Monday, September 27, 2010

Why You Should Watch Avatar: The Last Airbender

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.

2. Characters
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.


  1. Thanks for the recommendation. I'll have to check this series out. Sounds fabulous. :)

  2. Eep. I'm not sure I can put into words my love for this show. My entire family--yes, ENTIRE FAMILY--is obsessed with this show! I also am in love with Zuko, and when I heard about their next project, you better believe I went around screaming it and making sure everyone heard about it. I still can't believe they're coming back to bestow us with more awesomeness!

    And oh my gosh, don't even get me started on the epic fail that was the movie...

  3. My kids watched this religiously when it first aired and couldn't wait for subsequent seasons. This was a show that my girls and son, of various ages, would watch and love together. There aren't many shows like that. What I loved is that it wasn't just a simple animated story. It had so many twists and turns and kept them guessing. And definitely the humor!

    I didn't watch every episode like they did, but did catch it from time to time.

    My 11-year-old still watches the reruns, and the older two will sometimes join her.

    My youngest girl (6) has just discovered Pokemon :)

  4. I was drawn to prince zuko's character when the kids first made me start watching it last year.(We're a big Tae Kwon Do family.) Love the characters with conflicted morality! They're the ones who are so interesting. Thanks for saying it first, because I'm such a chicken. TEAM ZUKO!

  5. Avatar is the best show ever! Have you heard about the spin-off they're going to be making? I hope it's as good as the first.

  6. I've been a fan of this show for years! I'm pretty much as excited as my kids when it comes on. (Thank you, Nicktoons!)

    And ditto on the O.M.G. to the world building. FABulous.

  7. I'm totally missing the point of this whole post, but...YOU DON'T HAVE A TV? That's totally awesome and a little frightening all at the same time. I would love NOT to have a TV, but I'm pretty sure my husband would whither and die like a plant without sunshine.

  8. Becky, well, we HAVE a TV, but it doesn't get any broadcast channels. We watch movies and other things.

    It was hard at first, when we canceled cable. But I really don't miss it anymore! Most of what I want to watch I can find online is I really want to see it. Hulu ftw.

  9. oh, my love for avatar runs deep. I've been such a fan since the beginning and i'm always so happy when i see other people discovering the awesomeness of this show.

    I've got to somehow get my parents to watch it...

  10. I think you hit the nail on the head with knowing when to quit. It really is an art. There are so many shows I absolutely love but after the first few seasons you can tell the writers a S-T-R-E-T-C-H-I-N-G the storyline to keep the show going and it compromises the quality if the show overall, in my opinion.

  11. As if I need to fall for more anime guys. :) My heart is already taken by the dreamy Van Fanel.

    (I'll have to watch Avatar, don't tell Van)

  12. YEEEEEEEEEEEEESSS! Avatar is so made of awesome! HULU ftw indeed!

    My entire family, from my husband to my little brother LOVES Avatar so much. The movie was such a dispointment. I didn't expect them to be able to capture the magic of three seasons of careful world, plot, and character building but SOMEthing. Even live action bending, which is the only reason why I watched the movie to begin with, and even that SUCKED.

    Anyway. I am so glad you got to watch this series. It's in my top five favorites.

    And I am with you--Team Zuko ftw!

  13. My sister is obsessed with Avatar. She keeps on telling me that I have to watch it. Perhaps, with some more encoragement from you, I will take up the challenge!

  14. Toph is my favorite. We checked the series out from the library and our family watched it with my sister's family over the summer. Good times.

  15. Julia, it's not a challenge, it's a PLEASURE. I promise:)


    Seriously. I'm seventeen and I spent the last few weeks of my summer watching it straight through on MegaVideo. LOL

    It's frickin' awesome. Zuko's emo greatness... Katara's badassery... Aang with hair (I finally understand how he could be considered attractive!)... the episode after the Library episode, with Aang's grief over Appa... Sokka, Sokka, Sokka... Toph metalbending... THE BENDING... the episode The Guru which people say is boring but it was fascinating... I could go on and on (obviously lol). Yeah. :D

  17. I just came in to say:

    THIS ^^^^^^^ SO HARD!!! It's pretty much the best cartoon I've ever watched. And, since I've seen each and every episode at least six times (and the second to the last episode in book 3 twenty or thirty times) I totally know what I'm talking about, yo. :)

  18. The movie wasn't as great as the series. The director changed too much stuff to my liking.

    I followed the series off and on, but it is awesome. There's going to be another series by the same people. Awesome.

  19. Oh, I adore this series!!!!!! (It really needed that many exclamation points). You're absolutely right in everything! Marvelous storytelling, I'm so glad you watched it!

  20. It's one of my top five favorite shows ever. :D Excellent in almost every way.

  21. Avatar was my only reason for tuning into nickelodeon--I was a fan since the day the first episode premiered and watched it throuh to the end. I was so sad to see it end :(
    but I'm also very excited to see the legend of Korra.

    Ps- I can draw Aang, and he is so much shorter than katara haha :)

  22. Zuko rocks the whole world. That is all.

  23. Thanks for posting this. I must check it out.

  24. You forgot the most IMPORTANT REASON:

    The anime boys are HAWT.

  25. I love this show and I'm constantly amazed at the writers, even after multiple watchings.

    One of the other things I love is that it has so many strong characters, both male and female, that work together and learn and grow. I think that's cool.

    And, yes, Zuko is awesome.

  26. Love, Love, LOVE!! This show is teh awesome :P See, it's so good it makes me forget how to write properly. :

    I love Zuko too. Such a complex character. And Sokka's humor...hysterical. But Toph is by far my favorite. She ROCKS.

    I'm actually watching this show again with my husband--we are like five eps away from the end. I watch them via Netflix instant quene but I think I'm going to ask for the actual DVDs for my birthday here in a few weeks so I can watch the special features.

    Also...dying for The Legend of Korra. I keep checking the Avatar wiki online to see if they updated anything...

    Ok, I'll stop gushing now :)

    I could gush forever.

  27. I was sooo looking forward to the movie... I had watched the series, and when I saw the trailers, I got almost choked up with excitement! And then I saw the movie... blah. Horribly written, not-quite-there humor, and horrid horrid acting. Sigh. I'll just wait for The Legend of Korra :-)

  28. I think everyone should also watch the Last Airbender, live action. It's a great example of how you can have a kickbutt story and a famous writer, and still fail horribly.

    I agree about series that end. 3 of my faves are Avatar, Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood and Blood Plus and they're all under 70 eps.

    Oh, and in honour of Banned Books Week, you should check out Library War. I think everyone that's into both books and anime should give it a watch.

  29. I love Avatar. It is one of the few shows I can discuss with a six year old and not feel like a loser for still watching cartoons (granted I'm nearly 22 at this point).

    That's one of the things I love about anime too, that it doesn't always take itself too seriously. Like something serious could be happening

    I love Ouran Host Club and FMA: Brotherhood, cowboy bebop, samurai champloo, and nearly every Miyazaki movie ever made. As American anime inspired cartoons, Teen titans and Avatar are great. I can't wait for Legend of Korra too. I love avatar and I love steampunk.

  30. Loved the emo confessions episode by the (bad?) emo kids, and the reenactment play episode. I love that my favorite characters are (in this order) Iro, Toph, Sokka, Tai Lee, Zuko's GF, and psychotic girl. Of course I have to mention The Boulder.

    It's funny that the "main" characters mainly annoyed me. I'm glad they allowed the "minor" characters to steal the show for me. Sokka was hilarious without being 80s blatant. "I'm just the idea guy."

    The bending was cool, especially earth bending. It had such good sound effects. Plus the backwards-wrist thing was interesting. Teen Nick would totally have had a crush on Toph.

  31. I also read Get Well Soon in two evenings. That book is awesome and the perfect length for such a fun read. Such interesting commentary on stuff that usually goes unsaid.

  32. Love all the points, especially #5. I think it so speaks to trust. Great post!

  33. Was COMPLETELY obsessed with this show when it first aired. Still am. And I agree with you on all points.

    I deliberately avoided the movie adaptation because there was no way it could be as good!

  34. Season four is called the Legend of Kora.

    I love the hell out of this show. The movie was made of fail though.
    It hurt my feelings it was so bad.

  35. Please tell me you got to see the Avatar big headed shorts. They are hilarious!

  36. Avatar is definitely a show for everyone, regardless of age, gender, race, or whatever other subgroups people divide themselves into. The storyline is intricate and rich, with morals interwoven into it. Looking at it from a literary perspective, it's truly a wonder. A big shout and a cheer to the creators who thought of this. This is second-rate only to Harry Potter.