The first episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender I watched was, ironically, its last. I was sitting in front of my TV (a little too close for my mom’s liking) flipping through channels until I ultimately landed on the show. It was the final battle between Aang and the Fire Lord, a glorious fiery duel that dazzled my little mind. I was hooked.
This article contains spoilers, so you have been warned!
If you haven’t watched Avatar the Last Airbender, then you are seriously missing out. The premise of the show is simple, yet innovative. Four nations – water, earth, fire and air – correspond to the element certain people of those nations can manipulate. Only the Avatar has the ability to control all four elements and thus has a duty to preserve balance in the world.
We meet the characters during a time of unrest. The Fire Nation has waged war on the world and eliminated all airbenders, and the Avatar has been missing for a century. The show opens up with Katara and her brother Sokka on an ice fishing expedition. They encounter a boy trapped in a ball of ice and set him free. The boy? None other than the lost Avatar, an airbender named Aang. Together, Aang and his friends set out to confront the Fire Lord and put an end to the war.
Avatar coming to Netflix this past week reminded me of my love for the show. After illegally watching the show online in elementary school, I spent every summer of middle school rewatching all three seasons. It was the first time I really connected with a TV show and found comfort in rewatching it year after year. I felt like I was on this amazing journey alongside these characters whom I knew so well, I may as well have been immersed in the story right alongside them. And almost 15 years after the premiere of the first episode, I’m ecstatic to say the show is still one of the greatest.
First off, every character is incredibly complex. There’s the naive and compassionate Aang who is conflicted between the expectations of his role as Avatar and his previous teachings to never cause harm. Katara, a fierce and motherly young waterbender who never fails to protect Aang. Her brother Sokka, who always lightens the mood and strategizes their next move. And even Toph, a blind earthbender who seems tough but deals with insecurities of her own. But the complexities don’t end with the four. Even the show’s initial antagonist, Prince Zuko is a piece of work on his own; he was exiled by his own father and torn apart by what is right and wrong. In fact, I would argue that Prince Zuko is the template when it comes to the broody, evil-but-with-good-inside type we all know so well.
At first glance, one may think the show is just for kids, but it is so much more. Who could overlook the heart-wrenching moment in the library episode when Aang realized Appa was captured by sandbenders? Or the blood-chilling scene where Hama reveals to Katara the secrets of bloodbending? Avatar is emotional, whimsical and profound.
As I’ve revisited the show throughout the years, I’ve found myself learning new lessons with each rewatch. Even now, after thinking I’ve seen it all, I find myself discovering certain nuances I could only pick up with age. The show has taught me so much about friendship and love, watching Zuko redeem himself. But, it has also taught me so much more about adversity and making our own choices, in spite of others’ expectations. When I first watched the show, I didn’t like Aang because he was so opposed to conflict. To me, it seemed that he made everything much more difficult for the other characters. But now, I understand that while Aang was the Avatar and had a duty to help others, he still had his own principles to follow.
If you don’t watch the show for its incredible storyline, watch it for its visuals. Avatar boasts beautifully animated sprawling landscapes, fantastical cities and absolutely gorgeous fight sequences. The attention to detail and seamless integration of Eastern art forms make the show a feast for your eyes and ears. There’s the music, which utilizes different East Asian instruments and even the four unique bending styles, which are based upon different martial arts. Every element of Avatar is crafted with immense attention to detail.
There is simply no other fantasy universe that boasts such an incredible relationship to its story like the world of Avatar. I’ve often found myself overwhelmed with certain fantasy realms, unable to focus on the characters because I’m still trying to learn the context of the world where the story takes place. The world of Avatar manages to encapsulate feelings of wonder and enhance the story it is trying to tell. One element of the show is the spirit realm, with which the Avatar has a connection with. But this aspect doesn’t make the show more confusing, it makes the show even more whimsical and wonderful.
As I bingewatched Avatar (and then immediately binged its follow-up series, The Legend of Korra) I was reminded of my own happy days as a kid, when I was carefree and dreamed that one day I would find a group of friends and an adventure of my own. A decade and a half after its inception, the show still manages to invoke the same awe and heartbreak it did when I was a kid. I hope that its arrival to Netflix allows many more to feel the same as I do.
Article Thumbnail: Nickelodeon / Public domain