I mentioned earlier in the week that as a kid I never got around to watching Avatar: The Last Airbender, or it’s sequel show The Legend of Korra, but after watching the trailer for season 3 of The Legend of Korra I knew I’d have to jump on that bandwagon sooner or later. Turns out it was far sooner than I had anticipated. My girlfriend let me borrow her DVDs and over the course of the week I got to become a kid once more. In a way I’m actually extremely happy I’ve never watched the show until now. The moment you realize you’ve found something you really enjoy should be your first experience, and that is very much the case with this first season.
The series is an American animated cartoon with so much influence from Japanese shōnen anime it’s not even funny. But in the same vein, it feels so little like either culture. Instead the world crafted is set in a medieval China-like society, with four distinct nations: Water, Earth, Fire, and Air. Within these different nations are smaller tribes of individuals who can control or “bend” the elements of their people. One boy, the last of the Air tribe, lost for over a hundred years is the Avatar, an individual who can bend all four of the elements, but first he must learn to control them. All the while, the Fire tribe begin to conquer the world with their literal dominion over fire, and with the resurgence of the Avatar causing them trouble, they require him captured.
As this is a cartoon meant for a 9-14 age demographic on Nickelodeon it is understandably childish at times. I’ll admit that the first few episodes hadn’t sold me initially. But that soon changed as I got to see the bigger picture the series aimed to achieve. The life and death situations three young kids had to face day in and day out to save the world urged me to remain invested. I loved how clearly it was from the get-go that this was a three season (or three book) series, and it felt like they had it all mapped out, with season one focused almost solely on how he would learn to bend water (although that didn’t derail the series from having a little fun).
I think the greatest achievement the show produced for us was the plight of the enemy, Zuko. So often
in children’s television within television in general, the villains are just villains. But the exiled Prince Zuko’s plan to capture the Avatar is merely so that he may return in favorable standing with his father to the Fire Kingdom. Despite having a hot temper, bad luck, and poor choices, his unswerving effort to reclaim what he lost is ultimately crushing. You realize he isn’t such a bad character, although the rest of the world sees him as such, and you pity him. For a children’s show to invest so much time into making the character troubled and likable as this show has, it needs commendation. It shows you both sides of the equation, occasionally throwing in more parties along the way.
Although the series is ambitious, brilliant, and creative, the season wasn’t devoid of stragglers. A few episodes meant to fill up the 20 episode quota missed their mark, leaving behind some logical faults, or downright silly scenarios. But it’s easy to look past that by the time you reach the last few episodes. Now, I enjoyed myself all the while through, but it wasn’t until episode 19 that the show truly showed off its ability to coalesce storylines, plot points and pure awesome-sauce. What I thought was merely a cool kids cartoon had me hooked. What an ending. If we would have gotten half of the awesome in that finale as we actually did, I still would probably give it a ten.
The artwork was consistently superb, bridging cutting edge CGI (at the time) with anime styles, and the constant air of fantasy in a Chinese environment was gorgeous. Their play with color, or lack thereof, and the interplay between the two (particularly in the finale) blew me away. The fight sequences never got old and constantly amazed (but I think I’ve seen enough waterbending for now).
So glad I’ve given this series a try. Will review the second and third seasons as well, when I get around to it, eventually getting into The Legend of Korra. Until then. Thanks for your comments!
Buy Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book One: Water on DVD for $13.12 on Amazon!