What a phenomenal show.
A few years back a good friend of mine enthusiastically told me about this tv show. He explained the plot and the characters and really hyped it up. This guy was in his mid-30s, and his other interests included Vertigo comics, Spike Lee movies, and Stevie Nicks’ solo albums. Respectable enough. The only catch, for me: the show was on Nickelodeon. Sounds too childish for me.
That was early in its run, so I waited until it came out on DVD and checked it out from the library. I got through the first several episodes and thought it was alright, but didn’t see anything that really grabbed me by the boo-boo. Halfway through the first season or so, the disc froze, and I couldn’t get it to work even after cleaning it, so I returned it and more or less forgot about it.
Fast forward a few years. I came across it on Netflix Instant Watch and boy am I glad I did.
The first half of the first season still didn’t blow me away, but the second half started to show promise. The episode with Boomy showed that there was a little more to this than a typical kids’ adventure series. The Aunt Wu episode showed what I thought was some pretty clever writing, and kept me watching. What hooked me, though, was the final arc of Book One-- the siege of the north. Wow.
The story of the moon goddess was up there with great folklore, the Avatar state was evocative of the climax of Princess Mononoke, Uncle Iroh (by far my favorite character of the series) showed real character, the face-stealing spirit was genuinely creepy as $^&@ . . . it just had everything.
Season 2 raised the stakes, made Iroh deeper and more interesting, and introduced probably my second favorite character: Toph.
Season 3 was equally excellent, but really left me wanting more. I was really hoping for a long, Lord of the Rings-style denouement, and didn’t really get it. I think there was less than 10 minutes left to wrap everything up after the Firelord’s defeat.
Things I absolutely loved about it:
-The different sides of each character’s personality, and how they were allowed to emerge slowly and realisitically. Sokka was a genuinely good leader, but still made mistakes and boneheaded decisions. Aang was one of the most powerful beings in the world, but still doubted himself frequently. Katara was both a vicious foe and a dear, motherly ally.
-Appa. 'Nuff said.
-The attention to linguistics. I loved how Sokka’s teacher knew just from his name that he wasn’t from the Fire Nation. I loved the similarities in the Fire Nation royal family’s names; Sozin, Ozai, Azula, Zuko.
-I loved how fair it was to the sexes. The best earthbender was a girl. Arguably the best waterbender was a girl. One of the best firebenders was a girl. Several great warriors were girls. At least 2 Avatars that we saw were women.
-Just too much more to list, really.
Things that could’ve been a little better:
-Longer, more in-depth resolution, like I said.
-Sokka’s quest to become a master swordsman was very anti-climatic. He never really showed off his skills and he ended up losing his badass meteorite sword.
-I wish it had shown the horrors of war a little more. No one really died that I recall. I predicted back in season 1 that Zuko and Iroh would become good, Zuko would become Firelord, and Iroh would die (and I don’t even care that I was able to predict it-- it was damn fun watching it happen.) I think if it hadn’t been on Nickelodeon, my prediction would’ve been dead-on, instead of almost dead-on.
-I would’ve liked to see some more nuance among the Fire Nation. “Better” (in their eyes) justification for the war, some doubt from the citizens, etc.
-Slower, more “epic” animation in a few parts. Some otherwise amazing scenes felt a little bit rushed. The Aang Vs. Firelord battle comes to mind first.
All in all, though, great series. The only “American anime” that I know of, and a damn fine example of the genre IMO.
I am tentatively looking forward to the movie, though with some reservations; the director is VERY hit or miss - and more miss in the last few years, the kid playing Aang looks a little too serious in the trailers (not that Aang wasn’t serious at times, but I hope this kid can pull off light-hearted and playful too), and some of the cheesey humor that was forgivable in animated form probably will not be forgivable in live-action.
I really hope they handle it well.
I would say I’d like another season of the show, but I’m such a dork . . . I don’t want Zuko to turn bad again :o.