Saturday, September 8, 2012

TV: Avatar: The Last Airbender

I didn't even hear of this show until the white washing with the casting happened for the live action movie and I didn't know anyone who really watched it. Also, it seemed like a fantasy + cartoon + kid's show so I didn't think that it was for me. Ha, ha, ha, I'm always so wrong, I actually ended up really loving it.

I started watching it several months ago and while I thought it was cute, I didn't get the love, and kind of gave up. But then Ana said it took about half of the first season or so for her to get into it and she was exactly right, when I looked back at her posts about the series I got sucked into the show the same episode she did, The Storm. After that I proceeded to watch it quite quickly.

I think there is a lot about this show that just works...really great well defined and loveable characters, an imaginative, fun world and a well structured and developed plot with the appropriate amount of urgency. It's funny and fun and full of heart. These are all reasons to like it, reasons I liked it.

I've been trying to figure out what, if anything, to write about it. I like to write about the things I read and watch as a sort of record for myself--to remember how I felt and also, if I'm being completely honest, to help me process the experience of them. But I struggled with this one because at first everything I wanted to say felt like a reaction to the things other people have said and I'm not sure how helpful that is. But then I realized I was going to forget things if I didn't write soon,, have a collection of random slightly reactionary thoughts on Avatar: The Last Airbender!

  • One of the things I liked best about the show is that while it is a children's show, it takes very seriously the emotions of kids and treats them with enormous respect. The stories have a surprising amount of depth. It doesn't always sugarcoat the cold hard truths and it wasn't afraid of more unpleasant realities. Since the series is largely centered around war, this is really important. For instance, Katara and Sokka are separated from their father for a long time because he's off fighting a war. When they are reconciled, Katara finds herself short of temper with him. Aang asks if she's mad at him and she's surprised by his question. But she realizes that she is angry with him. And it's not really his fault or her fault, it's something that just is...she can't help how angry and sad she feels over what their life has been. I just...I don't know I really loved how honest and real this was. There is no bad guy in this scenario, or the "bad guy" is war itself. Katara's father is doing what he has to do, but that doesn't mean that Katara can just swallow it and be okay with it. I like that the show addressed this, that even though Katara is a true heroine--she's brave, giving, loyal, and skilled--she has honest reactions and emotions associated with her situation, emotions we might be tempted to view as selfish or ugly.

    Another example is that the gang runs into an older water bender who had been imprisoned for years in the Fire Nation. She promises to teach Katara superior water bending skills, and Katara learns that she actually knows blood bending. She tries to teach Katara this skill, which would actually be quite useful to control people, but Katara is opposed to it and doesn't want to learn. The older woman is clever though, and quickly devises a scenario in which Katara is forced to harness this power and use it in order to save her friends. She weeps when she realizes what she's done. I loved because it both illustrates the lengths people go to in desperate situations...that principles and morals can break in the heat of the moment. But also the grief over the loss of innocence in the aftermath once the line has been crossed.

  • Aang is the clear hero of the show and is totally adorable and loveable. He's easy to root for because he's charming and boyish and gentle and fun and very good hearted. But the show also gives you Zuko, an antagonist in the beginning to root for, which is really smart in my opinion. We aren't all Aangs in life, so watching Aang embrace his hero's journey alongside Zuko's struggle to understand right from wrong and his search for courage is very satisfying. The show drags out Zuko's journey, but like Ana said, it makes the final episodes all the more enjoyable and satisfying--I thought my heart might explode from joy in a few of those episodes!

  • When you have a group of kids traveling around together, you're bound to have conflict, and I really enjoyed the conflict and tentative moments of bonding between Katara and Toph. There's actually an episode (which is mostly filler) where Toph and Katara go and have a girl's day out at a spa and get all made over and Toph thinks she might actually look pretty! (Toph is blind so she can't actually see herself) They run into a group of girls who say..."great make-up! for a clown" and cackle. I looooved this little story because this same thing happened to me when I was young, my sister and her friend gave me and my friend a makeover. And...while I think they thought they did a good job, it was probably too much makeup. But it was the first time I'd ever worn makeup and I remember thinking maybe I actually looked pretty! And then I went out to living room where my brother promptly mocked me and said I looked like a clown! Seeing this story made me wonder if my story was more universal than I thought. ;) (to this day it really affected me, like I wear minimal makeup and cringe whenever I think I have too much color)

    But I also liked the episode where Toph and Katara argue over Katara's protective and maternal instincts. I could really feel Katara's conflict...over being responsible and motherly, but also wanting to have fun like the others. (it's so funny because I probably wouldn't choose Katara as my favorite character but she's just such an interesting female character)

  • I was a little bit uncomfortable with how much the Fire Nation seemed like Japan to me at first, since the war definitely seemed modeled after the Asian Pacific part of World War II. It wasn't exactly Japan, there is some definite Chinese influence which made it better. I was a little curious about the choice of the Fire Nation as the aggressive nation as well. In some ways, it makes sense--fire can be destructive, it feeds on everything else in order to survive, it's associations are with anger, lust, passion, etc. no point are you supposed to think the fire nation is inherently evil. So it blurs the lines a little bit to have the Fire Nation be the aggressor because of the natural associations we already make with fire...I guess what I'm trying to say is that it makes it more difficult to remember or think that there's nothing about the fire nation that makes them more prone to violence, etc. than anyone else.

  • While I agree with the girls of Lady Business that Azula's ending was kind of lazy, I'm not sure that I agree that the series handled anger poorly. I think anger can be the enemy of a person, even though it is also a legitimate emotion. I don't think either Azula or Zuko used their anger constructively. And I also think that every single character had reasons to feel profoundly angry with their lives, so it's not as if they were the only ones. So I guess...I don't know, I felt like the show handled anger fairly, showing its various manifestations. But, I don't know I probably have different feelings in general about anger than they do!

  • There's so much more I could say, I really loved all of the characters and I loved the ending, and I loved that the show was funny and smart. You just never know where you're going to be entertained!

    I know a lot of you have watched this show so please feel free to share your thoughts!


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