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Live Blog Opinionated Guide to Avatar: The Last Airbender
Korval2011-06-17 20:09:14

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Avatar: The Last Airbender. What is there to say, really?

A lot, apparently, since I'm going to walk through each episode of the entire 61 episode run. But first, some background.

Avatar: The Last Airbender was a cartoon show that ran for 3 years, from 2005 to 2007. It has become quite popular, particularly among its periphery demographic. It is often praised for having well-written characters, a story arc, good episode-to-episode continuity, and a well-developed world. It's also one of those shows you see on just about every TV Tropes page; it has a large fandom on this site.

It also had a recent film adaptation that was... universally reviled. But we're not talking about that horseshit now.

Each liveblog page will, in general, discuss a particular episode. Two parters will be handled depending on what kind of two-parter it is. If the two parter is really two episodes that chronologically flow from one to the next (ie: one starts immediately after the other, with a Sequel Hook), then I will review them as two episodes. However, if it's really just a single story told in multiple parts, then I will review it as one.

I also intend for this blog to be more analytical than humorous. I'll throw jokes in where I can, but mostly I'm here to point out what works and what doesn't. Because of that, there will be times when talking about something that happened in an episode at length would bog the actual liveblog down too much. In these cases, I will generally extract that section out of the flow of the text and put it in its own section after the episode synopsis. If you're not interested in such analysis, feel free to skip it whenever you see these sections.

Also, I will occasionally have an entire post devoted to some particular aspect of the series up to that point. These are for things that deserve a detailed calling out on, but don't fit into the season introductions. Usually, this is something that covers events from multiple previous episodes. These too are skippable, though you may be missing some interesting analysis.

For those who have not seen this series, there will be some light spoilers for later episodes. I'll minimize them somewhat, in case you're following along for the first time at home. And I won't reveal the most important ones, unless they have been heavily foreshadowed or are otherwise obvious. If I need to analyze a scene in context of something later, I'll generally only present as much as you need to know at that time to understand what I'm saying.

Also, please read the title. This is the opinionated guide to Avatar. You don't have to agree with anything I say here. You should find that most of these opinions do at least have some evidential support, even if you disagree with the conclusion. I welcome discussion where it happens, so if you agree or disagree, feel free to point it out in the comments section.

Lastly, particularly in the early episodes, you may get the impression that I hate this show. I don't. It's a good show, with quality writing and production values. It's well worth your time, and I even own the last two seasons on DVD (NetFlix lets me watch season 1 whenever I want). But that doesn't mean that I will let crap past, and it's hard to argue that the show started on its best foot. If the show does something wrong, I'm going to call it out.

Book 1: Water

It begins...

The show's seasons are called "books." For some reason. I don't get it either; books do not prominently figure prominently within the show's overall theme or general milieu. Indeed, one main character is completely illiterate. In any case, season one is called Book 1: Water.

Normally, for the introduction to a season, I will do a look back at what transpired and a look forward, with some detailed analysis. My goal in such sections is to make some particular point about the show that you may not have thought about.

But, since there is no prior season as of yet, instead, I will go over the general concepts behind this world. That way, I don't have to clog up the episodes themselves with such minutiae.

The world of Avatar: The Last Airbender consists of several cultures, most of them drawn from Asian influences. In this world, there are elemental manipulators known as "benders:" Airbenders, Firebenders, Waterbenders, and Earthbenders. Bending, to varying degrees, relies on movements based on real-world martial arts. So when a firebender throws a karate-like punch, a fireball emerges from his fist.

There are a number of large nations that have arisen around bending forms. The Earth Kingdom occupies the largest landmass in the world. There are two Water Tribes, one in the North Pole and one in the South Pole. The Air Nomads occupied 4 hidden air temples in the north, south, east, and west (four winds. Get it?) of the Earth Kingdom's landmass. And the Fire Nation is on a large island to the west of the Earth Kingdom.

Each nation has a loose basis in some real-world culture. The Earth Kingdom bears a striking resemblance to Imperial China. The Water Tribes are Inuits as they live on the ice. The Air Nomads seem very typically Buddhist monk-ish. And the Fire Nation is some kind of hybrid between Imperial Japan and China with some Indian (India-Indian) influences thrown in.

The nations are also color coded. The Water Tribes wear blue, the Earth Kingdom wears greens, the Fire Nation wears reds, and the Air Nomads wear tans and browns. This extends to just about everyone's dress in these nations; rare is the person who dresses out of color for their nation.

The titular Avatar is a perpetually reincarnated being. He/She is the only individual capable of bending all four elements (or even just more than one), and he/she is charged with defending the world and maintaining the "balance". Exactly what that means is never really explained, but it generally means that each nation stays where it is and doesn't invade another. Or something.


Jan 7th 2013 at 9:30:28 AM
I think the reasons they use "books" instead of "seasons" is to fit with the setting, where books are the primary means of storing information. Maybe they were trying to make it look like an adaptation of an old story written down ages ago, like "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" were supposedly translations of ancient documents.

As for the balance thing, the Avatar exists to make sure none of the four elements (through their respective nations) overpower the others. A recurring theme is that no element is evil in and of itself. All four can be used for good. I think there's something of an environmental theme as well.
Jun 26th 2015 at 12:45:29 PM
Glad to see this liveblog. Any flaws that Atla may have, it's still a great series and a wonderful addition to Western Animation.
Aug 23rd 2015 at 12:38:16 AM
Thank you for a more in depth review of ATLA. I will do the same for myself but seeing other opinions is fun.