Hello, I am Mr Mallard - curator of 2 abandoned liveblogs, Avatar fan and massive fanfic junkie. Today I've decided to launch a liveblog of a fanfiction that holds a very special place in my heart - a non-bending high school AU called Gradual Changes. It's not super well-known, but I'll defend to my dying breath the quality of this series.
Gradual Changes is the first story of what became the Changes series - 5 total stories set in the same universe, with a 6th epilogue story beginning just last month. This story introduces the characters and the setting, and works well to establish said characters for the future installments as well as handle its self-contained story very nicely. It's a great read as part of the series or on its own merits, and you should read it.
The story is that as a young child, Toph was kept away from society by her rich parents due to her blindness, and she spent many days with a personal bodyguard and his daughter for company - and no-one else. One day, a mysterious boy jumps over her garden wall in search of a ball, and they become fast friends. Quickly becoming partners in crime, they tear up the town and have a great time - but this happiness is short-lived, as eventually the young boy has to move away. Fast-forward to Toph's first year of high school, where out of nowhere, the energetic bald boy comes back! Faced with their day-to-day issues, the story follows the Gaang as they live their lives and figure out love, friendship and family with each other.
I'm aware that the high school AU is seen as the most uninspired and hackneyed story idea ever, but let me tell you what this story does right. It does a lot right.
A lot of the cast are here - Toph is more or less the central character, with Aang as somewhat of a deuteragonist, and with Zuko, Katara, Sokka, Suki, Azula and Ty Lee rounding out the main cast. And though they're all a little bit different to fit the story, every single character holds the spark of life from their original counterparts. Sokka and Suki are a bit Flanderized, but everyone else is spectacularly written. Azula in particular - she gets her own character arc that lasts throughout the entire series, and it is masterfully done.
The new backstories are interesting. Zuko's and Azula's in particular - it's an abusive father story, with Zuko getting his scar in a fight with Ozai defending his mother and sister, but it's very well done and it leads to some amazing character development from both Zuko and Azula. The consequences of this childhood is fairly realistically portrayed - Zuko is a massive prick initially and Azula is emotionally stunted and is in therapy for it, and over the course of the series - and of this individual story - they both mellow out and learn to deal with themselves better.
And OCs - this story has OCs, but they are SO good. Kuzon is Ty Lee's father and Toph's bodyguard, and he's one of the central characters. There are a couple other plot-vital OCs, like Qiang and Rou (the twin brother leaders of the school's martial arts club) and Kaze (Aang's rival in track), and they do an adequate job.
And finally, the romance. Oh my god, the romance. This is a ship fic - take that as you will - and the pairing is actually not that standard. You see, this behemoth of a fanfiction doesn't make its main ship one of the Big 2 - the main pairing is Taang. And it handles the ship very well. Zutara is a secondary ship, but Kataangers need not despair: if you like Taang enough, you will not care that one of the ships is Zutara. Take it from a former rabid Kataanger - even back then, this story was my bread and butter.
Some things you might not like: Zuko is mentioned as having hit Katara. He feels like trash about it and he vows to never go down that road, but I can see how this subject could turn someone off. Also, Toph's blindness is pretty much like her in-show "sense stuff all around her" blindness - her inability to actually see is written quite well, but you might see it as a bit of a hand wave. I personally don't mind, because even though the more realistic option is brushed off for Canon Toph's blindness powers, the story works well enough anyway and Toph is still written super well.
In case you couldn't tell, I love the heck out of this story. It'll be a bit of a gushy liveblog for sure, but I will be discussing the chapter's content and how it all comes together. The first 10 or so installments might not be great, but the story does pick up and by the end of the story it's a freaking emotional powerhouse.
So, how am I going to do this liveblog? I thought instead of copy-pasting each chapter wholesale and adding my own commentary, I'd make my points and go about retelling the basic plot of each chapter. Kind of like a more in-depth review, with a focus on plot. Along with my posts will be a link to each chapter - I encourage you to read the story along with me and tell me if you agree or disagree.
Please, come with me as I lead you into a world of Gradual Changes, where you're forced to confront the shifting status quo around you as you grow into an adult.