Nerdstafari does Avatar: The Last Airbender

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Avatar: The Last Airbender is an animated TV series that aired on Nickelodeon from February 21, 2005 to July 19, 2008. It tells the story of Aang, a 12 year old boy who is the current reincarnation of the Avatar, the one individual each generation who is able to master all four elements. After lying dormant in an iceberg for 100 years, Aang is awakened by Katara and her brother Sokka, two young members of the Southern Water Tribe. Together the team seeks to finish Aang’s training in elemental bending and defeat the Fire Nation, stopping the century old war and saving the planet.

 

Ben: So, I’ve seen a bit of Avatar: The Last Airbender before, but you were a virgin to the series. Let’s get a brief idea of what you thought going in, before we get to the meat and potatoes of it. Did you have any idea what it was about, anything stand out coming into it with no experience of the show?

Max: I had been anticipating getting into Avatar for quite some time. When we decided to watch the series for Nerdstafari I was very much ready. Everything I had heard about the series was praise. I had seen M. Night Shyamalan’s movie adaption, which fueled the desire to see the series, so I had a basic concept of the story and had heard some of the names. Beyond that I was flying blind and went in with as much of an open mind as I could, resisting the urge to keep expectations at a high level.  I’ve experienced many occasions where I had been told something was awesome and allowed myself to be pumped for it, only to be disappointed. Wonderfully, this was not the case with Avatar.

Ben: Thankfully going into it with M. Night’s film as the basis is going into it with low enough expectations to almost guarantee not to be disappointed. Not to knock the film, I’m one of the few that legitimately enjoyed it, but the series is exponentially better in every way and if you enjoyed the film then seeing the series is like going to Mecca. It’s a much grander experience.  After having watched the first five episodes, now, what would say now to someone who asked your opinion about it? Do you have a favorite character yet?

Max: I agree with your evaluation of the movie. I find that the original creation is always better than its adaptation, be it a TV series to movie or book to movie, etc. As far as my opinion of the series so far it’s very enjoyable, I have fun watching it, and as I said while watching I will be adding it to my DVD collection. It’s one of those shows that deserve multiple viewings. As far as animated kids programming goes I can only name one I think that stands above, Clone Wars. It’s well-crafted and appeals not only to its age demographic but to parents as well as any adult interested in a good fantasy cartoon. As characters go, none of the main characters stand out yet. I see much development for them and look forward to it and expect I will soon gravitate to one. Two secondary characters stood out, King Bumi and Prince Zuko’s uncle, Iroh.

Ben: King Bumi, the “other” 112 year old child. Yeah, five episodes in, it would be a little difficult to pick a favorite. There isn’t enough development of the characters just yet. The really nice thing about the series is that the character growth is actually present. There is a lot of depth to the characters and their personalities. You can see them grow and become more skilled in their bending abilities. Plus the fight scenes just get epic. Remember that scene on the Fire Navy ship between Aang and Zuko? That is just a taste of what’s to come. The visuals during the fights are phenomenal.

Max What I’m anticipating is when Aang begins to develop his skills with the other bending techniques. Each element has been shown to have a unique style, though I air bending, for me, lacks others with the skill to use to show a distinct style so I can only assume much of what Aang does is a part of a taught style. The fights are fantastic. The animation is well drawn and very detailed with the fight scenes, adding not only the element abilities but the use of the environment that they are in, like Aang slamming Zuko into the ceiling with a mattress. One stand out was the scene in which Aang discovers monk Gyatso’s body and the dozen or so dead fire nation warriors and Aang flips out. The resulting scenes of the avatar statues lighting up and each elements temples were interesting, especially in showing the power that Aang possesses.

Ben: That’s the great thing about this show. The artists, writers, and animators put a lot of attention to detail. Take for example Aang’s levitation and flight. You’d think he can just float about, but looking closer you see he manipulates air under his sleeves and tunic to cause an updraft. It could have just as easily been explained by “he controls air” or unexplained at all, but they took the time to ground it in a little more a of a physical world. Speaking of Aang’s Avatar state, that scene with the statues is a pivotal scene for me. The fact that it all revolves around Aang being an uncontrollable fury, and temples in every nation essentially going on alert with the Fire Nation priests rushing to inform their lord of the Avatar’s reemergence, really goes to further just what the Avatar is supposed to represent in this world.

Max: I see that as the key, the importance of the avatar in the world’s mythology and the story of Aang pre-show. The significance of his position and role within the world, his reluctance to accept his destiny, and him find out that he was the avatar at an age younger then is customary, lends a sense of realism to the character. Aang doesn’t outright embrace his heritage, knows the importance, and tries so hard to just be a normal child yet we see that power, both directly and indirectly in him. This heritage is subtly shown in the numerous ways he commits selfless acts just within the first five episodes, his surrender to save the Southern Water Tribe and his retreat from Kyoshi. There’s a real depth to the series, which is unique for the type of show it is, and it takes the show to another level.

Ben: Exactly, there is much more depth than you would think would be in a show geared toward children. With deep messages and heavy actions, Avatar embraces the fairy tales of old. There is a real story here, Aang is a real character, and the effects this war with the Fire Nation is having on the globe are real. From the residents of Kyoshi Island and their worship of Aang as the new Avatar to the Omashu’s guards being very much the opposite of the super nice people Aang remembers from a century before. There is a living world and story here and I appreciate that.

Max: One of the big things I see with the story and the themes is that the creators of Avatar have fully embraced the reality that kids have more maturity then we give them credit for and are much more able to take on themes that have for a very long time been relegated to adults. To me it embraces the attitude of some anime I’ve seen that isn’t strictly adult in its content. I can see why, like you’ve told me before, people refer to it as anime. It has that feel to it. I notice that much of foreign media respects a truer sense of maturity in children and I see that in Avatar.

Ben: You also have to remember, you’ve gotten all this from five 22 minute episodes. We’re barely a tenth of the way through the series and we can already see themes and patterns being developed in a way that many shows, let alone animated series, can’t seem to master. With episode six through ten coming up for the next article let’s get some closing statements from a recent initiate. We are continuing our journey to the North Pole so that Katara and Aang can learn water bending. Zuko is on the trail and the Fire Lord himself is actively aware of Aang’s existence. What do you hope to see in the coming episodes, any predictions?

Max: I couldn’t even wager a guess as to what might happen, not at least within the next five episodes. I have my thoughts of what might happen within the entirety of the show. Thoughts as to what is the bigger role that Zuko will play. How did Iroh, a renowned and powerful general, become relegated to babysitting duties? I’m excited to see the story unfold, and within the next few I’m anticipating Aang and his friends reaching the Northern Water Tribe and both he and Katara learning water bending. I think, though to really wrap things up I’d like you to tell us about the lovable character Appa.

Ben: Oh, Appa. Aang’s trusted friend and mount, my favorite character in the series, by the way. There is something about a lumbering, six-armed, flying bison that is endearing. He’s like the Avatar version of a St. Bernard: Big, doofy, slobbery, always hungry, and loyal as all hell. He represents to me that companionship that transcends normal interaction. He’s not a peer, he’s not even human, but there is a connection between him and Aang that runs deeper than any friendship most people in the real world and Aang’s probably ever know. Appa is the faithful hound, the dog that lies by his master’s grave day and night just to be near his friend for his last days. That loyalty and love is rare in the world and seeing it shown with unspoken statements and minimal exposition is heartwarming. I’m romanticizing it a bit, but Appa shows what makes true friendship great. Besides, how the heck can you not wig out over a giant flying fur ball? He’s a magical musk ox for God’s sake, what’s not to like about that?

appa

 

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