There are many ways to tell which show is good or bad. In The Last Airbender’s case, when I realized I unconsciously did the ‘water-bending’ gesture in the shower after finishing the first season, I knew this show was anything but ordinary!
The show runs for three seasons. At first, I intended to write three reviews for each season but I changed my mind. Since this animated series is one epic story, I’d just be repeating myself if I wrote separate review. So I decided to make one long review which would be arranged into small sections within. I hope this pattern works.
Avatar: the Last Airbender is an American animated series aired on Nick channel. Since I am an anime fan and not American, it is logically unlikely that I will absent-mindedly pick up this series. What brought me to it was its movie adaptation of the same name. The movie was a shameful disappointment but underneath the disastrous script and wooden acting (not to mention the controversial white-washed casting), the potential was too obvious to be overlooked. So I started watching the animated series and found all the potentials missing in the movie. Those dim-witted guys behind the movie adaptation literally left out all the good stuffs! (Yes, I was referring to M. Night, among many people)
The event in Avatar: the Last Airbender takes place in a fictional world where four nations of four elements live together in harmony; The Air Nomads, Water Tribe, Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation. The Avatar is the only one who masters all four elements and is the keeper of peace. The difficult time begins when the Avatar suddenly disappears and the Fire Nation starts the war. One hundred years later, in the South Pole, Katara and Sokka of the Water Tribe discover the long lost Avatar in an iceberg. His name is Aang.
The universal themes
Similar to any great epic fantasy, Avatar: the Last Airbender contains all the familiar themes like love-friendship, master-apprentice or the search for one’s true self. Here I will discuss about some major themes that I find exceptionally interesting
Harmony and Nature
Honestly, these ideas are so Asian inspired. The four elements (air, water, earth and fire) directly represent the natural quality of all things which are made of these elements in different proportion. The Avatar is single entity that will reincarnate into another body once the old one dies. There is specific order of reincarnation. After being born into water tribe, the next Avatar will reincarnate into Earth kingdom, then Fire nation and then Air nomads. This pattern resembles the seasonal changes; winter, spring, summer and autumn. In the series, when the harmony between the four nations is disturbed, the world falls into chaos. The analogy is applicable to anything. For example, when fire element grows out of control in human’s body, fever and sickness occur. You get the picture.
The history of each tribe explored during the course of the series is also very fascinating. One thing worth repeating is the ‘original benders’ of each nation; Flying Bison are the natural airbenders, the waterbenders gain their craft after observing the moon’s bending the ocean, earth benders learn earthbending from the Badgermoles which live underground and the great dragons are actually the original firebending masters. What the show is implying is that all energies come from nature and human only borrows them. This is actually true in reality but no one seems to understand and everyone acts as if the power is his/her own.
Politics and war
Ambitious and powerful like fire, the firebenders are the ones who wage war against other nations in order to reign supreme in the world. I don’t think it is mere coincidence that the Fire Nation is located in the west of the world map (see the picture above, the Fire Nation is the red continent). They have the most advanced technology built for destructive purposes like battle tanks, warships and war balloons. In short, the Fire Nation probably referred to the powerful Western countries, their political and military actions. The animated series clearly stated that fire was the most destructive elements and without good self-control, discipline and proper training, it would destroy everything including the firebender himself.
It’s starting to feel like ‘tl;dr’ so I’ll pause here. The following part of this review will be published shortly.