TV Watch: "Avatar"

No, not James Cameron’s polarizing epic: the one that came first. The best American serialized animated show in the history of television.

That’s the one. Although, that image doesn’t really convey the tone and scale of the show – it looks far more like “generic pseudo anime adventure show with animals”.

In fact, no image will.

There is no way a singular image can properly convey what Avatar: The Last Airbender (retroactively referred to as Avatar: The Legend of Aang) is. Words are no substitute for the real thing, but I’ll give it a shot: Avatar is an adventure serial based on Eastern lore. The series takes place in a world where the human race is divided into four nations, one for each of the elements – Water, Earth, Fire, Air. By the start of the series, the Fire Nation had broken the long-held peace between the four nations by starting a massive world war. The Air Nomads were wiped out, with the Water Tribe pushed to the corners of the globe, and the massive Earth Kingdom slowly crumbling under the Fire Nation war machine. Within this world are four disciplines tied to the elements, and thus the nations, collectively called “bending”. Waterbending, Earthbending, Firebending and Airbending are exactly what they sound like – the ability to bend that specific element to the wielder’s will. Each of the disciplines is highly stylized and based on a school of martial arts.

While typically each human can only master one of the bending disciplines – usually the one of the nation they are born in – there is one who can master all four. This human is called the Avatar. The Avatar is reincarnated upon death into another nation in an unending cycle, with all the abilities and knowledge of his/her former self intact. The sole purpose of the Avatar is to maintain peace in the world. At the start of the war, the Avatar was a Fire Nation citizen – Avatar Roku. When he died, the Avatar was to be reincarnated into the Air Nomads, but the Fire Nation wiped them out – hence, The Last Airbender. The Avatar went missing, and the war raged on.

Enter the series. Two Water Tribe members – Katara and Sokka – are gathering food when they find a boy encased in a large iceberg. It’s – and I hate to spoil this for you since it’s an M. Night-level twist – the Avatar.

The series is about the Avatar’s travels with Katara and Sokka as he learns the four bending disciplines – already having mastered Airbending – and tries to stop the Fire Lord, the leader of the Fire Nation, and end the war. It’s an incredibly satisfying mix of humor – some crude, some very subtle and clever – stylized action that is beautifully animated and a joy to watch, and – if you can believe it for a primarily child audience – honest emotional depth of character. It’s supremely well written and animated, and is undoubtedly the best children’s show of all time and among the best shows of all time in general.

Why do I bring this up now? After all, the show ended several years ago. Well, a new spinoff series taking place 70 years after the end of The Legend of Aang‘s third season (it’s final season) will be airing sometime in 2012.

The Legend of Korra. It will be incredible. Catch up on The Legend of Aang while you can – the entire series is available on Netflix.

You won’t regret it.

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