The Lofty Expectations of Being the Avatar
I saw a few episodes of Avatar the Last Airbender as a child. Not a lot. Mostly season three. So I never got the overarching story until I finally got to watch it all on Netflix. But I heard its praises sung heavily when it comes to world building, character development, and over all storytelling. And in a nutshell my review can be summarized to one sentence.
It’s amazing. It’s awesome. Easily one of, if not my favorite show, but it’s not as good as you all say it is.
Now hear me out, it is amazing! But I had the same problem with this wonderful show as I did with Frozen when it came out. I did not see Frozen until it came out on DVD because I was serving a mission for my church. I heard a lot about it. I even had a lady tell me the whole plot, very badly mind you, but she tried to explain it. And I saw and heard all the media. I even was an Idina Menzel fan, so I knew she was going to be in it and that would make it good in my eyes anyway.
But then the big day came! Disney’s best work ever was about to roll out in front of me. And as many of you know, I'm a huge Disney fan. So when I heard things like "Best Disney film ever" I was excited. I held my Disney pillow tight and excitedly munched my popcorn to find a great story that rose my spirits high, and I knew would meet my expectations. But that feel short of the raving reviews it got. It’s good. But the hype built around it made it’s flaws glaringly obvious to me because I was looking for such perfection. I also learned it’s not at all about what fans think it’s about. The only part that lived up to the hype was the "Let it Go" scene where the visuals made the song even more powerful.
But that’s more than enough on Frozen. In a nutshell, this is what happened to me with Avatar the Last Airbender. Add that to the fact I knew Zuko as going good from the start, as the first episode I ever saw of the show was the one where Zuko and Ang meet the dragons. I knew he was going good at some point. So any of the big character changes that were coming weren’t a surprise.
But the main thing that caught me was sometimes their ways of causing some plots to happen were… weak. It revealed its Nickelodeon roots in moments where character suddenly make a choice that is just… too convenient. Not that all stories don’t have some of these, (I'm sure mine does and I just don't know it) but because Avatar the Last Airbender is used by so many world builders as a measure for greatness on world build and character building, I expected better.
I will give it credit for most of these moments being in season one where stories are often weaker as they are just starting out. They were in choices like Katara suddenly thinking it’s okay to steal when it wasn’t before or when Sokka suddenly becomes the voice of reason. But I admit most of these mistakes were early on and forgivable.
What really stood out to me was most of what I saw was amazing, but not as amazing as people said it would me. To me, it just was logical because that’s just how good storytelling goes. Like, if they didn’t make the choices they did, it would have detracted from the story.
And for being the most well thought character building is great. In fact, part of the beauty how each episode builds, and it also builds the whole series. Apart from the monster amount of filler episodes smashed together in season two. That should have been spread out much further across the story, my goodness.
But I admire its overall theme, most of all in today’s struggling world. If we demonize each other just because of some factor about us, what nation we’re from, what tribe we hail from, or what we look like, we’re only going to end up with a wounded world. We don’t have to necessarily let them hurt us more, but we can forgive enough to heal like Katara learns to do. We can learn to do what others think we shouldn’t like Aang. We shouldn’t be afraid to throw off whatever past we have to make something better like Zuko. We’re in a war-torn world. A war of words. And this lesson of moral ambiguity, forgiveness, and self-forgiveness and growth are the answers to help us heal.
Good job Netflix and whoever else decided now was the time to make Avatar the Last Airbender big again. Because this is the time when we need it most.