Apr 15, 2010

[TV] Avatar: The Last Airbender - Book Two: Earth

Avatar: The Last Airbender - Book Two: EarthIt's not often that a cartoon manages to maintain my attention for long these days. The first seasons are generally good but beyond that it starts to give in to more budget cuts and pushes from the network to make the show more marketable by playing on its strengths based on what merchandise is purchased. It's not a good measure of effectiveness, but we all know it happens in the name of Hollywood-brand entertainment.

But patterns can be broken of course. It happens here and there. And it can always happen again.

Avatar: The Last Airbender started out very strong and I have to admit I was hoping against hope that it would not fall into the trap of many other cartoons before it and get too commercial. Instead they even surpassed those expectations and took the story to a completely new level entirely.

Avatar: The Last Airbender's second season, Book Two: Earth, is the continuation of the adventures of the young savior of the world, Aang (Zach Tyler Eisen) and his two friends from the Souther Water Tribe, the young warrior Sokka (Jack DeSena) and his sister the waterbender Katara (Mae Whitman). Now that he has begun to demonstrate some mastery over the element of water, it was time for Aang to find himself an earthbending master.

Screenshot of Azula's face from Avatar: The La...Image via Wikipedia
This brings the group back to the Earth Kingdom in order to find this teacher and eventually they discover one of the best characters of the show, the blind girl Toph (Jessica Flower). But she's not the only new character introduced in this season. The intrepid little team find themselves on the run from Prince Zuko's (Dante Basco) younger sister, Azula (Grey DeLisle) along with her two friends Mai (Cricket Leigh) and Ty Lee (Olivia Hack) with their own unique martial arts ability. If you think you learned enough about the Earth Kingdom in the first season, you'll soon discover just how wrong you are in that assumption.

While earthbending was indeed explored in the first season through the young man Haru, he lacked the appeal to become more than he was in that episode. Clearly he wasn't meant to become Aang's earthbending master and it was a nice twist for it to become the loud-mouth little girl, Toph. She added a nice dynamic to the show and a good balance to Katara's somewhat positive attitude in things and Sokka's over-the-top attempts at comedy. She's both comedic and a bit of a "straight" player in that sense but also carries more than her fair share of issues.

Plus the growing complications on the other side of the fence between Azula and Zuko certainly take things to a new level. Things are no longer quite as black-and-white in terms of the Fire Nation against the Avatar. Now we have Fire Nation sibling against sibling in an odd rivalry in their race to capture the Avatar first.

The season expanded on many of the elemental bending properties we had generally learned about in the first season. We get to discover benders in such remote locations like massive swamps or more creative approaches to earthbending by the Dai Li. There's Azula's blue firebending plus her ability to control lightning and a whole lot more. This season just upgraded so many aspects of the show in many different ways.

And of course there's the continued development of Aang as we learn more about his past and his future destiny as the Avatar. The key to his overall success against Fire Lord Ozai (Mark Hamill) and the continued war campaign of the Fire Nation.

Book Two: Earth of Avatar: The Last Avatar was a great continuation of the first season and it continued to take things to a new level, as all shows should. It gets a full 5 new fighting styles introduced in this season out of a possible 5.

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