However, the finale blew all expectations out of the water. Adora and Catra, the two main characters of the series, declare their love for each other and kiss. This doesn’t just come out of nowhere. Over the course of the series, the two seemed to have something going on that was deeper, or at least different, than the relationship of two friends separated by war who were desperate to try and convince the other to leave the opposing side. Catra especially seemed to delight in flirting with Adora.
As obvious as it might have seemed to fans, there was no guarantee the two characters would actually end up together. Many other shows, for both adults and children, have had queer subtext that is never brought to the forefront. Adora and Catra could have just ended the series as very good friends and while it would have been disappointing it wouldn’t have been unexpected.
The fact they get together is huge. While it did take until the final episode of the series, it isn’t ambiguous at all. They don’t just say, “I love you,” they also kiss and lovingly hold each other. This is a huge step forward from the finale of The Legend of Korra in 2014, one of the first big moments of queer representation in American children’s animated media. There, the main characters of Korra and Asami held hands and looked lovingly at each other, echoing an early wedding scene between two straight characters. It might not seem like much, but, at the time, it was gigantic.
Korra co-creator Bryan Konietzko revealed that there were limits to how far they could go with portraying the couple as queer, although they only asked about this during a late stage of the production of their finale. Konietzko even admitted that this wasn’t a slam-dunk for queer representation but he hoped it was a “somewhat significant inching forward.”
It certainly is and, in the years since, more queer characters have started to show up in children’s animation. Steven Universe introduced multiple queer characters and even had two main women characters get married on screen in 2018. Yes, they were technically gemstones that took on physical form, but it was still two women getting married in a children’s animated series. That was huge, especially as the characters involved had big arcs before and after that.