Rowyn (rowyn) wrote,

Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra

Lut and I do not watch television, by which I mean "the last time one of us turned on our television set was in 2004".

We do, however, watch television series from time to time, mostly via Netflix. Some series we enjoy enough to watch in full; we managed all of Torchwood and all but the last two discs of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. With others, we try a few episodes but just can't get into, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sanctuary.

Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of the series we've watched in full. Of everything we've seen on Netflix, this series is probably my favorite. Of course, it has its flaws. It's an animated children's TV show and sometimes it suffers for that, with episodes that are irritatingly episodic (filler where nothing changes and no character development occurs) or in stories which are a bit simplistic or overly moralistic. The animation is pretty good for a TV show, but it's not up to the standards of film.

But I don't want to talk about what's wrong with it. I want to talk about what's right with it.

What I love best about Avatar are the characters, who are all surprisingly well-developed and charming. I don't just mean the three main protagonists, but the antagonists as well. They are embodied with unique virtues and flaws. Aang is adorable and fun-loving; he has a deeply rooted and understandable longing to dodge his responsibilities. Yet at the same time he is set up as the peace-maker, and he's good at the things that go with that: at telling right from wrong, at identifying the root causes of a disagreement, at seeing how to reconcile them. Katara is motherly and responsible, but at times smothering with her sense of duty. Sokka is the buffoon, sarcastic and often the butt of jokes -- but also the tactician and architect of often effective plans. Bit characters are endowed with intersting character quirks and often reappear at crucial moments in later stories. Antagonists do not necessarily remain antagonists for the entire series. My favorite character is Iroh, a good man who has the misfortune of being born on the wrong side. There's one eight-minute segment featuring him which is so poignant in its longing that I cried.

One of the show's themes is redemption. I am, admittedly a total sucker for redemption as a theme. But Avatar does this theme well: redemption is neither cheap nor easy. When it comes -- if it comes at all, and the show does not guarantee it for anyone -- it comes because the characters have striven and worked for it.

The setting is rich and interesting in its own right, drawing heavily on Asian mythology and history. The setting includes inherent magic: people are born with the talent to be "benders", able to manipulate air, earth, water, or fire -- or not. But the show goes to pains not to marginalize those who aren't benders; many of the most competent and useful people in the series are not benders. The setting isn't the standard medieval fantasy, either: it features steampunk technology and also devices powered by benders using their abilities -- and it's refreshing to see these versatile powers used for peaceful purposes as well as warfare.

Another thing I am a sucker for: long-term story arcs that come to a conclusion. Avatar runs for three seasons, following one major story arc for the duration of the show.

The show's creators are doing a new series in the same setting: The Legend of Korra. It's seventy years after Avatar. I am delighted that the creators have a new project; to be honest, I'd be just as delighted to see what they did next even if it had no connection with Avatar.

Anyway, mostly I just wanted to recommend the TV version* of Avatar: the Last Airbender. If you haven't seen it, give it a try. Netflix has it on Instant Watch, and it's worth a month's subscription just for this show, IMO.

* I am not talking about the recent film adaptation of the show, which I haven't seen.
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