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September 7th, 2015

Avatar: The Last Air-Binger

So in the rare moments I haven't been writing my brains out (~64,000 words and in the middle of the final big action sequence) I've been binge-watching Avatar: The Last Airbender. This is a series I heard praised to the stars and back again, but in my mind it has always more-or-less served as a prequel for Legend of Korra rather than an end to itself.

In the case of LoK I got mired in the crunky part of early season two and never finished, so I wanted to go back and power through that to get to what I'm told is an awesome rest of the series, but I decided that this time instead of just hopping on at the beginning of that series I'd go back and watch A:tLA first.

I'm pleased to say, A:tLA lives up to its hype! I'm roughly 2/3 of the way through the second season (which puts me just about halfway through the entire series), and I'm digging it. Strong and fun characters, interesting setting, engaging story, lovely art, what's not to dig? It reminds me of all the best parts of Pirates of Dark Water, but with better animation and more cohesive writing. There are a few clunky bits here and there and I have a few pet peeves, but this series does so much very right, that it's hard to complain about the few bits that irk me. My main peeve is the villains, who are either Obvious Redemption Bait (e.g., Zuko) or Shut Up and Go Away (e.g., Jet, Princess Azula and her flunkies). The only serial baddie who's really worked for me so far has been Admiral Zhao, who was a complete nonentity, but was a threatening and dangerous nonentity whom I was glad to see get it in the neck.

With that in mind, here is a boatload of random observations, more-or-less as they came to me while watching.

  • Avatar: Master of the four elements, and chosen one! ...Is into extreme sports. That... actually makes sense now that I think about it.

  • Hey, it's that guy! And that guy! And that guy! So far I've identified Mako, George Takei, James Hong, and Mark Hamill. I wonder if Pat Morita or Victor Wong are in here?

  • I am going to like General Iroh. I can tell.

  • "All your friends and family were wiped out, Aang! And here is the desiccated corpse of your surrogate dad, surrounded by the bones of his enemies. We thought about having a note next to him that said, 'If only Aang hadn't run off...' but we couldn't work out the logistics of it." Harsh, show, harsh. At least Aang's parents weren't shot in Crime Alley walking home from The Mark of Zorro.

  • I like that they firmly establish that the avatars are all reincarnations of the same spirit. I also love that the spirit flips genders between incarnations seemingly at random and it's no big deal. "Oh yeah, I was a girl in that life. I totally kicked ass." The implications of that are staggering if you follow them to the natural conclusions.

  • Sokka the Butt Monkey. I hope he gets to do something sometime.

  • Humor is very hit-or-miss. Usually the jokes feel like the script said "Insert joke here." But when this series nails a joke, it nails it. "If you get me out of this, spirits, I'll give up meat and sarcasm."

  • "I am a warrior, but I'm a girl too." Yes, that's cool, but y'know what? Even if she weren't a warrior, that's no way to treat a girl either, Sokka! Argh.

  • This Just In: Zuko is obviously going to be the new Fire Lord by the end of this series.

  • Hello, spirit world! I see someone's been watching Studio Ghibli. I approve of this.

  • General Iroh saw Aang in the spirit world! O.o That's gotta be important.

  • ...The identity of the Blue Spirit took me by surprise.

  • Evil Firebender Princess Twilight! Nuuuuuuu! Along with Harley Quinn the Bending Blocker, and Bored Sociopath Chick. Bleah. I'm not going to like these three, I can tell already. There are villains you love to hate, and villains you wish would just go away. These are the latter.

  • Ba Sing Se, name-checked again and again. I smell foreshadowing.

  • Honestly? Aang should have been all over learning healing from Bender Cleric while Katara was trying to get Master Dickweed to teach her to fight. He's the friggin' Avatar! Bridge between worlds, uniter of the divided, and all that jazz? Healing should be right in his portfolio.

  • On the subject of Master Dickweed, do we really need a "He-Man Woman Haterz Club" story in this day and age? And do we really need a "boys get to kick ass, which is awesome, girls are only good for patching holes, which is boring" cultural assumption? Give me healer heroes any day!

  • Now I get where all the "I once dated the moon" jokes come from. Second most abrupt romance I've ever seen! At least Sokka wasn't a douchebag this time around.

  • Earthbender McNutso attempting to force the avatar state: the Mother of All Bad Ideas.

  • Yo, Earth Nation hippies dude! Like, wow. I guess Lorenzo Music wasn't available, eh?

  • So this is the infamous Toph. Basically "Lucy Van Pelt, the Earthbender." I can see why she's popular, even if she's not likely to be my favorite. (Pretty sure General Iroh wins that.) "Look! There it is!" says the blind girl, pointing at random, just to stick it to the rest of the group.

  • Jet, you're just a dick. Go away.

  • I just imagine a picture of Zuko with the caption, "My life has been a series of bad decisions."

  • And boom, here's where "Team Avatar" comes from. It works. And hey, they all turn to Sokka as the idea guy! Given that he is the only non-bender, I love that they actually depend on him for something!

  • Um, Katara? Toph already knows how to be girly. "That's it, we're going to the spa!" is not a transformative experience for her, it's putting the same fake skin on she grew up with.

  • ...Except it isn't, apparently. Le sigh.

  • The Story of General Iroh. Right in the feels. "Dedicated to Mako." Right in the feels again!

  • Blegh. I know there's supposed to be conflict and all, but I really didn't want Ba Sing Se to be The Village. Could you just not, show?


That's it so far. :) More observations as the watching continues. Currently I'm hoping that the Ba Sing Se Is the Village stuff gets resolved quickly. I'm also hoping that the defeat of Azula is the big climax of season two, and that she and her flunkies don't return for season three, but I suspect we're stuck with them for the rest of the series.

-The Gneech

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