Water, Earth, Fire, Air. My grandmother used to tell me stories about the old days, a time of peace when the Avatar kept balance between the Water Tribes, Earth Kingdom, Fire Nation, and Air Nomads. But that all changed when the Fire Nation attacked. Only the Avatar mastered all four elements. Only he could stop the ruthless firebenders. But when the world needed him most, he vanished.
-- Intro voiceover
Probably some spoilers ahead. You've been warned.
The plot of the series revolves around a young boy, namely the last airbender, and his journey of becoming a fully-realized Avatar. Frankly, that is not the easiest journey to make. Show follows Aang and his friends as he struggles to master all kinds of bending (which is just a fancy word for magic, it signifies that a bender can "bend" the element to his/her will) arts: waterbending, earthbending and firebending. The thing is: to master an element it's not enough to get hold of the art of bending - you have to get used to the mentality of the element.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention... Aang is also bound to finish the devastating war which raged the world for almost a hundred of years. And he aims to do just that, and have as much fun as possible in the process.
Harsh words won't solve problems, action will.
The devil's in the details, so they say. And this is where show really excells. It is most important to stop the war and train a lot, of course, but, why shouldn't we have some fun in the process? I.e. penguin(btw, 4-winged penguin) sledding. Or stone-cart racing. Or giant-scary-fish-riding. Or whatever. Despite being an american show it gets East-Asian atmosphere and feeling just right. Not to mention character development and relationships.
Show consist of usual plot-driven arcs occasionally interrupted by small stand-alone stories. Most of the dialogues written for the series are witty and funny (thank you, sarcasm), sometimes even wise. And sometimes - really sad.
But, not everything is that bright. Every now and again show lets out signs of its american origins - childish jokes, toilet humour, some definitely american lifestyle and behaviours.
[After winning a game of
beach volleyball"Kuai Ball"]
Yes! We defeated you for all time! You will never rise from the ashes of your shame and humiliation!
(to Katara) You rise with the moon. I rise with the sun.
Well, that's quite a piece of work showrunners and their creative team did developing a setting for this show. The world(how's it called? Don't believe it was mentioned in the show, so...lets call it Bob) of the show is consistent and beautiful. From the looks of it Bob isn't really huge, not even Earth-sized, though gravity looks ordinary... For one, traveling between parts of the world doesn't take that long to perform - people just appear at different locations in notime at all. Also, the Bob is a lot like Earth in that it has a Moon, just like our planet. It also controls tidal forces, and is a source of waterbending. Sun also looks ordinary enough - class G (or maybe K) star. Also, yeah, a source of firebending. Air and Earth, though, are pretty self-reliant.
That's all I could've thought of cosmology, so lets move to the geography and geopolitical situation of Bob. Bob consists of four parts, known as Fire Nation, Earth Knigdom, Water Tribes and Air Nomads. Each area has its own traditions, its own history, own protectors and its own link to the spiritual world.
Residence location: four Air temples - Southern, Northern, Eastern and Western.
Religion/Deity: none in particular, more like some sort of buddhism
Air Nomads aren't exactly nomads. They are monks, governed by a council of gurus - wisest and oldest airbending masters. They breed flying bizons (every one monk has his own bison) and a lot of winged lemurs have found their home at this temples. Anyway, as an intro tells you, unfortunately they just do not exist anymore.
Airbenders value freedom and usualy prefer to evade, rather then fight head-on.
Residence location: Southern and Northern Poles
Religion/Deity: Spirit of Moon, Spirit of Ocean
Waterbenders prefer, unsurprisingly, living in presence of large amounts of water. They are governed by a chieftain and a council of Elders. Unlike Air Nomads they live along with non-benders, their siblings born without an ability to bend. This society has its own problems, for example gender inequality. Women of Northern Water Tribe are restricted to using their waterbending to healing and not fighting.
Awesome stuff - they have a pool with an mortal embodiment of Moon and Ocean (Yin and Yang) in a secret grotto on the Northern Pole.
Residence location: Earth Kingdom
Religion/Deity: none in particular.
Largest continent of all on Bob houses the Earth Kingdom - land of countless villages, endless sands and dark spiritual swamps. It is ruled by the Earth King from his palace in a huge walled city of Ba Sing Se. It was seiged once, by the Fire Nation army headed by the Western Dragon himself, but the siege was unsuccesful. For now large part of their Kingdom is occupied by Fire Nation colonies. Earthbenders are famous for their stubborn nature and fierce defensiveness.
Residence location: A group of large islands to the West of Earth Kingdom.
Religion/Deity: Sun, Sozin's Comet
People of Fire Nation are ruled by a pretty authoritarian monarchy. Fire Lord of The Fire Nation build pretty much a militaristic society, improving inequality and introducing elitarism into Fire Nation. These guys have an ideafix about their honour, hierarchy and discipline, which is kind of strange considering their aggresive and explosive nature.
Aang: This is Appa, my flying bison.
Sokka (sarcastically): Right, and this is Katara, my flying sister.
Also, about flora and fauna. Bob is a home to a wide variety of species - earthlings as well as bob...lings? Oh, whatever. Flying bizon Appa, winged lemur Momo, Roku's flying japanese dragon... And, typically, every animal plays a role - maybe not as significant - in an overall story.
Want to know more about history - watch the show :)
I never asked for this.
An Avatar himself. A boy that suddenly finds out, that, after a hundred years he spent in a huge block of ice, he is the last airbender. Why? Because somebody was thorough enough to destroy all of airbenders in their temples, in their homes and throught the world. My, what a determination.
As for his character - he is just a boy that never asked for this "avatarness", but is burdened with it nevertheless. All of his former friends are probably dead, his people are dead too, and the world is at war. But, a boy is still a boy, so there is no excuse to not having fun.
Aang is an airbender, and, as such, he prefers evading battle rather than charging head on or standing his ground. Well, until he masters other bending arts anyway.
He slowly comes to terms with his powers and his responsibilities as the Avatar.
Come... closer... closer... Will you go penguin sledding with me?
A girl of the Southern Water Tribe, she was, along with her brother Sokka, the one to discover Aang and extract him from the icy prison. Since their father left for the war and their mother died Katara was the one to take care of Sokka and soon her motherly instincts and behaviour became an inherent part of her character.
She just started developing her waterbending skills - as a matter of fact she is the last waterbender of the Southern Water Tribe, so she doesn't have a master to train her and has to get hold of her skills all by herself. She grows into a most potent waterbender, and even acts as a teacher to Aang. Katara also displayed great leadership skills and an ability to inspire.
Due to her responsible nature she often clashes with Toph.
Her behaviour resambles that of a running water - most of the time Katara is reasonable and calm, though, if she loses her temper she can truly be furious.
You make a fine octopus, Pupil Aang.
The only non-bender on the team Avatar. Non-spiritual and easily-excited, Katara's brother is a counter part to her. Courageous, intelligent and witty he is a mastermind behind a large part of team Avatar's plans. Always ready to help, Sokka sometimes tries to jump over his head.
Throughout the series Sokka developed his leadership skills, changed his trusty boomerang for a sword and became an integral part of the team. He also posseses somewhat strange sense of humour, though his sarcastic comments certainly are appreciated.
He does a lot of character development during the series, becoming much more responsible, respectful and self-reliant.
Also, apperently, he is the only one of the team, who can read maps. I know, right?
I DON'T CARE WHAT AUNT WU TOLD YOU! YOU HAVE TO TAKE A BATH SOME TIME!!
Personal favourite. Blind girl born to a wealthy and influential Earth Kingdom family, despite her young age she utterly is a master of earthbending. Because of her apperent blindness Toph was raised by her parents in a totaly distractless (and pretty dull) environment. Young girl basicly wasn't trusted to do anything by herself and that enfuriated her to the brink of running away with team Avatar.
Nevertheless Toph stays true to herself as an earthbender - she is stubborn and hates being made to do anything, hence hates the rules. She is reckless and often behaves herself immature, but she also is resourceful and invalueble to the team. Her abilities saved the day for quite a number of times and Toph knows her worth.
Because of this she often conflicts with Katara on questions regarding her behaviour and moral standarts.
Toph: There it is!
(everybody looks to where Toph points, only to see nothing)
(everyone frowns at Toph)
Toph: That's what it will sound like when one of you spots it. (Waves hand repeatedly up and down in front of her face, reminding everybody that she's blind)
Momo and Appa
Charming and loyal giant flying bison and sneaky, curious and everhungry winged lemur. What else is there to say?
Son of the Fire Lord, Zuko was burdened with a lot of responsibilities and expectations since he was a kid. A somewhat typical character of a boy trying to live up to his father's unreasonably high expectation in atmosphere of neverending competition. His story is sad and sorrowful, and it doesn't help him at all in the matter of finding out where does his allegiances lie. Fire Prince is confused and angry at himself because of it. His character is pretty explosive, which doesn't help him at all in his mission to restore his honour.
As for Zuko's skills - he is a highly trained swordsman, using a two-part sword with almost unmatched skill and he also is a proficient firebender.
(yelling angrily toward the sky) You've always thrown everything you could at me! Well, I can take it, and now I can give it back! Come on! STRIKE ME! You've never held back before!
The Great Western Dragon, General Iroh appears as just a silly old man, but behind that sillyness lies true wisdom and great intelligence. He is an advisor and spiritual master to Zuko (and a kin Uncle also), almost assuming a role of his father during Zuko's travels. Despite being a mighty firebender he does posses a character of a waterbender - calm, reasonable and not-that-ambitious. It seems from time to time that he would be better as a healer, then a conquerer. He has great life experience and tries to share it to Zuko, but, mostly, to no avail.
He definitely deserved his nickname though. His firebending skills are impressive and advanced, and Iroh knows how to use patience and tranquility to his benefit, while being able to transform it to zest in almost anything he is doing, be it laying a siege, training his nephew or making tea in a tea shop.
Zuko: But I don't feel any shame at all. I'm as proud as ever!
Iroh: Prince Zuko, pride is not the opposite of shame but it's source.
Well, here lies a bit of a problem. Visual style definitely improves from the beggining of the show to the end of it. Since some moment it really is great, but, till then - visuals are on the 1990s level of skills and tech. Episodes taking place on Water Tribe grounds look especially bleak and dull - just not enough detail to catch the eye. I'd love to see more complex backgrounds and more skillfull drawing, but... it just isn't there. For some time, anyway. It gets a lot better eventually.
Also, as I've already mentioned, the designs are great and there definitely was a whole lot of potential - alas, it remained just it. A potential.
Again, I repeat - this doesn't concern the series as a whole, just some part of it. Though, from time to time visual style and overall picture just amazed me. Sometimes in a good sense, other times - not really. Book 1 is the dullest in this regard, things get a lot better afterwards.
Jeremy Zukerman did a great job of tailoring the sound tracks to the universe of Avatar. Each nation has its own theme, written with keeping in mind spiritual differences between them: airbenders are calm, quite and kinda evasive, earth - rythmic and repetitive, fire - aggresive and almost march-like. But enough with the words, I'll let you judge for yourselves:
Show tries to ask and answer a number of phylosophical questions, questions about harmony, about relationships, about serious problems like inequality, emansipation and pollution. To some of them it gives its own answers, and some are open for viewers interpretation. In anyway this show raises some smart questions for a person willing to see them, and not just enjoy fancy explosions, beautiful environments and great acrobatics.
I won't be giving any scores, I'll just say, that I can certainly recommend watching "Avatar: The Last Airbender" - for the sake of the world, characters and story, which are all well worth of your time.
I know I watched it almost all at once. And I regret nothing! :)