If you follow me on Twitter you know I am now a massive fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender. I'd always wanted to watch the series, but since I didn't have TV I couldn't. Nickelodeon keeps close watch on their stuff, and I couldn't justify buying a series I didn't know was good.
But luckily my sister-in-law bought it and let us borrow it. I love her. And I love this show so, so much. It's awesome—everything you're looking for in a story. I must get copies for myself.
I know it's a TV show, but there's so much you can take away from this as a writer. It's time to employ my handy dandy list action:
1. World Building
Oh. My. Gosh. Seriously, the world building in this series is incredible. I don't even know where to begin because every little piece is perfect—you can tell the creators put their heart and soul into it. And more than that, they did their research. You can both see their inspiration and also how they took it further.
This isn't just a world with some cool elemental magic thrown in. This is a world built on the foundation of that "magic" (aka: bending). From their clothing to their cities to each nation's philospohy, it is all seamless and incredibly awesome. The world of Avatar showed me how to build a world and made we want to come up with something that cool.
I'm usually a character girl, but this world was one made to fall in love with, a la Harry Potter.
And if the world building wasn't enough, the characters are fantastic. Aang isn't your average "boy who saves world," and he doesn't save the world in the way he's expected to! He's not perfect, he fails a lot, and yet he's also so loveable and cool and sweet and...
I need to stop.
But seriously, each character is so well formed! The creators did not take short cuts. These characters are not cookie cutter, even if they do fill some traditional fantasy roles. The backstory and motivations are clearly laid out. Even the "villains" get their fair share of screen time and fleshed out story lines. Actually, I'm in love with Zuko, the villain.
3. The Humor
One reason I adore anime (and anime-inspired cartoons like this) is that they can get away with a sense of humor some things can't. You can have this epic, hero-driven story line, but also at the same time the writers can poke fun at the tropes, etc. Love this. So. Much.
Probably because I tend to do it in my own writing.
4. Celebrating Differences
This series obviously pulls its inspiration for many Asian cultures, which is so freaking cool. So many elements are amazing and not "western." Not to say western is bad, but it's a nice change. I'm a huge fan of expanding multicultural representation in media/art.
But not only is it Asian inspired, Avatar features many characters from different backgrounds and abilities. One of the main characters is blind. Another character is in a wheelchair. And they are strong and resourceful and awesome!
Many of the themes are ones of peace, of looking at others with compassion instead of hate, of inclusion. And yet it doesn't hit you over the head with this—it's pretty subtle, especially in comparison to some anime monologuing, trust me.
5. Knowing When To Quit
The Last Airbender is three seasons long. Oh, it could have dragged on forever—I think kids would have watched a "boss of the week" Avatar for at least twice that length. And yet the creators decided to make something of substance instead. Each episode has a purpose in the story, and there is a clear progression of plot and characters. The third season ENDS, and it's satisfying and yet not a perfect bow.
They left us salivating for more, while also filling us up. And because they were brilliant like that I cannot WAIT for their next project, The Legend of Korra. Seriously, I'm dying to see it. I will get my hands on it as soon as I can.
Why? Because I trust them as storytellers (which is also why I think the movie bombed, because Shamylan did not have that trust, and kind of dashed that trust in some aspects). Earning that trust is a big deal, and I think this series taught me a little but more about how to do that.