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!
August 16, 2012 @ 9:46 am
Didn’t you love the trip to Omashu and meeting Bumi? He’s a personal favorite of mine. In season 2 the episode “The Blind Bandit” is probably pushing my favorite episode of the whole series.
Jim C. Hines
August 16, 2012 @ 9:52 am
Bumi was great. And having met his character, the glimpse we get of Aang’s son Bumi at the end of Legend of Korra suddenly becomes much cooler.
August 16, 2012 @ 9:53 am
Oh my god, are you in for a treat.
August 16, 2012 @ 9:58 am
You’ve got to post after you watch “The Tales of Ba Sing Se.”
Jim C. Hines
August 16, 2012 @ 10:02 am
So noted 🙂
August 16, 2012 @ 11:04 am
Thanks for posting this! It’s great to read someone’s perspective on first seeing the show that I have loved for years. If those things stood out for you as the highlights, then it is definitely working, since they just keep getting amped up the rest of the series.
Iroh and Toph are certainly my favorite characters. They start off awesome and then only get better as they really come into their own. Zuko, I’m wouldn’t call a “favorite”, but is probably one of the most complex characters in the show, and is certainty fascinating to watch.
As for Katara and Sokka, that seems like legitimate criticism. I guess you could probably chalk up Katara’s skills to a combination of seeing just what is actually possible combined with some actual instruction (even if it was largely just from a scroll). If I remember correctly, she was the only waterbender left in her tribe, so just imagine going from having zero examples of any bending and keeping busy with daily survival to adventuring with the Avatar! Or in D&D terms, the power up in those first few levels is pretty high. 🙂
With Sokka’s role (other than obvious comedy relief), it is an interesting place he finds himself in being surrounded by benders (who are quickly becoming masters), and he just has a boomerang. It seems to me that from even early on, there is a nice back and forth with “they have super powers and I don’t, but that’s who they are and who I am” acceptance versus “I am totally outclassed, so what use am I?” Maybe I am seeing more into him than the writers intended, but it is an interesting conflict that in a way has huge echoes in Korra.
Stephen A. Watkins
August 16, 2012 @ 11:08 am
I think you get a bit at what took me so long to catch on to Avatar, myself, the first time around. I had seen some snippets of Season 1 episodes and wasn’t impressed (those snippets I saw felt very much targeted toward a younger audience). Somewhere along the way I caught part of a 2nd Season episode. At the time I had no recollection of what little I’d seen of Season 1. But what I saw of that one second season ep intrigued me enough that I went back to watch the whole thing from the beginning. I was not disappointed, the second time around: nay, I loved it.
August 16, 2012 @ 11:24 am
Avatar has a rather marked reliance on what I like to call RPG-standard time. Basically, this means that the plot-important stuff will wait patiently off to the side until all the leveling up and side-questing is done. Even if said plot-important stuff is time critical and set to happen at a certain time. The result is the passage of time is very…fluid in the series, and things that should probably take a really long time to accomplish (e.g. Katara’s mastery of waterbending) are compressed. The audience is sitting off to one side with the plot-important stuff while the characters level up, checking in periodically to see where they are in the leveling process. We see some of what happens, but most of the leveling up occurs in that plot-non-existent space created by RPG-standard time.
August 16, 2012 @ 12:25 pm
Iroh is the best character in the entire series. I can’t wait until you experience his story arc. It gets me excited every time I think about it.
Jim C. Hines
August 16, 2012 @ 1:43 pm
“Complex” is the perfect word – both of them are layered, complicated, conflicted characters, and I love it!
I’m definitely interested in seeing how Sokka’s role in the group develops in the second and third season.
Jim C. Hines
August 16, 2012 @ 1:44 pm
I think it’s the difference between watching “Encounter at Farpoint” and “Best of Both Worlds.” The latter is where the Star Trek cast and crew had figured out what they were doing, as opposed to those early stumbling steps.
Jim C. Hines
August 16, 2012 @ 1:45 pm
That makes sense. Part of it is probably also that I still don’t understand how much of bending is innate and how much is learned. If it’s 90% innate, then it makes sense that it wouldn’t require as much training, and that both Korra and Aang would pick this stuff up really easily. But then you see people training for years…
Though both Korra and Aang are, I suspect, supposed to be very gifted compared to the average bender.
Jim C. Hines
August 16, 2012 @ 1:46 pm
Oh, I’m definitely an Iroh fan 🙂
August 16, 2012 @ 7:30 pm
I thought that Sokka became less of a third wheel in seasons 2 and 3, and even has a couple of really kick-butt moments.
And yeah, I’ll cast my vote for the Iroh fan club. It only gets better from season 1.
August 17, 2012 @ 12:20 am
I’ve been told that WorldCon is all about the parties. I’ve been to two, both for only a day, and didn’t go to parties, so I don’t know if that is actually correct. The panels are usually very good. The support stuff and amenities is not necessarily very good and depends a lot on the venue. Please have some pictures taken of the Cover Poses panel, thanks.
August 17, 2012 @ 12:21 am
Oops, this comment was meant to be on the WorldCon entry. I must have grabbed the wrong comment thread. Move it if you get around to it.
Jim C. Hines
August 17, 2012 @ 7:58 am
I don’t think I can actually move comments with my setup.
I’ll try to make sure someone’s documenting the cover panel 🙂
August 17, 2012 @ 5:44 pm
I thought about re-watching the old Avatars after seeing Korra too, but I remembered “the stories aren’t quite as tight” like you said. However, after reading your post, I remember how much I loved Prince Zuko’s grandfather’s character, and that made me want to watch it after all! Drat! I guess I know what I’ll be doing this weekend… Thanks!
August 20, 2012 @ 1:06 am
Iroh is awesome. I’ve yet to meet someone who didn’t like him.
It’s hard to not overhype the series, and I hope I’m not doing just that when I say you ain’t seen nothing yet. Up until the end there was always something that made my jaw drop again. From “everything is a boomerang”, to a cast of characters I fell in love with (loved to hate some) including girls that were both badass and flawed, to a thousand little tidbits that show the creator’s care and love for their work, AtlA has forever changed what I dare to hope for in an animated series. (Can’t wait to see Korra!)
It’s such a joy to see someone else discover the series (I’ve introduced three people to it myself) and be reminded of the times when I myself thought “Oh wouldn’t it be interesting… nah. It’s a kid’s show, they won’t go there.” And then they went. And I loved them for it.
I see the valid criticisms about the show, but they never spoiled my enjoyment for long. Though I wonder how many things will still catch you unaware, having watched Korra first?
Jim C. Hines
August 20, 2012 @ 9:18 am
It’s interesting watching them backwards … though it means I get a kind of reversal on the inside jokes, like seeing the cabbage guy in Korra and then watching Avatar and saying, “Hey look, it’s cabbage guy!” instead of the other way around. Overall, it doesn’t feel like I’ve lost anything out of the experience yet as a result of watching Korra first.
August 21, 2012 @ 10:53 pm
I think the whole avatar series is quite awesome. I kinda thought the not so great animation worked well enough, but then again I didn’t think the story was terribly loose, either. it seemed like a good blend of enough movement and oddness to keep smaller kids interested but enough real story to be able to keep older kids and adults from wanting to drive forks into their eyes (as opposed to something like power rangers or pretty much any broadcast sat. morning cartoons these days).
must find out more about this Korra.
Jim C. Hines
August 22, 2012 @ 7:35 am
“Must find out more about this Korra.”
Yes. Yes you must 🙂
September 21, 2012 @ 10:56 pm
Having seen the series in order, I can’t wait to hear the opinion of someone who has seen Korra first. According to most fans, including myself, Season 2 of Avatar: The Last Airbender is the golden standard. The plot points and character arcs are well paced and the tone is consistent across episodes. Relative to that, Season 1 was definitely more haphazard and childish, (very light spoiler?) Season 3 had a somewhat inconsistent first half, and Korra Season 1 was way too rushed. Since you have seen Korra first, I wonder what you will think of Season 2 and 3 of the original series. Please let us know.
Jim C. Hines
September 22, 2012 @ 2:58 pm
We’re about halfway through season 2 now. I’ll definitely be posting my thoughts once we get through, and I have no doubt we’ll be getting season 3 as well.