Adventures with the Avatar

avatar

Well, all good things must come to an end, and unfortunately that applies to a couple things for me. The main one would be my fiance’s 3-week trip, which concluded early yesterday morning as we took him to the airport to make his way back to Miami. I had a ton of fun while he was with me, however, and even got off lucky with regards to how much I had to work while he was here. Even if it was probably unintentional, I’m grateful his trip wasn’t marred by a lack of time with me.

During his stay here, we continued watching “Avatar: The Last Airbender”, a Nickelodeon show we’d started watching during my last visit. I’d never seen the show, and he’d seen 2 of the 3 seasons. For the past 3 weeks, between non-TV stuff and watching movies and “The Simpsons”, we marathoned seasons 2 and 3 and wrapped up the show. With it now behind me, I can without doubt say that it’s one of my favorite cartoons I’ve ever seen.

I won’t be spoiling too many details about the show for anyone who hasn’t seen it or wants to, but the basic story is that the world consists of four elemental nations: Water, Earth, Fire and Air. These are also represented by gifted people known as benders, who can control the elements within their respected nation. There is a human called the Avatar who can learn and utilize all four elements and is considered a peacekeeper between the nations. Kind of like the Slayers in “Buffy”, a new Avatar is “chosen” upon the death of the previous one. In this case, it’s a 12-year-old boy named Aang, who at the start of the show has been in a sort of self-made cryogenic state for 100 years. As the show states during its intro, the world is in a state of war as the Fire nation has tried to seize control over the others. It’s up to Aang and his friends Katara, a Waterbender, and her wise-cracking brother Sokka to bring peace back to the land.

It might sound like a lot, but this show presents everything in a clear and concise way so people of all ages can follow along. It also does well in balancing humor, drama and action throughout, though some episodes occasionally come off as filler. Despite that, the show seems to keep something relevant in every episode, whether plot-based or character development. And while some characters would get on my nerves at times (coughKataracoughAzulacough), hardly any of them are wasted or don’t evolve in some way, even those that aren’t seen often. Surprisingly, for all the cool action, it was some of the more dramatic moments that really impressed me. The show knows how to tug on your heartstrings and you can’t help but be invested in the characters throughout their journeys. One such character for me was Uncle Iro, a man who starts off being mostly goofy but shows more and more how insightful and a bit tragic he is as the show progresses. I felt everyone in this show was well-acted, even during some of the sillier moments. 

The animation has been praised countless times for being great, and I stand by that praise myself. Sure, it does invoke an anime feel despite being American-made, but it fits no matter what the tone is. The characters will get over the top expressions during funny moments, somber ones during dramatic moments, and the landscapes will be appropriately cheerful or dark depending on the mood. It’s very clear to see what’s going on when a lot of action is taking place, and the bending looks great and gets more creative uses. I liked all of the character designs, especially the different hybrid animals the show introduces from time to time. The music was also really good, once again capturing some of the dramatic moments, both bombastic and quiet, some of the silly ones, and even some creepy moments. 

If I have two minor gripes with this show, it’s that there are times it tackles plot points in a “kid show” way. Sure, the main gang are kids themselves, but they often get into roundabout, petty arguments. One such argument was about Aang wanting to finish his task on his own without his friends’ help. It IS handled pretty realistically in terms of how pressured he feels and wanting to protect them, but I couldn’t help feeling the slightest bit irritated by the number of times it’s brought up. The other gripe involves an unanswered question that is built up over time but left hanging in the finale. Having seen the first two episodes of the show’s sequel, “The Legend of Korra”, they tease this question and leave it unanswered, much to my annoyance. Sometimes I can’t stand cliffhangers, and while minor, this was one of them. But again, both of these points are very minor and didn’t take away hardly any of my enjoyment for the show.

And while I hope “Korra” will be almost if not as good as its predecessor, I feel like “Avatar” hit all the right notes that a kids show should. It had a great look to it, knew how to keep pretty consistent with its tones, didn’t need to resort to overly lowbrow humor to get laughs and, most importantly, it didn’t talk down to kids. There was a seriousness to the show that made any tension or drama feel important to you as a viewer. It hardly ever felt sugarcoated and I liked it for that. If you’re a kid, teen, or adult who likes cartoons and especially likes good shows, I urge you to try “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” Oh, and ignore that M. Night Shyamalan film. It doesn’t come a fraction close to doing the show justice.

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