Saturday, 3 July 2010

Avatar The Last Airbender, a good recent television cartoon? really???

Well, I was actually planning to write about the Scarlet Pimpernel today, but I had completely missed the new "The Last Airbender" movie had US release this week, as it will not be available for me in cinemas for another month, since this would be a Danish release, which both means I must wait for official European release (why even bother making the dates different, you are just enhancing internet piracy -_-; ) and they need to make subtitles and stuff like that.
So I think the slip is rather forgiveable, even though I am a major fan of the television show.
And because I am such a major fan, wouldn't it be nice to talk a bit about it?

Well, you know how people complain children's cartoon have gotten stupid through the last ten years, today people are constantly looking with longing eyes back in the 90's at such intelligent shows as "Batman the animated Series" "Gargoyls" "X-men the animated series" "The Red Diva" and other really cool stuff.
Even the more light hearted shows as "Darkwing Duck" "The Pinky and the Brain" and "Scooby Doo" which quite frankly seems like a bit of spoofs towards the huge serious mainstream, seems in the eyes of nostalgia far smarter than what the small kids are forced to watch today.
however, lets stick with the serious cartoons as "Batman" that I addressed first, this was some cartoons which took itself darn seriously, and give it all. to watch these shows you kind of forget it's a children's cartoon you are watching, and the moods, heart and effort put into it really smithereens. and even today stands up as a classic because of the great story telling and fantastic mood.

Avatar The last Airbender is also that good, it really is that good that you'll forget it's actually a children's cartoon you are watching. brilliant writing, animation and heart makes this an outstanding series. though also with a very light hearted element as jokes a littered out on the field and it's a show that is not afraid of making fun of itself.
It's also a show very well though through with a three seasons story arch and major character development throughout the story, no one leaves being the same as they entered. and stuff really happens, develops and is never dismissed. in that aspect, this show is actually even superior to Batman Tas, where there was hardly never any real character development, well would happen occasional, which is what made the show so great, but only on occasion.
It's the core of Avatar the last airbender. in the first season there is only like 3 or 4 filler episodes, rest is there to in a clear connection to the main story and main development, the second seasons lies most heavy on fillers with maybe half the episodes being so, while there are no fillers in the entire third season where everything comes together, it is a legitimate story arch.

So, well. summary I think. okay, that is pretty basic all though not the most uniqe thing in the universe.
We are in a fictional universe where the people are divided into four nations each having their own element. Air, Water, Earth and Fire.
Some people out of these nations are called "benders" and is capable to sort of bend the element representing their special nation, your born in the Earth nation you can inherit the gift to bend earth, your born in the wind nation you can have the gift to bend wind.
All though, around a hundred years ago the fire nation decided to be the third reich and conqueror the entire world.
Only one person would seem to have a chance to stop them which would be the avatar, a human incarnation of a guardian of the world, the only person who would ever be able to bend all four elements. only one avatar exist at the time, and when he and she dies the spirit will be reborn in a new human body. easy, so. but.
the Avatar have now dissapeared, and have been gone in a hundred years so the fire nation had free range to conquer the world, and is even pretty darn close to the goal now.
Sokka and Katara are these two water nation teenagers living on the edge of the south pole in a primitive tribe with few people residing as the fire nation already took away pretty much anything that could be dangerous about them. the men have gone and is most likeable even dead, when you leave a person like Sokka (teenager, thinks hi's an important leader, bad sense of humour, you know the type) you know your screwed.
Actually Sokka is a very smart and intelligent characters, plus he have an tremendous growth throughout the serious, anyhow. putting aside.

with me so far? good. so one day Sokka and Katara finds a little boy frozen into an iceberg and naturally releases him, as it turns out that little boy called Ang is actually the Avatar and have been stuck in that iceberg for the hundred years he have been missing.
Well great, we have the avatar back. the rest should be easy right? just make him beat up the fire nation a little and everything would be okay. WRONG!
problem is, that he is only a little boy and he can only bend that one element he grew up with "Air" plus he doesn't really have the mentally yet to be the great guardian and leader he is supposed to be. so the three of them together travels the world so he cab learn the remaining three elements and eventually defeat the fire lord.

Its a story that have been told a thousand times like before, the little boy who is "The one" with a tremendous power he cannot control but need to learn anyhow and need to become the leader in order to safe the world. nothing new about that at all.
What makes this so good is the way the story is told, the boy have personality and virtues he must over come, he is a pacifist and instead of just jumping morale dilemmas the show deals with them, a very interesting question which the show actually deals with in the darker episodes is when Ang now is such a pacifist, what is gonna do about the firelord when he faces him? while the pressure is one from everyone to just kill the firelord, its something Ang rather not do. plus it have the funny sarcastic light sight to it, with thrown in jokes everywhere and they are actually funny. even in the last big epic dramatic battle by the end of the third season, which is great and epic as should be, a little gag is thrown in where a fire soldier is sad that this his "The worst birthday ever"
No other show would throw in a gak like that, no show!

phew, okay. that's pretty darn straight and just out of the road but what the hell is that. when people review this sucker they actually tend to forget this little factor. because that major plot I just gave a summary off... is only half the main plot, we do in fact only spend like half the time with these three main characters. the other half of the time is where the writing gets really creative and unique, plus the largest developments happens here.
the other half of the time we spend with Prince Zuko, the son of the fire lord and his uncle.
hold one a second, the son of the fire lord? would that not make him the villain?
yeah, that's exactly what it makes him, and in the first season that is very much his purpose though strains of an anti hero is almost constantly present before in season two he pretty much is an anti hero.. character.. really hard the describe. but that's also what makes him so good and interesting. And he is a main character, otherwise we wouldn't spend that much time with him, it is literately half the time, and there are episodes where he have the greater focus. There are other villains who are more "the villains" in this show, in the first season it's commander Saroh, then it becomes Azula as the main villain, which is one Psychotic lady, and of cause we have firelord Ozai who is constantly spoken of from day one, and is therefore always spiritually present though first physical present in season 3, and that's just clever build up.

Okay, Zuko summary for season one. lets see if I can do this.
Here goes. Zuko is the firelords only son, though from the firelords point of view Zuko is nothing be a failure and a disgrace. after Zuko apparently disgraced himself some years ago the firelord actually banished him, and Zuko would only ever be allowed to return if he can capture the avatar. which he understandable become extremely obsessed about, and as the Avatar finally appears, his obsession grows as from his point of view he only need to capture Ang to make everything okay again.
Zuko is an extremely human character and multi layered. And for some reasons he is so likeable, I have no idea why. he is everything you normally hate in a character, he is loud, rude, obsessed, whiny, kind of stupid when regarding his obsession, sometimes self fish, dismissing and oh so extraordinary likeable. I don't know how the writers did it, the only reason I can think of that he is so likeable is because he is so human. all the emotions he goes through are extraordinary human and so is his obsession, plus his emotional and mental travel is of extraordinary and human proportions.

Again, this story have kind of been told before, and what makes it so great is that rather than avoid tough stuff and morales dilemmas, the writers go for it. Zuko makes bad decision throughout the show, but in other to realise does were bad decision and forcing him to do something about it, its a really interesting couple of episode in the end of second season start of third where he finally stands with what he thought he always wanted, but discovers that is not what he wanted at all, and he will now have to deal with it. And again, instead of having the writing avoiding such questions, they face them head on.
And no other character in history have been made that much fun with within his own show, the show is constantly making fun which him, which just goes to make him even more sympathetic.

And then new movie is coming out, what are my expectations? my expectation is that it will be gorgeous and beautiful to look at, I expect Bending battles between elements that will blow your mind because it looks so cool, as that is how it is in the cartoon, I need that in the movie.
but so much happen just in one season of Avatar that I do not see the story work to well without tripping over itself and cramp to much into small space.
The show have entire episodes dedicated to explain characters motivations and put up material that is vital later on, plus the show have created its very own universe with its own extremely unique rules. If they could make each season into 3 movies and in the end of the day have 9 movies, sure. I could see that happen and I could see it being awesome. but this is to much.
I will go and watch it though, the temptation is to great for me.

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