For this weeks review, I decided to bring back a nostalgic favourite for many around the world. Avatar the Last Airbender (ATLA) is something I grew up with as a child – for those who know it, I would love to let you know that I was (and still kind of am) a massive Zutara fan.
ATLA follows the story of a monk boy Aang, who is discovered after 100 years frozen with his flying bison Appa, by Water Tribe siblings Katara and Sokka. ALTA is the reincarnation story of those who can command all four elements to “save / bring balance the world” which has been in a war against the Fire Nation for 100 years, thanks to the drive of dictatorship.
I honestly believe it is something most children should watch or at least come across during their younger years. The show not only looks at morality but also things relating to the bigger picture, which in turn would help them later in life.
For example, one of the major things I love about their show is that everyone is flawed – including Uncle Iroh. The backstories and journey that the characters are given allow the audience to see how they change and grow, how good people can become bad people and vice versa. The reality is, no one was born a villain – a major example would be Hitler, and in fact, many artists have done with ATLA has also done; they bring back the reality that people like our main villain, Firelord Ozai (who plans on burning down the world to literally rebuild it from the ashes), is still someone’s child by showing a photo of him as a baby. There was shock even from the characters, where they just couldn’t understand how someone so ‘cute’ could become what he had.
It’s very similar with our ‘sub’ villain Zuko, who constantly tries to capture the Avatar (Aang) to “regain his honour”. We see him challenge himself with moments of good and evil, and how manipulation is key to changing the minds of people, especially when it hits a nerve – for him, it is the loss of his mother. In fact, it can be said that because of his uncle, Zuko’s initial nature was always to be good, always thinking for the best for his nation since he was a boy, however, in the words of Uncle Iroh, he “lost his way”. In the end, he comes to the conclusion that no one can give him his honour except himself, and determines that the proper way to do so is to not only teach the Avatar fire bending, but also to bring his nation back onto the right path as both he and the Fire Nation were misguided by his dictator-like father.
Taking a break from the bigger picture overall the entirety of ATLA, we also see the impact of smaller relationships between our main characters, and the impact they have upon each other. Such things can relate to maturity, tolerance, peace, sibling hood, and love, even when it’s not reciprocated. A major factor within ALTA is non violent resolutions and forgiveness, which children honestly need. I know when I was a kid I was very violent – kids are very physical children because it’s all part of exploration; it’s natural to get hands down and dirty. Exposing them to a different option allows them to grow and change to mature into adults.
What no one seems to remember, because of his maturity, is that Aang is still mentally 12 years old. He had no proper mentor to help him accept that he had to leave his life behind to become the Avatar, and on top of it, he ended up learning all four elements in one year. Think about it, most countries don’t expect kids to gain a sustaining job until they’ve at least reached adulthood, and this narrative asked for a twelve year old boy to literally take the world upon his shoulders or practically every other nation and person that wasn’t one of Fire would be either extinct or dead.
Each character is a role model to children and adults. Obviously we have Aang, but I feel like I’ve talked about him enough, same with Zuko.
We have Katara, our little child, so full of hope, who grew up to becoming not only our sassy, determined female character, but also a master of an art which was held back from her simply because she was a woman. Although she never really gets over the loss of her mother, she does become our motherly figure to the group which is both appreciated and irritating at times. Not only that, but she becomes a blood bender, the second in the whole universe! It’s because of this that we see a very dark side of her, but it’s what allows us to acknowledge that no one is entirely good or entirely bad.
Next to her is Sokka, her older brother who, yes is immature and goes through a couple of girls because he’s such a ladies man, but he is also an outcast who, unlike many of our main characters, has no bending powers at all. Not only does he express this, but he overcomes his challenges, expresses maturity, and eventually pushes his leadership from just his small ‘Team Avatar’ to battalions when it comes to taking down the Firelord. He also grows to be that big brother, and the sibling love between him and Katara is a fun relationship I’d die to have with my brother (it will never happen).
Toph is a breath of fresh air to people with disabilities because she is literally blind, but she admits that it hasn’t been a problem for her since she was able to over come her inability to see and use it to her advantage. She is one of the toughest characters we know in the ATLA universe, the inventor of metal bending, and admits that she does enjoy being a girl every now and then even though she has a tomboy attitude. Even though she lies and runs away from home, away from strict, overprotective parents – like every parent, really – she does admit she loves and misses them. Like Aang, Toph is still a kid. A logical kid who can demolish rocks with her head, but a kid none-the-less.
What’s even better is we grow with these characters not only in ATLA, but also in the Legend of Korra series. If I haven’t convinced you by now that it’s a good show, and that you have to watch it, then I’ve failed my fellow Avatards.
But please, for the love of god, just watch one episode.