Darius is a former high school literary and feature writer with a Bachelor of Science degree in Information and Communications Technology.
One of an All-time Cult-like Classics
If you're REALLY new to hearing or reading or knowing the show's title, "Avatar: The Last Airbender," also known as "Avatar: The Legend of Aang" and in the acronym of ATLA, it is one, if not the one, of the best animated television series ever created. It's an animated show in a children's channel, presumably infered as something made for children, yet in fact saying that it's only for children is quite an understatement simce anyone will love and enjoy the show, no matter the age and age range.
I have watched the series way back 2012-2014 in Nickelodeon, and I have always waited for it in the channel every Weekends. When they decide to have marathon of it, a full-on day--to-day showing, I never change the channel. It's one of those shows, books, art pieces that people are willing to get sucked into and are willing to go down rabbit holes of theories, fanfictions, shipping wars, and many more. Even long-time fans would literally invest their part of life. It's one of the shows that is especially revered in multiple forms of media, from written articles and analysis videos to physical conferences and a myriad of internet culture and weirdness.
There are even video games, comics, and literary pieces being made inspired by it. And as its viewers, popularity, and culture grew over time, it was also made (and being made), despite the backlash, into live-action movies. And because of its success, the creators also made comic books that are available for reading. They also made a sequel, "Avatar: The Legend of Korra," that deserves a separate featured spotlight.
Even when the resurgence of the intensity of the show's popularity and support, it was already a must-watch, distinguished, and worth-watched show on Nickelodeon during its premiere. The show would often garner millions of viewers per episode. And more people are still showing interest or are interested in the show. With the power of internet streaming services and social networking sites, the amount of hype that made the show's popularity skyrocket. And made it one of the greatest animated shows that have ever been made again and again. Oh, and it was also nominated and won awards, as well as gaining high reviews from critics, magazines, news media outlets, and many more.
The show also paved the way to blurring the lines between young and adult programming, themes, and featuring, largely and influencing and impacting how networks viewed animated programs during the 2000s, the 2010s, and the future, possibly leaving it as their legacy.
A Little Background
The animated show is co-created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, with Aaron Ehasz as head writer. The whole thinking of the idea all began in 2001 when Konietzko took his old sketching of a balding middle-aged man imagined as a child. He drew the character herding bison in the sky and presented it to DiMartino, who was at that time watching a documentary about explorers trapped at the South Pole. When you think about it, it could have taken them a lot of weeks, months, or even years to create such a show from their conceived ideas. But nope, because they successfully pitched it to Nickelodeon two weeks later. The show's pilot episode was made in 2003, it was a public teaser reel at Comic-con 2004, the first episode aired in 2005, and the show ended in 2008. Every now and then, Nickelodeon would show the whole series again for years. And in 2020, it has finally made its way to video streaming services like Netflix.
Inspirations and Influences
According to their 2007 interview in IGN, Bryan and Dante were really interested in other epic legends and lore properties, like "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings," but they knew that they wanted a different approach with those kinds of genre. Their initial inspirations were lead mostly by their love of Eastern philosophies, kung fu cinema, yoga, Hong Kong action, and Japanese anime.
Most of the art style and directions, culture, mythology, history, philosophy, etc. are heavily borrowed in East Asia and South Asia with the help of cultural consultants and calligraphers. The "bender" movements used in the show were also from various martial arts and practices. The music, scores, and sound designs used in the show were also developed from numerous Asian instruments. The show's art styles for locations and settings, and their endemic species, were also based on real-life locations and animals. The religion, philosophical, and spiritual cultures, disciplines, and practices of the show were mostly based on Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Yoga.
These are the four elements that make up the four nations within the show. Each with distinct history and culture, and are treated respectfully and creatively that they all seem both believable and fantastic. The worldlbuilding is written elegantly, unique, and epic that even the smallest of details are treated with care. From landscapes to urban cities, from plants to animals, from spiritual beliefs to philosophies, and even from culture to moralities, the worldlbuilding of ATLA is purely top-notch.
Characters, Developments, and Arcs
Characters play important and significant roles within the show, as most episodes are purely plotted and written beautifully to show each of their distinguished character developments and arcs. These characters are heart of the show, driving the story from where it begins until it reaches a satisfactory ending.
Not only that, but the representation of women, disabled, "broken," and profoundly wise characters are so on point. Each of them are undoubtedly powerful even if they all vary in personalities, skills, flaws, and appearances. They have their own definition of "strong" and "being strong," those that people can look up to and follow suit.
Genres and Themes
Notably, ATLA is an animated series that not only caters to children but also people of all ages. The show's overall genre is somehow subjective since each episode has its own. Most animated shows during its release were mostly on a floating timeline, non-serialized comedies where each episode can be watched even if you haven't watched the episodes before or after a specific episode. ATLA, on the other hand, bent this rule by treating their episodes as if they were chapters of a book. And each book was treated as the seasons of the show. This means that, like skipping several chapters while reading a physical book, you'll most likely miss things. And since each season is treated like books, each chapter opens up new information about the show, characters, world-building. Each chapter shown is at least needed to be watched and each book is needed to be finished for you, as its reader/viewer, to fully digest the immense feelings and satisfaction of being immersed in its intricate yet subtle structured storytelling.
And though comedy still revolves around the show, there are also elements of tragedy, fantasy, action, adventure, steampunk, and horror that particularly show for each episode. It's a roundtable of genres for each is a part of a grander story worth telling, juggling one after another, while still having the concrete capacity to have viewers glued on their television screens.
The show's capacity to break walls and open up new opportunities also doesn't stop from their structure and genres, but also with their themes. Episodes where war, colonialism, imperialism, class struggles, political instability, immigration, gender, race, the environment, propaganda, and even death are inserted within episodes that are easy for the viewers to notice, digest, and understand along with their causes and effects, the good and the bad implications they store in minimum and maximum scale. And though the whole show follows a "chosen one" trope, in the good versus the evil world, there is a lot of ambiguity between people, nations, cultures, and the fictional world itself to make us realize they are all, basically, just humans of elemental magic powers 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, among other words there is to say, 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 one time, but there are a couple of plot holes here and there. There are also "worst" episodes that if it weren't included, the whole show would still be as best. Characters have their own plates of having worst decisions made inside the show, it may be the main characters or secondary characters. Some of the fandoms and fan-bases, and some of its fans, can also be too fanatic to ignore subtle flaws within ATLA that they compare it with the sequel, comics, other shows referencing ATLA, and other shows about ATLA that they treat it like special glass not worthy of getting broken. But of course, those deserve several different spotlights to be discussed.
Overall, you may be missing one of the most influential, beautiful, and greatest shows ever made if you have never watched the whole series before. And if you do, you might be wishing to have your memories erased so you could watch it again and again. It's one of those shows that, despite its popularity, owns every bit of astonishment from new and long-time fans because all the reasons depicting why are persuasive and good. If you are not busy, or on a leisurely binge-watch, or just looking for another series to finish, then "Avatar: The Last Airbender" is one of the masterpieces out there worth your time and attention. Because, believe me or not, this series will blow your heart and mind for it is truly a masterpiece.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Darius Razzle Paciente
Darius Razzle Paciente (author) from Taguig City, 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.