February 21, 2005.
The day that the legendary TV show Avatar:The Last Airbender (A:TLA) debuted on Nickelodeon. Now, you might be thinking, what’s so cool about a kid’s cartoon show? But, from it’s beautiful cultural representation to how it introduces mature themes in a lighthearted way, I can say with 100% certainty that A:TLA has forever made its mark as one of the greatest TV shows of all time.
I’m sure that all of us have heard the iconic intro of A:TLA one way or another:
“Water. Earth. Fire. Air.
Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony. Then everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked.
Only the Avatar, master of all four elements, could stop them. But when the world needed him most, he vanished.
A hundred years passed and my brother and I discovered the new Avatar, an airbender named Aang, and although his airbending skills are great, he still has a lot to learn before he’s ready to save anyone.
But I believe Aang can save the world.”
To provide a brief summary, this TV show takes place in a world divided into four different nations that are based on elements of the world: Water Tribe, Earth Kingdom, Fire Nation, and the Air Nomads. In this universe, there are people who are called Benders, who are able to control and manipulate the element of their respective nation. And as you probably read from the opening, the Avatar is a person who is able to control all 4 elements. Aang, who is an airbender and happens to be the last one of his kind, is discovered in an iceberg (along with his amazing sky bison, Appa) by Katara, a waterbender, and her brother Sokka, who are members of the Southern Water Tribe. The Water Tribes take inspiration from Inuit, Yupik, and Sirenik Eskimos (which can be seen in their attire and their living conditions), and waterbending is a clear parallel to the Chinese martial art Tai Chi!
Because Aang was discovered to be alive, since it was widely believed that the Avatar had died (because Aang was trapped in that iceberg for 100 years), Zuko, the prince of the Fire Nation, along with his wise Uncle Iroh are on the hunt to find the Avatar and reclaim Zuko’s honor. To provide some background, during the time when Aang was in the iceberg, the Hundred-Year War raged on, allowing the Fire Nation to take over many parts of the world. The Fire Nation is a very well done portrayal of real-life imperialism, and firebending takes inspiration from the Northern Shaolin martial art.
Along the way, they encounter many different types of people, including a talented earthbender named Toph, a skilled warrior named Suki, and Azula, Zuko’s younger sister who is a firebending prodigy and a manipulative mastermind, along with her two friends, Mai and Ty Lee.
Of course, the things that I have described in this review is only a brief summary of this show and only scratches the surface of what this show has to offer. It explores how to live with the loss of loved ones, with Katara losing her mother to the Fire Nation, understanding inner turmoils when deciding your identity, which is shown in Zuko’s beautiful character arc, and even dealing with other historical events, such as underground brainwashing and corrupt governments. Yet, despite the various themes and dark occurrences that this show goes in-depth about, A:TLA still manages to capture the attention of viewers from all ages, while still having a detailed, well-written plot intertwined with the illustration of various cultures. I really cannot stress enough how much I love this show, and being able to rewatch it on Netflix after years and years of not remembering it was an amazing experience for me. So please, if you haven’t seen this show, I am urging you to watch it, and I hope that you too can embark on this journey as Team Avatar works together to save the world!!