Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 1 “Water,” Retrospect – The Losses That Drive Us

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“Avatar: The Last Airbender” had a great Book 1. There was only one episode that I considered weak was “The Great Divide.” The rest of the episodes were at the very least good even if there were some things that could have been explored more. What made Book 1 “Water,” so great were the characters and their arcs and the themes that certain episodes explored as well as the overarching theme of the Book.

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The Pros: The Soundtrack – The Track Team did a fantastic job with the soundtrack to the series of Book 1. From the ending theme, to the haunting sound whenever loss or death was faced or the drum beats during chase sequences…the music only ever added to the story.

The Animation – I really liked the animation for this show, it was one of the first things that drew me in as each character has a distinct style and the world is all the richer because of it. Bryan Konietzko and his team really did a great job on this series and Book 1 highlights this.

The Action – From the first fight with Zuko and Aang to the Siege of the North and all the smaller fights and duels inbetween. Every fight Zuko was in was one to see and seeing Katara become a Master Waterbender was great too as she continued to get the point of besting her enemies.

The Writing – The writing was amazing, this is a kids show and the characters were real as well as whether they were complex or static…the reasons behind what they did or believed were mostly explained. There was also so much showing rather than telling which made it so great.

The Characters – The characters of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” are amazing and we see that all of them are complex in different ways or at the very least compelling on their own. Whether it’s the strength of Suki, the wisdom of Iroh or the pride of Zhao we see characters who may not change but who give us so much in how they interact with Team Avatar. This even goes for the minor characters as well like Jet, Chief Amook and Master Pakku as well.

The Character Arcs – The character arcs of Book 1 are powerful and mean something. So much of it is dealing with trauma and growing from the loss. Whether it’s Aang’s abandoning his role to embracing it over the course of the Book and his learning responsibility, Sokka learning compassion, Zuko learning to depend on more than anger and Katara learning humility. These are just some of the changes that happen in our characters and their arcs.

The Themes – There are quite a few themes that Book 1 covers, genocide in the destruction of the Air Nation, colonization Earth Nation’s relationship to Fire Nation cities upon their land, equality and justice and the fight for it in relationship to Kanna and Katara in regards to the Northern Water Tribe and countless others in regards to justice and war and what it means to be good. This themes go throughout the series but are introduced really strongly here.

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The Cons: Simplifying Cultures or Characters – “The Great Divide” was the worst at this which is why I used the image from it above, though the non-existent Northern Water Tribe politics and the existence of the character Hahn also fit this description. This was the only thing that really brought down this season.

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        The first season of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” ends strong and is solid all the way through. Throughout the drive from loss humanizes the characters as we see Aang deal with the loss of his people, Katara and Sokka with the loss of their mother and so much of their tribe and Zuko with the loss of his Nation. All of them are driven by these losses to try and write the wrongs as best they see fit, all the while striving towards good. They lose more in the process and all the while grow. The ending of Book 1 is one of the more tragic endings in any animated series and really captures what makes this series so great. Loss is never seen as something to be avoided when it is tackled and the important themes like genocide are at the forefront of the series and the First Book. If you like great animated shows, you won’t be disappointed by “Water.”

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great even with the weaker episodes.

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

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      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.

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 1 “Water,” Episode 15 – “Bato of the Water Tribe” – The Outsider

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        “Bato of the Water Tribe” is a great episode for Team Avatar. In this episode we get to see Aang’s selfishness and more humanization of Katara and especially Sokka, as well as how outside of everything Aang is, both as the Avatar and the Last Airbender. He has no people while this episode is all about the Southern Water Tribe.

      The episode was directed by Giancarlo Volpe and written by Ian Wilcox.

    The story involves Team Avatar meeting Bato of the Southern Water Tribe who was dropped off at an Abbey by Katara and Sokka’s father so he would recover. It is here that Katara and Sokka are given the chance to meet their father again when they hear a message is being sent where to meet him. It is with Bato they explore their heritage while Aang deals with being an outcast, at first stealing the message when it was delivered. Around this time Zuko hires a Bounty Hunter named June to help him capture the Avatar.

The Pros: Bato – Bato is a great mentor to Sokka and Katara in this episode. He tells them stories of their father and the adventures the two of them had together as well as helping them go through a coming of age ceremony called Ice Dodging. He also knows they are young and is forgiving of Aang when Aang takes the message but returns it later. He is an adventurous guy who cares deeply for his friend’s kids.

The Abbey – The nuns are pretty stubborn and strict but have more to them too. For example when June arrives with Iroh and Zuko they use the perfume they make to blind her Shirshu Nyla which leads to the final victory over Zuko, Iroh and June.

June – June doesn’t take crap from anyone and is tougher than all the men in the bar. She is great in how she doesn’t care about anything but money and Nyla and does a great job holding her own in the battle against Team Avatar, nearly defeating them (she captures Sokka and Katara). Before finally losing at the end of the episode.

Iroh – Iroh is both wise and horny. He makes the moves on June when she isn’t interested (creepy) but also when they pass through where the Fortuneteller is tells her he has no more mysteries but one he doesn’t want to know (death). He is calm throughout the whole of the events and sees it mostly as a great adventure.

Zuko – Zuko is driven this episode and his buying June to help them was a smart move. They probably would have won if they had troops. This is an obsession episode and Zuko makes stupid moves because of his obsession. For example, Firebending down a well when Aang jumps down it, which causes the pressure to explode which defeats Zuko in the end because of how it weakens him before Nyla’s paralyzing venom hits him when she is blinded.

Ryla versus Appa – Appa rocks! It takes a lot of venom to knock him out and he takes out Ryla and June a few times before he is finally defeated.

The Battle – The Battle between June, Zuko against Team Avatar is awesome! Every so often we see Iroh stealing some perfume or acting like a troll but a lot of it is flowing action and Team Avatar getting the Nuns involved in the fight which leads to Ryla’s defeat and the defeat of Zuko and June.

Katara – Katara is shown to be really connected to her people in this and goes through the Ice Dodging initiation ceremony with Sokka and Aang. She also leaves Aang after his stealing of the message even though she is conflicted at first. Family is extremely important to her, as is trust which Aang loses for a while this episode. He does return her necklace at the end and she sees him atone after that moment.

Sokka – Sokka has always wanted to be the warrior and to fight with his father against the Fire Nation. We see it this episode in his excitement of retracing his father’s footsteps on the beach and hearing the stories from Bato and in the past when he is in full warrior’s attire and pleading with his father to come with them. It is this devotion to his people that leads to him helping Aang again though, even after the betrayal. He knows that is where he is needed the most as Aang needs support and shouldn’t be alone.

Aang – Aang is shown to still very much be a child in this. He steals the message because he’s afraid of losing Sokka and Katara which leads to him losing them for a while anyway because of that betrayal of trust. He atones though and when he is made an honorary member of the Southern Water Tribe, he admits his guilt and wrong and erases the mark. Aang is the outsider and he feels it in this episode as Katara and Sokka are with a member of their tribe, while his tribe is all gone. This is what leads to his selfish action, his fear of being alone.

   This was an amazing episode. Whether it was June retracing the last few episodes on Rylah, Aang growing more, or Sokka and Katara getting to know their father and people better…it was an episode that had everything. My only issue with it would be the Abbey could have been explored better and I wish Bato could have talked to Aang one on one. We never got his thoughts on the Avatar, which was a shame.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10.