to this poor character?
The Legend of Korra, for those who don't know, is the sequel series to Avatar: The Last Airbender, but with an older audience. It follows the adventures of the new avatar, Korra, in the steampunky Republic City. This post, however, focuses on the situation of Asami, one of Korra's friends who help her in the final battle. Asami's father, Hiroshi Sato, is one of the main villains of the series, who has been supplying Amon's forces with weapons and equipment under the guise of his industrial empire.
Sato is one of, if not the, wealthiest people in Republic City before the end of the first season, and Asami has grown up in privilege (though without her mother, whose death created the impetus for Sato's later villainy) and wealth. During the first season, she also gets together with Mako,  who is a hot firebender.
At the end of the first season, however, Asami loses everything: her boyfriend leaves her for Korra, together with Korra and her friends, they arrest Asami's father, and the Equalists are defeated and with them all the equipment Sato's company has been supplying them with. I'll ignore the heartbreak here, because the series dwelt enough on that.
So where does that leave Asami? Her mother is dead and her father is in jail. The company that her father built from the ground up and which she was going to take over in the future will almost certainly be taken over by the Republic City authorities and sold off to pay for the destruction that the Equalists wrought. Her father's wealth, which has kept her in comfort until now, will most likely also be used to pay for damages, since he was personally involved in the Equalists' struggle. So that would leave her with no source of money and without a family, which is quite grim.
There are some possible bright spots, however; she might have received money in the past from her father, like in the form of a trust or in gifts that are thus legitimately her own (any money that she has been given recently might be taken from her on account of laws meant to prevent criminals from giving all their wealth to their families so it can't be seized). This would presumably include her car, all her clothes, and probably quite a lot of other sundry items. In addition, in the legal wrangling following the break-up of Sato's company and resources, it's possible that it will turn out that he owned other companies that were not involved in the Equalists' operation. Given Sato's immense personal wealth, it is possible that after the damages he owes are paid, he will still retain ownership of these companies (that is unless he is also found personally liable for the damages caused by his main company, in which case I don't see any way for him to pay all of that off), which would probably be left in the care of Asami. Not an easy position to be in, to be sure, but not quite as dire as having no family, no money, and no boyfriend (though still with a top-notch education and wicked car).
Personally, I would like to see Asami being left with a car shop and using it as the base to start rebuilding the Sato industrial empire. I know I won't get my wish, but I think that would be fun to see.
Now, you might wonder who would benefit from the break-up of the Sato empire, who will be in the perfect situation to accept new government contracts for rebuilding the city, and who will buy up Sato resources under their free market value - and of course it could only be the guy who always comes up on top:

I hope things will go better for Asami in the second season, I think she deserves it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

What I'm hopeful about regarding Girl Genius

Girl Genius (first comic) is a webcomic by Phil and Kaja Foglio, of various geek comic (and Magic art) fame. It's also one of my most beloved comics, being about a faux-18th/19th century where MAD SCIENCE rules Europa (and the rest of the world, but we haven't seen any of that), which contains a sunken Britannia, the Wulfenbach Empire keeping the peace with the iron fist and a whole lot of mad scientists (sparks) and other freaks of nature ("An abomination of science that CURDLES THE MILK OF ALL HONEST MEN!" "Well, aren't we all?" "Oh, I SAY, sir!"). But apart from all that, and the amazon princesses, pirate queens, dark secrets, darker secrets, and the mystery of Airman Higgs, what's important is that Agatha currently has 2 beaus. One is Gilgamesh Wulfenbach and the other is Tarvek Stormvoraus, rivals and both scions of mighty empires and/or secret conspiracies. As the links make clear, they both have their qualities, but Gil still remains the favourite.
However, what I hope for is that she'll end up with both. And not one after the other, both at the same time. Why am I hoping for polyamory here? Because it's not really the type of relationship that shows up a lot in even slightly mainstream fiction (and given the number of Hugos Girl Genius has received (three in a row, before taking themselves out of the running) it's... sort of mainstream?), and more importantly, there is a non-trivial chance that it will happen! Why would I expect it from the Foglios? One, the possibility has been acknowledged in the comic itself. Second, the characters aren't tearing their hair excessively about various entanglements (which makes sense since she's not actually in a relationship with either of them yet) which gives some hope that whatever relationship she will end up in will be a healthy one. Third, Phil Foglio wrote XXXenophile, which, as the name might hint at, is an erotic comic. More importantly, it's an erotic comic that is sex-positive, and includes pretty much any consensual relationship configuration you can think of.
In addition, since the characters are pretty much equals and respect each other (and the authors seem to respect them), it would most likely be a positive depiction of a polyamorous relationship between equal partners. And though a webcomic (it's also available in physical form) isn't the grandest of stages, every little step helps.