After a couple of exciting weeks featuring sports events like the NFL Draft, the NFL Schedule release, KBO’s season starting and a series of UFC fight nights, sports has come back to a lull. That means this is a great time to binge watch a new show while society remains in quarantine.
If you have already finished binge watching Snowfall, let me put you on to one of my favorite TV shows of all time: Avatar: the Last Airbender.
I know what you’re thinking, “A kids show, is this guy serious?” Let me tell you, this isn’t your average Nickelodeon show. In fact, even after a decade since it’s initial release, the show received plenty of hype when Netflix added the series to its’ library on May 15th.
Let’s break down why you should be binge watching Avatar: the Last Airbender on the second edition of ‘WTWDQ.’
Avatar: the Last Airbender, 3 Seasons, Streaming on Netflix
Welcome to an alternate universe, where the world is ruled by four nations; the Fire Nation, Water Nation, Earth Nation and the Air Nomads. Like the show’s intro describes, ‘the four nations lived in harmony until the fire nation attacked.’
While the show was created by American writers Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, there is a lot of Asian influence spread throughout the series. Even the way the characters are drawn are very similar to Anime shows, but don’t mistake this show an ‘Anime’ or die hard Anime fans will come for your neck.
Remember learning about World War II in high school? Well this show’s plot has a lot of similarities to what was going on in East Asia during that time period. Don’t believe me? Check out the map of the four nations.
The large land mass with a giant desert, multiple mountain ranges and a capital city protected by a giant wall is the Earth Kingdom, which is awfully similar to China’s landscape.
The Fire Nation, very similar to the Japanese, is a much smaller nation but believed they were greatest and wanted to spread their ideals to the different nations, fighting anybody who diagreed with them.
Before we get into the characters and story line, it is important to mention that each nation has their ‘benders.’ Benders have the power to manipulate their element using motions particular to real-world martial arts. Water benders use Tai Chi Chuan movements, Earth benders primarily use Hung Ga Kong Fu movements, Fire benders use Northern Shaolin Kung Fu movements and Air benders bend with Baguazhang.
From the way the cartoons dress, the food they eat and the mentioning of eastern ideologies like meditation and chakras, all put onto display the show’s heavy Asian influence.
Let’s get into the show’s main characters. Aang is the star of the show and is an airbender and, more importantly, is the ‘Avatar,’ the lone person in the series who can master all four elements. There is always one Avatar in the world and when that person dies, their spirit is reincarnated into another person of a different nation. Meaning there is a rotation so that Avatar is born as a firebender in one life, an airbender in another life, an earthbender the next life and so on and so forth.
Aang is just a 12-year old kid trapped in an iceberg until two teenagers from the Southern Water Tribe, Sokka and Katara, discover his iceberg and help him out. After the two discover Aang is the Avatar that has been missing for 100 years, the three agree to embark on a journey together to travel the world, master their crafts and fight back against the Fire Nation’s army.
It’s actually quite inspiring to watch these three young kids beat up bad guys, assist people in need and learn more about themselves and their abilities along the way.
Their personality types couldn’t be more different either, but they find a way to make their friendship work. Aang is much like the rest of airbenders; free-spirited, adventure-seeking and sometimes a little bit reckless. Sokka is a little arrogant, a hopeless romantic and sometimes a bit pessimistic, but he’s brave and more often than not, he provides the comedic relief of the show. Katara, on the other hand, is the most level-headed, curious, relentless and caring member of the group.
Like any great show, there is an antagonist with lots of layers and in this show, it’s Zuko. He is a hot-headed teenage firebender who relentlessly tries to capture the Avatar because he believes it’s his life purpose. But Zuko carries a lot of trauma around from his childhood and has a rocky relationship with his father (who doesn’t these days am I right), which makes you the viewer sympathize with him.
Unlike most shows, even the antagonist has an antagonist in A:TLA. Zuko’s sister Azula is one evil S.O.B. and makes you think every other villain you know was too nice. Not only is she a lethal firebender, but she’s wicked with her words and has the wit to outsmart anyone who comes in her way.
Of course, there are plenty of important secondary characters like Toph, who is a blind earthbender, but don’t let that fool you. Her other senses are heightened allowing her to be one of the stronger benders of the entire show. She joins Aang, Katara and Sokka on their journey during season two.
You can’t forget Appa and Momo either, Aang’s pet air bison and lemur. While they can’t speak, they have an unbreakable bond with the entire group and provide plenty of comic relief in a few episodes. Plus, having Appa around allows for the gang to travel from place to place faster since he can fly.
Last but not least, a personal favorite of mine, Uncle Iroh. The firebender is Zuko’s uncle and travels with him a good majority of the series. Iroh was truly ahead of his time as he is often giving great self care, identity crisis and spiritual advice to those he comes in contact with. Plus, his love for tea and relaxing make him one of the most lovable characters of the show. But make no mistake, Iroh is one of the strongest firebenders in the series and has a history filled with sorrow. He is a wise father figure that many of us viewers wished they had growing up.
In the midst of an ugly war, Aang finds himself having to mature a lot quicker than he wants to. Not only does he have to master all the elements, but he has to learn how to control his emotions and how to work with others.
Him, Sokka, Katara and eventually Toph meet plenty of people from all over the world to help them on their journey as they try to defeat the fire nation. Zuko and Unlce Iroh’s polar opposite personalities provide some great moments in the series too as they have their own journeys to figure out.
A:TLA has a little bit of everything for every type of viewer; it’s filled with plenty of action for all the action junkies, has multiple love stories to keep all the romantics hooked, hilarious moments where you can’t stop laughing and scenes that will warm your heart.
I remember when the show originally came out in the mid-2000s and it took the world by storm. It’s a shame social media wasn’t around back then because I would’ve loved to see what the reactions on Twitter would be like.
Nonetheless, I still find myself catching new things that I missed before watching this show as an adult. Come for the laughs, stay for the insightful wisdom. Come for the coming-of-age story, stay for the high adrenaline moments that keep you on the edge of your seat.
I know some of y’all still might be hesitant to watch a cartoon originally made for kids, but trust me when I say this: all of Netflix’s self-produced shows wish they were as good as A:TLA. So grab your popcorn and snacks and enjoy the show while it’s still available.
You made my want to watch it. I’ve been resisting for years, but now’s as good a time as any. Great article!