What happens when a 23 year old cynical nerd goes back to watch a kid show from the mid-2000's? Not what you' expect
When I saw previews for Avatar: The Last Airbender, I was 13 years old. I was in that phase that a lot of guys go through in their early teens (that some never really grow out of) where I thought "I'm more adult, anything that looks like a cartoon or looks childish is lame". I'd moved on from Pokemon, the only Nintendo franchise I kept up with was Metroid Prime, because it was darker and more "FPS"-ey, I instead was in love with Halo and thought the X-Men movies were masterpieces and I ignored the Ninja Turtles show that came out in 2003 (another massive error) due to the same reason. It was truly a dark time. I'm very glad it didn't last all that long. My point is, I ignored this show growing up, and the hype had passed (at least I didn't hear anyone talk about it) by the time I would've been open to it. I've only recently finally brought myself to buckle down and give the show a shot. Holy shit, I was the dumbest kid.
It's hard to tell how I would've felt about this show as a kid. Yes, it aired on Nickalodeon, and it can definitely be watched by younger people, but there's also a lot of maturity and it's very deep and contemplative. There's a lot of comedy, yet it's done really well, and it can be appreciated by both adults and children, or man-children if your sense of humor is akin to mine. It's also very fast-paced, but it never feels hard to follow. Just about every episode has a lot happening, and it feels like you get out of one episode what you'd get from four or five of a lot of other shows. Many things happen, but it's never overly hectic, and you get breathing room, you get time for characters to come up with solutions, to set up plot and villains and the like. It's truly impressive that they throw as much into four seasons as they do without it really feeling rushed, or making it feel too drawn out. The pacing is near perfect, everything's fleshed out, but is done so quickly enough to never get dull. Before I keep ranting and so I don't stay wary of delving into more specifics, I'm just gonna say it's awesome and move on.
The best thing about this show, at least to me, is the characters. I can't think of one character that doesn't earn my absolute adoration, heroes and villains alike. They all have interesting backstories that flesh out, over time, why they're how they are, or how they were, as they're constantly, but subtly changing. If you went back to the first episode, you'd believe they were who they were in the beginning, and you'd be shocked by how much they grow an evolve if you were to see the first couple of episodes then look forward. Yet, if you watch the series as a whole, it makes sense that they became who they are. I personally think the writers did a stellar job, not only with the world and the story, but especially the characters. Though many may not see it as a significant factor, I feel like they found a perfect cast as well. From the main characters to side characters with little to no significance are portrayed profoundly. Most of the bigger roles are played by talented but rarely utilized voice actors such as Mae Whitman, Jack De Sena, and Dante Basco. Yet they do have starpower outside the main cast such as Mark Hamill as The Fire Lord, and Phil LaMarr as the Earth King. I also enjoy that there's rarely a character they give any real screen time to that's forgotten. At some point, just about everyone will be mentioned or seen again, usually when you're about to forget they exist.
Speaking of things coming back around, it's time for me to semi-awkwardly transition into talking about the story. Of course, I'm going to try to speak on the quality of it without giving away anything that isn't revealed almost immediately in the show. So, the setup itself is kind of a generic "this one nation is super evil and stuff and they're all killing other people and trying to conquer the world" thing. Yet, that's pretty much where the simplicity ends. Not only does the plot get very deep and intense, and foaming at the mouth with excellent twists, but the entire reason the world is in the state it's in is because the Avatar, our main character. The pre-destined savior and harmonizer of the world, has been presumed dead for 100 years. This vacation of his has allowed The Fire Nation's power to go pretty much unchecked for a century of tyranny, only adding to the responsibility as well as regret placed on Aang when he finally awakens from his nap. You'll rarely know where the plot is headed or where the characters are headed, but you'll be satisfied with the results.
Another major element that may not be the first brought to mind is the world. The world of Avatar is beyond fascinating, and far more entertaining than the Blue Pochahantus that was the James Cameron flick. Each nation, sometimes even each town and each structure, takes cues from all kinds of different cultures in world history, but it's all presented in a fresh way that anyone not reading much into it could easily see as its own wholly unique idea. The concept of bending is also done very executed, and is intensely interesting. People seem to be born with or without an innate ability to "bend" one of the four elements: Earth, Fire, Wind, Water (Go Planet!) and learn to use that power in unique ways, such as water benders creating ice or steam, earth benders generating sand or hardening soil, fire benders utilizing lightning, and air benders basically being able to fly. Again, I think the world is very interesting, unique, and absolutely beautifully designed, making it nearly impossible to not get drawn into very quickly.
The Last Airbender isn't a perfect show, mind you. Though one doesn't exist. There are concepts i wish were fleshed out a bit more, some minor plot points not given complete closure, and some points where I think solutions came a bit too easily. Though many of my disappointments come from the show not being longer, but I believe that's a good thing. The characters are so great, the world so fascinating, and so much is bound to change after it ends, that I'd love to see what happens next, or to see the good parts stretched out more so I can see it more just as often as because it could be beneficial. It'd be great to see how the world and its characters, major and minor, are affected by the events of the show, an the kind of people they become.
Overall though, I think Avatar: The Last Airbender is an amazing show, and I can't think of a group of people, aside from the brutally close-minded, that couldn't derive at least some enjoyment from it, and I'd recommend that anyone with the chance watch the first two episodes at least.
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