Avatar: The Last Airbender Season 1 (Spoiler-Free)
Rating: 9.8 out of 10
Avatar: The Last Airbender is my favorite childhood show, and Season 3 has always been my favorite season. I recently re-watched this show with my roommate and she really enjoyed it as well.
It includes my favorite episode of the whole show, Chapter 17: The Ember Island Players, when Team Avatar gets to see a play based on their own adventure.
It also includes my least favorite episode, Chapter Eight: The Puppetmaster, which is super creepy for a kid’s show. Nonetheless, it was a well-made episode that helped set up a concept that would later be important for The Legend of Korra.
Read on to find out why this is the best season yet.
(Quick warning–there are no spoilers for Season 3, but there are some minor spoilers for Seasons 1 and 2.)
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. Season 3 was released in 2007.
The show won five Annie Awards, a Primetime Emmy Award, a Genesis Award, a Peabody Award and a Kid’s Choice 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, the earthbender Toph 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.
Season 3 begins with Aang waking up in a Fire Nation ship confused–and with a full head of hair! The main point of Season 3 is Aang’s attempts to find a firebending teacher and master all four elements in order to defeat Fire Lord Ozai and end the war.
- Powerful character depth and development
- Creative system of elements
- Developed fictional cultures based on authentic cultures
- 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 than first season
- Intense fight scenes
- Lingering consequences/lasting wounds from last season
- Chapter Nine: Nightmares and Daydreams is bizarre and over-the-top
- Never learned how Hawky worked, but used him anyway
Zuko has the biggest identity crisis of all the characters, so it is natural he gets the most development. At this point, his uncle is imprisoned, so he has to decide on his own path without Iroh’s help. He is at home with the life he has always wanted–will he finally be satisfied?
It is like this season is a reminder of who Iroh really is–a capable, wise man who is more than just a mentor to Zuko.
Azula is a truly terrifying character. Her callousness toward her own family and her intense ambition makes her especially frightening. This season also develops her as a person almost to the same degree as Zuko. We see her insecurities and her paranoia, ripples in the pool of her calm demeanor.
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.
Season 3 is definitely Azula and Zuko’s time to shine with elaborate bending as well. Furthermore, fire as an element is reconsidered as representative of life, not just destruction.
This season of Avatar: The Last Airbender focuses on Fire Nation culture. This includes their mythology (The Painted Lady), their education system, their forms of entertainment, and their way of life more generally.
Small towns and larger cities are visited throughout the season. This one is a village on a polluted river. Most people wouldn’t have thought a Fire Nation village would be situated on the water–that’s kind of like an earth bending city high in the sky. But the creation of the elemental system does not categorize and simplify people. The cultures in this show are complex, just like cultures in the real world.
In the Fire Nation, education is propaganda, painting their own society as a heroic force of good in the world. The fierce patriotism of Fire Nation citizens is fueled by a powerful set of lies.
What’s also interesting is the difference between what Aang remembers of Fire Nation culture, and what it is like now. His outdated slang and long-forgotten Fire Nation dances are a source of humor and an indication of how society changes over time, for better or for worse.
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 introduced Toph, who is blind. She remains a critical character in Season 3.
The balance of humor in this show with mature themes (war, imperialism, colonialism, corruption, propaganda) makes this show appropriate for children yet entertaining for adults–the perfect balance.
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. Season 3 has more epic music for its fight scenes in the final episodes.
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 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.
Wow. Just wow. The fight scenes in this season blew me away. I can say literally nothing about them without spoiling something, so you’ll have to take my word for it.
The biggest consequence of Team Avatar’s failure in Season 2 is Aang’s lasting injury. I like that this is not something Aang just recovers from and everything is better. He has a permanent scar on his back and foot from the lightning strike.
Chapter Nine: Nightmares and Daydreams is basically about Aang trying to handle an immense amount of stress. It includes bizarre hallucinations and childish nightmares. It’s weird and unnecessary and doesn’t add much to the story.
None of the characters has any idea how to use Hawky, but by the end of the episode Hawky is sent to a deliver a message. There is no indication how it will get to its destination, it’s never shown how it’s done, and all they did was send it off. Sloppy, in my opinion, but it was most likely due to time constraint. Not a big deal, just disappointing.
This is my favorite season of my favorite show for a reason. This is not just some kid’s show. It’s worth watching if you are an adult. If you want to learn good storytelling, watching high-quality shows will teach you. This show can teach you something.
If you are interested in how I rate shows, check out my rating system.