Opinionated Guide to Avatar: The Last Airbender
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The King of Omashu
It's fun messing with people.Oh how much I hate this episode. While it does have some redeeming qualities, this is one of the not-good episodes. The episode starts by introducing us to the Earth Kingdom city of Omashu. Sokka is stunned by the fact that the city doesn't melt. That might have made more sense if this were the third episode, when we could be sure that Sokka had never left the Water Tribe. But since he's seen cities that don't melt, like the Southern Air Temple or Kyoshi Island, it's just a sign of bad writing. Brace yourself; that won't be the last bad writing in this episode. After some pointless Komedy! about disguising Aang's forehead tattoo, they approach the city. We see our very first demonstration of earthbending when a cabbage merchant has his delivery dumped over the side due to being rotten. Oh, and get used to the cabbage merchant; he shows up everywhere. And nothing that happens with him is the slightest bit funny. There's nothing worst than a running gag that wasn't funny to begin with. After some more fail-comedy, they're allowed entry. But there's no gate; just a wall. Well, that's solved when the earthbenders split the wall open to allow them entry. We're then treated to the best thing in this episode: worldbuilding. Until now, bending has been treated basically as a weapon. Martial arts that can hurt people at range. But then again, Katara is the only waterbender we've seen, and she's not very good. Airbending and firebending don't really lend themselves to much mundane use, outside of Aang and his glider. Here in Omashu, we see that the writers actually thought about the ramifications of a society that can move heavy stone relatively easily. There's a package delivery system throughout Omashu, powered by earthbenders and gravity. The packages are packed into stone karts that are hurled around stone tracks by earthbenders. There are large slides down the city that allow packages to go down without needing active power. This is the only good part of this episode, rising above the level of true crap through world building. Then, Aang starts reminiscing about his good friend Bumi. In flashback, we find that Bumi decided to use the package slides as a personal slide. Aang calls him a "mad genius" for this. No, Aang; that just makes you an imbecile. Anyone, even a five year old, could have seen that possibility. Hell, the place even looks like a modern waterpark. Made of stone. Cut to the Gaang riding the chute. To pad the episode out, they run into a package kart carrying spears. This leads to a comedy of errors, where they slide all the way down the city, across rooftops and such. Causing untold damage. They're captured at the end. Komedy! The Gaang are brought before the very elderly King of Omashu. And if you don't know who this guy is, you really need to get out more. This is so blatantly obvious that I'm calling him by his name from here on: King Bumi.
—The King of Omashu
Naturally, because Aang is stupid, he doesn't recognize him. Yes, Bumi is a hundred years old, but the insane personality should have tipped him off, as well as Bumi's snorty Urkel-esque laugh. Bumi demands that they be given a feast. Bumi does some crazy things. Because he's a "mad genius". Bumi asks where Aang is from, and Aang tries to hide who he is. For a reason that's never explained. Since Bumi is not an idiot, he forces Aang to reveal himself. Bumi says that Aang will face deadly challenges tomorrow. Then some more not-funny bits happen to pad the episode out, and they're taken away. Once they're in their chambers, more fail-comedy padding happens, and they go to sleep. Aang wakes up to find that Katara and Sokka are gone. If he fails his challenges, something bad may happen to them. Namely, they'll be consumed by "creeping crystals," which will slowly grow to cover their bodies. Now, this might sound serious and threatening, but the constant Komedy! completely undermines any hope for tension. The first challenge is that Aang has to get something from the middle of a waterfall. Eventually, Aang figures out that he has to throw something through the waterfall. The second challenge is that Aang has to fetch Bumi's pet. Aang assumes it's the tiny rabbit rather than the slavering monster, but he eventually works it out. The third challenge is a fight. Aang has to choose who to face, so two guys appear beside Bumi. Naturally, Aang chooses Bumi, the dottering old man. Which Bumi expected, because then he hurls off his cloak to reveal his well-muscled body and his earthbending prowess. He even boasts, "I'm the most powerful Earthbender you'll ever see!" Oh God, how I wish that were true. But we'll get to that. We get our first look at earthbending as a combat form. We see some creative tactics from Bumi. It starts off fairly conventional, but then he does things like converting dirt to loose sand that Aang falls into. Eventually Aang is able to "beat" him (though given what we see later, it's clear that Bumi wasn't really trying) by making a large tornado to hurl his stone back at him. Naturally, there's a catch. Bumi wants Aang to answer a question. "What... is my name?" Yes. We spent half this goddamn episode for something the audience figured out from the minute we saw him. And even if you didn't figure it out then, you almost certainly figured it out before now. This episode is so pointless. And Aang takes forever to just say it, even though Katara and Sokka are nearly smothered. They even have a scene cut between when Aang figures it out and when he says it. And it's not just a camera cut; they literally go into another room for The Reveal. Yeah, we don't need any tension for this life-and-death situation or anything. Anyway, the only important thing that happens here is that we get some kind of direction for the series. Bumi exposits that it is the Avatar's job to restore "balance" to the world (whatever that means) by defeating Firelord Ozai. Of course, since Firelord Ozai, his son Prince Zuko, and his entire firebending army are trying to kill him, it was inevitable that Aang would have to deal with them. So Bumi didn't tell us anything we didn't already know, making his presence here... completely pointless.
Just started reading your liveblog (I'll hold off on most of it since I'm watching the cartoon right now and I'm up to book 2), but I wanted to see what you'd think about this episode. I really hate it myself. I hated the cabbage guy demanding that the Gaang's heads be cut off. I hated the king character and found him annoying (and I didn't realize he was Bumi until Aang did, to be honest). I hated the story of the episode. I hated his cruely in forcing his friends to wear the creeping crystal (and the "comedy" around such a horrible fate). And him being revealed to be Aang's old friend, made me wonder what he would have done to Aang's friends if Aang had never figured it out. I hate Bumi, I hate this episode, but episode 6 in my opinion is when the show started getting good. I'm gonna check out more of this blog. Your opinions and reasons you give are interesting. (and this was the first entry of yours I checked out besides the intro)
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