On May 15th, the popular Nickelodeon fantasy action-adventure, Avatar: The Last Airbender, debuted on Netflix, and it has been a smashing hit. Not only has it allowed die-hard fans who watched the show when it aired from 2005-2008 to view it in glorious HD, but also develop a new generation of fans who are watching it for the first time. When I watched it for the first time in Fall of 2016 with my brother, it instantly became my favorite show. After I watched it again with my friends on Netflix Party, this claim still holds true.
Avatar: The Last Airbender takes place in a fantasy world with four elements that people can not only bend to their will but use in their daily lives. There is a specific nation for each element as they live in locations that align with their bending and way of life. The Fire Nation lives near volcanoes, the Earth Kingdom lives in grasslands and mountain areas, the Water Tribes live at the North and South pole and the Air Nomads live in temples above the clouds.
This world has an Avatar, a person who can bend all four elements. The Avatar acts as the bridge between the physical world and the spirit world. Every time an Avatar dies, he is reincarnated into the next cycle (air, water, earth, and fire). Aang, an airbender, ran away after being chosen as the next Avatar. 100 years later, he was found by two siblings of the Southern Water Tribe, Katara and Sokka, who rescued him from an iceberg. Together, they travel to the North Pole to find a waterbending teacher for Aang. Along the way, the banished prince, Zuko, attempts to capture him to regain his honor within the Fire Nation.
This show is perfection. Outside of “The Great Divide,” an episode in season one, every episode ranges from good to excellent. The three biggest aspects of the show that make it my favorite are the main characters, the visual storytelling and the continuity. The main cast is iconic, consisting of Aang, Katara, Sokka, Toph, Zuko and Iroh. All the characters are amazing with each receiving incredible developments and moments to shine.
Aang is a great protagonist. You follow his struggle as he must master the elements in a year while previous Avatars had years to train. His journey is brutal and his growth throughout the show is stellar. Sokka, the team’s non-bender, is the comic relief character that acts as the audience’s conscience and mind, often expressing what the audience is thinking in a situation. He grows in strength and confidence, making his development satisfying. Katara is my favorite of the four main characters with her mature leadership and exceptional fighting skills. She provides many of the show’s awesome and intense moments. The last member of the group, Toph, is a blunt and sarcastic little girl. She is a lot of fun to watch as she teaches Aang earthbending.
My favorite character in the show, and all of fiction, is Zuko. He undergoes the most change in the show. The turmoil he faces as he attempts to discover who he really is provides many powerful scenes. I will write another article on his story specifically. His uncle, Iroh, is always there to preach his wisdom. We all want an Iroh in our lives and many even try to live by his philosophy. All the characters are done fantastically, making the journey more enjoyable to follow.
The visual storytelling is tremendous, adding to the quality of the story. There are many moments in the show that use symbolism to illustrate its themes. There isn’t a better non-spoilery example than Zuko’s scar. The giant red scar around the left side of his face illustrates his character. He was abused by his father and carries the shame of his punishment wherever he goes. His punishment is a part of him, literally, making his motivations obvious but understandable. The visual storytelling adds to the impact of the show’s events.
An incredible aspect of The Last Airbender is the continuity. Like the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s “Infinity Saga”, many elements and events presented early in the show come back later. One example is the episode in season one, “Jet.” Jet is a character who leads a rebel group trying to destroy the Fire Nation and their ideals conflict with those of Team Avatar. This comes back into play when Jet reappears in a later season. Aspects like this connect the world and make it feel real, adding to its emotional impact.
Overall, Avatar: The Last Airbender is my favorite TV show of all-time. The continuity, visual storytelling and main cast are the biggest reasons why it is a masterpiece. However, every aspect of the show is terrific and there is something for everyone to enjoy. Please check it out as it is on Netflix!