Review: “Avatar: the Last Airbender”

by Simran Khatri, Opinions Writer
photo courtesy of IMDb

When I began watching the series, I was not expecting much from the show. I figured the buzz around it was a cause of our childhood love of it and the nostalgia surrounding it rather than the actual quality of the show. From episode one, however, I realized this was not a mere trend but captivated me and kept me on the edge of my seat. Even “Tales of Ba Sing Se,” which was made merely to fill in a lapse between episode production, was fantastic and turned into one of my favorites, thanks to its discussion of individuality and  teamwork.

The show is set in a universe with four nations — air, earth, fire and water. Alongside the four nations and their associated benders — airbenders, earthbenders, firebenders and waterbenders —  which can control their respective elements are non-benders who engage in regular activities including trading, gambling or farming to make a living. From the first episode, viewers are transported to a world in which there is a century-old war between the fire nation and the other elements.

Though the fire nation is at its strongest point yet, having nearly conquered all the other elements, the Avatar, who is reincarnated and has the unique ability to master all four elements, is the only person who can return peace and balance to the world. 

Viewers quickly meet the current Avatar, Avatar Aang, who must master waterbending, earthbending and firebending, having been born only an airbender. Aang, accompanied by a waterbender named Katara and her brother Sokka, journeys through the world stopping forces of evil from wreaking havoc and learning about his unique role and responsibility as the Avatar.

In addition to relishing in the theme of balance as achieved by diversity and stability, I grew to love the show’s characters. Though each character has unique motivations and goals, my favorite characters were Aang, who not only has a fun-loving, bubbly personality, but who also must bear the responsibility of being the Avatar; Zuko, the main antagonist, who is headstrong and will do anything to get what he wants; Uncle Iroh, Zuko’s uncle, who is sweet, calm, brews great tea and gives even better advice; Katara, a passionate and strong-willed water bender; Sokka, who does not have any bending skills but knows how to fight; and last, but definitely not the least, Toph, who appears a little later in the series but is a favorite nonetheless because she is  hilarious and unafraid to speak her mind. Toph is also blind but can still see by her feet through the radiations around her. She is definitely an inspiration, showing that challenges do not bar success or one’s ability to express themself.

The show is filled with funny and clever moments but also touches on deeper topics, such as the loss of a loved one, the effects of war, the irony of age-old conflicts and love. Not only does it have bitter and sweet moments, but it also has gripping action sequences — all of which are hand-drawn — and each episode leaves you unable to turn away. The creativity of the show is honestly limitless. From the adorable and sometimes terrifying hybrid animals to the whole plot itself, with the Avatar striving to master the elements and bridge the gap between the real and spirit worlds, this show is simply iconic.  

One of the best aspects of this show is the music and how it reflects each character’s emotions; for example, Uncle Iroh singing “Leaves from the Vine” is one of the saddest moments, not only because of the animation but also because of the voiceovers and cinematography. The song “Avatar’s Love” similarly provides insight into Aang’s feelings beyond what words could ever express. Regardless of whether you like anime or not, “Avatar: The Last Airbender” is a must-watch because of its carefully thought-out composition, gripping plot and deeply relevant themes.