Friday, April 19, 2013

Avatar: The Last Great Nick Cartoon

Ok, so admittedly it’s been a couple years since I watched Nickelodeon so feel free to correct me if I’m missing out on something amazing, but up to the point I was watching their programming (which mind you was well after Avatar had ended) there just didn’t seem to be the same quality of shows available. I mean what ever happened to shows like Doug and Rugrats? These were great shows that make my childhood worth being nostalgic about. Maybe it’s just that I’ve gotten older, but the shows just don’t have the same allure they once did. Avatar: The Last Airbender was, at least for me the last great show nick aired.

The Three Seasons of Avatar
A truly original show Avatar: The Last Air Bender follows Aang and his friends as they journey to different locations across the world to find bending masters to teach Aang the four elements so that he can stop a war that the fire nation had been waging for over 100 years.

The series touches on a number of different beliefs but focuses in most heavily upon Buddhism (as the Buddhist monks were the inspiration for the air benders) and also touches on the concept of reincarnation at least for the Avatar (a being able to bend or manipulate all four elements [air, earth, fire, and water]).

The world is divided into four different nations each built around a particular element; the Air Nomads who lived in four temples built high in the mountains, the Earth Nation which controlled the majority of the western continent (at least originally), the Fire Nation inhabiting the eastern continent, and the Water Tribes located primarily in the North and South poles.

While the Avatar is not the only person capable of bending the elements, he is the only one who can bend all four and not everyone is able to bend even one. This creates an interesting dynamic for the show as the benders are constantly targeted by their enemies and those who can’t bend any of the elements are typically disregarded as not a threat, a mistake that on several occasions proves to be the downfall of the antagonists.

Ultimately Aang must master the four elements within a certain period of time in order to stop the war before the Fire Nation achieves total victory.

While the animation is a little sketchy at first (ok you caught me, it’s a terrible pun. Let’s move on) it improves rapidly over the course of the first few episodes and remains at its peak throughout the rest of the series. Each of the nation’s populace is drawn to reflect a different people group giving the series a believable diversity often lacking in cartoons and anime.

A special note must be made for the superb detail the animators put into researching and drawing the motions associated with the different bending styles. A unique form of martial arts was chosen for each of the four elements and used as the basis of the associated bending motions that not only created a unique style for each of the nations but contributed to the rich culture built into each one.

As is appropriate for a series ending battle, the animation during the final few episodes was absolutely incredible (and on an unrelated note, so was the soundtrack selection for these scenes). You could almost feel the energy splashing off the clashes between the combatants and just barely hitting you through the television screen (or maybe I had the volume too high. Who’s to say?).

The Movie
Just look at his face, even he thought it was bad.
Airbender was possibly the worst movie I have ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of terrible movies (my parents loved making me watch old [seriously old] B movies). It’s just a travesty what was done to the series through this movie. As the movie is the primary means through which most of our culture has experienced the Avatar: The Last Airbender series, many people won’t give it a chance because they think it’ll be just as bad as the movie. This is a shame as the series is incredible. I don’t know what Mr. Shyamalan thought he was trying to do, but I seriously doubt if he watched more than three episodes of the series before he made the movie. Here are my major complaints in brief:

1. The pronunciation of Aang’s name (seriously, we all know how to say it, and that wasn’t it)
2. Cultural choices for each nation (the Fire nation isn’t even remotely Indian and the Water Tribe are supposed to be Inuit)
3. Combination of Jet and Haru (just remove one if you need to cut screen time, don’t combine them)
4. Portrayal of bending (the element moves as your moving; the motion isn’t a combination for “unlocking” the move)

There’s more, but honestly it was just a bad movie and for certain directors it seems to have been a bit of a career ender. Now for those of you saying “it wasn’t as bad in 3D,” I understand your need to console yourself for having paid extra for such a terrible movie, but yeah, it was still just as bad no matter how many dimensions it was filmed in (though probability suggests that in at least one universe the movie was great, so there’s some hope there.)

Avatar: The Last Airbender is an amazing series well worth your time. I beg you if you’ve not seen it, to not judge the franchise by the sham of a movie created by someone who apparently could have cared less for the series, but rather make your decision based on what the series itself actually has to offer. Just give this wonderful animated world a chance to find its place (as it has in mine) in your N3rd C0rn3r.