Starring Zach Tyler, Mae Whitman, Jack De Sena, Dante Basco, Mako
Written By: Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko
Buy on Amazon.com link
What would you be like if you awoken one hundred years in the future only to find out that everyone that you know and love is dead, the world is at war and that you, a twelve year old kid and the last of your kind is the only hope to save the world from complete and total destruction? That is the story of Aang, a child that can control the air and bend it to his will. He is the Avatar or the savior of the world only he has no one to guide him through his journey or to prepare him for the battles that shall soon face. While those that he has once loved are long gone, Aang has met new friends and has rekindled bonds that transcend life itself.
“Avatar: The Last Airbender” is considered one of the finest American animes ever created and yet being such a new show, it gets overlooked or just goes flat out unnoticed. Being on Nickelodeon, a lot of people think that the show is solely directed towards a younger audience. In fact, I was one of them, but I had a friend who had gotten into the show early and pushed the show on me from its’ early years. I could never catch it on TV because the time slot always seemed to change but thankfully I managed to catch a glimpse of it on the “On Demand” section on cable. The story was hard to follow since I jumped in cold turkey but I was impressed by the overall feel of the show and decided to keep watching. I found the regular timeslot and would consistently watch it every Saturday morning. Each episode seemed to get better and better and I was finally able to familiarize myself with the characters and the back story in a short period of time. And then there was “that episode”. You know, the episode of a show that catches you like a fish hook line and sinker. To me, that episode(s) is the two-part finale to the first season titled “The Siege of the North”. It was everything that you could ask for in a cartoon/movie/television show/video game…superbly written, emotionally riveting and action-packed.
For those of you who are not familiar with “Avatar: The Last Airbender”, here’s a brief synopsis: the show takes place in a fantasy world and follows a young boy named Aang who must master the four forms of bending (fire, air, earth and water) which you can think of as magical forms of martial arts. The nations of the world are at war with the weaker nations of the Earth Tribes and the Water Tribes falling under the mighty forces of the Fire Nation. The remaining nation, the monks of the Air Temples have been whipped out by the fire nation and Aang is the only remaining member of that civilization. Aang is the world’s only hope at peace, and the Fire Nation wants him dead.
The second season of “Avatar” is the best of the series to date, although season three is looking like it’s going to kick season two’s rear. Aang’s group encounters new friends in Toph and the Earth King and they also encounter new enemies with the fierce Fire Nation warriors Princess Azula, Ty Lee and Mai hot on their trail. The inclusion of Azula and company keep things interesting by providing Aang and his group an enemy that is seemingly much stronger, smarter and much more powerful than them. This adds a “cat and mouse” intensity to the show that wasn’t felt in the first season.
I have to give a big shout out to the animators and the artists on “Avatar”. Having a completely new world to work with and a fantasy based story, the artists basically have a clean sheet of Canson paper to work with and they have seized the opportunity to construct not only entirely new civilizations and peoples but an entire planet the likes of which no one has ever laid eyes upon before. I also get a kick out of the animals that they create just by combining real animals such as a pig and a deer or a moose and a cat. LOL LOL
As good as the writing was in the first season, the stories in the second season go far and above the simple introductory stories and origins in season one. The writers have that stuff out of the way and now focus more on the relationships between the characters, the spiritual side of the show and providing more of an understanding in regards to who and what Aang is and will be. There’s even a love story that is loaded with puns and hippy references as well as a fair dose of over-the-top yet cute humor. (The Cave of Two Lovers) Some of the stronger episodes deal with Aang as he tries to control the destructive power that dwells within him. In “The Swamp”, Aang learns that the entire planet is connected and that through meditation, he can connect to anyone and everything. And in my personal favorite episode, “The Guru” Aang goes on a spiritual trip through his subconscious mind in hopes of finding the key to unlock his repressed emotions and gain control of the overpowering avatar state. After watching this episode for the first time, all that I could say was “Deep.” There was a lot of metaphysical/yin and yang/yoga stuff going on in this particular episode and the intelligent writing and spiritual references helped me to decide that this show wasn’t just for kids. There was definitely a lot more going on than just a little kid having some fun and fighting a couple of misguided soldiers every now and again.
To key that phrase again, another one of the more emotionally charged deep thoughts episodes dealt with a much more realistic issue…the passing of one of the most recognizable voice actors of all time, Mako Iwamatsu. In an anthology episode titled “The Tales of Ba Sing Se” the story followed each of the main characters separately in their own short story and the character that was voiced by Mako (Uncle Iroh), which seemed to be a part that Mako was destined to bring to life, partook in a ritual that he seemingly partook in every year and tells everyone that the day is a special occasion all the while enjoying life and giving advice to those in need of it. It’s not quite clear what the special occasion is until the end of the episode when Iroh pulls out a picture of his lost son and sets up a memorial. As the episode closes out, a dedication appears in honor of Mako’s passing.
It’s episodes like “The Guru”, “The Tales of Ba Sing Se” and “The Siege of the North” along with the more upbeat yet down to earth episodes such as “The Cave of Two Lovers” and “The Blind Bandit” that make “Avatar: The Last Airbender” so great. The human qualities of the characters as well as the believable fantasy elements and martial arts influences are very much reminiscent of the finer Japanese anime series like Rurouni Kenshin and Cowboy Bebop. If you have spotted a glimpse of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” on Nick but haven’t watched it, don’t make the same mistake that I did and think that it’s a kids show. It is much more than that. Do yourself a favor and immerse yourself in its’ magical universe. You certainly won’t regret it.
Interview with Creators and M. Night Shyamalan
“The Essence of Bending” with Bryan Konietzko and Sifu Kisu
Avatar Super Deformed Shorts
“Escape From the Spirit World” Animated Graphic Novel
Dolby Digital Surround Sound
Full Screen (1.33:1)
Favorite Scenes: The Guru, The Tales of Ba Sing Se, The Swamp, Zuko Alone, The Library, The Avatar State, The Cave of Two Lovers
Running Time: 492 minutes