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What in the Name of ...?

Things I Don't Understand About the World

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My Thoughts on Avatar, Let Me Show You Them, Part I
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  My Thoughts on Avatar, Let Me Show You Them, Part I:  


Water, Water Everywhere, But Not a Drop to Drink


So for those who were not previously aware (which is probably just about all of you), I frequently moonlight as a camp counselor, which means many, many hours with the 4- to 10-year-old demographic.  They spend a lot of time talking about the shows they watch, so occasionally I like to do some research.  That’s why I review kids’ programming almost entirely.  After hearing A LOT about Avatar: The Last Airbender from the small people and Tea Fellow (who is not a small person), I decided to track the series down.


And before I say anything about the plot, characters, setting, art design, dialogue, or rabid fandom, I have to talk about how freakin’ hard it is to find the show.  Not because Nick doesn’t show it, but because I don’t have regular access to a TV, I don’t want to shell out big bucks for the DVDs, and Viacom is a raging bitch about people putting the stuff online.  The only episodes I could find at first were the last five of the series: “The Ember Island Players” and the four episodes of the finale.  So I watched “Ember Island Players,” not realizing how amazingly non-episodic the show was.  I had no idea what was going on.


They did have a “Previously on Avatar” section, but all it seemed to explain was that... someone... had a house on Ember Island and that Ember Island is the answer to all life’s problems.  Well, that was helpful.  Thanks, editors.



"I used to be a villain, but now I’m not.  Welcome to the show!"


I decided to unconfuse myself by sitting down one weekend and watching the entire series from beginning to end.  I don’t recall why this seemed like a good idea, but I do seem to remember that the marathon started at about 1 in the morning, when everything seems like a good idea.  As a result, certain episodes and events are very fuzzy in my memory.


Since the series is neatly divided into three sections, my discussions will be, too, but I can’t promise I’ll avoid spoilers.  This won’t be an official review, really, but just my thoughts on certain aspects of the show.  Starting with the


Design and Setting: Sort of Asian or Something


The series is not set in our world, but in an Asian-sort-of-ish world, where everyone can manipulate, or “bend,” air, earth, water, or fire.  Um, ‘kay.  The pseudo-Asian atmosphere seemed a little... weird to me, especially in my 1 am watching of “Ember Island Players,” mainly because it wasn’t very consistent.  Firefly had more convincing Asian influences than Avatar.


This is really evident in the names.  Aang sounds pretty Asian, and Sokka is reportedly from the Japanese phrase “so ka,” meaning “I understand.”  But Katara?  It’s a pretty name, but not Asian in the slightest.  And Suki?  The only other person I know with that name spells it “Sookie” and spends most of her time listening to Lorelai Gilmore spout pop culture references.


"I can’t wait to change the spelling of my name and help a
bald, tattooed kid save the world."


Now, to be fair, we got more consistently Asian names such as Piandao, Ty Lee, and Song later on, but we still got the occasional lapses of judgement such as Ursa, which is Latin for “bear.”  Uh-huh...?


And since we’re on the subject of names, let’s talk about our




The titular character, who is both the Avatar and the last airbender.  More on what that means later.  He’s a goofy kid with a round head and funny-looking tattoos.  He spends much of the first season wondering that the hell he’s supposed to be doing, and getting very little help from anyone else because frankly, no one knows what he’s supposed to be doing.  “Stop the Fire Lord!”  “Great!  How?”  “No clue.”  He’s a vegetarian pacifist, but this doesn’t really get a lot of attention in the first season.


Aang’s best friend/crush/pseudo-big sister/pseudo-mom.  She’s the Avatar equivalent of Topanga from Boy Meets World: a self-righteous, feminist hippie with great public speaking skills and a lot of hair, who somehow manages to be really likeable.  She doesn’t fight very well, but damned if she doesn’t try.  At least in season 1.  In the later seasons she kicks major butt!


If Katara is Topanga, her brother is Eric.  He’s the goofy older brother type, who likes girls and tries really hard not to make an idiot of himself, but doesn’t always succeed.  Sokka’s smarter than Eric ever was and seems to have great technical abilities, but doesn’t always use them as well as he could.  I’m often caught between wanting to slap him on the back and call him a moron and wanting to give him a big ol’ hug and tell him to shut up.  I clearly have some Sokka issues.




This guy rocks some of the silliest haircuts in history, including one my sister and I used to use on our Barbies.  We called it “the Rainy Hang.”  He spends most of his time throwing things across the room and chasing down Aang, who he is determined to catch to regain his honor.  Zuko is obsessed with his honor, to the extent that even the show mocks it.  He actually is an exiled prince and has a pretty interesting history, but does emo in all the wrong ways.


I put him in the antagonist section for lack of a better place to put him, because in season 1 he does spend a lot of time chasing down Aang with Zuko.  But he doesn’t do it because he wants to actually catch Aang, but because he wants to support his nephew and has nothing better to do.  He spends his time dodging the stuff Zuko throws and drinking tea.


Is that how his name is spelled?  He’s really only in season 1, so I kind of forget about him.  He’s evil and blustery and neither he nor Zuko is a true villain, but answer to the never-seen Fire Lord.  Still, in season 1, Zhao is the closest thing we have to a truly evil guy, because we’re supposed to at least partially relate to Zuko.


Supporting characters:


She’s really only in one episode in season 1, but she keeps showing up in later seasons so I thought I’d mention her.  She fights with sharp, golden fans and is totally white.  This girl is not even close to Sort of Asian or Something.


Katara with a bad dye job.  Yue likes Sokka, but she dies and turns into the moon.  Sorry, Sokka.


He starts as a heinous, sexist jerk who won’t teach Katara to waterbend, but he gets over himself once he realizes that Katara is the granddaughter of his former fiancé.  When did this become a soap opera?


Old crazy guy who used to be friends with Aang when they were little kids.  He has poor fashion sense, but kicks major butt.


Like Suki, he doesn’t do much in season 1, but shows up again in later seasons, at which point he is rocking some pretty ridiculous facial hair.

Jet and his Gang:

Jet tries to be James Dean, but fails.  His Gang tries to be interesting, but fails.

Momo and Appa:

I didn’t put them in the protagonist section because they have no dialogue, but they’re in pretty much every episode.  Appa flies, and Momo has big ears.  And that’s pretty much it.


The story:


So basically, people can “bend”, for reasons unknown, and there’s an Avatar spirit that is reborn once every generation in one of the four nations, for reasons unknown.  The Avatar can “bend” all four elements, because he or she’s a badass like that, but has to relearn in every life, which is not so badass.  A hundred years or so before the series proper begins, the guy in charge of the Fire Nation becomes a greedy jerkwad and tries to take over the world.


Of course!


Of course, M. Bison!  So while the shit was getting real, Aang was conveniently trapped in an iceberg, and the Fire Lord killed all the other air benders because, as previously stated, he’s a total jerkwad.  Then Katara accidentally freed Aang, and now Aang has to learn to bend the other three elements and stop the Fire Lord, the end!


Season 1 is about as episodic as you ever see in the show, especially early in the season.  Some of the episodes are stronger than others, mainly because the show was finding its footing, which can be said of any show.


Except Firefly.  Firefly is God.


I’ll be back soon with more rambling thoughts on Avatar and other shows, but until then, sit tight, keep it real, and avoid the Rainy Hang.


It just looks dumb.


I’m Ellie Sparks.  I don’t have to remember it because it’s all brand new.

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Season one (like lots of other season ones) sucks dodgeballs.

I agree, it's not anywhere close to the level of the others, but you have to watch it or the other seasons make no sense. Who's Suki? I don't know! What's the deal with the moon spirit? I don't know! Why is that old guy so crazy and wearing such a stupid outfit? I don't know! Let's see how else they try to confuse me.

Are there episodes that really, really suck? Yes. I see no redeeming qualities in "The Waterbending Scroll," "Jet," or "The Great Divide," and actually a quick look tells me that the three were all released right in a row. But I do like the revelations in "The Storm" and the bit about choosing your own destiny in "The Fortuneteller." And Zuko gets to be pretty cool in "The Siege of the North."

Tune in next time when I discuss Toph, Zuko's hairstyle progression, and the annoying shipper battles.

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