Avatar: The Last Airbender: animated series review (part 1)

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.

Introduction

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)

Katara and Sokka found Aang, the long lost Avatar

Synopsis

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

symbols of the four elements

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.

dragons are the original firebenders

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.

The red western continent is the Fire Nation

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.

19 responses to “Avatar: The Last Airbender: animated series review (part 1)

  1. Nice primer. I have been quite ignorant of the series since I caught it while it was airing, but I never “got” the story or what was going on (hard to just jump into some things I guess… plus odd airings).

    Look forward to next part :)

  2. Now I gotta wonder how many people checked out the series due to the crappy movie by Mr. Shamwow.

    • For those who doesn’t watch the animated series, they’ll think the crap they were watching was okay.

      I’m an avatard. Second season is when I realized that I am one. All thanks to Sokka and Zuko.

    • @Bonehimer – The same thought went through my mind several times and it saddened me greatly.
      @ Klux – I think I have become an Avatard as well.

  3. I love your review, but my favourite part was this – “when I realized I unconsciously did the ‘water-bending’ gesture in the shower” – cracked me up =)

  4. Your statement about the fire nation being a direct referral to western powers is pretty contentious, considering all the Avatar nations were designed based on historical asian cultures, the creators themselves are American, and that such a geo-politically charged idea would soar over the heads of its intended Nicktoon audience. But I agree with the more general theme of nature and harmony and all that good stuff.

    I love the way Avatar borrows eastern design style, philosophy, and storytelling techniques, but remains distinctly western in its comical script and animation style. That it’s a superbly paced and both thematically consistent and resonant throughout puts in the top echelons of American TV animation.

    • I can be really blunt and biased sometimes. There are definitely several other possible interpretations behind the Fire Nation. After all, quests for power and dominion over weaker nations exist in every corner of history. I did not intend to be offensive in my writing, so I decide to make a tiny change in the article to tone it down. Thanks for sharing your thoughts :)

  5. Airbender is a series that I wish was around when I was a kid, I feel like I’m going to really like it when I go to watch it. But if I were still a kid while watching this I imagine this series would obsess me. I mean hell I even liked the Jackie Chan Adventures cartoon, there is no way this wouldn’t be enjoyable to me. It’s currently streaming on Netflix and I’m going to watch it marathon style with the bf. I’ll let you know the final verdict after I watch it but I imagine it will be positive ;)

  6. “the Fire Nation directly referred to the powerful Western countries, their political and military actions.”

    Have to disagree with you here. If anything they appear more like WW2 Japan that used it’s technological advancement and fanatical worship of the emperor to dominate the much larger and populated asian countries such as China, Korea, and parts of SE Asia.

    Keeping in line with Japan, their domination of the ainu people in Hokkaido, but that’s pretty a tenuous alignment

    Go one further, their razing of the Air temples is more aligned with the Manchurians razing the Shaolin temples to remove a very powerful and influencal group. Hell, it would be DIRECTLY link to the Maoist Chinese taking over Tibet and burning all those temples to the ground and basically forcing the Dali Lama into exile.

    • I think you have given me one of the best comments ever and you did far better job interpreting the Fire Nation than I did. The WWII reference sounds just right :)

  7. Pingback: Avatar: The Last Airbender: animated series review (part 2) | Canne's anime review blog

  8. I found out about Avatar: The Last Airbender when I heard a movie was being made for it. The movie turned out to be quite amusing since the acting was so bad in it. I heard the show was actually good, but I don’t really watch American-animated shows. *shrug*

    • I don’t normally watch American shows as well but I was glad I watched this one. Nevertheless, I am not planning to further pursue more American animation any time soon.

  9. Pingback: Avatar: The Last Airbender: animated series review (part 3) | Canne's anime review blog

  10. Avatar The Last Airbender is one of the greatest series of all time, and one of my personal favorites by the way. Great synopsis!!!!!!

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