Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 2 “Earth,” Episode 16 – “Appa’s Lost Days” – Appa Doesn’t Catch a Break

Appa_captured

  Team Avatar doesn’t catch a break. This episode is Appa going through trial and tribulation for weeks on end and in the end he still isn’t home. Seeing the world through Appa’s eyes was very cool as he is just kind of there for most of the episodes prior and we don’t get to know the character all that well. In this we understand Appa’s motivations and see just how connected he is everyone in this series. In this way, it was a very well done episode.

  The episode was directed by Giancarlo Volpe and written by Elizabeth Welch Ehasz.

   The story involves Appa’s adventures and misadventures in his quest to find Team Avatar and reach Ba Sing Se. It is a roundabout adventure as he must fight the elements, other creatures in the forest, Firebenders and corrupt humans who want to use him to their own ends.

The Pros: Appa’s Adventures and Loss and Regaining Self – Appa’s adventure is a pro, especially as we see the adventure slowly break him down. From the Kyoshi Warriors being his only relief until Guru Pathik is found at the Eastern Air Temple and gives him a letter for Aang. Besides this he faces a wild boar, Firebenders, Azula and the Trio and in the end is captured by Minister Fong. Appa’s story is tragic and it is no wonder he almost goes feral in the process.

Suki – Suki takes care of Appa and makes it her and the Kyoshi Warrior’s mission to protect him and bring him back to Aang. Sadly they aren’t able to do so as the Trio attacks and they are outmatched.

Guru Pathik – He is the philosopher of Avatar outside of Iroh and he helps Appa calm his mind as well as showing him where Aang is located. He is funny and calm and I wish we could have got this guy’s backstory as he is drawn to the Air Temple but doesn’t have any Bending abilities. What is his story?

Minister Long Feng – Uses a whistle to capture Appa leaving only Appa’s foot print which we saw Momo sleeping in last episode. The guy is brilliant.

  This was good for what it was as we see much more of the Earth Kingdom, see baby Appa with Aang and when Aang chose him and understand their connection a lot better. We also see our villains in action to a good degree too. I can’t help but feel more could have been done with this episode though and that some of the places he was captured at could have been cut down or expanded to include characters that matter to the plot.

Final Score: 8 / 10

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Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 2 “Earth,” Episode 7 – “Zuko Alone” – Zuko’s Curse

Zuko Alone

      “Zuko Alone” is a masterpiece. We get to explore the Earth Kingdom, see corruption in the Earth Kingdom…come to understand Zuko and his motivations better and to see that many times there isn’t a good answer to what’s going on and you simply have to endure the struggle. Zuko is that endurance.

    The episode was directed by Lauren MacMullan and written by Elizabeth Welch Ehasz.

    The story involves Zuko’s search inward and part of what happens on his adventure alone as he stands up to corrupt Earth Kingdom soldiers who Lee through an egg at. Lee takes him into his family and he becomes a bit of an older brother as Lee’s older brother is on the front. Things soon come to a head though when he has to fight the Earth Kingdom soldiers and face the fallout from the fight. During this time alone he explores the time he spent with his mother and his relationship to his family.

The Pros: The Village – The village is oppressed by corrupt Earth Kingdom soldiers and doesn’t have much, we see that they are a farm village as well as having a decent sized town square for trade. They also are willing to take in anyone who isn’t Fire Nation as Zuko is well liked by all until his reveal in the battle with the Earth Kingdom soldiers.

Azulan – Azulan is a cruel Fire Lord but shows that he is a better man than Ozai when he refuses to give up Iroh’s birthright to being heir to the throne because he failed the Seige of Ba Sing Se. He also greatly respects Azula’s abilities and is shown to be distant from that all, though still feels for Iroh and the loss of his son in the battle to the point of threatening to punish Ozai.

Ursa – Ursa is the kindest member of Zuko’s family and we see much of who he is came from her. She was his best friend growing up and her leaving is part of what ruins Zuko and puts him on his track of being lost as she was the one who reminded him to be kind to all.

Ozai – Ozai is nakedly ambitious and cruel and we see that Azula is most like him. Everything is about power with him and he takes advantage of Iroh’s failure and loss to promote himself and even from what we can get from this episode, that he probably played a part in Azulan’s death.

Azula – Azula is cruel to everyone around him and much like her father where to her power is everything. She sees Iroh as weird and weak and destroys his gift. Part of this is due to her not being interested in dolls, but also her lack of interest in her Uncle as a good person. She is very much her father’s daughter. She bullies Zuko and her friends Mai and Ty Lee.

Azula’s Game – Azula’s game reveals that Mai and Zuko have a crush on one another as Zuko jumps on her into the water to put out the burning apple that Azula had put on her head. Ty Lee notices it too.

Iroh – Iroh is a Fire Nation patriot and even laughs about there being nothing left of Ba Sing Se when the siege is done. You see the Imperialist mindset that really isn’t broken until the loss of his son and the full realization of what he is a part of as a member of the Fire Nation.

Lee – Lee’s father honor’s Zuko’s silence of his past and Lee treats Zuko like a brother. It is only when he is revealed to be a member of the Fire Nation that Lee’s admiration turns to hate and the last we see of him is him looking at Zuko with hatred. The reason for this is his brother and now his father are on the front lines fighting Zuko’s people, that is too much for Lee, who is a young kid, to take.

Zuko – Zuko’s struggle is the theme of this episode and just how alone he is in the world because of his blood. Everyone he loves has rejected him (his father and sister) left him (his mother) or he has left them (Iroh). This leads to him becoming a protector of the village from the corrupt as he is in his element and at his core is just, but he cannot continue doing so as when he reveals who he is the village hates him, even though he protected them from the corrupt bullies of their own village. He is aware of how struggle has made him strong, but he hurts all the more because of his loneliness.

The Message – War can make monsters of all. From the corrupt Earth Kingdom soldiers preying off their own, Iroh’s mocking of the city joking about the death and destruction of it, Ozai and Azula’s sociopathy and what the war has driven Zuko to do to earn the respect of the monster who is his father. It is a shadow he cannot escape from, and at this point still drives him and his actions.

    This episode is a favorite. We get to see what motivates Zuko, the dilemma’s he faces for survival and for his legacy of being son of the Fire Lord and we get to see complex areas of this rich world. Corrupt Earth Kingdom soldiers are the main enemies this episode, not any member of the Fire Nation minus the antagonism towards Zuko that has always existed towards him from his father and sister.

Final Score: 10 / 10

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 2 “Earth,” Episode 3 – “Return to Omashu” – Enter the Trio and Omashu’s Fall

Return to Omashu

    “Return to Omashu” is a good but not great episode. It is the sort of episode that introduces a lot of important ideas and characters, but because it’s an introduction we don’t really experience either story fully. They are connected stories but are very different in theme and style.

     The episode was directed by Ethan Spaulding and written by Aaron Ehasz and Elizabeth Welch Ehasz.

    The story picks up where we left off with Aang and Team Avatar seeing that Omashu has fallen to the FIre Nation. From here Aang insists they mount a rescue of his friend Bumi as elsewhere Azula recruits two of her friends to hunt her Uncle and Brother and in doing so runs into Team Avatar in Omashu.

The Pros: Team Avatar – The drama between Avatar is great as we see Sokka and Katara focused on the mission where Aang puts them all at risk for his childhood friend. In the process he reveals himself to probably his most dangerous enemy yet as the Trio is able to neutralize all of them is given the chance.

The Trio – All the members of the Trio are fascinating. Be it the sociopathic Princess Azula, the bubbly Ty Lee or the apathetic Mai. All of their personalities contrast and make for an interesting dynamic with Azula as the clear leader.

Ty Lee – Has given up her life of nobility and is devoted to her time in the circus until Azula blackmails her into joining by making her circus life so dangerous. In this you really see how their relationship is. She is a submissive to Azula’s domination.

Mai – Mai is apathetic and just wants to die since she doesn’t care about anything and is bored. She still has caring on some level though and tries to save her little brother. She also has feelings for Zuko which are revealed when Azula mentions him.

Azula – Azula is a great antagonist! She never really loses she just adapts and strikes again. Her Trio is not bender heavy  with only her being a Fire Bender and is better for it as their skills compliment one another. After Aang reveals himself during the prisoner exchange she decides to make him the target along with Zuko and Iroh.

Okay: Escape from Omashu – The people pretend to be sick like Sokka pretended to be sick to escape the Fire Nation soldiers. During it Mai’s brother gets carried away with them but eventually brought back by Aang. Okay plan but too comedic given everything going on.

King Bumi – Bumi should have taught Aang. The longer he waited the longer his people would suffer. He waited because it was he wanted and it discounts the needs of his oppressed people. This makes him human but also just didn’t work for me. A leader is responsible for their people.

   This episode was good and the Trio is one of my favorite parts of “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” but it does have obvious problems and the switching in tones just didn’t work for me. It couldn’t decide what it wanted to be. Still good at least though.

Final Score: 8 / 10

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 2 “Earth,” Episode 1 – “The Avatar State” – The Cost of Fear

Aang's_spirit

     We return to The Avatar Universe reviews with the first episode of Book 2. “The Avatar State” is really the episode that shows there is no easy path to peace and victory for any of our heroes. Be they Iroh and Zuko or Aang, Katara and Sokka. In this we also see how those who may present themselves as allies may be just as big of enemies as any person serving Lord Ozai in the Fire Nation.

     The episode was directed by Giancarlo Volpe and written by Aaron Ehasz, Elizabeth Welch Ehasz, Tim Hedrick and John O’Bryan.

     The story picks up where we left off at the end of Book 1 with Aang leaving to go and meetup with Bumi so he can be trained in Earth Bending. As they leave Pakku gives Aang scrolls to train and Katara water from the Spirit Oasis to help in a time of great need. From here they meet up with General Fong who asks Aang to go into the Avatar State so they can destroy the Fire Lord. When Aang is unable to do so and is having nightmares of the power of the State Fong goes to greater and more desperate means to get the results he seeks. Elsewhere Azula arrives meets with Iroh and Zuko and attempts to lure them into a trap.

The Pros: General Fong – Daniel Dae Kim from “Lost” plays the voice of this character and does a great job of showing a man driven by desperation to defeat the Fire Nation. You get the feeling he’s been fighting a losing battle and that Aang is his last option. For this reason he goes to desperate means to trigger the Avatar State and doesn’t even care after the Avatar State destroys his base. At this point he has lost the trust of Team Avatar for attempting to kill them though. He’s a great complicated character who shows the moral grey that is pretty common among folks we’ll meet in the Earth Kingdom.

Karata – Katara is the voice of reason in this and listens to Aang about his nightmares that he is having of himself being destroyed by his Avatar State. She protests when he volunteers to try and induce it to make up for all the time he’s been away and she ends up being right as the Avatar State ends up being far more dangerous than anyone realized.

Aang – Aang is driven by guilt this episode as he gives into the pressure Fong puts on him because he want to end the war as he feels guilty for the 100 years he was gone after he ran away. He learns he can’t rush it though when Roku warns him that if he is killed in the Avatar State than the Avatar Cycle ends.

Avatar Roku and the Warning – Roku saves Aang from himself this episode and educates him that the Avatar State is the experience of all past Avatars but because of that it is also the time when the Avatar can be ended. You see worry in his voice too as he realizes how young is and how easily he is pressured.

Iroh – Iroh suspects something is up and is Zuko’s protector. He defends him from Azula killing him an all the special troops she brought with her. We see how deeply he cares about Zuko, even trying to be kind to Ozai to make Zuko’s isolation easier.

Zuko – Zuko is conflicted. He has the action of his Uncle who truly loves him but his obligation he feels to his father who hates him. His desire for acceptance makes him easily manipulated by Azula and his anger blinds him in the fight against her. Where family is concerned and his father Zuko is raw even calling Iroh lazy and someone who doesn’t appreciate how great his father is. He doesn’t apologize either, revealing that the blind spot is still very much there.

Azula – Azula is ruthless and manipulative and also a fantastic villain. She threatens the captain of the ship to have them reach Iroh and Zuko and we see her defeat Zuko easily and Zuko not being killed only because Iroh directs the lightning she shoots away. That is right, she is perfectionist who can use lightning, just like Iroh. On her own she is only stopped from capturing them but is in no way defeated and the episode ends with her putting up wanted signs throughout the Earth Kingdom for Zuko and Iroh’s capture.

Okay: Sokka – Sokka is supportive and a good ally but doesn’t do much this episode but try to help Aang escape and support him when he is initially trying to induce the Avatar State.

   This is a solid episode and a great way of setting the stage for Book 2, both in establishing Azula as a villain to fear, the conflict of Zuko’s path and how high the stakes are for Aang and the importance of him learning all the elements before facing the Fire Lord. The theme of desperation turning allies into villains is a theme too as we see Zuko wanting nothing more than acceptance from his father and willing to go to any means to do it, and General Fong and his threatening of Aang’s friends and Aang’s life in order to make him go into the Avatar State.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

Zuko_and_Iroh's_wanted_poster

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 1 “Water,” Episode 17 – “The Northern Air Temple” – Safeguarding The Past and the People

War_balloon_unveiled

      This episode covers some of the issues of cultural appropriation and destruction that “The Promise” (one of the “Avatar: The Last Airbender” comics covers). I’d say this episode does a good job of it too and that in this episode you really feel the loss of Aang’s people as he walks through the changed Air Temple. This is a sad and powerful episode as it is a story of the Aang and of the Refugees who have made the Northern Air Temple their home.

      “The Northern Air Temple” was directed by Dave Filoni and written by Elizabeth Welch Ehasz.

     The story involves Team Avatar stopping at the Northern Air Temple after Aang hears rumors about Airwalkers being alive and wants to see for himself. It turns out an inventor and his group or refugees have taken refuge there after their homes were destroyed by the Fire Nation. Their settling has lead to the destruction of much of the Temple which angers Aang and things get worse when he discovers that the Inventor is also a weapons maker for the Fire Nation. From here the story unfolds.

The Pros: The Inventor – The inventor is a compelling character and Rene Auberjonois does a good job voicing this character as his character is complex, unlike the stereotype he played in “The Divide.” His care for his son is what leads to him revitalizing the Temple as a workshop where his people can fly now and he only sold weapons to the Fire Nation so his people would not be destroyed. This doesn’t stop him from standing up and fighting though or from forming a deep friendship with Sokka as their planning minds come up with the plan that defeats the Fire Nation forces that seek to destroy them and the temple.

Teo – Teo is the Inventor’s paraplegic son and he’s a great guy. Aang recognizes he has the “Spirit” of an Airbender and even makes him an honorary one when they go to the room that only Airbenders are supposed to be able to open. The guy is great and is a funloving kid who stands by his friends when the Fire Nation threatens them all and is the main part of the air force along with Aang.

The Fire Nation Army – There is a great battle in this! The Fire Nation has tanks that benders fire fire from and that can correct themselves when they’re turned over. They are only stopped by Katara’s Waterbending in the end and the Slimebombs from the War Balloon.

Sokka – Sokka works with the Inventor to get the War Balloon working that destroys the Fire Nation forces attacking the Temple. We seeing Planner Sokka in this episode and his dynamic with the Inventor is a lot of fun. He is a good strategist.

Katara – Katara is mostly support in this episode but we see her empathizing with both the refugees and Aang showing just how important both sides of this story are. She is our eyes in this episode and reminds us to remember the dead while caring for the living. She also destroys one of the Fire Nation Tanks in some pretty badass Waterbending.

Aang – Aang is fantastic in this episode! We hear how he used to play games at this Temple and had friends here before everyone died and he even makes friends with Teo, who reminds him of his Airbending friends of the past. He also makes the Inventor accountable and kicks out the Fire Nation who are using it as a base to build weapons. He is the moral core of his episode.

The Message – The message is that destruction of cultural artifacts is bad (Aang watches as the Northern Air Temple he once knew is completely changed by the Inventor and later how it’s being used to build weapons for the people who destroyed his people) but also that the dilemma of the Refugees must not be forgotten. Aang wants them to stay after the battle and realizes that he can help them remember his people while still focusing on the living so that Airbender Culture will not fully die. We also see some great cultural open mindedness when Aang takes in Teo as a honorary member of his tribe and recognizes his “Spirit” that was in the Airbender people.

   This episode was powerful, had stakes and dealt with important issues like safeguarding memories of the past, remembering the dead and taking care of the refugees. We see Aang and Team Avatar do all those things and even help fight off a Fire Nation assault. It’s an empowering episode that shows even in horrible circumstances, good can still be found and lived. Desperation does not always lead people to do bad, people can and do have a choice.

Final Score: 10 / 10. One of my favorites for sure after this.