If you’ve never seen the show Avatar: The Last Airbender, go watch it. It’s an excellent overall show that has amazing set of characters, fun action, a cool world, and compelling storyline. I’m going to spoil the fuck out of it.
I just recently watched the show with my girlfriend Mel. We watched it slowly but with a regular cadence. This is pretty different from the first time I saw it when it was coming out episode by episode with long (almost +1 year) hiatuses between episodes.
What did it do so well
Avatar has real arcs for many of it’s characters, especially in season 3.
Zuko goes from evil villain to a penitent hero. His story evolve with betrayals, angst and coming to his own realization that what he wants to do and what he needs to do his father are different things.
Sokka and Katara both grow into their abilities and personalities. They both start out naive but develop skills into becoming more confidant and developed. Katara has a constant unresolved issue about how she hates the Fire Nation over what they did to her mother. The last season gives her the ability to really face that confrontation.
What’s a good show without a good villain? The Fire Nation is just fucking Nazi Germany and that’s okay for a bad villain. The firelord is always the big bad baddy but Azula is characterized as kind of evil but her utter breakdown in the last season when she loses her two best friends is excellent.
The previous seasons cover that her mother feared her and her betrayal by her two best friends really unhinges her. You can see she utter devastation when Mai says “I love Zuko more than I fear you”. There’s a whole lot of weight in the end on her scene with her finally defeated.
I have another post coming about good villains and Azula hits all the check boxes. The combination of ambition and human frailty makes her so compelling. She desperately wants friends but has no idea how to make them without using fear. There’s a great beach episode in the 3rd season that shows Azula trying to be regular teenager that cemented her character a lot.
Not an overwhelming romantic relationship
The relationship between Katara and Aang is pretty good throughout the series. I think they also handle it pretty well conflicting between their friendship dynamic. It plays into the reasons why Aang can’t give up on his ties to the world which is a very Avatar thing. After all, the show covers it better in Legend of Korra but there’s a reason why the Avatar is human. It’s to tie yourself to the world.
The realistic last fight between Firelord and Aang
Aang prevails in the end but only after hitting the Avatar State. A fully realized trained avatar could easily defeat the Firelord but Aang is 12. He’s trained with the elements for a year and he loses. Watch it again, Aang without any additional help and all 4 elements ends up being pushed to the edge with the Firelord and effectively loses. The only thing that saves him is the very very last minute unlocking of his Avatar State. As soon as that happen he has enough power to defeat the Firelord. The last minute unlocking is not my favorite part of the ending but it’s reasonable given that they need the tension to do it.
The realization of his limits and his powers are always really nice in the series. They are able to fight tanks and other stuff but the real people who take Ba Sing Se back are masters of their own elements not a bunch of kids.
The cyclic nature of the Fire Nation & why fight the Fire Lord
The Fire Nation committed a Air Nomad genocide the last time Sozen’s comet came, this time they’re committing an Earth Nation genocide. It’s very cyclical and on theme with the Fire Nation without being too over the top. This genocide is the real pushing factor into what is a stupid fight. Team Avatar even says they don’t want to fight the Fire Lord during the comet, that’s just straight dumb especially for an avatar.
What it didn’t do so well
The last airship battle
Ok. The last airship battle made no fucking sense. Why the fuck did no one notice the one weird ship doing weird things while everyone else is in formation. I loved the fight scenes in it and how Sokka takes them down but the fact that we have an entire army ignoring this one weird ship doing things makes no fucking sense.
Dues-Ex Lion Turtle
After re-watching it doesn’t come up as OFTEN as I thought it did but one giant point of conflict in the show is Aang doesn’t want to kill the Fire Lord. It goes against his beliefs and everything that he’s been taught. He’s also 12. But how do you stop the firelord otherwise? Aang loses sleep over it, he is exhausted and tired from it and ends up on an island. So he starts recalling the previous Avatars.
Roku (previous Fire Avatar) tells him his mercy for Sozen and their friendship led to this war and he blames himself for not killing him when he first heard of the plans of invasion.
Kyoshi (previous Earth Avatar) is similar. Kyoshi will kill anyone who fucks with peace and she says she would have killed Shin if he didn’t die of his own accord.
Kuruk (previous Water Avatar) just mention something about responsibilities. He lived in a peaceful time so it’s less relevant.
But then we have Yangchen. Aang thinks another Air Nomad will truly understand him. And she does. She totally understands the conflict here. I can’t find the full clip but it’s this.
The quote though at the end is fucking great and AMAZING FOR KIDS SHOW: “Here is my wisdom for you: selfless duty calls for you to sacrifice your own spiritual needs, and do whatever it takes to protect the world.”
HOLY FUCKING SHIT. Like… holy crap that’s a really important lesson that I’ve learned as an adult and it’s probably a lesson that every single parent has had to learn.
All of this buildup, this tension, this amazing and impressive very adult realization though goes away when Aang meets a Lion Turtle and learns energy bending in the 2nd to the last episode. You don’t even know what he learned and what happened until the very last minutes of the fight.
The concept of energy bending was only introduced at the end, with a new creature that was hinted at but never seen before and gives Aang the ultimate cop out to this huge moral quandary. FUCKKKKKKKK that ending. It was so shitty that all this tension was unraveled at the very last minute.
Especially poignant since the whole reason why Aang was stuck in the ice was because he selfishly ran away from his own duties. So undoing that and leading to this Lion Turtle solution kind of gives him that escape again.
I will rant against Dues Ex Lion Turtle forever. The thing that makes it so painful is Yangchen’s quote. I think if Aang didn’t talk to every previous Avatar it would have been easier to swallow the conclusion. But Yangchen’s quote about selfless duty is just so good and especially painful coming from the PREVOUS AIR AVATAR.
Is there a good perspective that breaks this theme? I totally understand why they didn’t have the killing ending because it’s a kids show. But it feel like that is the ONLY reason they did it that way.