Sunday, December 12, 2010


Avatar: The Last Airbender

Grade: B
Studio: Nickelodeon Animation Studios
Writers: Michael Dante DiMartino & Bryan Konietzko
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy, Shōnen
First complete run: 2005-2008
Regular episodes: 61

A lot of people will tell you that Avatar isn't really an anime at all. I'm on the fence about it. I think it's pretty obvious that it's supposed to be an anime. It's just not necessarily a very good one. Representing one of the US's rare encroachments on the anime style, Avatar is an all-English animated cartoon whose lore draws more from Aristotelian science than Japanese mythology. It takes place in a parallel Earth which is controlled by four distinct Nations corresponding to the classical four elements: Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire. Each nation has its own culture, and trains a group of people called "benders," wizards who can manipulate the elements of their native land. The "Avatar" is a permanently reincarnated figure who uniquely can control all four elements, representing the need for balance between the four elemental Nations. At the start of the anime, we learn that the Fire Lord has waged a war in order to subjugate the other Nations and claim supremacy over the globe. The Avatar's current incarnation, a boy named Aang from the Air tribe, is charged with defeating the Fire Lord and restoring balance. The anime chronicles Aang's journey to train and one day defeat the Fire Lord, Ozai.

Besides the fact that it was written in English, it's very apparent that Avatar is not your typical anime. The characters look more like Peter Pan than they look like Goku. The dialogue at times feels frustratingly like a cartoon, probably because, is one. Avatar feeds on a very juvenile blend of humor and adventure. But the humor isn't *doh!* kinds of moments like you would expect, it's more like *waah, waah, waaaaaah.* The characters just act silly and their behavior forms the basis for the show's jokes, but they literally always act dumb so it feels more like their personality than an attempt at comedy. This show makes your garden variety shōnen look smart. With the exception of a few characters who are a tiny bit more complex, the people are emotionally shallow to a point. You could stop a given episode 10 minutes in and write the other half yourself, they're that predictable at times. And the acclaimed 4-part series finale...dull and anti-climactic, in my opinion. A real snooze.

Admittedly, it's a reasonably fun ride anyway. The show is a respectable 61 episodes, it's just 61 episodes you'd probably be better off spent watching something else. But if you're sick of the genre, Avatar can be a nice break from more mainstream anime. Sometimes it's nice to watch a show driven by the Western legendary, rather than focusing on yoki and inner strength. Avatar has a decent balance between humor and seriousness, even if the seriousness won't exactly make you cry. It's an easy anime to watch and a good gateway series for American viewers, especially children, who are unused to reading subtitles or intimidated by the Japanese style. Just don't expect to be blown away.

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