TV Review: Avatar: The Last Airbender (Book One)
With the first season of The Legend of Korra behind us, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at the series that started it all: Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Here I will be reviewing the best and worst of the first season of A:TLA: “Book One: Water.”
After finding Aang trapped in an iceberg, Katara and Sokka decide to travel with him to the Northern Water Tribe in order to find a waterbending master, while the Fire Nation is waging a 100 year old war against the other four countries. Meanwhile, the banished Fire Prince, Zuko, and his uncle Iroh, are pursuing Avatar Aang to reclaim his honor.
The one great thing about A:TLA, and specifically season one, is that most of the episodes are self-contained and can stand alone. Each one has its own plot and themes, but they all work together in giving the audience a better idea of the fantasy world and the characters. The format of these episodes and the season was actually an excellent way to start off the series. Rather than focusing on the overall plot, each episode featured various supporting characters in unique storylines and gave us proper background on the characters and the new world being introduced to us.
Episodes like “The Southern Air Temple” and “The King of Omashu” were mainly done to give more information on Aang, his past and his future development.
Meanwhile, episodes like “Avatar Roku” and “The Northern Air Temple” would help push the plot forward and provide hints to future events, while still serving as stand-alone episodes.
Personally, I really enjoyed this format because it was an excellent foundation for the whole series because it introduced us to the complex characters and setting without distracting us with the impending doom that would happen at the end of the series. While some of these episodes acted as filler episodes, they were still well-thought out episodes that served the basis of the season.
However, the main problem with the first season was that it still was a developing season, especially compared to the growth seen in future seasons. Since it was starting as a new children’s show, it took time for the show to really develop into the one we all know and love. As I mentioned before, the episodes were mainly self-contained and focused on the world and the characters. This caused the first season to follow a very comedic adventure-driven format, with some more dramatic themes being discussed. For example, unlike the future seasons, there were much less fight and action scenes; instead, the series focused on introducing the recurring themes such as the effects of war on the various characters and towns.
Most of the first season followed the comedic, adventure-based format which prevented us from seeing the depth of some of the characters, most specifically Aang. Aang for the most part of the first season maintains his “goofy kid” persona, even after dealing with some of the more dramatic parts.
As opposed to future seasons where Aang’s character is truly developed and portrayed with great depth, most of the first season has Aang following a comedic, carefree character route, as shown by his crush on Katara and his interactions with other people. While episodes like “The Deserter” still show great development for his character, it was not until season two that most people began to really see the emotional depth and strength of his character. This is common with other characters in season one; while we were able to receive great background information on them, it was not until later epsiodes and seasons that we really saw them grow.
For example, one of the best episodes was “The Storm,” which mainly focused on giving information on Aang and Zuko through flashback. This episode is a prime example of the first season’s ability to set a real foundation for the plot and the characters. The background given on these characters in this episode would help Aang and Zuko’s growth, especially in future seasons where they really blossom as characters.
Overall, the first season was still a stepping stone for the more well-rounded, action-oriented second and third seasons, which really excelled in character development. Here, we were introduced to the characters and the background of that world, but it was really the second and third seasons where we really began to connect with the story.
That being said, I will discuss the season one finale, which is still one of my personal favorite episodes and a constant favorite for many other fans. As the season overall began to feature more dramatic themes that involved character development, the series truly evolved into one of the most excellent action, adventure shows on television. After dealing with several small, more comedic problems, the two-part finale, “The Siege of the North,” featured the main characters’ first major conflict of the series, as well as featuring Aang’s first real mission as the Avatar. As the Fire Nation launches an invasion on the Northern Water Tribe, Aang and his friends need to find a way to defend against Admiral Zhao; meanwhile, the presumed dead Zuko attempts to find the Avatar for himself.
Overall, the finale had fantastic animation and character development, especially for Sokka and Zuko. In these episodes, Sokka had to deal with the loss of Yue, the Northern Water Tribe princess that sacrifices her life to become the moon spirit. This shows great characterization for both Yue and Sokka, which really make the episode one of the most emotional ones.
As for Zuko, we get to see more of his innermost feelings and suffering when he captures the Avatar as a desperate attempt to regain his title as the Fire Nation Prince. Aang also develops into a much more engaging character as he begins to take on responsibilities as the Avatar and the great power that comes along with that responsibility.
The finale also featured the best animation and action sequences we had seen up to that point in the series. The entire animation of the eclipse and of the completely blackened moon were excellent; first, we got to see the whole setting take on an ominous red aura as the moon spirit was disturbed, and then we saw all the light from the world be gone with the death of the moon spirit. In this new almost black and white world, it was truly amazing how the animation crew used only a few lit elements, such as Yue’s eyes, Aang’s tattoos and firebending to display light up the moon-free world.
We were able to see an excellent firebender vs. waterbender fight between Katara and Zuko, as well as an excellent battle between Zuko and Admiral Zhao that was done almost completely in the dark besides the actual fire. Not to mention Aang’s huge battle against the Fire Nation army, which featured exceptional animation. After having a whole season that lacked major action scenes, it was nice to see how action-packed the series could be.
The finale was truly the best part of season one and one of the most memorable episodes of the whole series. Of course, this finale featured A:TLA’s common theme of cliffhangers, by briefly introducing Azula who would become a major antagonist for the rest of the series.
In the end, the entire first season featured exceptional writing and animation that truly set it apart from other television shows at the time. While some episodes seemed tedious and mostly comedy-based, the whole season as a whole really served as an excellent foundation for future plotlines and character development.
GO Rating: 4/5