By Matthew Moorcroft
Chapter 1: The Boy in the Iceberg – Strong Recommendation
Chapter 2: The Avatar Returns – Strong Recommendation
- Directed by Dave Filoni
- Starring Zach Tyler Eisen, Mae Whitman, Jack DeSena, Dante Basco
It’s probably pointless to really dive into Avatar: The Last Airbender this late in the game. It’s onne of the most discussed shows in this current era of the internet and it’s impossible to go somewhere without somebody, somewhere, pointing you to a video essay about one particular aspect of the show and why it’s so good. Of course though, Avatar: The Last Airbender is that kind of show that warrants discussion because it is indeed really that good and holds up magnificently well in the long run.
Going back to it’s pilot episodes all these years later is a fascinating experience. It almost feels quaint when you consider not only where the show eventually goes but also where the entire franchise leads to, though this isn’t a bad thing. One of the joys of the show is it’s ability to develop it’s characters and world naturally, and this is even more evident on a rewatch as the pieces are laid down early but with enough room for expansion later. Take the introduction of Sokka and Katara, which needs to do double duty by introducing two of our leads but also the concept of bending in one go. Katara’s bending quickly shown but it’s the bare minimum; the idea being that she it’s an ability that can be evergrowing, everchanging.
And while these episodes are considered separate, they work together better as two halves of a whole. Both halves mainly introduce different aspects of the story, with the first episode being character centric and the second half being plot centric. What’s good about this is that it allows each element to really shine on their own without the other overwhelming the rest, and letting the audience clue into things before the characters which give the reveals weight and meaning to them.
It’s true that the first season of Avatar, particularly it’s really early episodes, aim distinctly younger then it’s later portions, so the comedy is a bit hit or miss as you get older but it does admittedly hit more then it misses (the only real miss being a couple of gross-out gags that definitely aimed more at kids), particularly in regards to dialogue here. Sokka could have been annoying and grating but likable writing keeps him light on his feet, and Aang’s childlike innocence makes him a hoot. The comedic winner here is probably Mako’s vocal performance as Iroh though, whose deadpan, wise delivery fits the character to a tee.
But what really begins to set Avatar: The Last Airbender apart from it’s contemporaries (and eventually everything that tried to emulate it and it’s success) is how alive it feels. There is a joyous energy to the whole affair, and from the first beat to the last the world feels like it’s got a history, a life to it. It’s this feeling that permeates the entire show, the feeling that you could follow any random character and their story would just be as interesting as our current leads. This is why Avatar succeeds in the long run, and why it continues to succeed.
And it’s best episodes are still ahead.