Rating: 10 out of 10 stars
Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of the few shows I have watched that actually gets better in the second season. The whole dynamic of the team, which was already phenomenal, improves when Aang gets an earthbending teacher.
Avatar: The Last Airbender was created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. The head writer was Aaron Ehasz. The genres it straddles include Fantasy, Action, Adventure, and Comedy.
The show won five Annie Awards, a Primetime Emmy Award, a Genesis Award, a Peabody Award and a Kid’s Choice Award.
One episode of this season also won a Humane Society Award.
It is a unique blend of anime style with the style of American cartoons. It draws from Inuit, Japanese, Chinese, and Tibetan culture.
The world of Avatar: The Last Airbender is made up of four nations which each are focused around a different element: water, earth, fire, and air. Each of these nations is made up of those who can “bend” (control) one of the elements.
The current Avatar, Aang, must master all four elements in order to stop a war that has been going on for a hundred years. The war was launched by the Fire Nation, which is bent on world domination.
With the help of his friends Katara and Sokka, in Season 1 Aang seeks to master waterbending by traveling to the North Pole to find a waterbending teacher. Along the way, Katara is able to teach him basic waterbending and the team goes on various adventures.
In Season 2, an earthbender joins Team Avatar, the Fire Nation grows in power and influence, the heroes reach Ba Sing Se, and Zuko tries to establish his own identity.
- Powerful character depth and development
- Creative system of elements
- Developed fictional cultures based on authentic cultures
- Animals are creative mixes of various creatures
- Balance of humor and tension, comedy and tragedy
- Smart musical choices to create humor and tension
- Range of expressions of characters
- Entertaining for child and adult audience
- Explores themes rarely touched upon by children’s shows
- Intro orients the viewer to the story and is accessible to new viewers
- Wonderful animation
- Pacing is better
- Well, I thought about it for a few days, but I got nothin’.
Toph Beifong is a phenomenal character. She can put on the manners of an aristocrat and take them back off again like a mask. Her true personality, however, is one filled with fun, a complete lack of regard for germs, and a sense of humor that almost matches Sokka’s.
Toph is a skilled earthbender. She is blind and unable to read and write, but is able to sense her surroundings with her earthbending. She does this by feeling every vibration in the Earth with her feet. Because of her blindness, her parents treat her like she is helpless, overprotective to a ridiculous degree.
In my opinion, Azula is the most terrifying character in the show. She is cold, manipulative, and usually completely calm. A firebending prodigy, she is able to bend lightning and wield blue fire, which is hotter than the red-and-orange variety.
Azula is the daughter of the Fire Lord and sister to Zuko. She is introduced briefly at the end of Season 1, but is further developed in Season 2.
Mai is from the Fire Nation, a childhood friend of Azula who had a major crush on Zuko as a child and still has feelings for him now. Her personality is apathetic and easily bored.
She is not a bender, but she uses stilletos to attack her enemies, and is capable of defeating multiple benders with her skill.
Ty Lee is another Fire Nation girl, and is not a bender. However, she has a skill called Chi blocking that allows her to temporarily take away another’s bending and incapacitate them.
When we meet her, she is a highly skilled performer at a circus. She is usually cheerful and optimistic – basically the opposite of Mai, even though they are close friends.
System of Elements
The elements of water, earth, fire, and air are controlled by movements mimicking Chinese martial arts. Because they are modeled off of different forms of martial arts, the bending looks authentic. Waterbending is graceful, earthbending is formidable, firebending is fierce, and airbending is elusive.
The variety of techniques that can be used within a single element mean that battles are never boring. Benders like Aang, Katara, and Toph continually find new and creative ways to use their bending.
Toph is unique as a bender, as her bending is based off the Southern praying Mantis Style.
Culture and Setting
A small waterbending tribe calls the swamp home, wearing clothes made of leaves and bark. They have a culture of their own and diverse personalities. They hunt for their daily food and are in communion with nature.
The name Ba Sing Se means “impenetrable city.” The city is called that because of its thick walls that have made it impregnable against the Fire Nation’s attacks.
Ba Sing Se is the largest city in the show, so large that it is almost like a small country. Within the walls, peace is maintained by strict laws and a strong police force, as well as by more immoral methods.
Ba Sing Se is beautiful but tainted by corruption and fear. The culture is a mix of many cultures because of the refugees that shelter in the city, and features of the city include, but are not limited to, a zoo, a spa, poetry houses, restaurants, and tea shops.
There are many aspects of Ba Sing Se, but I won’t spoil the show by going into any more detail.
Avatar: The Last Airbender has cultures based on various real-life cultures. Unlike in some shows, it mimics these cultures while honoring them and without making caricatures of them.
Katara and Sokka have light brown skin, so there is some diversity in skin color as well.
In Season 2, the show introduces Toph, who is blind. Shows rarely include blind characters, leading to underrepresentation, so the directors of Avatar: The Last Airbender made a good choice.
Turtle ducks are my absolute favorite animals of Avatar: The Last Airbender. True, they don’t play a major role like Appa or Momo, but they are just so cute!
The Saber-tooth moose lion is adorable when young, but dangerous when full-grown.
The purple pentapus does not have much of a personality, being a simple invertebrate that lives in sewers. It is similar to an octopus but smaller.
In this season, viewers are reminded that Appa is not just a vehicle, but a character with his own story.
There are many more interesting animals, but I recommend you watch Season 2 to see for yourself!
Humor and tragedy are well-balanced in this show. Sokka, Toph and Iroh are major sources of humor. The remembered loss of Iroh’s son, the turmoil inside Zuko, and an unexpected death balance out the humor with a more serious tone.
Music adds to the humor at some times, and adds to the tension at others. It isn’t like the show has phenomenal musical scores – it doesn’t, not even in the intro. But it uses music that supports the story and does it well.
The range of expressions on the characters’ faces also adds to the comedy. Sometimes they are realistic, but occasionally they are way over the top.
The balance of humor with mature themes (war, genocide, imperialism, colonialism, corruption) makes this show appropriate for children yet entertaining for adults – the perfect balance.
The intro neatly explains the system of elements, explains about the war, and introduces the Avatar all in about thirty seconds. It is followed by a “Previously on Avatar” montage that concisely gives more background.
This is good for two reasons. Viewers who watch episodes with large spaces of time between get a reminder of what is going on and the stakes. And new viewers who may have missed the first few episodes get a sense for where the show has been and where it is going.
It’s a smart choice on the part of the directors.
The animation is beautiful and attractive. I can definitely see both the influence of anime and of American cartoons in the art style.
The pacing, which I mentioned as a potential shortcoming in the first season, is not really a problem in the second season. Sure, there are filler episodes, but not as many.
If you watched and enjoyed Season 1, you can expect Season 2 to blow you away even more. There are new characters to fall in love with and the old ones are still acting in character.
The pacing is better, the plot is engaging – really, if you haven’t watched it, you’re missing out.
If you haven’t watched Season 1, you obviously should watch that first. It’s phenomenal and shouldn’t be skipped.
Avatar: The Last Airbender is currently available on Netflix.
If you want to know how I rate things, check out my rating system.
- For my review of Season 1, click here.