Avatar: The Last Airbender
It wasn’t my plan to start this new side of Good Donut with Avatar, but after having finished it last week (shame on me for only starting it this year), I felt the need to write down my thoughts while they were fresh.
I’m joining the ranks of people who have infinite praise for this show because, well, they’re not wrong. I don’t think I’ve seen one bad review/comment/thought about Avatar, and I’ve known of it for years. It goes to show that even if it started airing in 2005, 14 years later it’s just as good.
For those unfamiliar, the show, centered around people with elemental abilities, tells the story of a 12 year old boy, Aang, an airbender frozen in ice for the past 100 years. He is the Avatar, the person who can restore balance to the world after the Fire Nation started a war that spread throughout the world.
I am going to try to keep this short, even though there’s so much to say about this show. Spoilers ahead.
- The distribution of episodes into three books (water, earth, fire) to coincide with Aang’s journey learning the other 3 types of bending he needs really tickles my fancy. It’s a tiny thing, but it’s just so neat I can’t help but love it.
- From that, the distinct aesthetics of each book, with blue-ish visuals for water, green and brown for earth, and red and orange for fire, further sets this show apart. It’s a beautiful visual fest, and the distinct designs for each book/nation/location/costume never lets you down.
- The lore behind the story is so deep and interesting, even 14 years later people still debate about the possibilities of bending. Not to mention the detail that went into the different cultures of the Fire Nation, Water Tribes, Earth Kingdom, and Air Nomads. I haven’t seen Korra yet, but from what I gather, the lore is explored further in it as well
- The tone is just right. It gets serious when it has to, it brings you down a notch with a well-placed joke when you need it to, it makes you cry, it teaches you things without being preachy about them, and it’s lighthearted enough that you can enjoy it whenever. No wonder people watch it repeatedly.
- The dialogue is rich, believable, hides a lot of lessons (Iroh’s in particular), and is incredibly hilarious. At no point did I feel a character wouldn’t say a certain line they’re given, because their circumstances, upbringing, and personalities are always taken into account to create dialogue that flows nicely and is accurate to the characters delivering it. I will be subjective here, but Sokka and Iroh’s lines specifically were some of my favorites.
- All the characters, no matter how minor, were given wants, needs, objectives, and a believable story and reason for showing up. No one was replaceable with anyone else, no one was redundant, everyone helped build on Aang’s journey to bring peace to the world. Especially for the main cast, their evolution throughout the three books is tangible, with Sokka and Zuko being two of the most developed characters (in my opinion). What’s important to remark is that even Aang, who is arguably the best character in terms of morals, is given flaws. He’s not a perfect angel of good and kindness, he’s a kid and a normal person just like the rest.
- Although I knew Zuko would ultimately be a good guy, since everyone’s main point of praise is his redemption arc, seeing his journey through his internal conflict was just as entertaining as if I hadn’t known. Even from the very beginning we get hints that he’s not really the usual villain you’d get in… well, any show really. The seeds have been planted since the start, which makes his climb to goodness very well-earned and logical. Having Uncle Iroh at his side, who is instantly likeable even by the Gaang, only helped his case further, in the story but also technique-wise. You can’t help but like this pair, even if they’re initially portrayed as the ones the Gaang must evade and occasionally battle. His motivations are so well introduced and so neatly shown throughout the three books, you end up rooting for him before you know it. It’s fitting his final battle is with his sister, as she’s been his main adversary from the start (yes, Ozai was the one who scarred him and made him obsessed with earning back his honor and getting his father’s praise, but it was Azula who has always been in constant competition with him and whom he “lost” to when he was banished). He’s also hilarious (his temper tantrums, his teenage stubbornness and, let’s face it, his occasional dumbness), and I have to mention I’ve been waiting since the start to hear “That’s rough, buddy” and it didn’t disappoint.
- Azula. Apart from the fact that she’s gorgeous, she’s also a very compelling villain. The way her character is built is fascinating, as initially you wonder how the Gaang could ever defeat her, even with Zuko at their side. She seems to have no weakness whatsoever. She’s smart, cunning, and an incredible fighter. It seems fitting that her eventual downfall is her perceived source of strength. She believed instilling fear in people, even the people closest to her, is the safest way to live. Everyone would be too scared to betray her. Top that with her idea that her own mother thought her a monster, and you get the recipe to take her down. As Mai and Ty Lee leave her, she learns the hard way that her way is wrong. Her descent into madness is incredible to watch, and I feel like her journey and eventual ending was very well earned.
- Usually I’m a sucker for bad guys turned good, so I thought Zuko would be my #1, but my favorite has been Sokka from the start. I enjoyed seeing him grow and found it incredibly satisfying that at no point did he need any powers. His power has always been his brain. The fact that he also learned sword fighting and earned the respect of a fire nation teacher, and that he is half of a very natural and satisfying love story (Suki also being one of my favorites) furthered my love for him. He’s also the funniest, and he delivers the comical parts of the story flawlessly (when Aang and Momo disappeared and he thought Appa ate Momo? Hilarious).
- The animation is incredible, and if you’re a fan of action scenes, the ones in Avatar will probably make your top 10. So neat, so nicely flowing. So smart. The combination of bending and body movement was fascinating to watch.
- Appa and Momo will become everyone’s favorites and I now want to own plushies of both of them.
- Despite everyone saving each other countless times, I appreciated that at no point in the story did the female characters become damsels in distress. I thought it was going to happen during the final Azula/Katara fight, but despite Zuko taking the hit meant for Katara, it was Katara who eventually finished Azula off. And Toph? Strongest, funniest, and most loveable. She’s one to admire and look up to. Also, she invented metal bending so she’s a genius.
- The ending. I just really love the ending. Aang never changed himself or his morals despite everyone pressuring him to take a life to save the world. He found another way. He believed. He won the fight without (too much) violence. That was probably the best resolution to a show I’ve ever seen. And despite not dying, Ozai got exactly what he deserved. Dying would’ve been too easy.
With all this said, I want to name a few episodes that I particularly liked. If any of my jumbled up mess of words sounds interesting to you, please give Avatar a watch. You’ll be binging it before you know it. And if you’ve watched it already and would like to discuss any of the points I’ve made, feel free to drop me a message.
Season 1 Episode 5 – The King of Omashu
Bumi is just hilarious, and the trials he made Aang go through to save his friends were incredibly exciting to watch. Also there’s a doggy.
Season 1 Episode 13 – The Blue Spirit
Zuko saving Aang in the first season despite him being who he is and Aang being who he is? Iconic.
Season 2 Episode 10 – The Lost Library
I love books, so a library-centered episode is a no-brainer for my top. The Gaang learns about the eclipse, and Appa gets stolen, so this episode is packed full of things that make you want to watch further.
Season 2 Episode 16 – Appa’s Lost Days
I cried, okay? Especially during the Momo bits. Their bond is everything.
Season 2 Episode 17 – Lake Laogai
Zuko saving Appa made me jump of joy, and it’s important later on as Appa is the first to trust Zuko when he turns good!
Season 3 Episode 2 – The Headband
Just… Aang going to school in the fire nation and throwing a party? The best. And Sokka and Katara posing as his parents was hilarious.
Season 3 Episode 4 – Sokka’s Master
Such a beautiful episode. Sokka learns sword fighting and makes himself a nice space sword. I cried tears of pride.
Season 3 Episodes 14 & 15 – The Boiling Rock: Part 1 & Part 2
I’m a huge fan of HBO’s Oz, so prison-themed episodes with my two favorite guys? Perfect. Zuko and Sokka working together and trusting each other is everything, not to mention we get to see Suki again. The escape plans are also clever, and this two-parter has the perfect balance of emotional and funny.
Season 3 Episodes 19 & 20
Aang consulting his past selves to help him with his decision about Ozai was interesting enough, but I chose these episodes in particular because of Zuko and Iroh’s reconciliation. Their hug and Iroh’s words made me cry. Everyone needs an Uncle Iroh.
If you've made it through this entire post, I want to thank you for your time and interest. Good Donut will be doing recommendations of various media, so stay tuned. I now leave you with a bit of wisdom I feel we could all benefit from taking to heart: