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I went into this knowing almost nothing except that people said it was amazing.
I grew up out in the wood without cable. And by the time I finally had Nickelodeon, I was probably aging out of the right age bracket for Avatar: The Last Airbender. So I completely missed the boat on this one.
That said, I’m always down a great fantasy narrative, no matter the target audience or medium so when I heard this beloved show was coming to Netflix I made sure to put it on my “to-watch” list. I’m about halfway through now and can’t believe I missed this the first time around.
Here’s what I love about the story so far:
- Big Storytelling for Little Kids—The best thing, by far about Avatar: The Last Airbender is that Aang’s story is a big one. One of the things that often makes “kids” stories unenjoyable as you grow older is a lack of complexity. By the end of each episode, all problems are neatly resolved and packed away. Not so with Avatar, where the storytellers were brave enough to even do cliffhangers between episodes. The challenges are ongoing, and while the story is indeed episodic with short adventures for Aang, Katara, Sokka, Toph, and all the rest each episode, there is a larger, overarching plot that ties it all together.
- The Art—Every frame is like a piece of art. The inspiration the animators took from historic pieces of art is clear and makes for a beautiful world that the characters get to live in.
- Uncle Iroh—the memes alone are enough to love this zany, tea-sipping old general. But his wisdom, light-hearted outlook, and the balance he brings to scenes with his serious nephew make him a memorable character.
- A Redemption Arc in the Making—This is the one thing I really did know about Avatar before sitting down to watch. I heard there was a great, series-long redemption arc. I’m a real sucker for a bad guy who wants to be good: Severus Snape, James “Sawyer” Ford, Jamie Lannister. Now I can add Prince Zuko into the mix. His scenes thus far have been the most powerful and moving of any of the characters, particularly in the season two episode “Zuko Alone.”
- Appa—and all the creative animals. Perhaps my most favorite fantasy stories are those which are grounded in the traditions and imagery of the real world, but which tweak it slightly. This is true of Avatar: The Last Airbender, where the animals are all composites of real life animals or a bit off, like six-legged bison Appa. Appa’s attitude, loyalty, and graceful flying earn him love as one of the goodest of bois.