Avatar: The Last Airbender (TV Series 2005-2008)
Produced by Nickelodeon Animation Studios, DR Movie, JM Animation, MOI Animation, Titmouse
A world of four unique nations, each home to a style of the supernatural martial arts known as Bending, which itself is based on one of the elements: Water, Earth, Fire, Air. The elements, and therefore the nations which claim them, exist in a delicate balance with one another. Overseeing and guiding this balance is an individual capable of mastering all four elements: the Avatar. The Last Airbender takes place at time when the Fire Nation has gone on the warpath and has thrown the world seriously off kilter. Making matters worse for those of the three other nations, the Avatar has been absent an entire century with no sign of return or reincarnation.
This concept of war on such an epic scale certainly seems unusual for Nickelodeon Studios, and my first exposure to the series resulted in no real interest*. But as I was able to see more of Avatar and better-understand its characters I began to find myself enjoying it (more than I would have been willing to admit, originally).
Avatar'score characters include the carefree and impish Aang, pun-packing Sokka and his Waterbending sister: the motherly Katara. This main trio quickly find themselves threatened by the exiled Fire Nation prince named Zuko. As episodes come and go an extensive cast of characters, hailing from all kingdoms and walks of life, is introduced. I really enjoyed this large cast of characters, the ways they interact with each other and the ways in which they develop along with the story. Even the chattering, bellowing animals have loads of personality. Friendships, rivalries and romances are fun to see unfold.
Action can be dangerously-intense, quite circus-like and more often than not a combination of the two. Rimshot puns and slapstick moments momentarily lighten the mood of many fight scenes. Choreography on the Bending is fluid, with stances and movements of each element inspired by a different school of Kung fu. The absence of serious on-screen violence forces Avatar's hand, but the creators' manage to show many dire consequences of war nonetheless.
The animation (a task taken on by the South Korean studios JM Animation, DR Movie and MOI Animation) is very colorful. Many characters are drawn with exaggerated attributes, giving them all a distinguishable appearance. Settings portrayed in Avatar are equally diverse. There are rolling plains, seemingly-endless deserts, open skies, stormy seas, arctic villages, stone-walled cities and everything else in between. Inconsistencies spring up regularly in the television series due to the amount of wide shots, movement and scenes needing animation. Quality of animation on the DVD releases is degraded due to some aberration and low resolution (I'd gladly shell out some cash for a good HD remaster, *cough cough*). Generally the animation ranges from "pretty good" to solid. Production elements see a serious spike in the "Sozin's Comet" episodes (which serve as a great ending for the series).
Composed by Jeremy Zuckerman and Benjamin Wynn, working under the guise of The Track Team, Avatar'ssoundtrack is full of thundering drums, melodic chimes, hair-raising strings and rich blown instruments. None of the themes really pin themselves to memory, but they sound great and work perfectly with the series. Zuckerman and Wynn are also the ones behind the sound design of The Last Airbender, which may explain why the series' score and sound play off each other so well.
Avatar succeeds as an entertaining piece of storytelling. A 61-episode (massive by my own standards) series with excellent characters in an intriguing and quite-convincing setting. Nickelodeon may have pulled some punches, but their affect on The Last Airbender is dismissible.
*Note: My very first exposure to Avatar was the unwilling, repeated viewing of a season 2 episode. Over and over and over.
-2 Awful, ruined it
-1 Took away from the experience
0 Okay, didn't leave an impression good/bad
+1 Added to the experience
Personal Bias: -1