Avatar, Season One

After enjoying The Legend of Korra so much, I bought the first season of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and have been watching it with my son.

Quick synopsis from the back of the box:

After a lapse of 100 years, the Avatar–spiritual master of the elements–has returned. And just in the nick of time. The Four Nations (Water, Earth, Fire, and Air) have become unbalanced. The Fire Nation wants to rule the world, and its first conquest will be the Northern Water Tribe. It’s up to a 12-year-old Airbender named Aang to find a way to stop it…

It’s strange watching this after Korra. I feel like I’m moving backwards. The animation isn’t as sharp or polished, and the stories aren’t quite as tight. Avatar also feels like it’s targeted at a younger audience. (Which makes sense … Korra would be going after that same fanbase, now older.)

I enjoyed season one, and have already picked up and started watching season two. (We just met Toph Beifong tonight – woo hoo!) I think my favorite aspect of the show is Aang’s sense of fun and playfulness. I’m rather fond of characters who can find the joy in life, and that feels like something Korra sometimes lacked.

Of course, Avatar has it dark moments too … at times you sense that Aang’s childlike antics are covering up his grief and fear, his pain at sleeping away a hundred years, awakening to find everyone he knew dead and gone. (Almost everyone.) Not to mention his guilt at what’s happened to the world while he slept. You see how much this Avatar business weighs Aang down, and while he makes mistakes, he keeps struggling to take care of his responsibilities.

I felt like they weren’t entirely sure what to do with Katara and Sokka, Aang’s Water Tribe companions, at first. Katara apparently took a course in speed-bending, going from a very novice waterbender to a master over the course of a few episodes. Sokka, being the only nonbender in the trio, occasionally feels like a third wheel. He has some good moments and some good lines, but can’t quite keep up with the butt-whooping abilities of the other two.

And then there’s our antagonists, Prince Zuko and his Uncle Iroh. These two are, in my opinion, the best characters in the series. Zuko is wonderfully broken, determined to capture the avatar in order to prove himself to his father and redeem his alleged dishonor. And Uncle Iroh is just awesome, a warrior who’s been through hell and eventually found his way out to peace. He’s a man who takes joy everywhere he can find it, because he knows how quickly it can all end. Also, despite his portly appearance, he’s a total badass. Their relationship is wonderful, with Iroh trying so hard to help his nephew, even while it rips Zuko apart inside that he can’t get that same love from his father.

Overall, this felt like a first season, a show that stumbled a bit as it tried to find its way … but it’s a good first season. There were episodes that fell into more predictable paths (of course Aang doesn’t deliver the map to Katara and Sokka … sigh), but even in these early episodes you can see the story starting to take on more complex conflicts and veering away from easy answers. And while it’s a show aimed for children, it also shows some of the pain and loss and horror of war.

I approve, and will be watching the rest of season two post haste!