Before we get started, I just want to throw out a big thank you to Arlee Bird, the founder of the A to Z Challenge, for getting this whole thing going!
And now, on with your regularly scheduled blog!
TV shows normally start out with a premise, but not necessarily a story. This is for a couple of reasons.
One, if a show hits it big, they can keep it going indefinitely. Sometimes this works. Other times, not so much. And two, with a TV show, you never know when you’re going to get cancelled, and if you end on a cliffhanger, well, I’m pretty sure we ALL know how frustrating that can be.
Avatar: The Last Airbender is a show that sets out to tell a story from the very first episode. It’s an arc that takes three seasons to tell, so the show never overstays its welcome or feels like it’s running on fumes.
It balances everything: drama and humor, self-contained stories within the larger story arc, and character arcs in such a way that it’s a great show for both kids and adults.
And it’s the only show I own every single season of.
Avatar: The Last Airbender is set in a world of four countries based on four elements: the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, the Water Tribes, and the Air Nomads. Within each country, there are people known as “benders” who have the ability to manipulate the elements. The Avatar is the only person with the ability to bend all four elements, and he (or she) is reincarnated into a new country each generation.
A hundred years before the story starts, the Fire Nation has annihilated the Air Nomads in order to destroy the newest Avatar, and ever since then, they’ve been waging a war with the goal of taking over the rest the world.
Katara and Sokka are members of the Southern Water Tribe. While they’re out fishing one day, they stumble on an iceberg which has a boy frozen inside. They free him and find out the boy is Aang, an Airbender, and he is the Avatar. And now that he’s out of the ice, Aang has to master all four elements because he is the only thing standing between the world and the domination of the Fire Nation.
So, Katara and Sokka join Aang and his flying bison, Appa, on a journey across the world, all the while staying one step ahead of Prince Zuko, the Fire Nation prince who is determined to capture Aang.
From the first moment we meet them, all the characters still act very much like children even with the responsibility they’ve had thrust upon them.
Aang has perhaps the largest mantle of responsibility in the world, but he’s far more interested in going penguin-sledding than learning to master the elements. He’s a mischievous goofball, overall.
Katara has stepped unsteadily into her mother’s role, taking care of herself and Sokka, even as she tries to teach herself Waterbending. Sokka, at sixteen, is the oldest boy in their village (all the men have gone off to war) and he’s trying to fill his role as protector, though his “army” is a bunch of 5- to 10-year-olds. And Katara and Sokka bicker, just like siblings, the entire time.
Watching them grow and mature without losing the traits that made us love them in the first place is one of the best parts of the series.
And none of the characters, good or bad, are caricatures or one-note. They all have depth, even if we just get a glimpse of it, and often it’s just enough to give us some understanding for them, if not sympathy.
The show does a fantastic job of balancing silly episodes (such as “The Cave of Two Lovers” in the second season and “The Ember Island Players” in the third) with the more serious plot-driven ones (like the final episodes of each season). And there are some great running gags (“MY CABBAGES!”) that always crop up at the perfect times.
They also put a lot of effort into the worldbuilding. You learn so much about it throughout the series and even then you get the feeling that there’s more to it. It feels real without being overwhelming.
And they based the bending moves off of real-world martial arts, which not only adds realism to the training the characters do, but also to the fight scenes themselves.
Everything about this show is top-notch, from the technical stuff like the animation and the voice acting to the writing stuff like the characters, the dialogue, the plots, and the worldbuilding.
This is one of the few cartoons, think, that really transcends what it looks like at first glance—a cartoon on Nickelodeon—into something that everybody can enjoy. If you haven’t seen it, get thee to Netflix and give it a chance. You won’t regret it.