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What is Avatar: The Last Airbender and why you should watch it. A short and sweet essay by me in a new episode of Dan’s Domain.

To listen in your browser, click here: Dan’s Domain Episode 2

 

 

 

I’m posting a text version of the short essay I wrote/read in the audio below:

Star War, Firefly, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter. These are just some of the worlds most well know and favorite fictional franchises. I have a new one to add to that list… Avatar.

No, not James Cameron’s Avatar with the blue cat people. That’s great, but I’m talking about Avatar: The Last Airbender and it’s follow up series, The Legend of Korra. For those who know me, I am a die hard fan of most of the franchises listed before. For as long as I can remember, Star Wars has been my favorite and a huge influence on my life. (My wedding cake had Han and Leia as a topper). I used to have a 6 foot by 4 foot atlas of Middle Earth on my wall and read the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit books every year. I believe that one of the greatest tragedies of the early 21st century was canceling Firefly. So it comes as a surprise to me when I say that the Avatar series might trump all of those.

Known as the Legend of Aang everywhere else besides the US, Avatar: The Last Airbender was created and brought to Nickelodeon in 2005 and ran for 3 seasons, completing it’s tale. Originally aimed at kids, this show tells the story of Aang, a young boy frozen in ice for a hundred years, who is discovered and woken up in order to defeat a great evil. Avatar takes place in an Earth-like land known as the Four Nations that is heavily inspired by Asian culture. One of the defining features in the show is that some people have to ability to manipulate or “bend” the 4 classical elements, Earth, Water, Fire, and Air, and at the time of the first series, the people of this world are split into different cultures based on the element that their people can bend.

Aang is special however. There is one person in the world with the ability to bend all four elements, know as the Avatar. When they die, their spirit is reincarnated into a new person from a different bending group. When Aang is found by 2 members of the Southern Water Tribe, it is his task to stop the Fire Nation, whose leader is attempting to take over and rule the Four Nations. Without spoiling anything, there is a follow up series starting in 2012 called The Legend of Korra. It takes place decades after the first and tells the story of the next Avatar after Aang. At this time, that show has completed it’s second of 4 seasons.

My purpose today is to convince everyone to watch this show, adults and children alike. There is one thing to keep in mind. The first half of season 1 (known as Book 1: Water) is not nearly as deep or detailed. Although it provides much information about the world and the main characters, and is absolutely necessary to watch, it is most definitely aimed at the Nickelodeon demographic. But stick with it, because the 2nd half of Book 1 and all of Book 2: Earth and Book 3: Fire comprise some of the greatest characters, world building, and story telling of, well, ever!

I’m going to finish this off by explaining why I love this show, its follow up, and the 2 comic stories.

First, the characters. This show is built around the main leads. Although most of them are children, the characters are funny, smart, sad, powerful, and have a strong understanding of right and wrong. But all of these qualities are built throughout the three seasons and you really get to see them go from naive kids to young adults who accept the weighty purpose that has been laid on them. As much as I love characters like Han, Luke, and Leia, you don’t have an opportunity to really learn about them, deep down. Characterization is perhaps the strongest part of this show and by the end, the viewer truly comes to care about them, almost as if they were real people.

Secondly, the world. The Four Nations are all comprised of cultures that we can recognizes, mainly Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan, and Inuit. As the three main characters travel the world and meet new friends and enemies, we learn about these different cultures and how they interact with each other. They are never played as caricature or simple background, but rather we recognize them as real people, with lives outside of the time they are on screen. It makes the viewer invested in the plight of the show and gives real weight to the consequences of failure. The World of the Four Nations may not be as detailed as Middle-Earth or as vast as the Star Trek Universe, but it is involving in a why that other franchises have fallen short.

Finally, the action. I mentioned before that the characters can bend the elements. Although the bending ability has many uses, fighting is the most common and visually interesting one. That’s an understatement though. The action in this show ranges from cool to breathtaking, and that’s not a pointless superlative. There are moments of bending action that is literally edge of your seat, takes your breath away, awesome. (Check out the 1st season episode “The Fortuneteller” to see what I mean). And the detail in the bending alone is absolutely stunning. For a kids show, one might assume that the characters just wave there hands and poof, fire! But no! Each of the 4 bending styles is based on a real world martial art. The bending comes from the characters performing different forms and moves that are animated extraordinarily accurately. One could realistically learn to perform the same moves as an Air or Firebender in real life!! And as the show progresses and the animation improves, the action gets more and more stunning.

In closing, this is my number one must watched show. Although it is no longer on Netflix Instant Streaming, tracking down and buying the DVDs (make sure they are the complete collection for each Book, not the individual volumes) or getting it from iTunes, PSN, Xbox Marketplace, Amazon or the Nicktoons Network, is one of the best investments you can make for your library of media. Although this smart, funny, and touching show is perfect for children, it is equally perfect for adults because it never talks down the the audience. This is the part where I would normally say “if you like this, you’ll like Avatar The Last Airbender.” When in reality, if you like stories of any kind, I believe you’ll love this show. But for all the sakes in the world, never, ever, EVER watch M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender film! It is awful beyond words and is absolutely nothing like the show. Thanks for reading.

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