In the first episode of the first season of Avatar: The Last Airbender, siblings Katara and Sokka discover a young boy who has been frozen in ice for one hundred years, setting into motion the myth of the Avatar. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Avatar.
Let’s start this off properly. Here’s what I know about the wonderful world of Avatar: The Last Airbender:
- M. Night Shyamalan ruined it.
- There’s a giant creature that looks like a a wooly bull? I don’t know what the creature is called.
- There’s a bald kid. How is he bald at age nine? Or however old he is. I bet he was a boss and just decided that he might as well start out life looking all dapper without any hair so he’d never have to worry about male pattern balding.
- People can control elements? So it’s a less goofy version of Captain Planet. (Sidenote: Go to the Wiki of Captain Planet and look at the voice cast. You’re welcome.)
- People fight.
- It’s animated.
- There are people.
IT’S SO FUN TO START SOMETHING NEW AND NOT KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT IT.
Having said that, there might be some new folk around here as I start a new series. If so, I highly implore you to read the Site Rules/Spoiler Policy BEFORE COMMENTING. I have an intense and absurdly strict “No Spoiler” rule in effect for the comments. I enjoy reading them, and I do not want to have to worry about someone revealing anything from the future. And if you are truly too bothered to go read that page, here’s a basic guide to spoilers:
Is what you are about to comment on something that happens in an episode that I have not seen yet? THEN MOVE AWAY FROM YOUR KEYBOARD AND STOP. Seem easy enough? Awesome.
“The Boy In The Iceberg”
If there was any indication that this show would be something I would come to enjoy, it was just after the narrated introduction that I grinned from ear to ear. As we’re introduced to the siblings Katara and Sokka, arguing as siblings sometimes do, I was surprised to see a specific interaction open the entire show. Katara is a Waterbender, but I was initially confused as to why Sokka seemed to react so aversely to this revelation. If the world was made out of benders, why would it be at all strange that his sister was a Waterbender?
As the boat they’re on gets stuck between two icebergs, Sokka tries to blame the entire thing on Katara’s weirdness and gender, and Katara snaps instantly:
“You are the most sexist, immature, nut-brained…I’m embarrassed to be related to you!”
Ok, did the main female character just call out her brother for being sexist IN THE FIRST FIVE MINUTES OF THE SHOW. Oh, you all know me too well.
But seriously, right off the bat, we’re given an extremely strong, likable, and intriguing female character who looks like she’ll be the main focus of the story. AND THIS IS A GOOD THING THAT PEOPLE SHOULD FEEL GOOD ABOUT.
If anything, this is a pilot episode, and a short one at that, meant to introduce a lot of things, mainly the entire concept of Avatar. I am not entirely sure this takes place on “Earth” or a planet like that in any way we would understand. But I also don’t feel I need to know that to enjoy any of this, either. I don’t know the history of this show, or if it’s based on a manga series or a comic or a book, but I also get the sense that a great deal of this is distinctly not American. From the lack of white characters, to the story’s insistence to merely drop us into this world with very little context, to some of the silliness when Aang is finally fully introduced, I’m already impressed with the way this narrative is given to us. I don’t mean to say that this show is going to skip over any specific cliches or tropes, since it is aimed at a much younger audience than perhaps anything I’ve watched or read in the past. (Well…what about the first two Harry Potter books?)
On that note, it wasn’t surprising to me that of all the Nations, the Fire Nation is the one who is waging war on the other three tribes. Fire equals violence. GET IT???? But I’m not picking on the concept; even basic things like that can still exist on this show and (hopefully) provide stepping stones to much more interesting stories and devices. But already we meet Prince Zuko, the hot-headed (I SWEAR I WON’T USE TOO MANY PUNS) and impulsive teenager who has made it a mission of his to find the rumored Avatar. Of course, unknown to Katara and Sokka, breaking apart the iceberg with Aang inside of it sends out a beam of light that Zuko interprets as a sign that the Avatar has returned.
I don’t feel like it’s an injustice to the show to state this, but it seems pretty obvious that Aang is going to be the Avatar at some point during the show’s run, and there’s a lot to suggest that here in the first episode. We don’t get the revelation until the end of the episode, but Aang has no idea that he’s been trapped in a block of ice FOR AN ENTIRE CENTURY. In a way, it explains why he immediately seemed so joyous upon being broken out of the ice and asked Katara to go penguin sledding with him. Also RIDING PENGUINS DOWN MOUNTAINS. Surely my inner vegan is screaming OPPRESSION! to me, but every other fiber of my body is saying, “Mark, you have not lived until you’ve sled down a mountain on a penguin.”
So Aang is probably going to be the unknowing hero. Well…ok, there is a detail that does turn this trope on its head a bit. Aang knows he’s an Airbender, so it’s not like he is completely ignorant of his powers, as most Chosen Ones are. Still, I think I’m pretty ok with that, as I don’t imagine the story is going to hinge entirely on Aang learning he is the Avatar. The cast of characters is pretty small right now, but I think we’re just at the beginning, and as we move forward through the show, it’ll only get larger. I mean, we still haven’t met any Earthbenders yet! (I will feel like a fool if that’s not what they’re called. Oops.)
Let’s talk about Aang, who has an infectious youthfulness to his character that’s hard to ignore in this pilot. I think that as I move through Avatar, these first handful of reviews are going to be full of rhetorical questions that YOU CANNOT ANSWER because this is my way of thinking outlaid. But as silly and joyous as Aang’s appearance is in “The Boy In The Iceberg,” I couldn’t help that my brain went to a sad, depressing place. Where is Aang’s family? Is he technically an orphan? Why doesn’t he seem that sad about his predicament? (Well, the episode technically ends on a cliffhanger of sorts after Aang is told about his whole “being-encased-in-a-giant-ice-cube-for-a-century-and-missing-an-entire-war” situation, so we could be getting more of his emotional reaction after that.
That also might explain his playful attitude towards Katara. Well….and it’s part boyish crush, I can’t ignore that either. I’m not sure of anyone’s age in this show, either. I know Zuko’s a teenager. (Do they mention that he’s sixteen? Why do I have that number in my head?) I feel there is some pretty blatant foreshadowing throughout this episode that Katara and Aang might develop a more series relationship, but, then again, it could be a red herring. Or this show could be about something else. LOOK, I’M SERIOUSLY JUST FLAPPING AT THE WIND AT THIS POINT. I don’t know shit about this world and it’s mythology.
What I do like can best be described as such:
- Appa. And now I want Appa to fly around on immediately.
- Uncle Iroh. Yes, he does fit the wise elder archetype to a T at this point, but I don’t think that will last long. Also, calling it: HE’S THE FIRST TO DIE. (Wait, I don’t know if this show is aimed at an audience where death can happen? WHATEVER, I thought Harry Potter would be all disposable and saccharine and SHIT GOT SO REAL IN THOSE BOOKS.
- The way that Aang is introduced to the Southern Water Tribe, who realistically don’t accept the boy with open arms. I mean…he’s the only Airbender, apparently, as the people of this tribe haven’t seen one in a long, long time. About a hundred years, to be exact. Which puts Aang in an interesting position, since there’s a mixture of fear and wonder that surrounds who he is.
- And I love that he straight doesn’t give a fuck. He’s busy flying, sticking his tongue on his staff, teaching the kids how to SLIDE DOWN APPA’S BACK, and generally being…well, a kid. He doesn’t care about the war or the Avatar or anything aside from genuinely wanting to meet the people who live in this tribe.
- The colors used in this animation are fantastic, from some of the more subtle hues worn by the Southern Water Tribe, to the gorgeous, bright blue arrow markings that flow over Aang’s body. (What the hell are those, by the way?) Despite that a lot of the settings for this episode are set in bright tones (lots and lots of white), it never feels overwhelming or washed out. And hell, the lighter backgrounds (with the exception of the Firebenders ship with Zuko and Iroh on it) actually create a great contrast between the characters and where they’re set.
- The very interesting parallel between Aang and Katara, who are both the only benders of their specific element that they know of. Hmmmm.
I like the pilot. I find the concept intriguing. I love that the cast is mainly kids and teenagers (with a believable reason why there are so many of them around), and I hope to continue to enjoy what I see on my screen. I will definitely have one new review up every week day, but since these episodes are half as long as what I’m used to writing about, IF I get a chance to do another review in a day, I will try. NO GUARANTEES. Fair enough?
- Seriously, where is my penguin sled?
- “You just sneezed and flew ten feet in the air!” “Really? Felt higher than that.”
- Ok, so Prince Zuko believes that the Avatar is a “coward” for hiding for a hundred years. Um….why?
- “Listen, until your fathers return from the war, they’re counting on you to be the men of this tribe. And that means no potty breaks!” “But I really gotta go!”
- Ok, so, I skipped over the obvious: How is it that Aang was in an iceberg for 100 years and he apparently did not age a second?