Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 3, “Fire” Retrospect – Finding Peace in the Flames of Conflict and an Amazing Ending to one of the Greatest Shows

BOOK 3: FIRE 4: Amazon.co.uk: DVD & Blu-ray

 

        It has been a while since I’ve returned to “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” and it was an amazing return to one of my favorite shows after so long and finish up reviewing the Books. Book 3 is the only season I have yet to review. This is easily the best of the 3 Books and there are very few issues I have with the overall execution of the narrative. I’ll get into those problems below but if you need a spoiler free recommendation I highly recommend this show and this is easily the strongest season of them all. Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko truly created an amazing story.

    The premise picks up where we left off, as an injured Aang recovers from his defeat by Azula and Zuko last season. Team Avatar helps Aang recover as they help the rebellion prepare for the invasion of the Fire Nation.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Consequences of “Book 2” – Part of what makes this season work so well is it plays directly off last season. Nothing is retconned and we have the consequences of last season explored. Aang is disconnected from the Avatar state after Azula killed him and the invasion fleet is making their way to the Fire Nation to attack during the Eclipse when Firebending will no longer work. We learn it has been weeks since Aang was brought back by the Moon Spirit Water and Katara and eventually he tries to leave to take on Ozai on his own. He quickly discovers how broken and weak is. This accumulates in events that force Aang to complete his training and learn Firebending as the threat of Ozai and Sozen’s Comet hangs overhead as a ticking clock. It is beautifully done. We have the Fire Nation victorious and our rebels barely holding onto hope.

A Return of Old Allies – This season we see a bunch of old allies return. We have all the Earth Nation folks from the Swampbender Tribe, the wrestlers who Toph defeated, the Southern Water Tribe army, the mechanist and others. Each of them plays a part in the Invasion and we see just how competent the rebellion is. Sadly, what ups the stakes is that all these old allies lose to Ozai and his forces. We also have the return of June the Bounty Hunter and the different Elemental Masters and Suki as the season progresses further. Seeing the return of these old allies in the roles they play against Ozai and is forces is absolutely fantastic.

The Failed Invasion – The Invasion is a brilliant plan. Attack the Fire Nation Capitol and defeat the Fire Lord when his entire nation cannot Firebend for the minutes the Eclipse is active. We know that our allies are strong enough as Team Avatar has taken on powerful foes before and we see the Rebellion use all their tools to defeat Fire Nation forces until their retreat is eventually cut off by the secret Airship Armada that Ozai was holding in reserve. All the men surrender and we have Team Avatar and the kids of the rebels leave together as the original plan is forced to take place. Aang needs to train and become a fully realized Avatar in order to defeat Ozai.

Order of the White Lotus | Avatar Wiki | Fandom

The Order of the White Lotus – This is the season where we finally learn about the Order of the White Lotus. The White Lotus are a secret organization that believes knowledge belongs to all and seek philosophy, beauty and truth. It is this order that Bumi, Iroh, Jeong Jeong, Pakku and Piandao are members of. All are masters within their craft and it they who see their role as the liberation of Ba Sing Se while the Avatar faces Ozai. It is wonderful seeing the return of the masters who taught members of Team Avatar through the series and in turn we get the motivation of why they did this in their role as members of the White Lotus.

Iroh – Iroh is my favorite character in the series and this episode illustrates so many reasons why. He breaks himself out of prison after warning the guard who was kind to him to not be around when he does (he does creating enough heat in his body wreak havoc and defeat the guards and breakout). Once he is out Zuko eventually seeks him out and the resolution of this relationship is so beautiful. He tells Zuko that he never hated him and was only wanted him to find his way. In the end he says he cannot defeat Ozai either as even if he could defeat Ozai it would keep the old system in power and that only the Avatar’s defeat of Ozai gave the possibility for the Fire Nation to change. God, what an amazing character. His logic makes sense and the apolitical goal of the Order of the White Lotus follows this philosophy.

Consequences of the Fire Nation Threat – The Fire Nation victorious is a story of consequences as we learn that Ozai wants to do what Sozen did during the last comet. His goal is extermination as we learn in the Fire Nation War Room that the Fire Nation will need to send far more troops to the Earth Nation in order to sustain the occupation. Azula also controls the Dai Li who help prevent the invasion from becoming successful. The Southern Water Nation loses their entire army during the invasion as well so the only ones standing against Ozai’s extermination are Team Avatar and the Order of the White Lotus. One small note, I wish we could have witnessed more of the occupation. This would have been a great side story to see what the Fire Nation victorious is like. But, we do see a lot of the occupation in the past 2 Books so I get why they focused purely on Team Avatar and the Fire Nation during this Book.

An Exploration of Forgiveness and Justice – One of the most powerful themes of the show is that of forgiveness. Katara near the end of the series goes on a quest with Zuko to find the man who murdered her mother. We see her freely use bloodbending (showing how much she’s changed since learning it) and it is after she sees how pitiful she is that she chooses not to kill. She does not forgive him but she refuses to be changed by him. This was so beautifully done and I love how it isn’t clear cut. She doesn’t forgive the man who murdered her father, but she grows from the experience. The same applies to Zuko when he confronts Ozai and refuses to kill him and calls him out for the scar he gave him. He holds him accountable and says the Avatar will be the one to defeat him after sticking around long enough to show Ozai that he is standing against him in his own way.

Team Avatar – Team Avatar grows this season and is made all the stronger for it. We have Suki after her rescue from “Boiling Rock” and we have Zuko when he leaves the Fire Nation during the eclipse and becomes a friend and mentor to Aang and the Team. Sokka is the glue and it is his plan that initially fails during the Eclipse. He makes up for this though when he, Suki and Toph stop the Fire Nation airships meant to destroy the Earth Kingdom. Katara has one of the best arcs this season as we see her face the loss she’s dealt with as she was Sokka’s mother figure because of the Fire Nation’s killing of her mother and her father leaving to fight the war. This abandonment arc ends with peaceful resolution with her dad and confronting her mother’s killer. Toph is around as the strongest member of the party in battles as she saves our heroes on multiple occasions and also helps characters grow as she is the one who first tells Zuko that Iroh probably doesn’t help him since he’s helping Team Avatar now. We also have Aang who has to finally deal with the fact that he has to face Ozai. This arc of him learning Fire Bending and finding peace within himself is very well done as he finds the strength he needs to confront Ozai and find a way to defeat him without ending his life.

The Final Battles – We have Aang versus Ozai, Katara and Zuko versus Azula (now made Fire Lord when Ozai named himself Phoenix King). the Order of the White Lotus liberating Ba Sing Se, Toph, Suki and Sokka against the Ozai’s fleet and Aang against Ozai. Each of these battles is compelling enough on it’s own and the direction is has them flow together seamlessly. We have consequences from the battle too. Sokka is injured as they take the Fire Nation airships and Zuko is nearly killed by Azula when he saves Katara from Azula’s lightning strike. This is the accumulation of 3 seasons and the end of 4 episodes and the payoff is truly one of the best parts about the show. When we come down from this we have Zuko’s coronation as the new Fire Lord and his call for peace and Iroh’s Tea House where Team Avatar celebrates the end of the war.

The Cons:

Ozai | Avatar Wiki | Fandom

Setting Up Fire Lord Ozai – Fire Lord Ozai is the mastermind between the events of the last few books post. His presentation in the final fight is fantastic. His power and cruelty are fully on display but…we never see him raise the stakes prior to this. All past victories could be attributed to Azula or his troops. Like Palpatine in the original Trilogy of “Star Wars” he doesn’t show up until the end, and it hurts the overall threat of him. This is a shame as Hamill does a great job voicing him but even he gets quickly knocked back when Zuko leaves the Fire Nation to join Team Avatar. We needed more setup to really see that this is a man who can take on the Avatar. We don’t get that, as good as the final battle is. Ozai needed victories he could call in before this as it was Sozen who exterminated the Air Nomads not Ozai.

Deus Ex Dragon Turtle – I get Aang’s moral dilemma of refusing to kill, but we needed setup of Energy Bending prior in the series. Like Ozai the concept of Dragon Turtles and ancient beings with a connection to the Avatar could have saved this out that is given to Aang. The Dragon Turtle even drops him off at the final battle making his role as Deus Ex Machina complete. The Dragon Turtle is a cool concept and has a beautiful design, we just needed to know more of what it could do and it’s existence earlier.

There is so much to explore about this show and I only touched on it. I’ll do a full series overview at some point. This is the kind of show where you’ll notice something new in each rewatch. The characters have amazing arcs, the overarching plot is one of the best and the world is so rich that you could deeply explore any single point of the world. I look forward to returning to this world again and writing the full series overview.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10 A near perfect season that only had a few things holding it back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood – An Amazing Show About Politics, Philosophy and the Fully Realized Life

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood | Fullmetal Alchemist Wiki | Fandom

    “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood” is one of my favorite animes of all time. This is an anime that has intriguing characters, philosophy, politics and a narrative that builds to a fantastic and rewarding ending. If animes are your thing, you should definitely check it out. This is a re-watch for me as I was looking for more long form completed stories to see during the Covid-19 crisis. Suffice to say, it still very much holds up. There is a 2003 adaptation that is quite different from the manga that I did not enjoy as much, but at some point will revisit. If you want to see some really fantastic deep video content checkout Wisecrack and Lowart’s takes on “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.” They are amazing deep dives well worth your time and I want to give them a shout out before I explore my own thoughts on the show.

The series is based off the manga created by Hiromu Arakawa, directed by Yasuhiro Irie, written by Hiroshi Ōnogi and produced by Bones.

The story follows State Alchemists Ed and Al of Amestris as they seek to get Al’s body back and free him from the armor his soul lives in. This all unfolds as the brothers and other characters slowly uncover the truth of their country and the nature of Alchemy.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – Akira Senju’s gothic inspired soundtrack is so beautiful and helps build the tension of the narrative so well. This is a story with consequences and that is reflected in the composition of the score who pulls on gothic choirs and somber instrumentals.

The Action – This show has some of the best fights you will see in any anime. Any time a character is fighting a Homonculus you get to see the full potential of both the fighters. You get the superhuman speeds of the inhuman homonculi and the power and magic behind the attacks the alchemists bring or the martial arts from the characters from Xing. It is hard to choose a favorite fight but the personal nature of anyone facing Wrath is extremely warding as well as Lust against Mustang.

The Politics – The politics of “FMA: Brotherhood” are one of the strongest aspects of the story. We have the Ishvalin Civil War, which is used as cover for Amestris to destroy them. We see them clash with their northern neighbors Drachma who they’ve clashed with in the past and the rise of to power as many Generals vie to control Amestris as they plot the downfall of the Furor Bradley. Within all this we see the stories of the Ishvalin refugees, meet characters from Xing, seeking immortality through Alchemy and see the clashing between clans happening there. All of these struggles are told through character interaction and we come to care about the people and their missions.

The Characters – The characters are the best part of “FMA: Brotherhood” as it is their struggles and stories that bring meaning to the political and philosophical battles that unfold. This show made me care about random characters who were introduced as muscle for enemies and even the villains get explored in a compelling way. The exploration of the villains is best executed through the stories of the Homonculi who will get their own section in this review. What makes things work the most is the characters and their relationships change. Ed and Al inspire people to be better and even they go through crisises of identity when faced with the monstrous acts of others or the consequences of their choices or situation. This applies to all the characters and I felt for anyone who died over the course of the show.

Homunculus | Fullmetal Alchemist Wiki | Fandom

The Homonculi – The Homonculi are the primary antagonists of the series. They are lead by “Father” who became the form of Hohenheim after he used the destruction of Xerxes to create a philosopher’s stone. After this he tore his voices from himself and made them his children. These are the Seven Homonculi – Wrath, Pride, Envy, Greed, Lust, Sloth and Gluttony. All of them are compelling with most being muscle at different points. Gluttony and Sloth are muscle. Lust and Envy are the ones trying to get under characters skin and acting as assassins early on to keep Father’s plot hidden. Pride is the one watching and controlling a lot of what is going on. Greed is doing his own thing and Wrath is King Bradley. Greed and Wrath were my favorites and I’ll into that further.

Wrath / King Bradley – Wrath was an orphan raised from birth by mad scientists to some day potentially lead Amestris. He survives the philosopher stone that is put into him and so much of his life is seeking his own choice. This is one reason the rebellion against him gets as bad as it does. Wrath wants something unpredictable and challenges to fight as it is only in battle he truly feels alive. He also still holds onto his humanity as he took a wife who clearly cares about even though I don’t think he is capable of love. He is one of the best antagonists in the series and is dynamic, charismatic and threatening anytime he is in action.

Greed  – Greed is the Homonculi who grows. In the beginning he has a gang of Chimera (part-human, part-animal creations) who Wrath takes out as he is seen as a threat to Father’s plans. Father destroys him but later introduces him once more as a pawn to be used when Ling, a Lord of Xing is captured. From here Greed protects Father and stays out of his way until Ling establishes more control and the memories of what Wrath did to him come back. This eventually leads to him realize that he desires people and power in order to have friends, which leads to his final sacrifice to make Father vulnerable in order for Ed to finally defeat him. It is a powerful arc and I loved that he changed over the course of the show.

Defining Tragedy – One thing that defines the stakes and choices in this story is that of tragedy. Scar and the death of his brother and the Ishvalin people, Scar’s murder of Winry’s parents who were caring for him, Ed and Al’s loss of their mother (and Al’s body and Ed’s arm and leg), Izumi and the loss of her child, the murder of Maes Hughes and the death Nina and Alexander. All this happens early on or is revealed over the course of the earlier arcs. It is beautifully done, and keeps the stakes high through the series. Loss is what defines these characters and it is their facing that loss and the consequences that they change.

Forgiveness – Forgiveness is a running theme of the show as it is the first step for a character who has done wrong to realize they can atone and can change their actions. This is seen in the Ishvalins refugees who forgave the military and are there fighting with them at the end to overthrow King Bradley and in Winry whose forgiveness, that changes Scar and his hunt to kill all Alchemists.

Winry – Winry is a fantastic character who takes an active role in her destiny and country’s future. So many times Ed and Al try to protect her from the truth (Scar, murdering her parents) but she learns it any way and lets them know that she is here to help beyond being Ed’s mechanic. I really liked her arc over the course of the show as she develops as a mechanic and sees more beyond her village and friendship with Ed and Al, even as her relationship with Ed is sweet and I like that they end up together. She is smart and honest and though she won’t kill Scar and forgives him she says she can’t abide by him continuing to murder. This holding of account while not giving into hate changes him and it is thanks to Scar joining the fight that it is even possible to defeat Father in the end.

Atonement – Another theme in the series is that of Atonement. Mustang and his men are attempting to redeem themselves for the wrongs they committed in Ishval. Scar is attempting to redeem himself for the murders he committed and Ed and Al are also seeking atonement for their attempt to bring back their Mom, just as their Father seeks atonement for his empowering of “Father” and being a very terrible dad himself. There are other examples as well but these are some of the strongest as it is the mistakes characters made that inspire them to change things and make things better for themselves, their people or country and the people around them.

Mustang – After the horrors Roy Mustang committed in Ishval, he and his men promise to change the country and that they will make Mustang leader in the process to write these wrongs. It is powerfully done and we see Mustang facing his internal rage as well as his guilt. It is Ed and Hawkeye who show help him get past that final step to become leader when he nearly kills Envy in revenge for his killing of Hughes. In the end Mustang lives and is working to help Ishval with the hint that eventually he will become leader of Amestris.

Scar – Scar is first introduced to us as a complex antagonist. He is hunting down Alchemists on a religious crusade as he sees Alchemy as an afront to God. He is also seeking revenge for the death of his brother and the destruction of his nation by the Alchemists of Amestris. This rage and belief that drives him doesn’t change until Winry forgives him for his murder of her parents but holds him accountable for the evils he still commits. He sees her justice as worth it and the fact that she doesn’t kill him forever changes him. After this he becomes an eventual ally of our heroes and their war against “Father” and King Bradley. In the end Scar defeats Bradley and we see him unite with the refugees among his people and become a leader. What he and the Ishvalin refugees do is essential to defeating “Father.” Scar is such a wonderfully complex character and has one of the greatest arcs on the show.

The Cost of Hate and Revenge – The cost of hate and revenge are a running theme in the series that also gives it strength. Scar and Mustang are nearly defeated because of how it consumes them. Envy’s hate for humanity leads to him killing himself when they fail to give into the hate they should feel for one another. What is a part of this is that killing in murder or revenge will change you and in turn you will only hurt more in the process. Scar’s journey is truly the best execution of this path. Ed and Al and Winry and Hawkeye are the one keeping the characters balanced as they always seek alternative and also face their rage or guilt and find out why they feel the way they do. It is powerfully done and I loved this element of the show.

The Philosophy of Equal Exchange – One of the most intriguing aspects of the show is the philosophy of equal exchange. Everything has a price and is a part of something else. This is expressed anytime Alchemy is used as something can’t be created from nothing and when characters confront the mysterious “Truth.” “Truth” always takes something and in turn a character gets back something in turn.

All is One and One is All – Within Alchemy is the philosophy is all is one and one is all. This is part of Equal Exchange as something cannot be made from nothing. This philsophy is also taken literally in how the Homonculi are defeated or changed. The Homonculi are powerful one on one or against one or two people but whenever they face multiple characters or forget the people that make them up within the philosopher stones that birthed them, they lose. “Father” loses because he fails to recognize the individuals within him, and it is even the final act of one of his children Greed sacrificing himself changing him physically that leads to his final defeat. The multiple standing as one are more powerful than any single individual even if they wield the power of “God.”

Hohenhiem and “Father” – Hohenhiem grew up a slave in Xerxes, which is where “Father” who at the time was “Dwarf in the Flask Homonculus” was also a slave to the Alchemist. “Dwarf” teaches Hohenhiem and helps him become an alchemist himself. He is even the one who gives Hohenhiem his name as at this point he only has a number as an identity. and eventually gains a form when he tricks the King of Xerxes as nationwide Alchemist Circle is used to create a philosopher stone. From this Hohenhiem gains immortality and “Dwarf” becomes “Father” and takes Hohenhiem’s form.

Ed and Al – Ed and Al are the heart of the show. They are idealistic brothers who refuse to kill. They are also driven by their guilt for their attempt to bring their mother back to life through alchemy. Ed is more stubborn and loud while Al tends to be more reflective. We also see how hard is life is too. His soul is in armor as it was the only way to save him and because of this he can’t sleep or feel anything. This makes his fight through the series all the more powerful and gives strength to all his arguments to Chimera about them choosing to live and to find a cure. Ed doesn’t carry that same trauma but he is in the thick of the politics and it takes time for him to open up as his early arc is holding his trauma close. Winry is one of the first he opens up too and I love that they end up together by the end. These are two of the most compelling protagonists in any anime and it is their wonderful flaws that define them and their choices so well. They deserved getting Al’s body back and in the end they are still seeking truth as it is Ed giving up his knowledge of alchemy in order to bring him back.

The Cons:

Whiplash Between Humor and Seriousness Early on – I am not a fan of when shows jump between a more serious art-style to chibi and cutesy. “Brotherhood” has this problem early on but it happens far less as the series goes on. For that reason I’m willing to give this con more of a break since I can see why it was used as it is an attempt to give humor to all the tragedy that happens over the course of the show.

The fact that the only real con is the very common anime animation and humor whiplash is a testament to just how strong this show is. I came to care about nearly all the protagonists but they minor or major characters. There was nuance in how they were written and their relationships. We also had a show that explored philosophy and identity deeply. We got all of this told through a beautiful animation and soundtrack. It has been a while since I’ve reviewed or watched anime and it was very worth it return back to this stunning story. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a fantastic and deep story.

Final Score: 10 / 10 The show does have flaws, but the strengths of it far outweigh those flaws. This is an example of how to tell a great long form story with consequences that can explore deeper themes.

 

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 2, “Earth” Retrospect – Destiny, Consequences and the Dangers of Attachment

ATLA Book 2 Ep 17

    “Avatar: The Last Airbender” Book 2 is great. It is also not as great as I remembered it being though as scenes I watched when I was younger didn’t feel as big now as I could see events coming and I felt that the Dai Li were severely underutilized and that more could have been done with exploring Zuko’s dilemma and him having more than just a hostile relationship with his sister and father. It is still a fantastic season though! For one we are introduced to Toph and Team Avatar is explored really well, as are Azula and her Trio. This offsets the ways that it being a kids show limited some of the exploration that could have been done with the darker elements of the show.

  So without further ado, lets get into the details of what worked and didn’t work about this Book.:

The Chase

The Pros: The Rough Rhino Riders – These guys are minor antagonists who we see hunting Zuko and Iroh and at one point Team Avatar. They have a diverse range of weapons and served with Iroh during the Siege of Ba Sing Se. They were rewarding everytime they made an appearance.

June the Bounty Hunter – June is the Bounty Hunter who nearly catches Team Avatar at one point but is only beaten because of trickery. She is fun too as she has no loyalty to the Fire Nation or Team Avatar and is a true Bounty Hunter only after cash. She doesn’t fear Zuko or Iroh or anyone for that matter.

Azula and the Trio – Azula and the Trio are a great group who have a fascinating dynamic. Azula rules through fear, Ty Lee through fights through trickery and flirtatiousness while Mai is an assassin  who is cold and calculating. They made this Book great.

Mai – Mai has feeling for Zuko but hasn’t really had the chance to express them yet as most of the time we see her hunting the Avatar. She does a good job and is able to best most Benders she faces and is good about thinking before she jumps.

Ty Lee – Ty Lee is spontaneous and Chi Blocks Benders who she fights. She was happy at the circus until Azula blackmailed her into joining the Trio and we see that she is the one who gets along the best with Team Avatar as she flirts and has fun with whomever she is facing.

Azula – Azula is the primary antagonist of this Book and she is wonderful! She is able to take on multiple members of Team Avatar at once and even mortally wounds Aang when he is in  the Avatar state. She is highly manipulative and turns Zuko against Iroh as well as the Dai Li against the Earth King showing that she is one of the best antagonists to come out of this series. She is also the greatest Firebender besides Iroh and Ozai.

The Cultures of the Earth Kingdom – The Earth Kingdom is really diverse and has many different cultures that make it up. We see that especially this season with the different General in villages, the Dai Li, Kyoshi Island and the diverse array of citizens of Ba Sing Se. This has always been a strong part of the series and it is done very well this season.

Suki – Suki makes an appearance and we see her relationship with Sokka grow as she shows she likes him and her courage gets him to act to the point that we see that they are dating now. We also see how involved she is in the war, from protecting Appa from the Trio, getting refugees to Ba Sing Se and being active in battles across the Earth Kingdom against the Fire Nation.

Jen – Jen is a minor character in Ba Sing Se who Zuko dates. She is kind and we see that she has prejudice against the Fire Nation but also honors Zuko’s silence when he doesn’t feel comfortable talking. They have a great relationship for the episode it happens.

The Exile in Ba Sing Se -Zuko and Iroh’s exile in Ba Sing Se is fascinating as we see Iroh become so good at making Tea that he opens up his own Tea House, we see Zuko eventually give up fighting the Avatar when he is about to take Appa from the Dai Li and for a moment he is at peace until Azula manipulates him back and brings him back from his Exile ending his Uncle’s happiness.

Iroh – Iroh is at peace in exile and makes a lot of observations about how he has become a part of Ba Sing Se by what he has given to the city and how they welcomed them. He also tries to guide Zuko away from the false honor of his father to help him find true honor within himself. He succeeds for a while until Azula’s gambit is successful and he is captured protecting Team Avatar as they get an injured Aang to safety.

Zuko – Zuko is conflicted this episode as he deals with the internal choice within him…to be like his Father or his Uncle. In the end he chooses to be like his Father as he does believe he should be Fire Lord and he loses his Uncle because of it as well as the friendship he was building with Katara.

“Tales from Ba Sing Se” – This is a great short episode that honors Mako who died during this time. We see a short story from all of Team Avatar’s perspective (even Momo) and the life of Ba Sing Se is illustrated as well as defining traits of our characters. It is an episode I highly recommend.

Team Avatar – Team Avatar grows this Book as Toph becomes a member, which causes conflict at first as she is stubborn and prefers to be the loner but eventually they come together when they face adversity and discover new things about themselves in the process.

Sokka – Sokka is moving on from the death of Yui in this and we see that process involve him keeping boundaries with Suki but eventually embracing her feelings when he is at peace. It is a powerful arc and we see more that Sokka is the planner and not just the comedic relief of the Team (though his humor is usually always great).

Toph – Toph is wonderful in this! We see her introduced winning an underground Bender Fight and ruled by fear of her parents to eventually going her own way and finally opening up to those who are kind to her. It’s a great arc and her bluntness and humor add a lot as she helps people grow through the truth and always has their back. She also learns Metalbending during the episode “The Guru.”

Katara – Katara is the glue of the Team and in this we see her compassion helping people change. Whether it is Jet finally letting go of his hate or Zuko beginning to question the hate and fear within himself. She is also a strong Waterbending Master too and she is able to take on both Azula and Zuko in order to escape with Aang when he is injured and she later uses her healing and the magic water to save Aang.

Aang – Aang’s arc in this is dealing with his feeling for Katara and his conflict between Duty and Balance as Sokka’s desire to fight the war leads to problems and the loss of Appa and his fear of Katara getting hurt leads to him abandoning his training so he never fully masters the Avatar State. The consequence is he loses Ba Sing Se to the Fire Nation and nearly loses his life to Azula. Aang is beaten and just barely alive after this Book.

Okay: The Dai Li – I liked Minister Long Feng a lot but the Dai Li were missed potential. They were either overpowered or super easy and that made their fall to Azula feel hollow. The idea behind them is powerful and when they are done well they are great but when they fail they fall hard and it hurts the story.

Zuko’s Turn – Zuko’s turn was alright but I would have liked to see more of what his identity meant as being Ozai’s son and why he wanted to rejoin the family that hated him. I felt that it was never fleshed out besides out isolated and trapped he felt in exile in Ba Sing Se working at a Tea Shop he never wanted.

The Cons: The Earth King – The Earth King is derpy. He is just kind of bland and there and I never believed that he had any will of his own even when he stood up. Would have rather he just died honestly.

The Magic Water – This McGuffin is never explained and it being used to resurrect the “dead” which Aang seemed to be was too overpowered. I like that it was finally used but it’s existence was a story problem.

    This was still a solid season, but in retrospect “Book 1” Water handled it’s arcs much better than Book 2 of “Earth” did. When this season worked it worked really well, but it had a few things working against it since it was trying to accomplish so much. It was for this reason Zuko’s turn felt rushed and the Dai Li were brushed over to reestablish the Fire Nation as the big threat. These elements bring it down but it is still a great season that I would definitely recommend.

Final Score: 8.7 / 10

Zuko Alone

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 2 “Earth,” Episode 20 – “The Crossroads of Destiny” – Zuko’s Choice and Azula’s Gambit

ATLA Book 2 Ep 20

   Book 2 wasn’t as solid in it’s arc as “Water” was in some ways but it had the best payoff though and was really good at covering the themes of how attachment leads to suffering and how that fear and need for approval can lead to suffering in not staying true to self and letting others define you and what is most important. It’s a powerful episode with consequences and a good Finale for “Earth.”

    The episode was directed by Michael Dante DiMartino and written by Aaron Ehasz.

   The story involves Azula taking control of Ba Sing Se, Team Avatar’s rescue of the Earth King and Katara and Zuko facing the choice of being Son of the Fire Lord or someone who will fight for Team Avatar. Azula’s plans that she has set in motion come to a head with lasting consequences on our heroes.

The Pros: Long Feng and the Dai Li – We learn a lot about Long Feng in this, like how he was someone who was once lower class who clawed his way up to the top and it was through his ability and strength he became the leader of the Dai Li. Sadly Azula being royalty ends up trumping his claim and he submits to her.

Mai and Ty Lee – These two have a more minor part to play but they still do a good job fighting Team Avatar though Mai is done when they are coming to get revenge for how easily they took out Katara last episode.

Sokka – Sokka’s care for Katara is a major part of this episode as we see that he is just as driven as Aang to find her and willing to put asides his differences with Iroh who to him is an enemy because he is Fire Nation in order to rescue his sister.

Toph – Toph schools her captors and is a major force in the rescue as she wipes out most of the enemies she faces. She is cut off from helping Aang though, which is a shame as she could have turned the course of the battle if it had been her, Katara and Aang against Zuko, Azula and the Dai Li.

Iroh – Iroh shows that he doesn’t care about the Fire Nation, he lives for Zuko and when Zuko betrays him he is saddened that Zuko still let others define his happiness and honor. He defends Team Avatar too showing that he is truly their ally.

Katara – Katara shows why she is a Waterbending Master when she is holding her own against Zuko and Azula and doesn’t get overwhelmed until the Dai Li reinforcements arrive. We also see how deep she is too when she is ready to forgive Zuko and wants to help him with his suffering until he betrays her…after that she is Aang’s protector and uses the Magic Water in order to revive him after his near death.

Zuko – Zuko makes a choice and chooses to be Son of the Fire Lord. In this choice he turns on his Uncle, Team Avatar again and helps Azula succeed in taking control of Ba Sing Se. He is still empty though as he realizes he hurt the people who were only trying to help him heal and grow and maybe honor isn’t all it is cracked up to be.

Azula – Azula is truly a mastermind. She takes control of Ba Sing Se, the Dai Li and mortally wounds the Avatar as well as turning Zuko to their side. She is the greatest threat in the series thus far and this one makes her feel much more dangerous than Ozai ever has felt. She is in control and an expert manipulator.

Aang – Aang is forced to give up Katara as he realizes the Avatar State is the only way he can take on Azula, Zuko and the Dai Li. Sadly when he is going into the state Azula mortally wounds him, cutting off his connection to the past Avatars and leaving him weakened…all of this because he left his training early. Aang is once again feeling the power of his failure to fulfill his destiny as an Avatar as another nation falls before the Fire Nation.

Fall of Ba Sing Se and the Earth Kingdom – The Earth Kingdom now belongs to the Fire Nation and all they have resistance fighters. It is a powerful scene and our heroes are battered and broken while Azula and the Fire Nation are triumphant. It is very much like “The Empire Strikes Back” and is a story full of consequences.

Final Score: 10 / 10

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

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 2 “Earth,” Episode 13 – “The Drill” – Team Avatar Gets Their Name

Fire_Nation_drill

      “The Drill” is a good episode, it is largely action focused but we still get some good character moments that strengthen the episode. We also see Team Avatar be given the name of Team Avatar by Sokka and see all of them working together to stop the amazing Fire Nation Drill.

    The episode was directed by Giancarlo Volpe and written by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko.

    The story involves the Fire Nation’s assault on Ba Sing Se with their Drill. It is up to Team Avatar to stop them after the Wall defenses of the Terra Team fall before Azula’s Trio. From here the story unfolds as Team Avatar must deal with the threat of the Trio and the Drill.

The Pros: The Drill – The Drill is powerful and takes a lot to destroy it. From within the Drill Team Avatar needs to steal a layout of it from an Engineer, next they need to weaken the interior before Aang crushes it from above to cause it explode. It does a lot of damage before it goes though and manages to break through the Wall before it is stopped.

The Trio – The Trio are once again awesome! Ty Lee takes out the Terra Team and isn’t afraid to get muddy when Sokka and Katara make their escape through the waste pipe of the Drill, though she gets captured in the overflow in the process, and Mai has a funny moment where is disgusted and chooses to stay in the drill. Azula does a great job fighting Aang until she is knocked off the Drill when it is about to explode and Aang finishes it off.

Team Avatar – Sokka calls them Team Avatar when he is inspired by the Terra Team for giving them a cool name. Outside the Drill Toph pushes against it, and she provides cover for them to get inside. Sokka comes up with the plan for weakening the interior and Katara and Aang weaken the Drill using Waterbending to break it down from the inside before Aang uses Earth and Airbending to break it. Katara also gets revenge on Ty Lee for Chi Blocking her.

Okay: War Minister Qin – Qin is just kind of there and has an arrogance to him. He was still smart for using the Drill, he just declared victory way to early and depending on Superweapons just isn’t smart since if the weapon fails you lose.

The Cons: Earthbender Forces – The Earthbender forces are pretty weak and the General is largely incompetent. This has sort of been a pattern in the Earth Kingdom which I might analyze at the end of Book 2. They lose way too quickly and their rocks don’t do anything to the Drill.

   This was a good action episode, but there weren’t that many character moments, and the weakness of the Earthbender forces was sad given that this is the Earth Kingdom Capitol. You would think someone in the Earth Kingdom would take the threat of the Fire Nation seriously. Suffice to say, it was still good action though.

Final Score: 8 / 10

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 2 “Earth,” Episode 8 – “The Chase” – Internal Fighting and Coming Together

The Chase

     “The Chase” is an episode that when it works it is amazing, but when it has problems, it is really obvious. The episode gives us foreshadowing as well as character development and we get to see just how much of a threat Azula and her Trio really are. Suffice to say I enjoyed this episode, though I wouldn’t call it a favorite. “Zuko Alone” was a far superior episode.

     The episode was directed by Giancarlo Volpe and written by Joshua Hamilton.

    The story involves Team Avatar running from Trio as they are being tracked from Appa’s fur being shed from the spring. Because the Trio is always on their tale they are unable to get any sleep and begin clashing and fighting among themselves, leading to Toph leaving as the Trio closes in.

The Pros: The Trio – The Trio are amazing in this! We see them drive a metal tank, giant lizards and Ty Lee easily takes out Sokka while Mai neutralizes Katara’s Waterbending. Azula also nearly beats Aang and it’s only when she’s taking on the current and future members of Team Avatar that she runs but not before injuring Iroh.

Zuko – Zuko is lost and conflicted and we see him flailing still to live by the old honor of before as he tries once again to capture Aang so his sister Azula won’t get the glory and so that he can redeem himself. Given Azula is trying to kill him too he eventually joins Team Avatar in the fight against her, especially when he watches Iroh fighting with Team Avatar. In the end he is broken though as Azula injures Iroh and he rejects Team Avatar’s help to heal him.

Iroh – Iroh counsels Toph on appreciating the love other’s show you, and she in turn tells him he should tell his nephew the same thing. It’s a great moment and he laughs when Toph mentions that “Isn’t he a bit old to travel alone?” When he says isn’t she too young to be alone. They have a great conversation and his coming together to rescue Zuko from Azula at the end is powerful, made all the more so when Azula lands a direct hit on his chest, leaving him injured.

Toph – Toph is the loner and does her own thing for most of this episode, we see that she sees Team Avatar like her family and she is afraid to be a part of them or open with them because she doesn’t want to get hurt again or rejected. It is Iroh who is able to bring her around though and mentions that some people help because they want too, not because of the person you are. It’s for them, not for you. Which was just what she needed to hear as she joins them for the battle against Azula.

Aang – Aang has his hero moment when he leaves a fur trail that Azula follows and they have a standoff in the village. At one point he is fighting both Azula and Zuko (a precursor of things to come) and it is only through all the elements working together (Zuko and Iroh, Katara, Toph and Aang) that the evil within the Fire Nation (Azula) is defeated, but loss still occurs as she injures Iroh. Aang being aware of others is huge in this as even though Zuko had been trying to kill him, he still won’t turn on him. This is a great analogy for the overall arc of the series as people will be lost and injured from the war and it will take all the Elements coming together to defeat Ozai and Azula.

The Message – Tell people you appreciate them and care about them, because they can’t read your mind and all of us have our insecurities. I really liked the message this episode especially through the perspectives of Toph and Zuko.

Okay: Katara and Sokka – These two are just kind of there. Sokka is there to make jokes based on how tired he is and Katara is there trying to get Toph to help out. She never changes from this though and I found myself more sympathetic to Toph as Katara could get pretty passive aggressive and it was only when she was super tired that she actually addressed Toph not being a part of the team directly.

    I really enjoyed the foreshadowing this episode, couldn’t stand the infighting as it made Katara and Sokka seem much younger than they actually were..and it was a repeat of past fights almost in some ways too. For this reason I wish more focus had been on Iroh and Zuko and that Toph had left earlier to figure things out. The first part of the episode was hard to watch at times because the infighting among Team Avatar was written so terribly. Still, great final battle and you can’t go wrong with Iroh.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10

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