The beloved cartoon that premiered back in 2005 finally arrived on Netflix. Avatar the Last Airbender is about a boy named Aang (Zack Tyler) who must master all four elements: water, earth, fire and air, in order to end a 100 year war. The world is divided into four nations, each with a corresponding element, and each based off of real cultures. The Water Tribe being Inuit, the Fire Nation being Japanese, the Earth Kingdom being Chinese, and the Air Nomads being Tibetan.
A majority of the population can manipulate, or “bend” the elements using variations of martial arts. One such individual called the Avatar can bend all these elements, and does so in order to bring balance to the world.
Created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, the show ran for three seasons on Nickelodeon from February 2005 to July 2008. To this day, it’s still talked about due to its influence on not just kids, but adults too — especially those who grew up with the show.
So what makes this show memorable? Well, the characters for one thing. We got Aang, the 12 year old Avatar who’s first reluctant of his duty, but learns to grow confident through out the series. Aang isn’t alone though, he has Katara (Mae Whitman) and her brother, Sokka (Jack De Sena). Katara can bend water while Sokka can’t, but he has his trusty boomerang to prove his usefulness — and his sense of humor. We also got Toph (Michaela Jill Murphy) who joins the team later on, and despite being blind, she’s a powerful earthbender. She can sense vibrations in the ground, which gives her the ability to ‘see’ her surroundings.
Then we have Zuko (Dante Basco), the exiled prince of the Fire Nation who wants to capture the Avatar to regain his honor. Without a doubt, he has one of the best redemption arcs in a television show. Through out the series, he struggles with his purpose and goals, and watching it all unfold is a great journey all in itself.
Accompanying Zuko on this journey is his uncle, Iroh (Mako, Greg Baldwin). Iroh provides wisdom to guide his troubled nephew, and also provides wisdom to the viewers such as the importance of finding your own destiny. Out of all the characters, Iroh’s probably the most loved and has one of the most poignant scenes in the entire series.
Avatar actually has a lot of poignant moments. Despite it being a Nickelodeon show, it does touch upon themes such as death, war, genocide, and other subjects that aren’t normally seen in children’s entertainment. Avatar treats its audience maturely, but it also delivers humor to balance it out. The show appropriately knew when to be serious, and when to tone it down. Again, this is a show that both kids and adults can enjoy, and in the end they can get a good message out of it.
Another aspect that sets the show apart from other Nicktoons is its animation. It combines Japanese and American styles, drawing influences from East Asian art. The show also takes inspiration from a few Japanese movies such as Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro, as well as real life locations like the Forbidden City in China, and the Great Wall. The style and inspirations provide a unique, and appropriate look into different cultures to a wide audience.
Due to the show’s popularity, it garnered an on-going comic series, a sequel, video games, a live action movie — which we don’t talk of because it’s all around horrible — and an upcoming live action Netflix series.
Speaking of Netflix, considering that the original series is now on there, you should definitely give it a watch. And if you’ve already seen it, watch it again. After all, we all got enough time thanks to this pandemic.
PS: A few writers who worked on Avatar have written a new show called The Dragon Prince. It’s also on Netflix and is worth checking out. It has a tad more drama than Avatar but carries the same kind of humor.
Originally published by Lauren Massuda on May 17, 2020