There has been an egregious oversight. For all the love we Fandomentals have given Avatar: The Legend of Korra, from its unsung hero, to its subversive end note, to even its crackships, there has yet to be a single piece on this site about its deuteragonist.
Heck, is “deuteragonist” even a fair title in this case? We’re talking about the a character arc so packed with thematic significance, so nuanced, so weighty that it quite possibly rivals Korra’s healing arc of Book 4. And now that the post-canon comic Turf Wars is out and this growth continued, it’s downright shameful it’s taken me this long to finally give this well-earned recognition.
I am speaking, of course, of Asami’s Wardrobe.
That’s right, the clothing and accessories worn by Asami “the angry one” Sato should be considered, in many ways, the backbone of Legend of Korra. Or perhaps the backbone of the backbone. But while Asami had that obvious story of background suffering and devotion to Korra’s cause, only to be treated like gum stuck to the bottom of various characters’ shoes, it was her wardrobe that truly offered the sacrifices.
Most fans will point to her bangles as the obvious example here, and they’re not wrong, of course. We were introduced to these fancy bracelets on Asami’s first date with Mako back in Season 1, when they clacked and clinked happily along. Or possibly in fear of the giant meatball flowers.
Then we all know how the next time they appeared, it was when Asami went to see Bolin’s mover in “Night of a Thousand Stars.” During the conversation where she and Bolin commiserate over the displaced Team Avatar, the bangles made not a single noise. It is my personal belief that they perfectly fit the trope of the “suffering empath,” given how clued into Asami’s emotional state they are. The wedding at the end of the show where she and Korra finally confessed their feelings is proof of this, as once again the bangles were clinking together. They are just that naturally attuned to those around them.
Now, I completely understand why they steal the attention for that reason, because that level of character growth was hard-earned. Not to mention, the seamlessly tied together not one, not two, but three of Asami’s fancy outfits—something even her festive yellow clip couldn’t manage. She was clipless at the wedding, after all.
But it’s the clipless point in and of itself that leaves me flummoxed about the fandom’s unfortunate bangles-focus, because Asami’s hairclips told the single most nuanced story in the entire franchise.
It’s easy to be dismissive of such things given that Asami was, on the surface, polyamorous with her clip choices. And indeed, even in her first episode we saw both her yellow standard clip and her fancy yellow dress clip. Perhaps this is the reason her initial reception was one of suspicion, because she wasn’t even willing to stand by a clip.
But what people need to remember is that Asami was a much younger character then, and indeed her shedding of her naivety was a rather central moment for her. Her casual yellow clip was her go-to while donning her Book 1 non-action outfit, or the outfit she wore when she was still but a daughter of Future Industries. It’s true she learned of her father’s nefarious plans in the seventh episode, but it wasn’t until the Book 1 finale that she saw how their fractured relationship could never fully repair. He tried to murder her, after all.
It should be considered no surprise, then, that when the time came for Asami to select a clip with her non-action outfit of Book 2, she selected her blue clip, forever leaving the casual yellow one behind. I personally feel like yellow’s send-off was appropriate, given Asami’s headspace at the time. Yet there are those who point out how this played into the unfortunate Clip Triangle Trope, and I suppose on another level, it would have been refreshing to see the writing rise above such things. At least the blue and yellow clip were never shown to be envious of one another, happily trading places on a dime during Asami’s clothesbending.
But, I’ll admit it…I’m biased. I can dismiss so much of this because Dutiful Princess Blue Clip leaves me clutching at my heart. Because the blue clip was Asami’s action clip, since we first saw her don a sporty outfit to give Korra a thrill. Platonically.
We know Asami lives in her head, and when she’s in action-mode, it gives her a break for once. Her mechanic’s jacket outfit likely empowers her for this reason, which is why it was her go-to choice for her sexy spirit world getaway. But what’s a girl to do when she has to run a company and look nice? She took a small piece of that outfit, the blue clip, and donned it all through Book 2 and 3. What’s more is the blue clip was happy to step into that role—eager, you might say.
Think back to the one time in Book 2 we saw her without it: “Night of a Thousand Stars.” Well, what happened there? She was rendered completely useless, merely cheering on the sidelines for Bolin despite having found out that the man she sold a majority share in her company to was actually trying to steal it and start a war for profit. Thanks, fancy-yellow clip.
Blue clip would have never allowed this to come to pass. And we know it had nothing to do with the impracticality of her dress, as we see her fight some of Kuvira’s baddies in a skirt during the events of “Reunion.”
No, it was the confidence of the blue clip, and should that come as a surprise? This was the very same clip she used to free Tezin from handcuffs as lava rapidly approached.
Now, there are some who argue that it was actually a bobby pin underneath the blue clip that freed him, and I have to ask: what show are you watching? Why would Asami wear two clips at once, first of all, and secondly, her hair is clearly clip-free during the escape, meaning she pulled out the only one in her hair. I instead hold the firm believe that Asami merely removed the wiring from the blue clip’s shell (there’s likely to be snaps in place for this), and put it back together again in time to bring down the Red Lotus guard guarding the other airbenders.
The blue clip was there for her, it provided her with utility, and yet, when Asami made the decision that her life needed to be clip-free—that she could no longer live with a crutch—it was more than willing to step down. Dutiful to the end. Excuse me while I lie down.
It should be noted that while there will always be standout stars in Asami’s wardrobe, they all work together quite well, happily clothesbending without notice when they think she needs it. For instance, when Asami was arrested in “When Extremes Meet,” her wardrobe worried that she might not have been able to handle the degradation of being brought down in her action outfit; those clothes should make her feel invincible, after all. But have no fear, once they were assured of Asami’s emotional state (it was just anger, let’s be real), they reverted back to her mechanic’s jacket and jodhpurs, which was probably far more comfortable for her night’s sleep in jail anyway.
Similarly, her clothes even camouflaged themselves once when she accidentally switched into her business casual outfit while guarding a meditating Korra. Whether this was to prevent the Avatar from freaking out, or because they knew Asami would want to seem action-ready around her is still a bitter war in the fandom. But that misses the forest for the trees. They were willing to work together to do this for Asami, and that kind of synchronicity should not be overlooked.
It’s also part and parcel with the way she can summon goggles out of thin air when the situation requires it. Throughout the show, Asami’s wardrobe predicted her needs and fought to make them a reality. The in-fighting imagined by the fandom only detracts from this point.
So what of her wardrobe in the comics? Well, on the surface, there’s not much here. Asami wears her action outfit the entire time, likely matching her determination to be ~fine~ with the death of her father and push forward, with the exception of her meeting with Raiko. When did she find time to change into them? The timeline is iffy. But it’s not a shock that she would make time to do so, seeing as she’d likely want to put on the face of the person Raiko gave the former infrastructure contract to, rather than the person who openly defied his surrender alongside the Avatar.
However, there’s a small piece of nuance in how quickly Asami changed back out of it in time to watch the sunset with her girlfriend. It’s not like she read the script and knew an action sequence was coming up, so why did the mechanic’s jacket make a reappearance? Well, it’s my own believe that her processing of her father’s grief is not as open-and-shut as her “at least I forgave him” line of the series finale made it seem. Her snapping at the land developer is rather damning evidence of this.
Therefore, it would make sense that Asami would want to don the outfit in which she feels the most secure and unflappable, seeing as there’s already so much vulnerability on the inside.
Another small thing to note is the disappearance of her gloves (both regular type and shock) just as Korra scooped her up in the battle at the spirit portal. For this, it’s rather simple: it’s not very pleasant to touch someone’s face who’s kissing you with a shock glove. Asami’s wardrobe likely knew she’d be able to steal a smooch in this situation, seeing as she was faking a very serious injury; we saw that she was totally fine just a panel before:
So yeah, let her touch Korra’s face without worrying about frying it. Of course her wardrobe would accommodate such a request.
However, it’s the sudden and magical appearance of earrings that should draw attention. At first I thought this was a bizarre mistake—earrings? Asami? But looking at it in context paints quite the story.
You see, they exist in exactly one panel…the panel just after she and Korra get in a small disagreement.
She’s not wearing them before this, she’s not wearing them on the spirit world vacation, she’s not wearing them later in Raiko’s office, and she’s not wearing them during the gazebo chat or final sequence. So…where did they come from? Where did they go?
Well, clearly the only logical explanation is that Asami was so distraught by their disagreement, she thought to externalize her pain by piercing her ears as Tenzin was ushering Korra out the door. Kya’s look there? Yeah, it’s partly because she realizes this was a lovers’ spat, but mostly because she’s wondering if she should offer to heal her earlobes (or at least calm down what’s probably a decent throbbing).
Now, you might be wondering why someone like Asami would even have pierced ears at all. Sure, she wears gowns to weddings that put both the bride and Arianne Martell to shame, but making a permanent alteration to her body without a level of practicality to it doesn’t fit exceedingly well with her characterization. But remember the blue clip. If she was running around with a lockpick in her head for three seasons, you can bet the earrings she had in her pockets served another use.
And indeed they did: ink for her pen. It’s why they’re gone again by the time Korra gets back in her tent, and why Asami seems to be fighting with her pen as she’s making her drawings. Because earring ink is not the most efficient ink in the world.
Look, let’s call a spade a spade here…this was a dark moment for Asami. And we’ve seen her wardrobe adjust to plenty of dark moments before (need I remind you of the silenced bangles?). But we have to remember that we’re in good hands here. So far, Asami’s wardrobe has gone through changes that have touched many of us, and even though I personally haven’t had the experience of piercing my own ears with ink earrings, I have to imagine a few of us have. Then especially situated after a fight with Korra, it’s giving us just another peek at some of that inner darkness teased on the show. My hopes are that it will be fully explicated, and frankly? I’d be shocked if that’s the last we saw of the mini inkwells.
Asami’s wardrobe is at something of a crossroads right now. Should it pretend everything’s fine? Should it allow her these moments of emotional indulgence? There’s no easy answer, but I’m optimistic. The disappearing gloves at the end show us how her wardrobe is still so naturally attuned to her needs and fully supportive of the relationship that serves as a stabilizing and positive influence in her life.
And really, that’s the bottom line. Asami’s wardrobe lived a complicated tale, but at the end of the day, we knew we could count on it. So even if I’ll admit to a bit of nerves until January, this has been a hardfought story and one hell of a ride. Let’s all welcome the earrings, and may they come to earn a place in our hearts right next to the blue clip.