Avatar: The Last Airbender [2005-2008] 61 Episodes

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avatar_supp_2The producers of Avatar: The Last Airbender (A: TLA) set for themselves an ambitious mission.  Make a children’s animated series that had an arc so big that it would take three seasons to resolve.  This causes multiple challenges.

One is getting viewers to stay with the arc without full satisfaction for an extended period of time.  Another is people who come in later need to be entertained without full knowledge of what has come before.  Avatar addressed both of these issues adequately.  There was a good amount of intelligent satisfying action in most episodes.  Also each episode started with a specific “Previously on Avatar” recap.

Behind many of the series diabolical machinations, and driven by incredible political ambition, she makes the world's most UNCONVINCING 14-year-old.

Behind many of the series diabolical machinations, and driven by incredible political ambition, she makes the world’s most unconvincing 14-year-old.

Can we do one of our patented one sentence synopses for A: TLA?  This one may be tough…  “In a fantasy world of four nations where some people have abilities to control elements, a band of teenaged freedom fighters will join forces around a superpowered boy destined to topple the most oppressive war-like nation and restore hope to the world.”  Whew.

A: TLA has received props for its unique visual style, and we think it is warranted.  It made substantial use of color palettes for the four nations.  The technology was a strange mix, at times quite primitive and others mechanically fantastic.  It pushed credulity but did not break it.

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At times; cute, angry, playful, near-sadistic, compassionate, depressed, vindictive to a parent and bossy. In other words, your average 14-year-old girl.

The locations were grand and interesting.  They were also varied.  One of A: TLA‘s strengths is the feeling of travel.  You will go from ice caps to deserts.  From swamps to mountaintops.  You criss-cross their world in the 3 seasons.

We did have an issue with their romantic relationships.  They got pretty serious by the final (3rd) season, but the main characters were quite young.  It got a little weird for example seeing the 12-year-old boy kissing the 14-year-old girl.  Hey, we are all for a little romance but at that age we suggest it be kept more subtle.

You do not want to be on the wrong side even against dead avatars.

You do not want to be on the wrong side even against dead avatars.

The elemental powers grew from simple to overly powerful.  I think in some cases the producers painted themselves into corners in trying to then keep them in check.  For example the girl who controls water later learns to control blood (gross).  So she can forcibly control the movements of anybody.  Does that not undercut all her future battles with even the most powerful opponents?

"The force in an energy field around all living things.  It surrounds us, it penetrates us, it binds the galaxy together."

“The force in an energy field around all living things. It surrounds us, it penetrates us, it binds the galaxy together.”

Sometimes the bad guys did not get their just comeuppance.  We dislike having to endure horrible wrongs only to have the moment of justice hijacked by the PC favorite, “we are better than that”.  Sure, let the wrongdoer go after his crimes, that is satisfying… not.

The avatar was a boy who could control all four elements while only few people could control one.  On only a few well done occasions he went into this fearsome “avatar state”.  His eyes would glow and he would become very much like The Incredible Hulk.  A creature driven by primal forces imbued with tremendous power.  These few occasions were some of the most entertaining of the series.

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However they may have built up the fearsomeness of the avatar state too well.  In the end when the avatar faces the big baddie, the controlled avatar state does not contain that same feeling of power, nor the specific dramatic music used for previous forays.  Mind you that was tough to live up to.  While the last battle was good we think it did not surpass some of the ones earlier in the series.

"Don't make me angry...  You wouldn't like me when I'm angry."

“Don’t make me angry… You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

A: TLA overcame the vagaries of children’s show distribution and broadcast times to get awards and good ratings.  It is one of the more intelligent animated offerings made outside of Japan and worth checking out.  It gives us hope that this kind of quality and individuality can become more common and successful.

Check out our Avatar related Takes:

Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005–2008)

The Legend of Korra [2012] Season 1

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17 thoughts on “Avatar: The Last Airbender [2005-2008] 61 Episodes

  1. Good one sentence description! I still have to see the last half of season 3. It’s a good series. I’m glad my great-niece wanted to watch it as I got hooked when I watched it with her. I then had to start watching it from season 1.

  2. I’ve heard that the creators of Avatar really did consult Chinese experts. No wonder even the details are given much thought. It can even rival Japanese animation (but I’m still loyal to anime) with its storyline and neat character designs.

    Nice pics, BTW!

    Oh, and I haven’t watched the third season yet. Lots of work in the university.

  3. This series will forever be a favorite of mine and no doubt I’ll be comparing many future projects to its greatness ;). Very nice summarization of the show. You hit on some things I had not noticed and other details I would dwell on myself. The one-liners on the Azula and Katara captioned screenshots were amusing ^^. You mentioned the diverse color palette the animators so often used, and thinking back that was probably why the show attracted me so much. The romance was a strange issue for sure, along with love triangles that followed.

    My favorite aspect of the show was the imagination put behind each type of elemental power, along with depth. I know there are good arguments against blood bending out there (I debated this with myself as well), but if they hadn’t touched on it I would have been disappointed. Since H2O is a common structure in almost all living organisms, I would have been skeptical had the creative staff not realized the power to control or *wince* hurt creatures with it. Afterall, a water bender could just pull all of the water molecules from a body and…*end thought*. Eeks, any who, the writing staff did a fairly thorough job in eliminating the possibility of blood bending from the main plot: few water benders knew that this extension of their powers existed, and Katara was too good-natured and wise to use it even for the forces of good. Some lines you just don’t cross and she knew the kind of vindictive person she would become if she became accustomed to blood bending. That said…I agree that it would have been an easy and quick means to taking down any troublemakers or the Fire Lord himself.

    (Wow, this is long–I apologize!) Last, I just wanted to share my appreciation for the amount of work the creators took to understand their characters’ backgrounds and settings. They may have taken liberties in some fictional characters, but for the most part I think they did a wonderful and respectful job on the whole. The creators even used choreographers to pen the fighting styles of each diverse element. I love how thorough they were =). Again, sorry for blathering!

    • Thoughtful comment! Thanks.

      It is my opinion that they should have taken the general way out concerning blood bending to avoid it altogether. That it was only possible to bend “free standing” elements in non-biologicals. So that earth benders could not rip the calcium from people’s bones or air benders tear apart someone’s lungs.

      However I think the producers were seduced by the dark side of the force and could not resist the creepy yet shiny apple of that witch and the blood bending plot line. Perhaps they did not think it through to its logical end or thought few others would. While I agree with you about Katara’s good side of the force nature, when her brother’s or the avatar’s life was on the precipice of death, could she resist? Every time?

      You are right about the character development. It is a rare show that has three seasons and the right plot structure to really flesh it out like A:TLA did. I am curious as to whether this team can put together another intelligent series or was Avatar a one-time thing at the right place and the right time.

  4. (Thoughtful comment, or long-winded rant? =p)

    I agree. It may have been apt for the writers to concede to simplified water bending strategies. That which is not connected to iron molecules in the blood or other minerals or the like. Like you said, it’s a slippery slope and the same could be applied to Earth and Air benders. However…the dark side was a very shiny temptation which I enjoyed watching unfold. If I were in Katara’s shoes (boots?) I’m not sure I could reign it in when faced with truly diabolical characters.

    If/when the creators ever decide to launch a new series, using their ingenious creative skills, no doubt I will follow it with fervor.

  5. I was surprised at the quality of this series when it first came out. Personally, I find that the world that BryKe (the creators) created was a very intricate and fascinating one. The characters are believable – yes, even Azula, the psycho-princess.
    And I think the reason Katara doesn’t use blood-bending is because she finds it unethical. She probably wouldn’t use it unless absolutely necessary. She wasn’t happy to learn it in the first place, remember. That being said, I’m still working through the entire series. Don’t spoil the end for me, n’kay? 😉

    • I agree that Katara found blood bending unethical, but they did seem to get into more or less life threatening situations every episode. And what about “bone bending” or “lung bending”?

      I wonder what you will think of the ending? Thanks for your comments.

  6. My younger siblings became obsessed with this show a couple months ago, and we rushed out and bought all three books. Having seen the whole series now, I say it’s the best American anime I’ve ever watched (yes, I said “anime” because technically it is). I love how each episode and book is circular; nothing is introduced that isn’t important later. For example, lion turtles, like the creature who taught Aang to spirit bend in book three, were briefly mentioned in book two. As they often said in the show, everything is connected.

    You’ve been mentioning blood bending a lot. I think the term is actually a misnomer. In that episode, the “puppet master” was teaching Katara that water existed in unexpected places. What those two were probably bending was the water in blood plasma; it contains 90-92%. Still, I can see where you’re going with “lung bending” and “bone bending.”

    As for the relationships, I found them a bit awkward, too. This is technically a kids’ show, so I thought they wouldn’t have anything so deep or “intense.” I also felt that sometimes the romance happened too quickly. For example, Sokka and Yue were to “kissing stage” (so to speak) by the end of the episode they met in. What’s the rush? And as cute as Aang and Katara were together, I did think it was strange for a fourteen-year-old to develop a crush on a twelve-year-old. I had always thought of them as brother and sister, and I think that sort of relationship would have suited them better.

    Still, this is an impressive series – one of my favorites. Its writers are very clever.

    • Good points. Your comments are interesting as usual.

      We are glad not to be alone in thinking some of those early and pre-teen relationships a little awkward or fast.

      Technically it may be anime, but we thought the American writing and production team differentiated it enough to be a hybrid.

      We liked what you said about the circular nature of the plot lines. We did like the fact that elements were seeded sometimes long before they were seen. The rich detailed world was definitely one of this series strengths.

  7. Excellent overview of one of my favorite television series! The final five episodes were probably my favorite of the entire show. Overall, I thought the writing, art, and overall story arcs were phenomenal. I loved all the characters, and I thought they did a great job handling certain issues for a younger audience.

    I think they handled the younger relationships pretty well. Sokka and Yue were what, 15? 16? I kissed a couple of guys on first dates at that age. 🙂 I worried about the Aang/Katara relationship at first, but I think that they handled it pretty well. I really didn’t have a problem with it.

    Good writeup!

    • It must be hard to capture the deep characterizations and many trials as portrayed in an animated TV series like Avatar and cram them down into a live action movie. We wonder if the movie was more enjoyed by those who never watched the series.

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