Mon. Apr 15th, 2024

Photo: “Avatar: The Last Airbender” Poster via IMDb

Long ago… the world lived in harmony over their love for “Avatar: the Last Airbender.” Everything changed when a live-action show was announced. Only the fans, masters of all fandom, could stop them. But, when the world needed them most, we still let them come out with this.

As an avid fan of the animated TV show, “Avatar: The Last Airbender” (2005), I was hesitant when I heard of a new show announced back in 2018. Most fans had heard of or watched the infamous “The Last Airbender” (2010) movie and were equally as terrified as I was. Having tried once before, it seemed almost baffling that they would try again.

There was also hope. The creators of the original animated series were helping with the direction, and they would be staying as loyal to the fans as much as possible. Until of course, the creators left the project, and the small hope that people had immediately vanished much like the Avatar.

Now that the show is out, I figured it was right to talk about this show and what exactly went wrong with it.

Chapter 1: Characters

I would like to first bring up the characters because people are the biggest fans of them. If the characters are not done properly, then the whole show is awash. I am happy to report that there were no white actors/actresses playing any of these roles made for POC. Additionally, the characters’ names are pronounced correctly which is a nice touch. Their dialogue isn’t as stilted as in the movie either, so there are plus sides.

To be fair, the show tries very hard to stick closely to the source material. Zuko is probably the most well-done character in this show along with Iroh, and the actors sell their relationship and their emotions. They touch on Zuko’s past and show its backstory, they have the soldiers on his ship as more prominent characters and they execute Iroh’s story by showing his son’s death and playing the theme of “Leaves From The Vine” in the background. The show actually moved me in these moments, and these were very well-done scenes.

However, some of the other characters fell flat for me. In the “Avatar: The Last Airbender” fandom, there are a lot of jokes about how Zuko constantly says “my honor” or how Katara talks about her mom all the time. Though in the show, Katara rarely ever speaks of her mother and there are very few flashback scenes. Instead of Katara talking about her mom, we see Sokka constantly whining about how unimportant he is and how much responsibility he has for taking care of everyone else. While these are valid struggles that Sokka goes through in the three seasons — because there are only eight episodes here — it becomes super apparent when it feels like every episode of the show is just Sokka complaining about how useless he is or his responsibility. (Also, he’s not funny. Seriously, the timing of these jokes is just bad. Also, he’s kind of a player?)

Similarly, Aang also faces a similar struggle, where he constantly talks about how he doesn’t know what he’s doing, that he’s just a kid and how he let everyone down. When 50% of the show is other characters telling him he needs to let the past go over and over again, there might be a problem. Aang and Sokka are more than just their problems, they are also kids. So let them have jokes and silly conversations — otherwise, it loses its silliness and its childishness that was there in the original show.

Additionally, they forget about Appa and Momo a lot (also Momo almost dies, like what?) and sometimes I wonder what they’re doing when the entire Gaang is kidnapped. Sometimes I’m more interested in that storyline, to be honest. Speaking about the storyline…

Chapter 2: The Plot

The plot is just as important as the characters, and in eight episodes, they need to take us from Aang being a boy in an iceberg to the Northern Water Tribe, with at least some training in waterbending.

But, um…he doesn’t learn to waterbend? What?

And why is the cave of two lovers happening already? Why are they happening without Aang there? Did they just want to sing the “Secret Tunnel” song? (Which, to be fair, was awesome.)

It seems as though they combined multiple episodes instead of keeping them stand-alone as a way to keep as much of the original source material as possible. This isn’t always the best course of time, and you can see it very clearly in some aspects.

In two episodes, Koh, the face stealer, steals Katara and Sokka. Aang goes to the Fire Nation to meet with the old Avatar Roku, then proceeds to get kidnapped by June, then taken by Zuko, then kidnapped by Zhao, and then reclaimed by Zuko, and then finally makes his way back to Sokka and Katara and frees them from being captured. 

That is a mess of a storyline. This happens a lot when they start to blend multiple episodes to try and cram as much of this story into the show. 

Chapter Three: Callbacks

As mentioned previously, there are plenty of callbacks to the original show in this one as well. I believe the “Secret Tunnel” story was there so that they could sing the song even if it didn’t make sense for the plot. 

While having some callbacks is great and can show an audience that you care about the source material and appreciate the show, if it doesn’t make sense with the plot, then it seems like the only purpose for it was to show how much they knew.

Having scenes with Koh was great because people loved Koh the face stealer, but having this creature as a villain that Aang needed to defeat instead of a complex, terrifying character who gave advice at the perfect time, is something they added to give more screen time to such a lovable character.

This is worse when you remember how Aang never learned to waterbend, how they never showed Katara working with Master Pakku and how they just told us that she was a master waterbender because she looked at some waterbending forms. They brought in so many callbacks and references to what happened in the original show, but they failed to ground the basic storyline of it.

Chapter 4: Conclusion

There were many aspects that I enjoyed. The bending was phenomenal, the sets were gorgeous, I enjoyed the cinematography, I appreciate the attention to detail in every character wearing the same clothes and I think that the show isn’t bad. When the show works, it really works, such as the scenes between Zuko and Iroh.

But there are still huge issues with the writing and the storyline that fans of the show are worried about. There is some promise to it — as many people have noticed — and this is leaps and bounds better than the movie. It just hurts to still see the many mistakes that many people were hoping would have been learned from by now.

Although we do not know for sure whether a second season of this show will be announced, I believe that the fans can save the show.

 


Sanjana Vinjamuri is a third-year Psychology major with minors in Media & Culture and Creative Writing. SV976724@wcupa.edu

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