I’ve caught episodes of Airbender when I was a kid, but I’d never actually sat down and watched all of them in order. After watching the first season of Korra and hearing all the hype about this show, I figured it was time. And it’s definitely worth it. I love this story.
The Fire nation has been trying to conquer the other three nations–Earth, Air, and Water–for about a century, and it’s almost won. The Avatar, a mystical reincarnated spiritual figure tasked with keeping the world in balance, can stop this. But he disappeared a century ago. Now, the Avatar is found encased in ice and revived, but though he’s been in the ice for a century, he’s really just a twelve year old boy.
Now he has to master the four elements and take on the Fire Lord to end the war. No pressure, right?
The first season was solid, genuinely good. And the next two seasons were just amazing. Very few people can actually pull off this blend of intensity and humor–Joss Whedon is one of them. And so are the guys who made Avatar and Korra. It’s touching, it’s adventurous, it’s action-packed, and it’s hilarious. Sometimes all at the same time.
I love pretty much all of the characters in this show. But I want to list my favorites here, the ones that really stand out as unique and compelling, even in a show where all of the characters are pretty compelling. Even the most prominent villain in the show gets to show off her character a little. Note that I do love all of the main characters, even those I’m not listing here–they’re just not as interesting for me to talk about.
1. Iroh – Three episodes in, I knew he was my favorite character, and he’s managed to hold the top spot through the three seasons. Oh, he is amazing. In the first season, he keeps his calm, jovial disposition almost no matter what. His demeanor makes him seem like he’s in control even when he isn’t, and there’s always this little trace of suspicion that he could get himself out of a situation if he’d bothered. His competence comes out to play once in a while, but usually, he’s okay with taking a back seat and advising. He’s retired, and chosen to stay in the mentor role. Oh, and he loves tea.
He gets more action in the second season, and gets serious more often–that’s fair, because the character he cares about most is going through a rough-decision making process. All he can do is dispense advice and hope that the one person who matters the most to him makes the right choices. He’s as funny as ever, and when he makes mistakes, they’re of a completely different sort than the ones other characters make. He’s lived a long time, and actually achieved a sense of wisdom, so it’s fun to see how different his weaknesses are at this stage of his life.
2. Toph – I love Toph. Her attitude paired with her cheerfulness make her an endearing character–headstrong without being abrasive, fun without being soft. She knows who she is, and has an independent bent. She’s deliberately chosen to not to be the way she was raised to be for her own sake. Everything about her is just so natural. And I love how she earth bends. I just do.
She’s not always right, and she’s not always likable, but that makes her more realistic. Everyone in the Gaang has their conflicts and fights, and they make the show much more interesting. They have to accomplish something despite the tension, and keep themselves together even when their conflicts drive them apart. And Toph is definitely not afraid of conflict. Also, she’s got some funny lines.
3. Zuko – Yes, he’s a bit of a brat sometimes, but most of the characters are brats sometimes. His story arch is very compelling–he has this clear image of who he’s supposed to be and where he belongs. But he’s been thrown off that path, and is being denied what he believes to be his identity. And he’s doing everything in his power to get it back. He’s almost fanatical about it, but little things keep slipping in–as driven as he is, he can’t quite stifle that bit of compassion he has, even though it’s lead to his downfall before.
As I watch the show, I want Zuko to learn that things aren’t so clean cut. I want him to see the big picture, and make those changes in himself that will let him be his own person instead of who he should be. It’s so hard for him, and sometimes I can’t believe how he allows himself to regress and fall back on the easy answers. He’s got a long way to go to change. But even though he’s getting there very slowly, he’s still getting there. And it’s a compelling journey–the most compelling and extensive character development of the entire series.
4. Sokka – I’ve got to love it when a guy can simultaneously be a Badass Normal, the Smart Guy, and the Butt Monkey. Seriously. He’s hilarious and regularly makes a complete idiot of himself with no shame whatsoever. And despite having no bending powers, he actively contributes to the missions. He manages to seriously kick ass and half the time looks pathetic doing it, which is kinda refreshing.
It was a little jolting how he jumped right into a thing with Yue after his moment with Suki, but since he was traveling the world and didn’t know if he’d ever see her again, I’ll give that one a pass.
5. Suki – My favorite things about her are her facial expressions when faced with Sokka’s antics, and her cheerful indulgence towards said antics. It doesn’t hurt that she’s another seriously awesome non-bender. I’ll remember her prison break forever.
6. Mai – Part of a villainous trio, her initial introduction doesn’t paint her in a very good light–she seems unconcerned with the welfare of her little brother–however, later events in the comics make it possible that she wasn’t showing any emotions in front of the sociopathic princess (Azula) who was going to put her brother in danger whether she liked it or not. It’s kind of hard to tell with her, she doesn’t show her emotions easily. Anyway, the ambiguity makes it safe to like her character, which is good, because while she doesn’t get enough development, she’s fun.
Her utter apathy towards everything is actually pretty funny. And makes it hard to tell why she chooses to fight sometimes and not other times. She’s utterly bored with her life as a noblewoman, and is willingly drafted into Azula’s mission so she could get some excitement–but then she refuses to fight a time or two. It’s interesting to never quite know what you’re going to get with her. I definitely wanted to know more about her and her companion, Ty Lee. They have intriguing personalities that are only given so much exploration.
7. Ty Lee – Another of Azula’s subordinates, along with Mai. Ty Lee is shown to want nothing to do with Azula’s mission, and the fight with the main characters. But Azula persuades her in a rather…vicious way. Despite this, Ty Lee appears to put her all into the mission once she accepts, never giving a hint of resentment for how Azula forced her. Ty Lee is obviously afraid of Azula, but acts like her friend anyway. The scene where she defies Azula, not out of bravery, but to protect her friend, is striking. I wish she’d have gotten more development, but even with the smaller role she played, she managed to grow a bit.
And of course, Appa and Momo are, respectively, sweet and hilarious.
Seriously, fantastic show. How is that a cartoon on Nickelodeon, for kids, is better than most of the stuff out there for adults?