Monday, October 4, 2010

'Avatar: The Last Airbender' Season One (2005)

Starring Zach Tyler, Mae Whitman and Jack de Sena
Created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko

Not to be confused with a small, little-known film with a similar name, Nickelodeon's "Avatar: The Last Airbender" is a fine animated series set in a world of elemental magic torn apart by a vicious, century-long war.  I've heard a lot about this series from friends of mine who swear that it is the greatest animated series to ever grace television.  I'm not so sure about that (though my friends also agree that the show's first season is not its best) but it is a pretty excellent series.

Katara (Mae Whitman) and Sokka (Jack de Sena) are brother and sister, members of the southern Water Tribe.  One day, while out fishing, they discover a large iceberg.  Frozen within is a young boy, Aang (Zach Tyler) and his flying bison, Appa (Dee Bradley Baker).  Aang is what is known as an Airbender, a group of people who can control the air (just as the Water Tribe can bend water, the Earth nation the ground and the Fire nation the fire).  But in the hundred years he's been trapped in the ice, his people were wiped out by the Fire nation, who have waged war on the other tribes of the world for the last century.

Katara and Sokka discover that Aang is also the Avatar - the legendary master of all four elements who will bring balance to the world.  But Aang is young; he has yet to master Water, Earth and Fire, and is often more concerned with having fun than with his responsibilities to save the world.  After the Fire nation's banished prince, Zuko (Dante Basco) learns of the Avatar's return, he sets out to capture Aang and use him to barter his return to his kingdom.  Katara, Sokka and Aang set out for the northern Water tribe, a journey that will take them across the globe, to find a Water master to teach Aang.

Their adventures will take them through the Earth nation and encounters with the Fire nation, pirates, strange creatures, old friends and new enemies.

The first season of "Last Airbender" is an entertaining and well-written series.  The animation is also quite good, and surprisingly consistent.  The characters are always well-proportioned and their movements rarely look cheap or poorly drawn.  The show has a number of cool and exciting action sequences, which are a bonus to the fact that the writing is pretty top notch.  Though the stories are often episodic in nature, there's also a sense of progression to the proceedings, and thankfully there's not much in the way of repetition.  That is, the show doesn't follow the same formula episode after episode, which would've left the whole thing feeling stale quite quickly.

There's a depth to the characters and stories that one doesn't quite expect from a Nickelodeon show.  Still, there's quite a bit of silliness here, meaning that "Last Airbender" is more of an "all-ages" kind of affair.  Older folks can appreciate the characters and the meaningful stories while the kids will enjoy the fast pace, humor and action aplenty.

Will I ultimately agree with my friends that this is the best series ever?  We'll see when I get through the second and third seasons.  Right now, it's simply a very entertaining show.