Without a shadow of a doubt in my mind, Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of the greatest American animated series ever. In fact, if you were to ask me which other American cartoons meant for children could top Avatar, I’d be at a total loss as to give you any form of answer. I don’t know of another more epic, more beautiful, and more satisfyingly conclusive American cartoon as Avatar was.
This season, at least for me, stopped being a kids show however. Yes, the entire series bordered closer to esotericism for children’s programming than most, but this season stepped it up that much more into a truly mature and brilliantly realized production, it’s anime influences (from Dragon balls Z, Naruto, and even Miyazaki) all clearly visible, but never merely duplicated. Avatar puts itself in a league of its own, ending the show on a high note, never pulling a single punch. (Some plot spoilers follow.)
The beginning of the season felt unfortunately buildup-ish, to the point where the story felt stagnant up until the day of the solar eclipse, but it quickly picked itself back onto its feet. After the disappointing ending to the last season, this was a mighty relief. We actually get somewhat of a midseason finale too, in the form of the team taking on the Fire Nation during said solar eclipse, which was extremely satisfying (although it ended in defeat). The brilliance of Sokka’s plan, his ideas to storm the city, along with the aid of past antagonists just felt so right. Forever the shadow of the group, Sokka comes into his own – not just as the funny guy, but as a fantastic general and leader.
Regardless, the heroes lose this battle, but regroup. This is the bit we’ve been waiting for for three seasons. Prince Zuko slaps himself in the face, realizes his wrongdoing, and aids the Avatar. No longer the story of the plight of the wrongdoer, Zuko knows his true place in the story – by Aang’s side. I was so happy this possibility was finally alluded to, that when he actually came up to them and he wasn’t allowed into their “group” I felt so betrayed by my cartoon friends! Ugh, I wanted to slap them silly! But alas, he joined the crew and taught Aang the basics to Firebending. At long last Aang could do it all.
But the true power Aang possessed was his unswerving wisdom and kindness. His moral code wouldn’t allow him to become a killer, even if the world needed him to be. He knew it was the only way, if the Fire Nation would ever truly to be defeated, that he’d have to kill Zuko’s father, the Fire Lord. Zuko told him so, his friends told him so, and even his past lives as the Avatar told him he must kill the Fire Lord. And still, that young boy found a way to go around the issue, do what was right, fix the four kingdoms, and spare his life. The beauty of the writing in the series finale had me nearly in tears.
If you haven’t seen Avatar: The Last Airbender lately, or ever… It’s truly an essential series. I don’t know how I missed this in my childhood. Perhaps it was the point in my life where I was growing out of cartoons. Perhaps it was during one of those periods where I watched Cartoon Network instead of a Nickelodeon… But this is one of the most satisfying series I have ever seen. Despite being the kind of show that could keep going on and on like your typical shōnen anime series, Avatar is brave enough to end the series where it needs to end. And what an ending it was. I cannot wait to continue my plunge into this world with The Legend of Korra, which takes place 70 years later, but my only fear is that it won’t live up to the original series.
Buy Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book Three: Fire on DVD at Amazon for $13.34.