For the last five years, there has been one show that has captured my imagination like nothing before it. Avatar The Last Airbender, is a Nickelodeon Animated series about a twelve year old boy freed from an iceberg, only to discover he’s been frozen for a hundred years, the world is engulfed in war, and his entire people have been wiped out. I believe it would be very safe to say it’s my Dragon Ball Z. Since it’s release, it has won numerous awards for it’s compelling characters, tight writing, and superb animation, including Annie Awards three years in a row, a Genesis Award, a Primetime Emmy Award, and a Peabody Award for “Unusually complex characters and healthy respect for the consequences of warfare.”
As critically acclaimed as it may be, I feel it is also one of the most misunderstood shows in recent history, and why it has flown so low under the radar. To quote the Uncle Iroh, “See, [Mr. Pranger], like most people, underestimate it’s value.” Just give me ten chances to correct some of the most common misconceptions from the show. Hopefully you may feel enlightened, and I can get on with my life.
(Note from Pranger: “I have the three seasons on Netflix Instant Play but haven’t had the chance to watch them yet. I’ll see Avatar The Last Airbender when I have time to appreciate it without feeling obligated, so there.”)
10.) You watch Avatar? Isn’t that show for kids?
I cannot tell you how many people I met who won’t even give Avatar a try simply because it’s on Nickelodeon. To be clear, Avatar is rated Y7, yet it is a show about War, Politics, Loss, Love, Honor, and has humor that is actually clever and doesn’t rely on pop culture references. In all honesty, it is one of the few shows made on Nickelodeon now that reaches out to a demographic far greater than the ages of 6-11, and the fact that it’s able to go to the places it does without shedding a single drop of blood I think is spectacular.
Although I should confess, if you have only seen the first two episodes, than the show is going to seem very juvenile. That’s only because the characters themselves start off very young and naïve. Stick with it and I guarantee you will be surprised at how far these characters mature and develop in less than a year of their life.
9.) But I hate anime.
Then there’s another group of people who immediately assume Avatar, because of its art style and how it’s set in a fictional world greatly influenced by East Asian cultures, is made in Eat Asia as well. Let me correct that now. Avatar is NOT anime. It was made by two American martial arts geeks named Mike D. Martino and Bryan Konietzko. Their writing team’s from America, their music’s done in America, all the voice acting and sound design is done in America. Yes, the animation is done in South Korea, but what show isn’t these days? At first glance, it may look Japanese, but watching it is a completely new experience. You will quickly notice a huge difference in the dialogue and overall tone. For one, there’s not nearly as much sprite moments, and when they actually do it, it’s usually to poke fun at anime.
8.) But… still… doesn’t Aang look like Naruto?
This puts me in an uncomfortable situation, as I have never watched Naruto, and never plan to, so it is very unfair for me to make any assumptions about his character. But this is what I have been able to pick up from the general synopsis. Naruto is characterized as rash, impulsive, and aggressive. He purposefully looks for a fight and runs into an obstacle headfirst. Aang, on the other hand, is witty and tactful. He tries to solve his problems by being quick and clever, and only uses fighting for necessary defense. Naruto goes to school where they teach him to fight and kill like a ninja. Aang was raised by monks who taught him that all life is sacred and to detach himself from the world so his spirit could live in peace. Naruto possesses the spirit of a demon fox inside him whose sole purpose is destruction. Aang is the resurrection of a long line of Avatars, the bridge between the real world and the spirit world, and whose duty is to master all bending disciplines and keep peace and balance among the four nations of the world.
In other words, Naruto is Sith, and Aang is Jedi. Believe it!
7.) So, is it just another manly action show for men?
Just so you all know, I’m not a hater. I’m a huge fan of Dragon Ball Z. It’s undoubtedly one of the most iconic shows of my generation, and without it, Avatar might not even exist as I know it. But it is because of DBZ and other shows like it that even the toy manufacturer Mattel is guilty of #7 here. In their toy line-up, they made action figures of Aang, Sokka, Zuko, and even minor characters like Jet, the Blue Spirit, and King Bumi. But Katara, arguably the most important character to the plot next to Aang, was never made. Why? Because they thought the show would only appeal to guys. Let’s just say this ended up being the stupidest decision Mattel ever made.
Yes, Avatar The Last Airbender was made by two guys. And yes, the main protagonist and antagonist respectively are both male, but how many guys can say they were in a college lounge, the only dude in the room, watching Dragon Ball Z with five girls? I can say that about Avatar. There could be many reasons to why Avatar’s demographic is so diverse, but I think it more than likely has to do with the fact that the show and it’s creators did their darndest to show they were not ignoring an entire half of the global population. The girls in Avatar are just as relevant to the plot as the guys, they fight as much as the guys, and kick just as many butts, if not more. Most importantly, they look like actual women, with real breast sizes and practical clothing. I dare anyone to find another show that treats both genders with equal amount of respect as well as Avatar does.
6.) So what, do the characters know magic?
Aang doesn’t flick his wrist and BAM, create a tornado. Toph doesn’t move stones with her mind. Bending the elements is a very physical process, and within the conventions created by the world, it requires no suspension of disbelief. That’s why all fight sequences were physically choreographed and recorded on tape by a martial arts consultant. Each of the four elements coincides with a different form of classic Chinese martial arts. Waterbending is Tai-Chi, Earthbending is Hungar, Firebending is Northern Zhaolin, and Airbending is Ba-Gua. Benders also have to be aware of their environment and weather conditions. Waterbenders rise with the moon. Firebenders rise with the sun. Each of the four seasons also coincides with one of the elements, and respectively each bender will be more powerful on their respective season: Water and Winter, Earth and Spring, Fire and Summer, Air and Fall. The Avatar has several additional powers that may seem more magical, but those come from his connection with the spirit world, which is basically part of the world’s religion, all the out-of-the-ordinary events are usually connected directly to the Avatar.
5.) Whatever nation you are born in, that’s the element you can bend?
To be clear, not everyone in the Avatar universe can bend an element. There are a wide range of conventional weapons that other fighters use, and end up being just as formidable. While your heritage does decide what element you would bend if you were born with the ability, it’s not passed down genetically. It’s more spiritual in origin. The air nomads were the only exception to the rule. Every air nomad is born an airbender.
4.) What about duo benders for inter-racial families?
While there haven’t been any interracial families on the show thus far, it has been stated by the creators that only the Avatar can bend more than one element. Under the circumstances, if say someone from the Earth Kingdom had kids with someone from the Water Tribe, then their children could turn out an earthbender, a waterbender, or neither.
3.) How come there is no Book 4: Air?
All three seasons of Avatar are named after the element of which season it was in the show. It was also the same element that Aang was learning to master in that particular season. There was no Air season planned, because Aang was already a master airbender from the beginning. Plus, the story just plain ends at the end of Book 3.
2.) Why is there no Heart Nation so they can form Captain Planet?
Ha ha. Very funny. I think we’ve beaten that dead ostrich-horse into the ground years ago.
I’m pretty sure the fans know what’s coming next. I really don’t want to do this, again, but here it goes…
1. Avatar? Isn’t that the movie on the planet with the Blue People?
For the seventeen-millionth time, James Cameron’s Avatar has absolutely nothing to do with the TV series, Avatar the Last Airbender! In fact M. Night Syamalan, director of the show’s live-action adaptation, was forced to cut the entire front title of his movie because Mr. Cameron was too busy redefining the term “Avatar” in the minds of the general public, thus titling our movie The Last Airbender.
Needless to say, legions of fans have been extremely irate about this subject. It has little to do with how good or bad JC’s Avatar is, but more about the fact that we are the ones that have to explain this to every single friend and family member we have. What’s also irritating is that our version of an Avatar, by the original definition, makes a hundred times more sense, yet we are the ones who had to change our title.
I hope that clears up a few things for you all. July 1st will see the release of The Last Airbender. Odds are you have seen at least one trailer or TV spot by now, but if you haven’t yet, definitely check it out at www.thelastairbendermovie.com. If this movie succeeds, (I know, that’s a big “IF”) it will be the dawn of a whole new epic trilogy for the next decade.
No Joke. This could be big. Harry Potter or Star Wars big.
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