I first watched this as a kid but never really could finish the series as my mother and my sister decided to cut the cartoon channel from the subscription and so I went on in my life always feeling unsatisfied that I didn't complete watching the show.
I stumbled upon it years later when I was a teenager and decided to watch it for that nostalgic feel and to cure my curiosity of the ending. Little did I know I would fall in love with this series, I mean, I loved Spongebob as well and really that was the first cartoon that exposed me to comedy, sure, there was Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry but something about Spongebob I clicked more with.
But since I was a teenager and I was watching it with a more open mind now as well as decided to analyze it for what it was I found myself falling in love with all the characters. And the character that affected me the most? Uncle Iroh. Because I associated myself with Zuko as I was going through tough times, every time Iroh advised and spoke to Zuko I thought he was talking to me. So, I guess you could say they equally had a hand in helping me out of those tough times. Obviously it wasn't only Zuko and Iroh, there was also Aang, the fun-loving, free spirited person that totally represented my childhood days. So, what was it about the story line as simple as a boy finding out his destiny and has to accept it and find ways to beat the villain without actual physical violence that makes it so great?
It is just that, the characters. I mean we are first introduced to Sokka a realist, who doesn't really believe in the supernatural but still respects tradition, then we have Katara, an optimist, always hopeful and caring, they stumble upon an iceberg with a boy in it. Lo and behold it's Aang, the last airbender, as the Fire Nation led by firelord Azulon in his time to destroy all remaining airbenders as Azulon knew that the avatar would be an airbender, as there is something called the avatar cycle that goes in an order according to the past element. So since, the last avatar was fire, then the next would be air, then after that would be water, and finally earth, then, the cycle repeats itself. But, since Aang was still young when the 100 year war happened and the monks were forced to tell him he was the avatar, Aang escaped never to be seen again until now.
But,Katara and Sokka find out that he is the avatar and decides to help him learn the four elements by traveling the world of the Four Nations in search for teachers who would help him learn it in a short amount of time as we learn that Firelord Ozai, Azulon's son, decides to use Sozin's comet which is coming soon to put the final nail in the coffin of the war(Hitler is that you?). And that's the element of this series that's so great it's able to take some historical facts and fuse it into the story and it enhances it just that much. Of course it's successor, Legend of Korra has more political ensembles, but Avatar:The Last Airbender was a good exposure for kids at the time.
In the end, Aang learns all of the four elements, but discovers that there is no other way than to kill Firelord Ozai. Now, being a kids show you know that they most likely won't take that route. But because the character was made in such a way, as we learn that the Airbender society is obviously a monastery, and Aang being a monk, it means that he cannot kill a living thing, aligning with Buddhist teachings, and so this makes it all the more believable. Not only that but it forces a character to find a new way of solving a problem, meaning that its telling kids that not all problems have two solutions, they can have more, and if you think it's best to solve it your way, then do it, but be sure you are ready to take on the consequences as well as we clearly could see being implied throughout the finale, as Aang was almost corrupted himself, but ultimately, being able to turn things around.
Now, I'd like to talk more about Zuko because, he is the one I most associated myself when I was a teenager, and his actions and attitudes fit those of a teenager, and you could see he was very lost. Burnt and banished by his father, he set out to capture the avatar thinking it would win his father over. His uncle followed in his exile because his uncle wanted to make sure that he didn't do anything too stupid but still allowed him his space to deal with his grievances. But Iroh was always there advising him and caring for him, so much so that you'd think that Iroh was his father, but instead Iroh was more of the father figure he never really had. Now of course, Iroh himself lost his son in the war, and that's most likely why he cares so much about his nephew, but one must also question how Iroh dealt with his grievances. It is said that Iroh was a very wise man, and that he had a lot of experience but surely, he did grieve for his own son, and maybe that's why he took Zuko under his wing and wanted him to find his own path to enlightenment and happiness.
There is a lot of Eastern philosophy and it fits with the show, but how they handle that philosophy is absolutely brilliant, especially when Guru Pathik tells Aang that it's okay to mourn the loss of his tribe because even though they are gone in the physical world, they will never leave his heart. Now of course, Aang has similarities with Zuko, both were forced to choose their own paths, by something given to them, one was immense responsibility and the other immense shame.
With that said, what about the other characters? Well for me Sokka and Katara hold a good brother and sister role especially Katara who is more often motherly because they had lost their mother at a young age and Sokka who is more often the humorous guy. Toph Beifong, was a strong female role model, telling all girls that no matter what disability you have, you can do anything, for her it was blindness, but that only enhanced her earthbending skills to the point where she was forced to metalbend even then, she still managed to do it becoming the first ever earthbender to metalbend. The finale is a good commentary on war and its destructive ways, and how people band together in fighting for a good cause.
Overall, this very series with its plot lines and story lines supported by the characters that really made it feel alive, was awesome. Too bad the movie wasn't all that good, but how can you take one season of a show and cram it into one movie? It's a tough task even for anyone. But even when the movie was shit, it can never take away from the show's essence and what it stood for.