Since I started watching anime, one thing that came to my attention was that I had never seen an episode of the American animated series that combines elements of anime with American cartoons, so I thought it was about time I see what all the fuss is about since it seemed to be very popular in it’s time and remains popular to this day despite only having had three seasons, as well as a spin-off series and a not so well rated live-action film adaptation.
Set in an Asiatic-like world, in which lives certain humans who can manipulate one of the four elements – Earth, Fire, Water, and Air – using telekinetic abilities known as “bending”, with these gifted beings themselves being known as “benders”. With each generation, there has always been one individual amongst them who is the only being able to manipulate and master all four elements, known as The Avatar, the one who will bring balance to the world and fight for peace amongst the four nations of the world.
Having disappeared over a century ago, a young boy named Aang is discovered trapped in an iceberg by a brother and sister, Katara and Sokka, members of the water tribe of the South Pole. After recovering from his century-long slumber, the young boy discovers that he is the last Air Bender known to exist and the fact that he is the Avatar makes the burden all the more heavier as the responsibility of the world weighs down on him.
Just before Aang disappeared, the Fire Lord of that time, Sozin, declared war against the other nations in order to expand his empire, and after learning that the Avatar was an airbender, he ordered a mass genocide of the airbenders and their tribe, but due to Aang having run (or rather flown) away from his responsibilities, and becoming lost in a storm that swept him and Appa into freezing cold waters, the Fire Lord never did kill the Avatar and the Avatar never brought peace to the land.
The century long war has continued with Sozin’s son, Lord Ozai becoming the new Fire Lord of this present era, a powerful man who no one dares cross, especially after hearing that he banished and burned his own son Prince Zuko, sending him on a mission to find the Avatar in order to regain his lost honour. Zuko, along with his uncle Iroh, pursue Aang and his friends throughout the series, often being bested and facing many difficult quarrels with his own self worth.
Aang, along with his two new friends, and his trusted flying bison, have set off on a journey to master the other three elements in order to fulfill his prophecy and become the Avatar that can restore peace to this war-ravaged world. Along the way they will make new friends, some of which stay with them and travel with them such as Momo, a winged Lemur who they meet early on in their travels and whom becomes a dear companion throughout. They will also find new allies and even fall in love, such as Sokka who meets a water tribe Princess in the North Pole that he falls madly in love with.
Together, our heroes must face hard battles, both physically and mentally, as Aang discovers the true power of the Avatar and what it means to be the chosen one. Their first stop is to find someone who can help Aang, as well as Katara, learn and master Water Bending.
The story is full of humour, as a kids show should be but watching it as an adult, you realise that there were some really hard hitting themes and lessons thrown in there, such as a big theme of trust and being honest with those closest to you. There are moments when the characters such as Aang can be selfish, thinking only of himself when really he should be thinking of his friends feelings as well, which of course leads to the truth being revealed and a quarrel within the team being formed to a point where they split up or fall out, because trusting those closest to you is difficult when there are secrets being held and lies being told.
Aang and the other characters are entertaining, and even the villains such as Kuzo have you on their side at times with some great writing that gives us a deeper look into each character, with their back stories and their motivations, that often times make you question if they are as bad or even as good as they may first appear. Whilst the currently unseen Fire Lord Ozai feels like a straight up villain, his banished son Prince Kuzo, feels like a much more nuanced character, who does show his better side towards some of the citizens he meets in his search for Aang. His Uncle Iroh is an even better example that just because someone belongs to the Fire Nation tribe, they are not all terrible people. Iroh is often very respectful of others, cheerful and teaches Kuzo to try and be the same way.
Watching the series you can definitely see the anime influences as well as the American animation tropes that help bring the cartoon into its own unique style. The characters all stand out as being different from any other show, with some having their own iconic looks such as Aang’s bald head with a large blue arrow on it, which has become iconic to the character and the series throughout the years, influencing merchandise designs and even cosplayers all over the globe.
The different seasons of Avatar: The Last Airbender, also known as Avatar: The Legend of Aang, are named as books rather than seasons, so this first season is called ‘Book One: Water’ since Aang sets of on his journey to first learn Water Bending.
Book One is a great start to the show that had the viewer hooked from start to finish with it’s unique art style, captivating plot and quirky characters who you will go on an emotional journey with. Whilst it was a kids show on Nickelodeon, this show is easily as entertaining and gripping for adults as well, with its strong themes that even normal people in the real world face such as trust, a sense of burden, and stress from learning new things, whilst trying to better yourself as a person overall.
It’s definitely a show I would recommend to any adult or child to watch, possibly together as it’s unique characteristics are certainly able to bridge a generational gap and be enjoyable for all.
Avatar: The Last Airbender is currently available to watch fully on Netflix (UK).