American tv shows have a tendency to fall flat in comparison to Asian productions, particularly Japanese anime, but Avatar: the Last Airbender rivals some of the best of what Japan has to offer.
This was one of those famous shows that are essentially pop culture phenomenons that I always heard about but never got around to watching until around a year ago. I now regret I haven't watched it sooner, as I've been missing out on one of the best tv series ever. The story follows the adventures of Aang, the avatar (spiritual and physical guardian who masters all four forms of bending the elements) of his age, who is freed from an iceberg he had been trapped in for 100 years by two Water Tribe siblings, Sokka and Katata. Sang discovers that the world is in the midst of a devastating war, and that his entire people, all the airbenders, were killed in a brutal genocide, and he is the last one, hence the title. He sets off to master the four elements to defeat Fire Lord Ozai to end the war. Ozai's son, Zuko, in the meanwhile is after the Avatar for his own tragic reasons.
Plot: The story is unique in that it has two main characters, as it is Zuko's story as much as it is Aang's. Their two stories are intertwined and are constantly wonderfully paralleled in every aspect, a parallel that grows stronger and more clearly as the series progress. Like their ancestors Roku the Avatar and Sozin the Fire Lord, Aang and Zuko's destinies are tied to each other. The story, which starts off simply enough, gradually becomes more complex as the show carefully builds and expands the world its set in. The plot is engaging and it has loads of plot twists and emotional moments, so be prepared for an emotional ride. The story itself is surprisingly deep, exploring mature and complex themes ranging from war to hope to loss to utopian conspiracy and abuse of power, even nuclear warefare. It's a powerful story and each episode has its own depth, parallelism, or symbolism in its own way. It all culminates in a huge and powerful climax. You'll be heavily invested in the story, which grows steadily darker with each season, from beginning to end.
A special mention should be made for the setting and humor. The amount of thought put into designing prominent locations and basing them off real locations is staggering. Ba Sing Se's design for example is genius with each section designed carefully. The humor in the show is hilarious and almost always finds its mark. I would find myself rolling over in laughter, and the show's balance between serious and humorous is brilliant.
Characters: THIS is what A:TLA is famous for amongst many, and for good reason; the complexity of the characters in this show, their sheer depth, is mind-blowing. Many essays have been written on them, and the brilliance of the characters never fails to astound me. Aang, Katara, Sokka, and Toph are amongst the most complex characters I have seen, as is Zuko, whose character arc is nothing short of incredible. Azula is one of the creepiest and deepest villains I have ever seen, and the character dynamics provide an abundance of both humor and emotion. There are tons of characters to love and admire. To this day I still look at the show's characters with admiration and love.
Action: Even the action in the show has a level of depth rarely found since all the bending forms are based on real life martial arts which tie in beautifully with the theme of spirituality. Each move is carefully executed, resulting in fast paced action sequences that are both awesome to watch and amazing in detail and thoughtfulness.
Music: Amazing, loved the main theme especially.
Animation: It improves as the series progresses, becoming more fluid until it is breattakingly amazing by the end of the show.
This is one of those shows where a review doesn't do it justice, so watch the show to appreciate its depth and the sheer amount of thought and work put into it. It's both my favorite American cartoon series and favorite American tv show, and I don't think that's changing anytime soon.
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