Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Avatar: The Last Airbender


  Reviewing a whole show, is a pretty big undertaking. But Avatar is not just any show, its good from part to part, great from one season to the next, and utterly epic as a whole. Its the kind of "chosen one", coming-of-age adventures that hollywood can't seem to get right anymore on the silver screen. Its powerful, and funny, and moving and action packed. Its worth sitting down and seeing the whole show as soon as possible.

  I don't address it so quickly as a "cartoon" because even though it IS animated, the term "cartoon" springs Tom and Jerry or the Looney Tunes to mind. Mindless silly animated bits with a punchline. They exist solely to make a joke, rarely ever to make a point. I'm not saying that Avatar is the only kid's show to ever be more than simply a cartoon, I'm just saying... this one knocks your socks off. From the way it handles its mature content, of which there is a lot, to the way it carefully develops archetypal characters into people who we grow to know and care about, the show feels less like a saturday morning cartoon, and more like a massive budget hollywood epic. It may sound crazy to those who have no desire to sit down and watch a "cartoon" as you may label it, but it IS worth it. This show IS awesome.

  A reviewer of another movie once said (and I paraphrase...) "It has the right combination of elements to put the magic back into saturday matinees..." I can't think of a better way to describe Avatar. It's layered and complex, never too much though. It never overwhelms or drops an indecipherable heap of backstory in your lap. It moves with the characters. We discover things as they do. Not only plot wise, but emotionally too. As the leads develop feelings for each other, its a subtle budding romance thats handled tactfully and paced out just right. In fact, just about everyone goes through the emotional ringer on this show. Theres friendships made, romances kindled, alliances formed, and betrayals suffered. The characters aren't perfect, morally idealistic, role models either. They make mistakes, they feel rage and want revenge. The thing is, they learn from their mistakes, and the characters are all the stronger for it. Its a really impressive thing to watch how they handle it.
  For those curious about what the Avatar actually is and the world in which the show takes place, here's some stuff from Wikipedia:


  Avatar: The Last Airbender takes place in a world home to humans, fantastic animals, and spirits. Human civilization is divided into four nations: the Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, and the Air Nomads. Each nation has a distinct society, wherein people known as Benders have the ability to manipulate the element of their nation using the physical motions of martial arts. The show's creators based each bending style on an existing martial art, leading to clear visual and physical differences in the techniques used by Waterbenders, Earthbenders, Firebenders and Airbenders.

  At any given time, there is only one person in the world capable of bending all four elements - the Avatar. The Avatar is the spirit of the world reincarnated in human form. When an Avatar dies, this spirit is reincarnated into the next nation in the Avatar Cycle, according to the implied correspondence of seasons to the nations' cultures (Winter/Water Tribe; Spring/Earth Kingdom; Summer/Fire Nation; and Autumn/Air Nomads) and must master each bending art in seasonal order, starting with their native element. Additionally, the Avatar possesses an ability called the Avatar State, which briefly endows them with the knowledge and abilities of all past Avatars as a self-triggering defense mechanism, which can be made subject to the will of the user by extensive trial and training. If an Avatar is killed in the Avatar State, the reincarnation cycle is broken, and the Avatar identity will cease to exist. Through the ages, the succeeding Avatars have served to keep a relative equality among the nations; whereas in the story's mythology, the Avatar connects the material to the spiritual world, and vice versa.
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  The events 100 years before the beginning of the show are revealed gradually and out of order throughout the series.
  More than a century before the beginning of the series, the ruler of the Fire Nation, Fire Lord Sozin, planned a world war to expand his territory; but knowing that his friend, fellow firebender Avatar Roku would prevent him, arranged the latter's death, whereupon the Avatar was reincarnated as an Airbender named Aang. Aang was told the truth of his status while still a child, despite the protests of his mentor Monk Gyatso; whereupon Aang, fearful of his new responsibilities, and of separation from Gyatso, fled his home on his flying bison, Appa. The two were subsequently forced into the ocean by a storm, and Aang's protective Avatar State encased them in an iceberg, in suspended animation. In an attempt to kill the new avatar who would be an Air Nomad, Fire Lord Sozin carried out a genocide of the Air Nomads, leaving Aang as the eponymous "Last Airbender".
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  The war Sozin started raged over a hundred years and is still going strong when a teenage waterbender girl named Katara, and her her brother find Aang frozen in the iceberg. They release him and unknowingly kick off a massive quest to help Aang learn and master the other three elements to overthrow the vicious Fire Nation and stop the tyrannical reign of the current Fire Lord. As with any epic quest, there are twists and turns and epic battles, and the characters become practically like family. From episode to episode, it retains a fantastic formula, there are your episodes that are more humorous and laid back, and these are like a rest stop almost, because Aang and co. are relentlessly hunted by the Fire Nation. Their lives are nearly perpetually in danger.


  Its intense and powerful, but the show is not without a lighter side. Theres lot of humor, and its all well timed and genuinely funny. As the show goes on, it develops inside jokes and a stronger sense of humor. Its this part of the show that will entertain the younger audiences, but theres also absolutely nothing keeping older viewers from really enjoying this rich and engaging show. The action is fantastic, the animation is excellent, the humor is actually funny, and the stories are incredibly well written. None of this feels like a little kid's show. Its thoughtful and really fun. I can't recommend it enough.

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