Apr 8, 2010

[TV] Avatar: The Last Airbender - Book One: Water

Avatar: The Last Airbender - Book One: WaterIt's interesting how cartoons have shifted away from just being random slapstick routines tied together in order to have major stories that everyone can relate to. These days, the name of the game is to create stories that both the young and the old can relate to. After all, the former kids of yesteryear are now the fanboys who shell out the big bucks for the latest geeky franchise to capture their imagination.

Yeah, I proudly admit that I'm one of those fanboys. Yay me!

So as much as I hate it when studios pander to me and try to categorize me in a pre-determined social clique of sorts. And yet there are those times when whatever market research or focus groups that they got into just works and manages to hit my interests right on the nail.

Avatar: The Last Airbender is a pretty landmark cartoon from the creative minds of the folks over at Nikelodeon. The cartoon is set in a world where certain individuals are able to control one of the elements of air, water, earth and fire with martial arts-like discipline known as bending. The world is divided into four nations along the elemental lines and the people of these nations sort reflect the traits of their dedicated element.

Avatar: The Last AirbenderImage via Wikipedia

In the series, the Fire Nation is on a massive campaign to conquer all the other nations. The only individual who could possible maintain balance in the world is the Avatar, a singular bender who can master all four elements and is the one tasked with the responsibility of keeping peace in the world. However something happened and the Avatar disappeared from the face of the earth just as the Fire Nation began it's war against the other nations.

It has been more than 100 years since the Avatar has been seen and brother and sister Sokka (Jack DeSena) and Katara (Mae Whitman) discover a boy frozen in a ball of ice. It turns out that this boy is the last of the airbenders and also happens to be the current reincarnation of the Avatar. Why he had been missing for so long is a mystery but one thing remains to be clear - Aang (Zach Tyler Eisen) needs to come into his destiny and bring balance to the world. And the only way for him to accomplish this goal is to master all four elements and defeat the Fire Nation. At the same time, the banished Fire Nation Prince Zuko (Dante Basco) and his uncle Iroh (Mako) remain on a mission to find the Avatar and bring him back to Fire Lord Ozai (Mark Hamill).

In this first season, Aang is focused on trying to learn waterbending while getting a better feel for what's happened to the world since he disappeared.

The first thing that strikes most people about this series is the heavy Asian influence to things and this is interwoven into everything from the visual style to the fight scenes. Of course the core piece of this particular image is definitely the bending, and this is what makes the show so, well, cool! I mean come on, they don't just summon fireballs or have water spurting out of a ring of some kind - you know what I'm referring to. The marriage of superhuman abilities (elemental control) and the grace of Asian martial arts styles is just AMAZING, and it totally defines the show.

Beyond that, there's the brilliance of the writing combined with the skilled voice acting behind the series. The characters are all very well thought out and over the course of this first season, we all get to bear witness to a lot of character development and progress. Plus not everything is as it seems and we're faced with a wide variety of characters who aren't always what they seem to be. And that respect for avoiding one-dimensional writing for a cartoon is what helps bring this series to another level.

Avatar: The Last Airbender is an amazing cartoon and one that deserves to be watched by fans of cartoons, superheroes, martial arts and basically great storytelling. This first season, Book One: Water is a tightly written season that does a great job of setting up the world and yet also bringing the viewer right into the middle of the action. It deserves a full 5 flying bison out of a possible 5.



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