Saturday, April 14, 2012

Avatar: The Last Airbender Series Review (spoiler-free)

Every child has a cartoon show they grow up loving. From Batman to Rugrats, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Darkwing Duck, we've all had shows influencing our lives in more ways than we'll ever know. For any adults who've revisited their favorite childhood series, they don't always hold up over time. Avatar: The Last Airbender appeals to children, adults, and everyone in between. It's also a series I deeply regret wasn't around for my childhood...because it's incredible.

Upon hearing the concept of The Last Airbender, I found myself instantly intrigued. I browsed through the DVD section a few times, but never made a purchase. After all, what full-time, working adult has time for cartoons right? I thought about catching M. Night Shyamalan's film version instead, but found it was met with incredibly poor reviews from critics and fans alike.

I finally ended up starting the series when I noticed they had made their way to Netflix and found myself perusing through Netflix's library searching for something fresh and new. It certainly didn't hurt when renowned fantasy novelist Pat Rothfuss listed the series on his blog either. I thought I'd watch a few episodes to see what it was all about, but I found myself instantly hooked and ended up watching the entire series over a span of a few weeks.

The Last Airbender tells the story of a young boy named Aang.
For those unfamiliar with the series, this Avatar is in no way related to James Cameron's 2009 film. No, this tells the story of four warring nations: the Earth Kingdom, Water Tribe, Fire Nation, and Air Nomads. Within each of these nations, a select few are born with the ability to "bend" an element, respective to their namesake. Bending involves a number of martial art techniques as well as deep meditation and concentration, enabling the bender to manipulate his or her element into a number of different attack, defense, and evasion tactics.

Three of the four nations live quite harmoniously, yet the Fire Nation, in a quest for greed and power, attacked the other nations, upsetting the balance in the world. This launched what became known as the 100 years war. As the title's opening sequence states, "only the Avatar, master of all four elements can stop them." The Avatar alone has the ability to bend all four elements, yet he must train diligently to perfect each of them. As a continuously reborn spirit, Aang also has the ability to channel his predecessors and seek their wisdom throughout the series.

Many of the themes are cliche and you've almost certainly seen them before, but they're put together in such an incredible package it's easy to forget you probably know what's coming. What separates The Last Airbender, and makes it so unique are the Eastern cultural references. They're fairly obvious once you watch the show so I won't outline them all here, but you'll likely find a number of nationalities, beliefs, and faiths represented throughout. The characters are phenomenal and easily relatable. Even though it's a cartoon, they often behave as people would in the real world. The issues and problems they face are real world issues everyone could benefit from revisiting again and again.

Friendship and loyalty are paramount to Aang's success.
I can't recommend this series enough for parents of young children. I look forward to the day when I have a child of my own because we'll definitely be revisiting this series together. The timeless themes of peace, freedom, equality, and friendship ring true throughout the whole series and will be just as applicable to the next generation as they are to the present one. For parents, it's fascinating to see how the parenting of each main character plays a monumental role in who they become. Every main character has a parental conflict they must resolve and the decision plays a crucial role in how each will live the rest of their life.

The writers capped off Aang's story with a 90 minute-plus finale (most episodes are 23-25 minutes) and I have to say it proved to be one of the most satisfying conclusions to any story I've ever heard - be it novel, movie, or television show. The Last Airbender certainly isn't perfect as they are a few head-scratching episodes along the way. They're few and far between, but if I had viewed the show on a weekly basis then I would have likely been disappointed on a few occasions. Overall though, what you'll find here is quite simply fantastic and I don't think I've ever been so emotionally impacted by a series - especially an animated series - in such a way. You truly feel for these characters and hurt when they're in pain, rejoice at their triumphs.

I'm certainly not an anime aficionado so I admit to not knowing how this stacks up to other popular animated series; however, I do know what makes for good entertainment and the The Last Airbender absolutely blew me away. Watching the entire series so quickly proved bittersweet because I didn't want it to end. Luckily, the same writers who brought Aang's story to the world have just launched a new series set in the same universe. The Legend of Korra debuts today, April 14th, on Nickelodeon. If it's anything close to the same quality of The Last Airbender, children across the world (and maybe a few adults too) are in for one amazing ride.

10 out of 10


logankstewart said...

Heck yeah. I watched The Last Airbender about 2 years ago. One of my best friends gave me the dvds and told me to watch them, that I'd enjoy. I thought, what the heck, so I did, and I was hooked.

The entire run is intense, emotional, and funny. The animation is good. The writing it top notch. The characters are engaging. The plot is perfect. I loved it.

I'll have to wait until Korra comes to dvd before I watch it, but I'm eagerly awaiting it.

Glad you enjoyed the show. And I'm with the legion of fans that scorn Shyamalan's catastrophe. DO NOT WATCH IT! All of the goodness and beauty of the tv show evaporates into nothing before your eyes. FLEE FROM IT! I BEG YOU.

(Ok, let's just say that I love me some Avatar and would recommend that you skip out of the feature film. ;))

Jonboy said...

Haha! I thought you'd probably seen them Logan. I really enjoyed them. Like I said in the review, I look forward to revisiting them with my future children someday.

I had thought about watching the movie even though I knew it was supposed to be bad, but based on your recommendation...I think I'll stay FAR AWAY, lol.

I DVRd Korra and really enjoyed it. Great start and it definitely hooked me for what's to come. I just hope they'll be able to sustain it because the circumstances aren't quite as dire now.

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