So a couple of weeks ago, I came down with a bad cold. When this happens, I try to be strong, but usually I end up congested, cranky, and bored. Surrounded by books, mugs of half-drunk tea, boxes of kleenex, and my aging but fierce dog weighing down my feet lest I try to do anything shifty like get up and wander around, I laid in bed, grumbling quietly and bemoaning my fate.
Then I decided to poke halfheartedly through my streaming Netflix queue.
Lo and behold, it suggested Avatar, which several of my friends had been trying to get me to watch. I stared at the first episode with bleary eyes, and thought to myself, You know, this isn’t half-bad.
Several hours later, I’d downed half the first season.
There’s a lot to like about this series. It’s written for kids and aired on Nikelodean, but don’t let that fool you. In this universe, actions have consequences. Some characters fight, become injured, and later die. Bad things happen. But, unlike a lot of action-packed stories, there’s depth and humor, great characterization, the chance for mistakes and then redemption.
All that said, what the heck is it about?
Katara, a teen girl, is from the Water Tribe. She and her brother, Sokka, live at the pole and go out fishing among the icebergs. Katara is a waterbender, which means that she has an ability to manipulate the element water if she makes certain movements, but she doesn’t know how, because her tribe has been devastated by war. There are four people–Earth, Air, Water, and Fire, and everyone lived together peacefully until the Fire Nation got a wild hair and attacked everyone.
So, Katara’s tribe has only old folks, kids, and her and her brother left. Katara and Sokka go out fishing, and while they’re hunting, they find the lost Avatar.
The Avatar was supposed to keep the peace, because he can use all of the elements. But 100 years ago, the Avatar vanished, and war swept the world.
Katara and Sokka find the lost Avatar, Aang, who ended up trapped in a big iceberg. They decide to travel with Aang to help him master the elements and restore peace to the land.
But really, that’s kind of a cool, but standard plot. The characters are what make it great, though. Each of the characters who personify their elements show that element. Katara is kind and brave, and she sees the best in people . She’s water, so she reveals wisdom. Aang, the Avatar, has mastered Air and shows air qualities like humor but also flightiness. The Fire Nation character, Prince Zuko, is impulsive, but also passionate. Each of them has qualities that can be advantages of disadvantages.
The world building is thoughtful and cool. Each of the different elements is controlled by a different martial art. Water is controlled by Tai chi, for instance, whereas Fire is controlled by Northen Shaolin kung fu. Watching the different elements battle against each other is quite beautiful. The different elements live in different dwellings, so you eventually find varying kinds of benders in different climates.
I won’t spoil the story, which I still haven’t finished myself, except to note that you might want to check for plot points in advance if you want to avoid sad or depressing stories (if you’re showing it to a kid, for example).
But OK. I’m just going to be honest for a moment.
The real reason I love Avatar is that it has the coolest creatures of any show ever.
Flying bison! Bat eared flying lemurs! Badger moles! Saber-toothed moose! I often find myself asking, if I could only have one cool awesome animal from Avatar, which would it be? This has entertained me for hours. Should I get a dragon, or a ostrich-horse? Would I enjoy a flying koi or one of those swamp alligators?
Also? There are fox spirit librarians who scour the world for books and scrolls and knowledge and stories and take it to a hidden library deep within the earth, which is run by an owl. How is that not awesome?