Avatar: The Last Airbender

Things I Like: Avatar: The Last Airbender

Warning: This post is a total geek out over a fictional universe and a TV show whose demographic was 6 to 11 year-olds.  I’m in my thirties, and I’ve just found a new obsession. 

Now that you’ve received your caveat, let me continue.

I’m about five or six years behind on this one, but I recently discovered Avatar: The Last Airbender.  It’s been a long time since I have been whisked away to such a wonderful fictional fantasy world and met such great characters.Avatar: The Last Airbender

The first I ever heard of the show was right after the series finale aired, and a woman at my work center was raving about it.  She told me that it was a great show, and she was really excited about the way the series ended.  I looked into it, but seeing that it was a  Nickelodeon show and that the target audience was children, I dismissed it.

A few years later when the M. Night Shyamalan live action film version of the story came to theaters, I decided to give it a try, and I remember thinking that it was an interesting idea, but the execution was awful.  A few friends who were fans of the show assured me that they were bitterly disappointed, and the original animated series was much better.

Recently I had an evening where I felt like watching anime.  Avatar: The Last Airbender is not exactly anime, but it kept popping up in my search results, so I decided to give it a try.  No exaggeration here, that decision changed my life.

The premise of the show is that there is a world controlled by the classical elements of water, earth, fire, and air.  Each element has a culture, and some of the people from each culture are able to “bend” or do martial arts katas to magically control their particular element.  One person in the world, the Avatar, is able to control all four elements.  When the Avatar dies, he or she is reincarnated as the next Avatar.  The show follows the adventures of the Avatar Aang, who is the last surviving airbender, as he tries to stop the war that the Fire Nation is waging on the rest of the world.Characters

The world itself is no less brilliantly made than Middle Earth, Earthsea, or any other fantasy world I’ve been drawn into.  It is inspired by Eastern themes combining Japanese anime with Hong Kong martial arts.  Chinese characters and calligraphy appear throughout the series, and the characters’ clothes and hairstyles look like something out of a martial arts epic.  The cultures of the Avatar world derive from Tibetan, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and even Inuit and South American native cultures.

Another interesting part of the world are the animals.  Most of them are an alien combination or modification of familiar animals.  For example, Aang has a pet flying bison, which is a big, six-legged, furry white beast with bison horns, which, true to the name, can fly.  Other animal combinations include turtle ducks, buzzard wasps, cat gators, and plenty of others.

Appa
This is Appa, Aang’s flying bison.

The best thing about Avatar: The Last Airbender, in my opinion, is the characters.  The main cast is made up of teenage characters who have all the same problems of real world teenagers, struggling to find their identities and grow up, all while trying to save the world from tyranny and oppression at the hands of the Fire Nation.  All of the characters have distinctive personalities, strong motivations, and realistic internal struggles.  My favorite character was Iroh, the eccentric elderly uncle of Prince Zuko.  The old man was funny, but wise, and in many ways reminded me of my Opa.

Iroh
Iroh, the best character ever

I often found myself laughing at the silly antics and bad jokes of the characters, particularly Toph and Sokka, but the best thing about the experience of watching the series was seeing the personal growth of each character.  The main cast of characters all began as children looking to prove themselves or overcome events from their pasts.  Every single one of them is a realistically damaged person, and even the heroes have their moments of darkness where they slip up or struggle to do the right thing.  While they all keep their distinctive personality traits, they also grow up and become more powerful as they find their places in the world.

I just finished watching the series finale last night, and I was blown away.  I completely understand why my friend was raving about it after it first aired, because it was climactic, dramatic, and ultimately satisfying.  Still, now that I’ve seen the end, I have the empty feeling that I get when I’m not yet ready to remove myself from a fictional world, and I’ve been trying to find a way back in.  The series has a few followup graphic novels, and I just found out that a second series called The Legend of Korra is set several years after the death of Aang and follows the new Avatar.

If you haven’t had a chance to check out Avatar: The Last Airbender, I highly recommend it for adults and children alike.  This was a great series!

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16 thoughts on “Things I Like: Avatar: The Last Airbender

  1. My kids are totally into The Legend of Korra, but we’ve never watched Avatar. I know Sen is a huge fan, so I will probably have to force them to watch it with me now.

  2. I absolutely love this series (I haven’t gotten into The Legend of Kora yet). I was introduced to it a couple years ago by a friend of mine, and then I got my boyfriend hooked on it. I actually have all of the episodes on my external hard drive, but I think it’s fun to watch them on Nickelodeon because they include the pop-up bubbles full of interesting info and comments.
    When I saw the previews Shyamalan’s film version, I was absolutely disgusted and I refuse to ever watch it. He did a complete disservice to the original show.

      1. I loved it. I highly recommend it. It actually gets really heavy toward the end, but I don’t usually protect my children from things like having feelings.

  3. It really was a fun show. A little cheesy at times, but overall a great premise, great characters, and awesome world-building, as you say. And I totally agree about Iroh — his relationship with Zuko is one of the best things about the show. One of my favorite episodes in season 1 is the one in which Iroh explains to some mutinous soldiers why Zuko is the way he is, and how he got his scar.

    Heh, I still remember being so excited to see the Shyamalan movie (though I did have some misgivings after seeing the trailers, but trailers don’t always capture the full awesomeness of a movie, right? Right?), and my brother and I were planning to see it the day it came out. That morning, as I made my sleepy way to the kitchen, my brother approached me with a face that said, Prepare to be miffed. He told me he’d just read some early reviews. Some really, really awful reviews. Some reviews that made our little fan hearts sink and our wallets curl in on themselves protectively.

    Oh, M. Night.

    And now, please forgive the following unsolicited shipper wailing — as much as I like Aang as a character, I really really couldn’t see him and Katara together. Even in the final season (which I agree was amazing), he still comes across as so much younger, emotionally, than her. I don’t necessarily ship Zuko and Katara (though it would’ve made sense, in a cheesy they-were-enemies-and-now-they’re-in-luuurve sort of way), but Aang really does seem too much like Katara’s little brother to work as a love interest.

    /end-fan-rant ^_^;;

    1. Being a Nickelodeon kids show, a little cheese is to be expected, so it didn’t really bother me that much. The characters and the world were what sold it to me. That’s the main thing that I think Shyamalan did wrong: he barely developed the characters and changed their demeanors so drastically that you couldn’t even recognize them. Sokka was so serious, and Aang was not playful at all. Iroh was just terrible; all his warmth and humor was completely gone. The acting was bad, and there were necessarily plot changes. I would have been willing to watch a three hour movie if they had taken the time to show the familiar characters developing. The special effects and action were about the only things I thought Shyamalan did well.

      As for Aang and Katara ending up together, I kind of agree with you. I couldn’t see it happening as it happened. The two characters were in completely different worlds developmentally, so it would have taken a few years before they were even on the same maturity level. I would have imagined it more like they met again in later years and then got together when Aang was no longer a playful child and Katara was no longer a confused teenager. That being said, I could totally see Aang ending up with Toph.

      1. Even the effects, though — one of the things that gave me red flags when I was watching the trailers was the scene with Aang practicing his airbending inside a circle of candles or something. I kept waiting for some awesome tornado or air blast or something, and all he kept doing was some random martial arts moves, and whoosh two or three candles go out, and then some more martial arts moves and whoosh another three candles go out…

        Yeah, I could see Aang and Toph together 🙂

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