So first, a synopsis. Avatar: The Last Airbender is a TV series* that follows twelve-year-old Aang as he travels with his friends on a quest to restore peace to this warring world. The world divides into four nations: Fire, Earth, Air and Water, who all lived peacefully. Then, EVERYTHING CHANGED WHEN THE FIRE NATION ATTACKED.
Flash forward a hundred years and the Fire Nation is pwning everyone until Aang, “the Avatar”, shows up. Turns out he was stuck in an iceburg and so is a bit late to party, but he makes up for it by vowing to discover how to control all four elements. Everyone else with a power, or “bending ability”, can only control one element but being the Avatar and all, Aang’s a super-special-snowflake. Only able to bend air at the start of the season, Aang is intent on gallavanting across all the Nations trying to find people who can teach him how to control the other elements. But time’s a-ticking because Aang has to master (not be relatively-okay at, master) all four elements so he can defeat the Fire Lord Ozai, who’s bad news.
When my friend recommended this show to me, I laughed until she punched me. Recovering from the attack and hamming up the pain I suffered with a particularly expressive pout, she told me about a character called Toph. Once she’d finished, the pout fell off my face and was replaced with this gob-smacked look of awe because honestly? Toph sounded awesome and if a show had a character like her, it was worth my time.
However, because I have a memory that sucks as much as Dory’s in Finding Nemo, I completely forgot about the series until I started seeing it crop up more and more around the Interwebs, little jabs shoving me towards the show until finally, I got around to watching an episode.
And one episode lead to another episode...and another...and another...until without intending to, I’d watched the whole first season.
You guys, ATLA is so good. SO GOOD. And here’s why:
1) The hero is not annoying
Usually, I hate the protagonist. Within three episodes of hearing them whine and angst to anyone who’ll listen, I’ll whine and angst about them to anyone who’ll listen. Aang, however, has (wait for it...wait for it...) A PERSONALITY. In a shocking revelation, his task doesn’t define him and he’s a well rounded character who’s carefree, respects everyone and is the definition of cool.
2) Steampunk prettiness
Do you like Steampunk? Do you like prettiness? THIS SHOW IS PERFECT FOR YOU! The whole world is really rural but has these beautiful, beautiful steampunk-esque elements to it as you venture into the cities and villages that make up the nations. The world is so developed and the details so intricate it feels like the creators love it as much as dear JK loves the Wizarding World.
3) The one without the power isn’t patronised
Usually, there is always that one kid who doesn’t have the power. There’s almost always an episode where this kid becomes super jealous of everyone with powers and will proceed to sulk until someone plays the “well, we may have cool and awesome powers but you...uh, well you have the power of love” card.
ATLA punches this cliché so hard in the face it turns into the incredible Sokka. Sokka doesn’t have a power, but does he give a damn? Of course not, he’s Sokka! I Instead he swags around being the most hilarious diva to walk the earth and owning people so hard with his sword fighting skills if anyone’s jealous of anyone, other people are jealous of Sokka.
4) Disabilities aren’t disadvantages
There are various characters that crop up in ATLA who have disabilities, and they’ll be damned if that’s going to be a disadvantage. In fact, ATLA is the first show I’ve watched where disabilities are advantages, which is great because in real life, they can be too. Take determined, devil-may-care Toph. Her disability actually makes her bending more powerful and means she gets the snarkiest, sassiest quips in the whole show when people forget she even has one. I love her so much it hurts sometimes.
5) Hard-hittin', bam-slammin' BACKSTORY
Flashbacks. You either love ‘em or you hate ‘em, and it varies from show to show although I usually swing towards WHAT THE HELL IS THIS SEPIA MONTAGE GET IT OFF MY SCREEN. But throughout ATLA, as you watch Zuko’s backstory unravel, it makes you want to give a guy you’d dropkick a hug. Zuko’s constantly trying to track and capture the avatar with his hilarious Uncle Iroh (why can’t he be my uncle?!) to recapture his honour. Zuko wants honour more than Sokka wants to strangle Toph, and more and more you find out why as you discover how he got that flame-flickered scar (it’s good).
6) The plots
There is not a single episode that repeats itself. Each episode has a new, different plot that develops the characters and reveals more and more of this fantastical world. MILD SPOILER AHEAD (skip a paragraph if you don’t want to be spoiled at all), there’s one episode where the characters watch a play about themselves. Doesn’t that just speak volumes about how friggin’ cool the plots are? They’re...iceburg cold! (GOD DAMN I’M HILARIOUS)
So there you have it. Admit it – you’re a little intrigued. If I haven’t piqued your interest enough, this show was so popular a chilling sequel was released following on seventy years from when Aang and his crew were adventurin’ called “The Legend of Korra”. The show follows another reincarnation of the Avatar (long story), seventeen year old Korra, who’s nothing like Aang but is still magnificant. While ATLA’s a romp, TLOK is much darker and revolves around one city in particular, Republic City. It deals with the issues that arise around inequality, the power struggle between those who have bending abilities and those who don’t, and what happens when someone discovers how to take away someone’s bending. However, TLOK contains equally wonderful ideas and though it’s not light hearted like dear Aang’s adventures, it’s definitely worth a watch - even if you only want to see the legacy the main characters of ATLA leave behind (Toph’s legacy is the greatest thing ever).
I cannot stress enough how great this show is. Please, give it a chance and watch the pilot (one episode can’t hurt, right?). And if you choose not to - a warning. No matter how hilarious you think watching a show that promotes diversity and empathy is, don’t laugh at someone who suggests it to you, because people love this show so passionately and with such vigour that you will get punched on the shoulder for belittling it and it will hurt.
(*Most of the fandom pretend the film doesn't exist - it's a sore spot)
Originally published on February 22, 2013.