Avatar: The Last Airbender Review

We have all heard the phrases, “Once upon a time…”  as well as “A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…” but in February 2005, a new opening phrase was created.

“Water, earth, fire, air…”

If one hadn’t seen the intro one would think that it was yet another generic adventure series, nothing too serious.  But if one took a closer look, they would find that this is no regular animated show on Nickelodeon.  In fact, much like certain animated series from the 90s – like Batman The Animated Series and Disney’s Gargoyles – this would be yet another great show that challenged the conventions of animation on TV, and would become a true classic.

Created by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, Avatar takes place in a world that is made up of four different nations: The Air Nomads, The Earth Kingdom, The Water Tribe, and The Fire Nation.  For many generations the four nations “lived together in harmony”, but then the Fire Nation became power-hungry and began attacking the other nations in an attempt to seize more power.  Fortunately there was one force that could stop them: The Avatar, a being who has the ability to utilize all of the four known elements – water, earth, fire, and air – to keep balance in the world.  Unfortunately this individual had disappeared at a critical moment in the conflict and as such the Fire Nation was able to continue extending their grasp over the world.  Despite this a Water Tribe native named Katara still held out hope that the Avatar would return, given that the being had the ability to reincarnate itself within different people over the centuries, with Roku being the most recent.  In keeping with the life cycle this would mean that the next one to have the Avatar’s power would be an Air Nomad, though no one had seen said nomads in a long time.

The story begins with Katara and her brother Sokka out to catch fish to bring back to their tribe, and Katara is practicing her ability to waterbend, something that her brother dismisses.

After no success in their hunt, which in turn leads to an all out argument between the two siblings, Katara and Sokka discover an iceberg that surfaces in front of them, only the iceberg isn’t empty.

Once Katara breaks the ice enough a figure emerges, revealing itself to be a young airbender a few years younger than the two siblings with arrow tattoos on his head and arms named Aang.  Once Katara introduces herself and her brother Aang introduces his flying bison Appa and the group then make their way back to the Northern Water Tribe.

Unfortunately this didn’t go unnoticed to some extents, for a short distance away a Fire nation ship containing an exiled Prince Zuko and his Uncle Iroh was within range of seeing the energy emitted by the new Avatar, which Zuko happened to see.  While not much is known about why Zuko is so obsessed with finding the Avatar, it is something that becomes much more clearer as time goes by.

So Aang gets acquainted with the rest of Katara and Sokka’s tribe – small as it is – and brings a sense of fun to the children there, which is something they haven’t had in a while.

As Aang and Katara are going penguin sliding the duo stumble upon an old Fire Nation ship and Aang accidentally triggers one of the traps which in turn causes a flare to shoot out from the ship, thus catching the attention of Zuko.

Although Aang and Katara manage to get out of the ship the tribe reveals that a Fire Navy ship has been spotted and is on its way here.  Admitting his culpability and also at the insistence of Katara’s grandmother Aang leaves the village, but no sooner does he leave that the Fire Nation finds the village and attacks, with Zuko demanding the Avatar show himself. Fortunately Aang wasn’t too far away and eventually with the help of Katara and Sokka managed to fight Zuko and the rest of the Fire Navy off, but not without having the Airbender’s true identity as the Avatar revealed.

Despite not wanting anything to do with being the Avatar at first, Aang steps up and accepts his destiny and begins his journey with Katara, Sokka and Appa to master the other elements and bring balance to the world, as other Avatars before him had done.

While this is only the first two episodes of the series, it is one heck of an introduction.  Right away you meet most of the main characters who will play a massive part in the story that takes place over the course of three seasons, and not one moment is wasted.  And the writing on the show is treated the same way as some other animated shows from the 90s were-on multiple levels and even then, said writing was taken to a whole other degree not seen in a Nickelodeon show, which in turn led to winning an Emmy, Kid’s Choice and Peabody Awards as well as catching the attention of audiences beyond the kids.  Adults found themselves enthralled by the adventures of these characters as well, and thanks to the writing, all the characters grew and matured in very realistic ways that everyone could connect with.  And much like the best serialized storytelling, it all built to an incredible climactic finale that only a few sagas can match.

As such, this is a series that has endured, and transcended in many ways, and still holds up to this very day, and now that it has arrived on Netflix fans can once again enjoy the adventure from the beginning and for new fans to discover for the very first time.

So if whether you have Netflix, or if you have the Blu-Ray collection, watch this series.  There is a reason why it is hailed as one of the best animated series out there, and once you start watching Avatar, you will find yourself pulled in, and just like Aang’s friends when he goes into the Avatar state, you will find it a series to behold.

Team Avatar Assembled