Celebrating ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ in 2020

by Nathan Reiter
The four elemental bending arts are based on the four classical elements, water, earth, fire, and air, each being manipulated through certain martial art styles. Photo: Nickelodeon

Water. Earth. Fire. Air.

The four elements each play a critical role in Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender. The show originally aired in 2005-2008 and has been a favorite of many ever since.

According to imdb.com and viewer reviews, Avatar is regarded as one of the best television series of all time with a number twelve ranking. One of the strongest aspects of the show is the outstanding character development and the mature themes that are represented to younger audiences.

As you may have guessed, the show is called Avatar: The Last Airbender because the protagonist, Aang, is the last of the Air Nomadic People. Some of the themes the show tackles include sexism, war, genocide and elitism.

During Book 1 Episode 1: The Boy in The Iceberg, Katara and Sokka discover an iceberg during an argument and end up discovering the Avatar, Aang, who is the only person in the world who can bend all four elements and is able to bring balance to the world.

Katara and Sokka discover an iceberg during an argument and end up discovering the Avatar, Aang. Photo: Nickelodeon/Avatar: The Last Airbender
Katara and Sokka discover an iceberg during an argument and end up discovering the Avatar, Aang. Photo: Nickelodeon/Avatar: The Last Airbender

From the very first episode, there are mentions of sexism within Sokka’s character. The initial argument is with Katara and Sokka over a general sibling rivalry. Katara ends up fracturing an iceberg with her relatively novice water bending and brings the iceberg containing Aang to the surface.

In Book 1: Episode 4 “The Kyoshi Warriors” Aang, Katara and Sokka are apprehended by a group of female warriors that reside on the island. This is the main reference to sexism within Sokka’s character during the series.

Sokka is blown away that a group of girls were able to ambush the group. He treats them very rudely and like they are not capable of achieving this feat. In the episode, he visits the dojo where the warriors train and you can see his character evolve through the course of the episode. He is willing to learn the combat style of the Kyoshi Warriors and at the end of the episode, he even gets a peck on the cheek from the leader, Suki.

Aang, Katara and Sokka are apprehended by the Kyoshi Warriors, a group of female warriors. Photo: Nickelodeon/Avatar: The Last Airbender
Aang, Katara and Sokka are apprehended by the Kyoshi Warriors, a group of female warriors. Photo: Nickelodeon/Avatar: The Last Airbender

The show does a great job of taking these mature themes to all audiences both new and old which has made it a favourite among so many people. The Ba Sing Se arc showcases the negative elements of elitism and the Dai Le controlling the Earth King always felt sinister to me. The theme of having someone controlling a society and working against Team Avatar was very well done. The death of Jet was also done very well considering it was implied and never actually told to a young target audience.

Since of the start of the pandemic and the release on Netflix in the US, Avatar has seen a recent surge in popularity. On vulture.com, the show topped the Netflix charts on May 19.

The two main character arcs that exceed expectations are Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation and Avatar Aang. Zuko starts totally consumed in his ambition to capture Aang in order to repair his severed relationship with his father, Fire Lord Ozai, who banished him after a disagreement. Throughout the series, you see him change for the better. During Book 1: Episode 13 “The Blue Spirit” Zuko frees Aang from the captivity of Fire Admiral Zhao.

Prince Zuko starts off completely consumed in his ambition to capture Aang in order to repair his severed relationship with his father, Fire Lord Ozai, who banished him after a disagreement. Photo: Nickelodeon/Avatar: The Last Airbender
Prince Zuko starts off completely consumed in his ambition to capture Aang in order to repair his severed relationship with his father, Fire Lord Ozai, who banished him after a disagreement. Photo: Nickelodeon/Avatar: The Last Airbender

This comes at a bit of a surprise as up to this point in the series, Zuko is completely consumed hunting Aang and commits some reckless acts such as burning the island of Kyoshi and chasing him back into Fire Nation waters in the Winter Solstice episodes.

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Book 2: Earth represents a metamorphosis of sorts for Zuko. He is used to being a member of royalty and he has to experience the life of poverty on the run with Uncle Iroh as fugitives in the Earth Kingdom.

In the Ba Sing Se arc, Zuko has to make a crucial decision about siding with the Fire Nation. He begins to show signs of becoming the nephew Iroh wants him to be, but at the last second sides with Azula and betrays Iroh.

In the end, Zuko makes the crucial decision to turn against his father and everything he has ever known. Photo: Nickelodeon/Avatar: The Last Airbender
In the end, Zuko makes the crucial decision to turn against his father and everything he has ever known. Photo: Nickelodeon/Avatar: The Last Airbender

In Season 3, Zuko seems to struggle with the decision he made in Ba Sing Se, he constantly visits Iroh in the prison and becomes frustrated with the lack of advice he is receiving from Iroh, who is basically a father figure to Zuko at this point.

During the solar eclipse, Zuko makes the crucial decision to turn against his father and everything he has ever known. He makes this decision in order to teach the Avatar how to firebend, a crucial skill needed in the final battle.

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