Binge watching is rarely healthy; often accompanied with too little sunlight and/or copious portions of junk food. But if you’re gonna do it, do it right. Avatar: The Last Airbender is the way to go. Easily my current favorite cartoon, one that last aired over 7 years ago, the show is terribly addicting, and endlessly creative. The first season (or book) focused on how the Avatar, a young boy named Aang mastered waterbending, but this go-round he must train in earthbending. This will eventually lead him to learning mastery over all four elements. (This review contains some spoilers).
My only real concern with the first season happened to lie with the 20 episode quota the series needed to face. Many episodes worked seemlessly together, while others felt thrown in to fill gaps. This has, for the most part, been done away with throughout the second season. With more than a handful of story arcs to overlap and interweave each other, recurring themes, characters, and seemingly throwaway lines, the “fill the episode quota with filler” episodes were rare. In fact, I can think of only two. The first was enjoyable yet-childish, and the second was brilliant.
Let’s focus on that second filler episode I mentioned: Tales of Ba Sing Se. Literally 6 short stories following the two factions of main protagonists on individual adventures. Each began as dull side-missions, or day-to-day errands, but all turned into brilliant snippets of insight into each characters feelings and lifestyle. For a cartoon show to focus such acute attention to character development is uncanny, and I loved every second of it.
Another place where this season succeeds over its predecessor is the understanding that serial storylines are better than a handful of one-off adventures. Now, one-off stories are fine. I can’t fault the first season in retrospect for it. But because of the interlocking web of episodes in season two, it feels matured, and the stakes feel greater for the characters. (It also makes this season even easier to binge-watch!)
Introduced in this season is quite possibly the best character ever – Toph, a blind girl of Earth Nation descent who uses her ability to sense motions in the earth to guide and to see. Occasionally hilarious, often heartbreaking, and more tough than the lot of her compatriots, she is a breath of fresh air. Her introduction episode incorporated her sonar-like earthbending skills to a degree that was just about as cool as anything I’d seen in the series yet. She joins the team to help Aang master his own earthbending skills.
It seemed this season gave much needed care into strengthening the audience appreciation among all it’s characters, Appa (especially) included, but the standout to me was, again, Zuko – the Fire Nation’s ostracized Prince. Where last season saw that he was the misguided enemy, this season saw him turn around and make the transformation into a far better individual, someone who can think past their supposed “Destiny”. One episode that highlighted his past while dealing with his present, Zuko Alone, does a serious job at breaking your heart. This kid needs therapy, and some of his uncle’s tea.
But despite all the heaps of praise I can shower over this series, I must say that the season finale was terribly anticlimactic. I was so looking forward to the ending fight scene, after being totally astounded at the magnificent ending of the first season, and was almost entirely let down. The two finale episodes don’t even compare when it comes to sheer magnitude. I felt it was a poor way to end the season. In fact it didn’t feel like any ending whatsoever, but a penultimate one. But, this does set up the last season nicely, so I can’t complain too much. The reason I rated this season just slightly less than last was primarily for this disappointing conclusion.
I eagerly await watching the conclusion of this series in Book Three: Fire.