I’ve finally finished watching the Nickelodeon animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender.
I had the feeling the writers had spent a disproportionate amount of their childhoods watching Star Wars (all the characters have daddy issues, and the desert episodes seem to be a homage to Tatooine) and playing video games (quests, levels and power-ups). But it is a solidly done show: well written, well drawn, well plotted. Once the main characteristics of the fantasy world are sketched – the four nations, their control of the elements through different styles of Kung Fu, and the reincarnation of the Avatar – the story develops naturally.
Which leads to the first thing I liked about The Last Airbender: it is blessedly short. The plot was designed to run for three seasons, and for three seasons it ran. If only they could have done that with The Walking Dead I might not have given up on it.
The brevity did lead to exactly two lose ends – 1) whatever happened to the scarred girl whose horse Zuko stole? 2) Why inform us that the Rough Riders were the murderers of Jet’s family when they never get their comeuppance? The second is probably a true editing flaw but the first was the one I found most annoying: she was nice to him, he stole her horse, and she never got justice: is there no justice in this cartoon world? To be fair, what was more surprising was how well the writers were able to wrap everything up.
The second thing I enjoyed was the animation. We are not talking classic Disney level, this is a TV show, but superior to most of the stuff you see on TV. It was always good, and often beautiful. The fact alone that you can recognize specific styles of Kung Fu – Hung Ga, Baquazhang, Tai Chi, etc – is quite an achievement.
Third I enjoyed the title character, Aang, when he was at his most childish. Aang the ass-kicking Avatar is a less engaging character than the Aang who gets on people’s nerves, or the Aang who sheepishly does something he knows is wrong but can’t help himself, or the Aang who has a humiliating crush on a girl who does not reciprocate.
There is a certain age where we understand what the grown-up world expects of us but are still trapped by the fears and insecurities of childhood. That is Aang. We’ve all been there.
Fourth, I loved Mae Whitman’s voice acting in the role of Katara. It was necessary to have a strong actress in that part, and she carried the show.
The main complaint I had about the show was Sokka as the comic relief. He laid it on too thick to the point that he wasn’t funny, at least to this adult, I don’t know how a kid would see him. The animal characters Apa and Momo were perfect in their comic roles, and Toph was a good comic addition in season two.
It was a good show, it doesn’t matter how old you are.