Nickelodeon’s “Avatar the Last Airbender” created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, first aired in February of 2005, although it wasn’t until season two (2006) when I first became aware of the show. I instantly found the story complying and animation quality very impressive, since Nickelodeon is known for its lack of animation quality. The majority of the animation was done by Korean animation studio DR Movie, which explained it’s high quality and even anime-like style.
Animation alone doesn’t make for a good show, but the story was what made it great. If you’ve been living under a rock and don’t know the story of the Last Airbender let me give you a quick summary:
Water… Earth… Fire… Air. Long ago, the 4 nations lived together in harmony. Then everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked. Only the Avatar, master of all 4 elements, could stop them, but when the world needed him most, he vanished. A hundred years passed and my brother [Sokka] and I [Katara] discovered the new Avatar, an airbender named Aang. And although his airbending skills are great, he still has a lot to learn before he’s ready to save anyone. But I believe Aang can save the world.
In short Katara and Sokka find Aang a 12-year-old kid who is the Avatar and must save the world from the Fire Nation who is at war. Aang being a kid understands the depth of war, but just wants to have fun and is often happy go lucky. Katara while over dramatic at times is mostly positive and optimistic, while Sokka is pessimistic but generally humorous and often the victim of funny unfortunate events. The three while on their way to train Aang for the coming battle is perused by Prince Zukko, the banished son of the Fire Lord, who can only return to the Fire Nation when he has captured the Avatar. Zukko, though at first is the villain, is very unlucky and struggles between doing the right thing and what his father wants. Many times you just feel really bad for Zukko and very quickly in the series, he became a more and more likable character.
As the series progressed into its third season the characters matured and their personalities changed, Aang grew up and knew that he must defeat the Fire Lord, Katara became a powerful water bender, even Aang couldn’t match her water bending techniques, while Sokka became a stronger warrior and even had time for some romance. Zukko, finally realized the wrong doings of his father and joined the avatar’s group to help Aang master fire bending and defeat the Fire Lord.
Now I must admit the series was great until the very last episodes of the last season, for some reason all that character development that they had built on was suddenly lost and since a previous battle before the last, Aang was defeated, he then reverted back to his childish ways and wanted to ignore the war altogether. The final battle of the series and the shows finally [in 2008] was also week. We had characters who had developed their skills and yet they didn’t do much, in-fact earlier battles in the series they did more with fewer skills. Then there were characters that weren’t even involved in the final battle but had been fighting the war since the show started, what’s up with that?
Despite its lack luster ending it was still a great show and I defiantly recommend any of you out there who want to watch an American series that comes very close to the quality of a Japanese amine this is it. With that being said most recently acclaimed director M. Night Shyamalan recently brought the series to the big screen in the move “The Last Airbender”. The movie was everything the series wasn’t, and when I say that I mean the series was good the movie was not.
One critic noted that “Shyamalan did what the fire nation could not and destroyed the avatar!” The character’s in the movie are rigid and have no personality, they are all very somber and not really likable or relate-able, as the series was. Also, the pacing of the series was so fast, cut scene after cut scene, and if you hadn’t been familiar with the series you would be watching and saying to yourself “What the heck just happened”, heck I watched the series and I still said that.
The overall story is the same, but it lacks depths and seems more like just a collection of points in the timeline with little connection. Another flaw in the story were some of the changes in it, primarily just the pronunciation of names, for example, Aang in the movie is called “Aung”. Aside from the story problems, the entire movie seemed low-budget, the sets were cheesy, the special effects were limited, and 3D was an after thought. Another minor thing was the racial segregation, the series always had an Asian style in many of their characters, but in each village the character’s went there was a multi-cultural appearance in the characters; the movie, however, the Fire nation was India, the Earth Nation was Asian, the Water Nation was Caucasian and the Air Bender had one token black guy. Why? Why not mix it up, why separate them.
In the end, the movie was the worst money I spent, and I wish I could erase it from my mind, hopefully, there will be no sequels and soon it will be forgotten about and generally accepted as never being made. Hopefully, though the series although with minor flaws will continue to live on in reruns and DVDs and provide hope that America, when creative enough can produce a high-quality depth worthy animated series, almost comparable to that of Japanese anime.