Darius is a former high school literary and feature writer that loves reading books, listening to music, and watching movies.
Birth of a Masterpiece
If you have never heard of Avatar: The Last Airbender, also known as Avatar: The Legend of Aang or ATLA, you should know that it is one of the best animated television series ever created. It's an animated show that originally aired on Nickelodeon. Many would assume the show is mainly catered to children, due to its parent channel being heavily reliant on far younger demographics. However, that presumption would be selling this series short. Anyone will love and enjoy this show, no matter what their age is.
While the series originally aired between 2005-2008, I watched the series way back in 2012-2014 with reruns on Nickelodeon. I always looked forward to this show on the weekends. When they decided to have marathons of it, I never changed the channel. It's one of those shows that people are willing to get sucked into and go down the rabbit hole of theories, fan fiction, and shipping wars. It was easy for fans to invest part of their lives into these debates. There are dozens of articles and videos out there that analyze every detail of this series. It is common to see Avatar events at various conventions.
There are even video games, comics, and literary pieces that are inspired by Avatar. As its viewers and popularity grew over time, it was eventually adapted into a live-action film. There is also a sequel series, Avatar: The Legend of Korra, which deserves its own separate spotlight.
A Little Background
Avatar would often garner millions of viewers per episode during its broadcast run. It has also won many accolades, including a Primetime Emmy Award. With the power of internet streaming services and social networking sites, the show's popularity has only gotten bigger.
The show paved the way for blurring the lines between young and adult programming. It had an impact on how networks viewed animated programs during the 2010s and beyond. And with it, those may be the biggest legacies this show left behind for future animated series to follow.
Avatar was co-created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, with Aaron Ehasz as head writer. The idea for the series all began in 2001 when Konietzko took an old sketch of a balding middle-aged man and reimagined the figure as a child. He drew the character herding bison in the sky and presented it to DiMartino, who at the time was watching a documentary about explorers trapped at the South Pole. When you think about it, it could have taken them weeks, months, or even years to create a show like this from their ideas. However, it only took them two weeks to successfully pitch the show to Nickelodeon.
The show's pilot episode was made in 2003, a teaser reel was shown at Comic-Con 2004, the first episode aired in 2005, and the show ended in 2008. Nickelodeon would periodically broadcast the whole series through the years. In 2020, the show finally made its way to video streaming services like Netflix.
Inspirations and Influences
According to their 2007 interview with IGN, Bryan and Dante were really interested in other epic franchises like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, but they knew that they wanted a different approach with that genre of storytelling. Their initial inspirations came from their love of Eastern philosophies, kung fu cinema, yoga, Hong Kong action films, and Japanese anime.
Most of the art style, culture, mythology, history, and philosophy in the show are heavily borrowed from East Asian and South Asian cultures with help from cultural consultants, creatives, and calligraphers. The "bending" movements used in the show were also from various martial arts and practices. The music, score, and sound design used in the show were also developed from numerous Asian instruments. The show's art styles for locations and their endemic species were also based on real-life locations and animals. The religious, philosophical, and spiritual practices in the show were mostly based on Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Yoga.
There are four elements that make up the four nations within the show: water, earth, fire, and air. Each has its own distinct history and culture. They are all treated respectfully and creatively, which makes them all seem both believable and fantastic. The worldbuilding in the show is elegant, unique, and epic. Even the smallest of details are treated with care. From landscapes to urban cities, plants to animals, spiritual beliefs to philosophies, and even cultures to moralities, the worldbuilding of ATLA is detailed and top-notch.
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Characters, Developments, and Arcs
The characters play important and significant roles within the show. Most episodes are beautifully written to show each of their distinguished developments and arcs. These characters are the heart of the show, driving the story from the beginning until it reaches a satisfactory ending.
The show features a strong representation of female and disabled characters. Each of them is undoubtedly powerful, even if they all vary in personalities, skills, flaws, and appearances. They each have their own definition of strength that people can look up to.
Genres and Themes
ATLA is an animated series that not only caters to children but also to people of all ages. The show's overall genre is hard to pin down since each episode can be a different genre. Most animated shows during its release were non-serialized comedies where each episode was independent of each other. ATLA, on the other hand, broke this mold by treating their episodes as if they were chapters in a book.
And each book was treated as a season of the show. This means that skipping some episodes will have you out of the loop in regard to the narrative. Each episode opens up new information about the show, the characters, and the world. Each episode needs to be seen to fully understand the character's motives. You need to see each episode to understand the intricate yet subtle storytelling.
While the show still features some comedy, there are also elements of tragedy, fantasy, action, adventure, steampunk, and horror. It's a roundtable of genres that come together to tell a grander story.
Episodes cover various themes such as war, colonialism, imperialism, class struggles, political instability, immigration, gender, race, the environment, propaganda, and even death. These themes are covered in a way that makes it easy for the viewers to notice, digest, and understand their causes and effects. And though the show follows the "chosen one" trope, there is a lot of ambiguity between people, nations, cultures, and the fictional world itself to make us realize they are all just humans in a war-torn universe. These themes humanize almost every character in the series as you discover their passions, interests, histories, backgrounds, affairs, moralities, philosophies, and motives throughout three seasons.
Truly a Masterpiece
Of course, we don't want to sugarcoat everything here. The show itself is very awesome and worth watching more than once, but there are a couple of plot holes here and there. There is the occasional episode that misses the mark, and some of the decisions that the characters make will leave you scratching your head. Some of the fans can be overzealous as they choose not to recognize these flaws. These are critiques that need their own spotlight.
Overall, if you haven't watched Avatar, you may be missing out on one of the most influential, beautiful, and greatest shows ever made. If you have seen it, you might be wishing you could have your memories erased so that you could watch it for the first time again. It's one of those shows that has rightfully earned its praise and popularity. If you are looking for another series to binge, then Avatar: The Last Airbender is a masterpiece that is worth your time and attention.
© 2020 Darius Razzle Paciente
Darius Razzle Paciente (author) from Metro Manila, The Philippines on October 28, 2020:
I'm glad you loved it, Ivana! :)
Ivana Divac from Serbia on October 27, 2020:
Ooh, I absolutely adore ATLA, your article made me so happy! Thank you for sharing your insight, I loved every word you wrote.