LITV Reviews: Avatar: The Last Airbender: Book One: Water

Lost In The Void

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Aug 27, 2008
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[HEADING=1]Avatar The Last Airbender: Book One: Water[/HEADING]​


Children's cartoons are one of the most difficult things to truly make a great experience out of. While it is easy enough to create content that will entertain a child for a short time, there are many cartoons that don't push a child's development during the crucial years of their life, instead settling for cheap plots about nonsense. Not only do these not help the child in the long run, only providing hollow entertainment, but they also bore the adults that are forced to watch them with their children. When a child and parent watch cartoons together, it should be a bonding experience for them as well as development for the child.

A show came out six years ago that did just this; Avatar: The Last Airbender combines an excellent plot with mature elements and fun humour for both children and adults, to become one of the better shows of this decade. Not only does it provide entertainment for adults, but they can also actively enjoy it, as adults watching an adult show as it contains stories and writing fitting for an adult audience. This series was broken into three parts called books. This review is on the first of the three books; its name being Water.

[IMG_inline caption="The First of an Epic Trilogy" IMG height=300IMG width=200]http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/9/9b/Avatar-_The_Last_Airbender_Book_1_DVD.jpg[/IMG_inline]​

Avatar takes place in a world not that far off from oriental times, at least in appearance. The setting is in a world different from ours where four nations exist based on the elements that they control. This control of the elements is held by a few of each nation, allowing them to control their respective elements in an art called 'bending.' These are the Fire Nation, the Earth Kingdom, the Water Tribes and the Air Nomads. For most of history, the four nations coexisted in peace; however for the last century, the Fire Nation has been at war with the rest of the world, invading and conquering large parts of the Earth Kingdom, as well as destroying the Air Nomads. There is one Air Nomad left though, a boy named Aang, preserved in ice from 100 years. He is the most recent reincarnation of the Avatar, a person destined to balance the elements and master all four. The first book explores his discovery by two water tribe children and their subsequent journey to the North Pole for Aang to learn Water Bending.

When it comes down to it, the first few episodes are not an indication of the quality to come from the series, but rather a preview of the potential the series had. While they are still watchable from an adult perspective, as you watch the series, you do realize that the pilots were just trying to make sure that they could survive before moving the series in the direction they wanted. Once the series gets into its stride though, about five episodes in, you are treated to the first season of an excellent series that looks at issues of sexism, racism, self sacrifice, loss and love, all written beautifully and executed well due to great voice acting on the cast's part. This all concludes in an epic finale that does what few kid's cartoons do, by not ending on a cliffhanger, but rather a bitter sweet note, showcasing the pains of extended war and how if effects everyone involved.

While the plot on its own proves to be an excellent showcase of writing, it would not be half the show it become without the outstanding characters created. Aang is an upbeat Airbender, but faces a task that threatens to overwhelm him. A large part of his character is the maturity he is forced to adopt, far beyond his physical age. He is only a child after all, but the war forces him to grow up too fast and this shows after a while. Katara is a water bender, the only one in the South Pole. After losing her mother in a Fire Tribe raid as a child, she adopted the mother role in her family. She has a strong maternal instinct due to this and it causes conflict in the group sometime. She also, like many of the characters, was forced to grow up too fast. Sokka is Katara's brother and while designed as the comic relief character, he is still fleshed out and becomes a very dynamic character who evolves throughout the first book to become more than simply comic relief and instead a three dimensional character.

[IMG_inline caption="Each style carries its own distinct look and power" IMG height=250 IMG width= 300]http://cdn.static.ovimg.com/episode/301701.jpg[/IMG_inline]​

The antagonists of the first series are just as fleshed and developed as the protagonists. The first being Zuko, a Fire Nation prince in exile, who hunts the Avatar to allow for restoration of his honour and his ticket to come home out of the exile given by his father, the Fire Lord. He sports a large burn scar on his face, a testament to a large trauma in his past. His uncle Iroh serves as his mentor and is a sharp contrast to Zuko's rigid spirit, being a happy and carefree old man, though he carries his own emotional scars from his time as a high ranking general.

Despite the characters all having scars in their past, the traumas are varied enough so that you avoid the clichés normally associated with such a cast. A large theme of the show is growing up and maturing as a person, something the show does excellently, there are moments where the comedy breaks out, but remains a serious plot at the same time.

While the show is American created, the animation is based off of the anime style created in Japan. The world is painted as vibrant and colourful, with each nation having its own distinct look. The Water tribe is a cold land and the style of clothing based off of Inuit designs. The Fire Nation is its contrast with its large cities of stone and steel, a vibrant red and black to the Water Nation's blue and white colours. The Air temples are very inspired by Buddhist temples and the environment mountainous to further drive home the light nature of the Air Nomads. The Earth kingdom is not explored in detail in this season.

Another interesting aspect of the show is the element bending itself. Each element's bending is based off of a martial combat and while stylized to a certain extent, this remains true for the entire series meaning that the combat becomes a certain combative dance, that while combined with the artistic style and colours of the element bending, becomes a beauty to watch; the combat scenes remain fresh due to this and the audience is treated to excellent beautiful animation as a result.

To call Avatar a children's cartoon, much as its genre demands it, is to sell the show short. While its beginning betrays the audience it was trying to initially capture, its evolution as a show along with its characters showcase why the show has such a strong adult audience. Few TV shows, not just cartoons, have shown the strong attention to detail, strong plots and characters that Avatar gives its audience. If you are a fan of any of these, you owe yourself to take a look at the show. You will not walk away disappointed.


This analysis is more of an expanded look over all three books and as such should only be read by those who have watched the entire series, rather than those who are reading this review for information on the first season. This analysis is heavy in spoiler content, so those not wishing to see the plot twists and character developments destroyed in front of them should not read any further and instead close the tab.

The first season is seen as the weakest by most fans and due to its flaws in the first few episodes, I can see where this opinion has its merits. However it still does an excellent job in fleshing Aang and the rest of the characters out. It is interesting to watch Aang forced to become an adult long before he should have to and though it is greater touched on later in the series, you already begin to see the pressure mounting on him and the responsibilities becoming too much for a child to bear on his own. Despite being a powerful Airbender, it is interesting to see him weak in so many other aspects of his life, his fear of being the Avatar being a large part of this, expanded upon as he moves towards the North Pole to train.

Katara is one of my favourite characters throughout the entire series, but unfortunately, in my opinion that doesn?t really start until the second season. However that isn't to say that she doesn't evolve in this series at all. Her fight with sexism in the North Pole was an interesting arc to say the least and of course the romantic tension with Aang is entertaining to watch. However compared to her revenge arc in Season 3 or the pain shown when Aang's firebending burns her and my personal favourite, her learning of Bloodbending all greatly supersede any growth in the first season.
Sokka is the character that saw the most growth in Season One, in my own opinion. The creators sat that he was initially going to be a relatively unimportant character, designed to be the comic relief and nothing else. However he evolves greatly throughout the episodes, this climaxing with his love for the Water tribe princess Yue and the devastating loss of her not only being betrothed to another, but another sting of loss when she gives up her mortal body to become the new Moon Spirit after the first one is slain. With this baptism of loss and pain Sokka becomes one of the most well written characters of the series by blending comic relief with his own pains and trials.

While it isn't uncommon to see a sympathetic antagonist, there are few as sympathetic as Zuko. While his introduction to the series doesn't really showcase his true spirit, instead making him off to be one dimensional, as the series goes on, it is interesting how much we truly learn of Zuko simply by watching the interactions between he and his uncle. The reveal of the reason for his burn paints his father in a cruel light and gives us more context to the Fire Lord's nature than any amount of other imagery could show, it gives us the context to a man so cruel that he would banish and mutilate his own son for simply speaking out of turn. Not only that but it gives us insight to the way of Fire Nation life; it is shown to be rigid and traditionalist with strong ties to honour to the point of flawed. Zuko serves as a catalyst for the viewer to learn about the Fire Nation while not focusing extensively.

[HEADING=2]Games[/HEADING]
Sins of a Solar Empire [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.145037]
Dragon Age: Origins [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.161457]
MX vs ATV: Reflex [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.165581#comment_form]
Mass Effect 2 [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.171506-Lost-in-the-Void-Presents-Mass-Effect-2#comment_form]
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.172605-Lost-in-the-Void-Presents-Knights-of-the-Old-Republic]
The Witcher: Director's Cut [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.206375-LITV-Presents-The-Witcher-Directors-Cut]
Golden Sun: The Lost Ages [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.207308-LITV-Rides-the-Epoch-Golden-Sun-The-Lost-Ages]
Amnesia: The Dark Descent [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.264458-LITVs-10-000th-Post-Review-Amnesia-The-Dark-Descent]
Dwarf Fortress [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.273815-LITV-Presents-Dwarf-Fortress]
Mount and Blade Warband [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.283804-LITV-Presents-Mount-and-Blade-Warband]


[HEADING=2]First Impression Reviews[/HEADING]

Bulletstorm [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.259669-Bulletstorm-First-Impressions]
Dragon Age 2 [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.269033-LITV-Presents-Dragon-Age-2-First-Impressions#10316738]

[HEADING=2]Satirical Reviews[/HEADING]
The Ice Pick Lobotomy [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.186914-LITV-Presents-The-Icepick-Lobotomy#5696492]

[HEADING=2]Literature Reviews[/HEADING]

Stephen King's Cujo [http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/326.268847-LITV-Reviews-Stephen-Kings-Cujo#10305683]

Hey Lost in the Void here for another little note for you budding and veteran reviewers. You might have heard a little hype in the last year or so about this little game coming out on the eleventh of November. No it's not that game Minecraft, because as awesome as that game is, every nerd and their nonexistent girlfriend have a copy of the Beta already. Instead I'm offering you something a bit more...noteworthy.

For the month of October, the Escapist Community Showcase has decided that the winner of that month shall receive a copy of Bethesda's The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for the platform of their choice. That's a brand new copy, no used copy for this review extraordinaire. After you have been declared the winner of the contest; you will be contacted by me for the address and other information to ensure you receive the copy.

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1. This contest is only available to members of the Escapist 18 years or older. This is due to the fact that it becomes a potential problem to award minors with prizes as well as obtaining their mailing addresses. This is a problem I'd rather not personally deal with so unfortunately that's the age limit I've set.

2. This contest is not affiliated in any way with the Escapist Magazine; the Showcase is an independent project operating with the permission of the Escapist Magazine. Any issues should be raised with myself or Deadpan Lunatic and not with any Staff Member of the Escapist Magazine.

3. This contest is not affiliated with Bethesda Softworks and/or any companies under or above it.

4. This contest is open to any country of origin.

5. Upon winning, the victor is entitled to one (1) copy of The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim on the PC, Xbox 360 or Playstation 3. The platform choice shall be selected by the winner upon notification of their victory.

6. The mailing address and e-mail of the winning party with be required upon victory to ensure delivery of said game.

7. The game, Skyrim, shall be bought and sent after the winning party is selected and their choices made. This means that the game should arrive on 11/11/11, however delays can be expected and the Showcase is not responsible for product delays on the shipping party's side.

Any questions about the contest can be PMed to me and I will do my best to answer, or at least point you in the right direction
 

Monkfish Acc.

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You are LATE to the party dude.
I am ashamed to even be friends with you right now. Not watching a children's cartoon. What have you been doing with your life.

But yeah, good stuff. I don't think I'd ever describe Zuko as an antagonist, though. Sort of more of a decoy antagonist by the way spoilers.

so anyway who do you ship

zutara otp
 

AboveUp

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Excellent review, although I have one minor problem with a bit in the spoilers.

So *ahem* Spoilers.

The sexism plotline at the North Pole. I didn't really care for how it was resolved. Oh, hey, you're my granddaughter, cool, guess you're okay then. It didn't really feel like much of an actual resolution and more like a cop-out in terms of having a real confrontation.

Also, Zuko isn't really much of an antagonist. His reasons for hunting after the Avatar at the start make that clear enough early on. He just wants acceptance and be liked, in the world he grew up in, it's hard to see right from wrong. Even then, he's still trying to do his best.
 

Sporky111

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Dec 17, 2008
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AboveUp said:
Excellent review, although I have one minor problem with a bit in the spoilers.

So *ahem* Spoilers.

The sexism plotline at the North Pole. I didn't really care for how it was resolved. Oh, hey, you're my granddaughter, cool, guess you're okay then. It didn't really feel like much of an actual resolution and more like a cop-out in terms of having a real confrontation.
There was confrontation, I say. Katara challenged and fought her grandfather and proved her skill with water bending was on par with his own. He did appear to shrug it off, but I think it went a long way to proving that she's not "just a girl".
Something else I want to add that wasn't in the character profiles. I don't remember whether or not it was touched on greatly in Book 1, but I really like how Sokka's character changed once it started showing how weak and useless he felt in the group. He was raised as a warrior and defender of his village so he always thought of himself as someone who was strong and could protect others, then he finds himself thrust into this journey where everyone around him is a powerful Bender. Whenever a fight starts he sees that he's often ill-equipped to face their enemies, or that he's just not the warrior he thought he was and that his time defending his tiny village was very small help to him outside of it. Even the rest of his group starts leaving him behind or pushing him aside later on. I thought that aspect of Sokka added the most depth to him, even more than the fact that he seems to attract strong women (which I won't get into).
 

AboveUp

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Sporky111 said:
Something else I want to add that wasn't in the character profiles. I don't remember whether or not it was touched on greatly in Book 1, but I really like how Sokka's character changed once it started showing how weak and useless he felt in the group. He was raised as a warrior and defender of his village so he always thought of himself as someone who was strong and could protect others, then he finds himself thrust into this journey where everyone around him is a powerful Bender. Whenever a fight starts he sees that he's often ill-equipped to face their enemies, or that he's just not the warrior he thought he was and that his time defending his tiny village was very small help to him outside of it. Even the rest of his group starts leaving him behind or pushing him aside later on. I thought that aspect of Sokka added the most depth to him, even more than the fact that he seems to attract strong women (which I won't get into).
I'm fairly sure that this really got kicked off when they first met up with Jet. That was really the moment that Sokka started contributing to the group to the point he almost singlehandedly saved the day.
 

CloggedDonkey

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While I agree that Avatar is a fantastic series, I found it didn't really hit it's stride until Book 2. Sure, there were episodes like the one in the swamp, but the writers, artists, and really the whole team was still getting used to making the show. There's nothing wrong with it, I just felt that Book 1 was a little weak, as though to ease someone in without really showing them the rest of the series. Still, Book 1 was impressive, and I did love it, but I think it was the weakest of the series.

As for the review, good job, Lost. Well thought out points, good use of pictures, and well written. Looking forward to the next one.
 

Lost In The Void

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Aug 27, 2008
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Monkfish Acc. said:
But yeah, good stuff. I don't think I'd ever describe Zuko as an antagonist, though. Sort of more of a decoy antagonist by the way spoilers.
AboveUp said:
Also, Zuko isn't really much of an antagonist. His reasons for hunting after the Avatar at the start make that clear enough early on. He just wants acceptance and be liked, in the world he grew up in, it's hard to see right from wrong. Even then, he's still trying to do his best.
The reason I call Zuko an antagonist of the first season, is because other than the other threat that creeps up near the end, Zuko is really the biggest threat that the Avatar consistently faces throughout the series. However I will agree that he doesn't fit into the traditional look of an antagonist, hence why I called him sympathetic. We understand his reasons but they don't make his actions less wrong.
 

ChupathingyX

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Zuko is the antagonist in Book 1, an antagonist does not have to be some evil mastermind, they just need to be the main obstacle/adversary of the protagonist (Aang), and Zuko is...in Book 1 at least.
 

Avatar Roku

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It should be clear from my Avatar Avatar(heh) that I agree with you, OP. Just to add:
CloggedDonkey said:
While I agree that Avatar is a fantastic series, I found it didn't really hit it's stride until Book 2. Sure, there were episodes like the one in the swamp, but the writers, artists, and really the whole team was still getting used to making the show. There's nothing wrong with it, I just felt that Book 1 was a little weak, as though to ease someone in without really showing them the rest of the series. Still, Book 1 was impressive, and I did love it, but I think it was the weakest of the series.

As for the review, good job, Lost. Well thought out points, good use of pictures, and well written. Looking forward to the next one.
I agree with you. I mean, the end of Book 1 (especially the whole thing between Sokka and Yue; I was really, really affected by how that ended up) was great and all, but the rest was kinda eh compared to the rest of the show. I did like, however, how much of the best season (season 2) it set up. For example, we meet and establish the character of Jet. His episode in season 1 was good, but his episodes in season 2 were phenomenal.

Also, I just want to throw this out there: best character is Zuko, best episode is Zuko Alone. That is all.
 

hypovolemia

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Lost In The Void said:
A show came out six years ago that did just this;
Why does that sentence make me feel old?
Each element's bending is based off of a martial combat
I'm curious: why not call it "martial arts"? Martial combat sounds like a tautology to me.

Anyway, nice review. I'll look forward to the next one, because as good as the first season is the other seasons are just so much more interesting.
 

DasDestroyer

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I really, really like Avatar: The Last Airbender, but the one thing that grinds my gears more than anything is that comets are huge balls of ice! Not fire, ICE!
 

Avatar Roku

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DasDestroyer said:
I really, really like Avatar: The Last Airbender, but the one thing that grinds my gears more than anything is that comets are huge balls of ice! Not fire, ICE!
And the sun is not made of fire either. It's a philosophical thing.
 

DasDestroyer

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Avatar Roku said:
DasDestroyer said:
I really, really like Avatar: The Last Airbender, but the one thing that grinds my gears more than anything is that comets are huge balls of ice! Not fire, ICE!
And the sun is not made of fire either. It's a philosophical thing.
Do they ever say the sun is made of fire in Avatar? Regardless, it is similar to a fire, since it does burn it's "fuel" and emit heat and light. A nuclear reactor is closer to a fire than snow is to fire.
 

Pimppeter2

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For a second there I had a weird flashback and confused you with [user]Avatar Roku[/user]/[user]
Orannis62[/user] and I was about to say long time no see.

When we talked like yesterday. :p I feel stupid.

Great review!

[sub]*shrinks away feeling stupid*[/sub]