Saturday, January 18, 2014

Avatar: The Last Airbender: When did cartoons get so awesome??

I first encountered this show a few years ago when my nephews were into it.  I dismissed it as a silly and probably violent cartoon that wasn't worth much.  Then I ran across a post by Ana of the Book Smugglers on the best of TV she ahd encountered in 2013, and she positively gushed about it.  Having now watched the show, I can say gushing was fully warranted and I plan to do a little myself. 

This show is AMAZING. Beautiful animation, thrilling adventure, characters with substance and complexity and an overall message of love and tolerance for all people.  Yes, there is some violence which I am a little ambivalent about in regards to kids viewership but I think the overall message balances out my reservations. 

It tells the story of a band of kids/teenagers and their flying buffalo and big eared lemur who have the heavy responsibility of saving the world.  The weight particularly rests on the shoulders of 12 year old Aang - the Avatar who has the ability to unite the world in peace. The four elements (earth, fire, water and air) are out of balance and the Avatar is the only being on earth that can control or "bend" all four.  The epic tale is spun out over three seasons of 20ish episodes each. I watched the first season, Water, in one weekend and then had to constrain myself not to run immediately to the library to get and consume the other two seasons.  I wanted to wait until the following weekend where I could indulge myself in watching all the episodes of the final two seasons and relish them.

So what makes it so especially good?

1) Nuanced and well-developed antagonists:  While there is certainly a well-developed vibe of Good vs. Evil in the show, it also recognizes, through the character of Zuko and his uncle, that things are frequently not so clean cut.  Zuko is an exiled Prince, son to the big bad fire lord and for much of the series pursues Aang trying to regain his honor.  But he is also on a journey of redemption that is really well done.  His tea-loving uncle who travels with him is one of the best characters on the show.

2)So Funny:  This show has a fantastic sense of humor that seamlessly combines the goofy slapstick that kids would respond to as well as more sophisticated sarcastic humor that frequently had me laughing out loud.  It's delightfully joyful and hilarious. 

3)Strong Female Characters:  This show is filled with strong, smart and diverse female characters and not in some kind of token way.  Aang may be the center of things but his main female companion Katara is frequently his guide and ultimately serves as his water bending master.  She never needs saving any more than the male characters and frequently is the one doing the saving of Aang and her brother Sokka. 

4)Romance:  I didn't expect to find a compelling romance when the main characters is twelve but indeed the creators pull off a romance that is sweet and touching and quite believable. 

5) So many great messages: Respect for the Earth, Respect for all People, Feminism, Equality for all, Kindness to animals, Peace and unity, the power of the few to affect change and much more.  But it never seems preachy; the messages are just part of the fabric of the story.

This show will definitely be added to my list of favorite shows of all time and I will definitely be re-watching in the future probably more than once.  Like the other shows I love it excels at combining many different genres; fantasy, action-adventure, comedy, drama, romance; into a cohesive whole that is completely satisfying. Well Played, Avatar, Well Played!


  1. One of my nieces (now in her 20s) loves this show and recently introduced my daughter to it. I have other young friends who love it as well. Sounds like it's worth giving it a try!

    1. Well I am 41 and enjoyed it immensely much to my surprise. It does a really good job of effortlessly skirting the line between appeal to kids and appeal to more grown up folk. I guess its real target audience is more pre-teen to teen rather than kids which I guess helps. But still to be so impressed with something created by Nickelodean - Not what I was expecting! It probably does help that I appreciate both low brow and more sophisticated humor. I'll be interested to hear your opinion if you ever check it out!

  2. I absolutely LOVE this show! I <3 Toph so much!! I haven't watched the sequel yet...most people I know seem less enamored of it, so I'm considering just pretending it doesn't exist. Ahhh I now really want to rewatch this. Too bad Netflix took it off streaming :(

    1. Oh, Toph! She is so much fun and awesome! I was really disappointed to find out this wasn't based on and existing comic or graphic novel series. I was hoping there would be a truck load of graphic novels to dig into but it seems there are only a few that have been produced as a result of the show. Have you read any of them or know anything about them?