It’s hard to think that this show started on Nickelodeon almost 15 years ago and is still attaining popularity today. Avatar: The Last Airbender was revolutionary for its time, and upon rewatching it recently it isn’t hard to see why that is. Among its sillier and child like elements, there is a deeper story about redemption, colonialism, sexism, racism, and fighting for something greater than yourself. This show sparked the amazing balance of silly and serious to provide a show that is monumentally praised for its direction. And now, I have the honor of reviewing it.
Water. Earth. Fire. Air. Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony then everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked. Only the Avatar, master of all four elements, could stop them, but when the world needed him most he vanished. A hundred years later, siblings Sokka and Katara stumble upon the new Avatar, an airbender named Aang. Together they must team up for Aang to master all four elements and stop the Fire Nation before the 100 year war gets worse.
Even its opening theme is iconic and sets the stage for what you are about to get into. The first season spends a considerable amount of time developing its world, rules, lore, and characters in order for you to become truly invested in them. From the time you start the first episode, you are already introduced to a world that feels lived in and alive and immediately connect with the immediacy of the task at hand.
Aang, Katara and Sokka are three of the most memorable characters in all of television history and it isn’t hard to see why. Aang is just 12 years old but he has the weight of the world on his shoulders with the responsibility of being the Avatar. He’s fun loving, high spirited, enthusiastic, yet he also experiences heartbreaking moments that set in motion his eventual destiny of becoming the world’s only hope for peace. The person he is at the beginning of the season is drastically different from that of the end, and that dichotomy within him provides some great character development yet hilarious moments.
Katara could have just been a one note damsel in distress for the series, but she is one of the strongest female characters in the series. She is constantly proving her worth not all to those around her but to herself. She is deeply affected by the Fire Nation’s tyranny on her family and that motivation drives her to become someone strong and dependable for others. She also isn’t afraid to call others out on their bull crap, and her consistent battle against a sexist culture makes this a deeper show than most would anticipate.
Finally, Sokka is more the comic relief of the group and being one of the few characters without any bending he really has to prove himself to be a worthy addition. He more than makes up for it on many occasions with his greatest strength being his intellect that gets the group out of sticky situations most of the time. He doesn’t necessarily have much of an arc in this season, but there are great episodic moments that showcase his value to the team.
On the Fire Nation side we have Zuko who, in season 1, is portrayed as a whiny teenager obsessed with capturing the Avatar to reclaim his honor. While it does take a few episodes, the series does flesh him out with his character and showcase the inner pride he has within himself that needs to be tamed. So often the show conveys how his anger and frustration lead to many of his mistakes and no character brings out that side of him more than his uncle. Iroh is the balance to Zuko in this season and all though he is very goofy and kind of silly at times, you genuinely feel that he cares for Zuko and wants what is best for him.
Season 1 is mainly all about setting the stage for what is to come from the show. A lot of the early episodes are used to build character moments, world build, and introduce key lore that will be pertinent to the show. The main story is to get Aang and Katara from the South Pole to the North Pole in order for them both to master waterbending. However, the true goal of the entire series is fully revealed until about halfway through the first season.
Along the way they encounter many different towns and side stories that do well to flesh out the world and allow them to feel alive.The season is packed at 22 episodes and even though that may be a lot, they do the most with the time they are given. All though there are some skippable episodes here and there, it is for the most part an enjoyable journey to watch.
The series isn’t afraid to get rather dark and serious at times, which adds to the overall maturity and legacy it has. Aang has to confront the fact that his people were slaughtered, families have been torn apart because of war, people are forced into slavery under a tyrannical rule, and above all maintaining a balance between the physical and spiritual world. The show handles these moments marvelously and introduces both younger and mature audiences to characters that are dealing with a real war that has serious implications on life.
The animation and elements of bending in the show is another thing to be praised. The way the characters bend the elements and use them in creative ways is a testament to the imagination the writers have with this show. Bending the elements feels like an extension of their body and resemblance of their personality. While they are used to make some awesome battle sequences that are equally inventive and spectacular to watch, there is a subtlety to the way the characters bend the elements to represent their emotional state and understanding. This becomes more evident in later seasons, but it’s to the series’ praise that it masters it so well.
Watching the characters grow throughout the season is probably the highlight of Book One, and all though they still have a long journey ahead of them each one has learned a valuable lesson that will take them to farther places in the next two seasons. Season one is mainly about setting the stage and ending with a climatic battle that contains the right amount of emotional and action packed stakes. As I continue to re-watch this amazing series, I am excited to dig deeper into just how rich and complex the show can get.