I know it’s not technically anime, but I couldn’t find a better slot to put it in. So… we’re going with the anime slot. If you have a problem with that, feel free to email me at the following address:
My writing relationship with this show has been a weird one. I’ve talked about it at lengths in the past, but I’ve never written a full review on it. I’ve reviewed the shitty live-action movie (tearing into that piece of shit was fun) and, just a few days ago, I analyzed the show’s best villain. But I’ve never actually reviewed the show properly.
Today, I’m gonna fix that! Now that I’ve finished binging the show (thanks, Netflix), I can take a long, proper look at it! The question on my mind: does this show deserve the incredibly high praise it gets? Or is it another show fueled by the power of nostalgia? I’m gonna take off my rose-tinted goggles and find out!
Story: The Boy in the Iceberg
Do I need to do this? Really? Let’s be honest, we’ve all seen the show! I don’t need to summarize it! But because it’s my job, I’m gonna do it anyway!
Long ago, the Fire Nation attacked the other three nations, starting a seemingly endless war. Only the Avatar, the man who could bend all four elements, could stop them. But when the war started, he disappeared. Now, one hundred years later, Katara and Sokka of the Southern Water Tribe find the young Avatar trapped in the ice. Now Aang, the last living air-bender, must fulfill his destiny as the Avatar at last and restore balance to the world!
This story is damn near perfect! All our protagonists are phenomenal, every one of them being incredibly likable and sharing some great chemistry! The setting is incredible, built on some of the most interesting and fun world-building I’ve ever seen! Sure, most of the villains are weak and the pacing is… rough… Not to mention how a good number of these stories are ultimately pointless. But in the face of how good this story is, those few issues are easily forgivable.
Let’s get the negatives out of the way. This is an episodic story, meaning that each episode features our characters going on different adventures in different places with different characters. There are some characters and events that play into the story later, but these are few and far between. Most of the time, they either boil down to something to be referenced later or something to be forgotten. It’s an ‘and then’ kind of story, where only about half or less of the events play into the ones that came afterward. The individual stories are still fun, and they’re just connected enough to not be a waste of time. But it does skew the pacing; plus, it makes some episodes easily skippable for returning viewers, which is a bit of a problem.
The villains are also pretty weak. Most of them boil down to ‘joke in a position of power that screws our heroes over in some way’ or ‘pure evil machine with literally no redeeming qualities whatsoever’. Granted, it is a kid’s show. But here’s a friendly reminder for you: Azula exists in that show. So the writers clearly had the capacity to write more in-depth characters. But they simply decided against it. Why bother having memorable villains to go along with your lovable heroes?
And… yeah, that’s about it. I mean, I guess the jokes don’t always hit, but that’s probably because I’m an old man. And… uh… yeah, that’s all I got. The rest of this show is absolutely brilliant.
The characters that are well written (all our heroes + Azula and her cronies) are easily some of my favorite characters in all of fiction! Aang is one of the finest examples of a well-executed hero’s journey that I’ve ever seen! Zuko has one of the most satisfying redemption arcs ever written! Iroh is so damn lovable that he puts literally every character to shame! Katara, Sokka, Toph, Tsuki, literally every one of these characters is incredible! They all play off of each other perfectly, both in serious and comedic moments! Seriously, every interaction they have is a joy to watch!
Plus, they can be genuinely hilarious at times! No joke, this show has one of my favorite exchanges in the history of fiction!
Everyone in the Fire Nation thinks I’m a traitor. I couldn’t drag her into it. -Zuko
My first girlfriend turned into the moon. -Sokka
That’s rough, buddy. -Zuko
Book 3, Episode 14
Then there’s the setting! Oh my god, the world of this show is so good! Each of the four nations has a distinct culture that respects the real-life one it’s based on while still being distinctly fictional enough to be unique and interesting! The Spirit World is incredibly interesting, begging to be explored further (just not, you know, Legend of Korra style)! Everything in this world, from the bending to the technology, is a delight! It’s absolutely incredible!
It’s not a flawless show. But those few flaws are so small in comparison to how good those positives are! From a writing perspective, this is one of the strongest cartoons I’ve ever seen!
Man… we had it so good when we were kids, didn’t we?
Presentation: Anime, but Not
This show has a very distinct visual style. It takes clear inspiration from anime, but it’s also cartoonish enough to stand out. It combines the two styles to create one of the most visually entertaining shows I’ve ever seen!
My favorite part is easily the character designs. Each and every character in this show has a distinct look to them (although a good number of Fire Nation dudes have the three-pointed beards). Book 3 easily has the best character designs, but that’s not to say that Books 1 and 2 lag behind. Everyone just looks so good! They’re simple, effective, and they’re all animated beautifully!
Oh, and have I mentioned how good that animation is? Because the animators went all-out on literally everything here! From all the action scenes to a simple expressive moment of emotion, everything here just looks so damn good! It’s all just so damn gorgeous!
Unless you’re watching the DVDs of Book 1. Because the quality of those exports will hurt your eyes. It’s like someone put a headache-inducing filter over the wonderful work of the animators. And yes. That is the version we got on Netflix, not the phenomenal looking Blu-Rays.
But you know what doesn’t hurt? The music! Holy fuck dude, this show’s soundtrack is phenomenal!! There are so many good tracks! From the emotional to the exhilarating to the simply catching, all of them are spectacular! Seriously, the main theme is one of my favorite tracks on any TV show I’ve ever seen!
Visually speaking, this show still holds up! And it will for years to come! It’s one of the most beautifully animated shows I’ve ever seen! I love this shit, man!
Just… be sure to watch the Blu-Rays. I cannot stress that enough. Your eyes will thank me later.
At the top of this review, I asked a question: is this show as good as we all remember? Is it a true cartoon classic? Or are we all living with nostalgia-glasses sealed onto our faces? Is Avatar: The Last Airbender really worthy of the hype?
Oh, fuck yeah it is! This show is a masterpiece! A true classic in every sense of the word! It’s so good that it makes literally every other cartoon from recent years look like absolute dog shit in comparison!
Especially you, Korra. Especially you.
If you still haven’t seen Avatar: The Last Airbender… who are you? Seriously, what the fuck have you been doing? What the fuck are you doing? That shit’s on Netflix; go watch it! Right now! This is not a recommendation, it is a demand! Go watch this show! And if you already have, do it again! They don’t make shows this good anymore!
Dear God, I am an old man!