Avatar: The Last Airbender

Song of the post: Avatar: The Last Airbender theme song

It has been a while since I wrote about a show or a film. I haven’t watched many in the past several months but ATLA has been the only one and it was because I watched it with a friend. I just can’t seem to muster up the energy to sit through 120 minutes of a film or 16 episodes of a drama. 20 minutes per episode seemed doable, especially since it was something completely new and because it was animated.

Here is the basic outline of the show since I don’t want to do a bad job explaining what is what. This post will mainly be me screaming about the show. There will be spoilers!

Several months ago, my friend Nat asked me if I had watched Avatar: The Last Airbender. She had watched bits and pieces of it as a child on Nickelodeon, so she wanted to watch all of it and suggested that we could watch it together. It didn’t take much convincing for me. I really liked the premise of the show so we decided to go for it.

Since then, we had our weekend nights booked over Zoom. On Friday and Saturday nights, we sat together after dinner to watch the show. We laughed, we cried, we gasped and clutched our hearts. It was such a packed, wholesome show with a great plot and some really amazing character arcs and great villains and a beautiful world-building and amazing story-telling. I’m glad I watched now because I could fully appreciate the show with all my heart.

The most unrealistic bit of this whole show is how strong they are at such a young age. Aang is biologically still 12, even though he had been frozen for 100 years. Katara is 14, while her brother Sokka is 15. Zuko, a strong fire-bender, is only 16! Azula, Zuko’s sister, who can manipulate lightning and can redirect it, is only 14! They must have trained all their lives but it’s still hard to wrap my mind around the fact that they do so much at such a young age.

(And yes, I am aware that the characters are this age because it’s a children’s show but still.)

Some recurring thoughts throughout the show:

  • APPAAAA! (Appa is Aang’s flying Bison, a whole ass cutie that needs to be protected. AT. ALL. COSTS.)
  • HOW IS THIS A CHILDREN’S SHOW? (Especially towards the end of Book 2 and 3)
  • Uncle Iroh! (A whole cutie badass but with the most golden heart. One of my most favourite characters. Has wisdom for days and is the most patient man ever. Protect him at all costs [even though he does a brilliant job by himself])
  • how is this a children’s show
  • Zuko please you’re so cute
  • YUEEE (crying, weeping emoji)

It started off slow. The first book was mainly world-building and them trying to navigate through this whole helping the Avatar thing and escaping from Zuko. Things got really interesting towards the end of the first book when Aang learns to Water-bend and they start looking for an Earth-bending teacher.

This is when the show picks up. Toph is a blind, 12 year old, earth-bender who fights against earth-bending giants (huge, beefy men) in contests and wins. She “sees” through the vibrations through her feet, which is why she doesn’t like wearing footwear. But she’s also treated as a dainty, delicate girl by her family which gets so suffocating for her that she runs away with Aang and the gang. She’s one of the coolest characters in the show. She’s sassy and smart and has an iron-willpower. I love the fact that they included a disabled character in the main cast (there are other, smaller disabled characters sprinkled throughout the show) and this inclusion seems like the most natural thing ever. It’s one of the many reasons why this show is so amazing and why I love it so much.

The second book is also one of the more fast-paced ones. A lot of things happen: new member addition to their team, new information on defeating the Fire Lord Ozai, new battle strategies, new friendships formed. The most prominent is the battle at the city of Ba Sing Se. Iroh briefly talks about this city in the first book: it’s where he lost his son Lu Ten, it’s where he lost the battle against the Earth Kingdom when he led the army and lost all his glory. It’s a city that holds painful memories for him and we sympathize with him. Later, the city is reintroduced to us when Gaang (Aang and the gang) realize they need to meet with the Earth Kingdom and provide them with the information that might help them defeat the Fire Nation and end their rule over the planet.

This is the part where I realized just how amazing this show is. It might be difficult for kids to understand the depth of the issues that’s at the heart of Ba Sing Se but as an adult, it shook me. I think a major part of it was because I could relate to it to the current scenario. The episodes surrounding this were intense because the Gaang is also looking for Appa, who was taken away but some sand-benders in the desert. There’s an episode that shows the journey of Appa from wherever he was taken to and escaped and to Ba Sing Se, where he was hidden. My heart was broken that episode because Appa was so scared and hungry and tired and hurt. Nobody hurts Appa and gets away with it.

(Rewatching S2 E14: The City of Walls and Secrets to make sure I get my point and feelings across well.) Ba Sing Se is called the city of walls. The entire city is fortified, and inside the city, there are three concentric rings of walls that help maintain peace and order inside the city. In the outermost live the refugees and craftsmen and artisans (people who work with their hands). They are also really poor and Katara observes that they are all pushed off in one place. In the middle one, the financial “district”, houses shops, restaurants and the university, along with people who can afford to go to these places. In the inner most wall is the palace and noble people.

This “class” division made my heart clench. Maybe I wouldn’t have understood it as a child but I completely understand it as an adult. It brought me a sense of deja vu and detachment with it. It is reflective of the real world today (and in 2005 when this episode came out) but the governing bodies in Ba Sing Se, the Dai Li has worked so hard to keep people happy and ignorant that it scares me.

Which is one of the main reasons why I love this episode.

Uncle Iroh and Zuko somehow end up wherever the Gaang is (even after Zuko stops pursuing Aang). They work in a small tea shop in the outermost wall since they are refugees. But nobody knows that they are from the Fire Nation and they keep it that way. Since Iroh thinks tea is like breathing, he soon becomes popular in tea making, so much so that he opens his own tea shop in Ba Sing Se.

The next episode is a series of shorts of all the characters’ little adventures in the city. I’m a huge sucker for anthologies and this little one, including a story on Momo’s (Aang’s flying lemur) adventure in the city, is an adorable one. It’s cute, funny, sad, heartwarming all in one and by the end of it, tears threatened to fall.

Then there’s Zuko. He starts off by being the worst character on the show (which will be replaced by Azula) to one of the best and most favourite characters by the end of it. He has a good heart but being in the Fire Nation, he has always ever known one side of the history, which he’s always believed to be right. He goes through so much pain and suffering and in the end, his good side wins. His major flaw is, and I quote Nat, “being bad at being good,”. He tries to be a good person but it always backfires because he doesn’t know how to be one. But that changes. And his character arc is one of the most phenomenal ones throughout the show. In the end, he becomes Aang’s fire-bending teacher and together, they discover the original way of fire-bending. (I really wish we had more episodes of Zuko in the Gaang because it was so wholesome.)

Sokka, Katara’s brother, often the goofy one but his character growth, albeit different from Zuko, was also a painful one. Having lost his mother to the Fire Nation, his father at sea, he’s responsible for taking care of Katara but we often forget that he’s a child, too. But he’s also more than that. His battle strategies have been commended by his own father and he even plans many of their trips because he’s so meticulous in planning. He cannot bend elements, but he has good fighting skills that has often saved the rest of them from doom.

From: https://2.bp.blogspot.com/-OwkpeugoxVo/WpeSHUBvLNI/AAAAAAABhHc/CeDfJqu5gj4EnklHjMLhGixz_m_h5l9nACLcBGAs/s1600/Cesar-Moreno-Avatar-Last-Airbender-Movie-Poster-2018-Mondo.png

ATLA has female characters who contribute the same amount, if not more, to the story. Katara, with her water-bending, Toph with her earth-bending, Suki (a Kyoshi warrior) with her skills, on one side; Azula with her lightning, Ty Lee with her acrobatic skills that immobilize people, Mai with her ninja knife/star throwing skills on the other. There is no “competition” as such between the male and female characters because they’re all so strong by themselves. I loved that about it.

Everybody needs an Uncle Iroh in their lives. I need an Uncle Iroh in my life.

After watching it, it’s easy to understand why this show has such a huge fanbase. It’s not just about a 12 year-old monk trying to stop a war that he doesn’t know how to. It’s much larger than that. It’s about love and family and friendship and restoring lost honour and what that means and what being strong means and forgiveness and so much more. It’s probably really easy to dismiss this as a kids’ cartoon but it’s a mistake that’s easily rectified by giving it a chance.

So, give it a chance. It might just change your life.