So, true story. Last August, I was sitting in the Uptown theater with my buddy Hurley watching trailers for upcoming movies as we waited for Inglourious Basterds to start. One of the trailers was for Jim Cameron’s Avatar. After the movie, at Ireland’s 4Ps, we talked about the film and the trailers, and Hurley expressed reservations about Avatar. I’d already dismissed it: “It looks cool, but isn’t it based on a Nickelodeon cartoon?” He gave me this weird look.
Anyway, flash forward a few months, and I’d figured out Avatar and Avatar: The Last Airbender were not the same thing at all. Also I learned M. Night Shyamalan’s forthcoming adaptation of the cartoon had been forced to drop the “Avatar” from its title to avoid confusion with Cameron’s mepic (mepic = meh epic).
And then The Last Airbender hit theaters, and the reactions from everyone on Twitter before going to see it was: “ZOMG! Can’t wait!” and afterwords: “I dragged friends to see it with me and I am so so so sorry for the time you’ll never get back don’t hate me, please.”
And I started asking people about the movie, and several folks suggested I check out the cartoon. So, finally, this past weekend, on my couch with what I can only describe as a three-day hangover, I decided: why the hell not? So I added The Last Airbender to my Netflix queue which, because it is a show available for streaming, meant I could watch as many episodes as I wanted via my Xbox. So over the course of the past few days, I’ve watched nineteen episodes of the first season, with only the finale left to go (tonight!)
It should go without saying: if I didn’t like the show? I wouldn’t have watched nineteen episodes in three days. (The title, I should clarify, refers to the TV show, NOT the movie — which I am, however, curious to see. But I can wait for DVD).
The world in which the show takes place is divided into four nations: the Water nation, the Earth nation, the Air nation, and the Fire nation. Each nation basis its tribes around one of the four elements of the world, and people within these nations, known as “benders”, can manipulate the natural elements their nation identifies with. At any one time, there is a person called the Avatar, who can bend all four elements, and serves to keep peace. When an Avatar dies, he is reincarnated into the next nation of the Avatar cycle (so the previous Avatar was a member of the Fire nation, and the current Avatar, Aang, is a member of the Air Nomads.)
One hundred years before the start of the series, the newest Avatar, a 12-year old named Aang was traveling on his flying six-legged bison, when he was caught in a storm. He utilized the power of the Avatar state (a weird “he’s glowing!” sort of subconsciousness takes over allowing the Avatar to really kick ass) to protect himself in a gigantic ice ball … and then basically got frozen for a century, until two teenage members of the Water tribe – Katara and Sokka – free him and Appa (the bison).
Turns out the world’s really gone to shit: with no Avatar, the Fire Nation has launched a conquest of the entire world. Katara and Sokka (siblings) have seen their mother killed, and their father gone to war. Aang realizes he needs to complete his bending training, and enlists the two to travel to the North Pole, where he hopes to learn Water bending from a master (sadly, all the master water benders in the South Pole have gone to war). All this way, he is pursued by Prince Zuko, the banished son of the Fire Lord, who can only reclaim his rightful place with the capture of the Avatar.
The show is really good. I can’t actually remember the last time I watched a cartoon with a story arc and recurring themes. I’m a bit sad as it only lasted three seasons, which means I’m really rapidly coming up on the final episode. I highly recommend this to anyone enjoying well written, thoughtful television.