Avatar: The Last Airbender is a popular animated series written by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. It aired for three seasons, commonly known as books by fans on Nickelodeon, the first episode appearing for the first time in February 2003, and ending in July 2008. The series setting is heavily Asian, representing the Inuit, China or Japan, and even nomadic monks. Also, the characters in the world have special abilities called “bending”, which allows them to telekinetically manipulate four main elements, namely, fire, water, earth, and air. The story follows Aang, a young avatar who has the fate of the world on his shoulders; this review will take each ‘book’ and a full analysis will follow.
Book One, The Book of Water:
The story begins by showing two water tribe siblings, Katarra and Sokka, sailing their boat in the river when an argument about sexism surfaces. This theme continues through Book One, splendidly exhibiting examples of sexism that are not too overpowering that they conflate with the plot, but visible enough that it cannot be ignored. Katarra accidentally releases her water bending onto an iceberg; the ensuing explosion causes them to encounter a boy inside an iceberg. He is revealed to be Aang, a 12-year old airbender who does not remember how he got there. Later, when the fire nation attacks them, Aang is revealed to be the avatar and he flees to the Southern Air temple with Sokka and Katarra. There, he faces the harsh reality that his entire civilisation has been completely wiped out; this signifies his emotional vulnerability as a 12-year-old child.
In the last few episodes of this book, they reach the Northern Water Tribe, where sexism is covered more regarding teaching Katarra water bending. Unexpectedly, Prince Zuko and the fire nation attack the water tribe. After a fierce battle, the water tribe is victorious against the enemy forces, causing Zuko and Zhao to retreat.
The first book is a wonderful chapter in the series; it introduces us to the characters and talks heavily about their circumstances. Not only that, but it also tackles many societal issues, such as slavery, genocide, sexism and a lot more. The book does this in such an expository way, that a majority of the scenes are enough to induce tears.
Book Two, The Book of Earth:
Arguably, this is the best season of this series as it shows just how much it is character driven story. We are introduced to Toph, the blind daughter of a rich couple who wishes to be set free from her restraints. The team offers her parents to allow her travel with them, but they strongly refuse. Sick and tired of being a prisoner in her home, Toph sneaks out at night to accompany the team and become Aang’s earth bending teacher. Azula is also properly introduced in the next episode, we see that she is deranged psychopath who has one goal in mind, capture Zuko.
This season shows more than Team Avatar, it also moves to tell the story of the prince and his uncle. Zuko is shown to be empathic, caring and more than just a banished prince who seeks to regain his honor. All this is featured in the filler episodes “Tales of Ba Sing Se” and “Zuko Alone”.
This book also took more chances to develop the team, showing us Aang’s bond to Appa in the form of his reaction when the bison is kidnapped. Aang is moody, depressed and cranky, and for a while, he continues to show great emotion towards his kidnapped friend. Towards the end, we also see Katarra and Zuko form a short bond, only for it to be almost besmirched by Azula, exhibiting her manipulative nature.
Book Three, The Book of Fire:
The third book continues with the quest of the team on their journey to defeat the Fire Lord and save the world. It opens up a few months after the events of the second season, Azula injured Aang, and he ended up in a coma. Right off the bat, when Aang hears that the world thinks he is dead, his reaction is explosive, he feels like he has failed, and leaves in rage. This gives more exposition into his the frailty of his character, and how the avatar is not invincible.
The third season tackles emotional redemption, each character has their own special arc, where their issues are discussed and reviewed. Sokka, with rescuing his father and girlfriend from a top security prison, Katarra, coming to terms with Zuko joining their team and forgiving the man who killed her mother. Zuko also receives the most substantial amount of character development, he confronts his father about the evils he has committed and vows to join Aang and defeat him.
The resolution of this series also lives up to the hype, in every single way. Aang kept to his pacifist beliefs by sparing the Fire Lord’s life, the rest of the team also did their part and greatly contributed to the explosive ending.
Overall, this animation series can be said to be one of the best things to come out of the 21st century.
From the gripping plot, to the moving characters, this series is an epic story for both children and adults, it truly is one of the most interesting fantasy narratives to exist.
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