Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Monday, March 4
The Indiana Daily Student

arts review

REVIEW: ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ means even more to us now


On May 15 Aang rode his air scooter back into our hearts. All three seasons — or books — of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” dropped on Netflix and sent us back in time to the mid-2000s. I — Kevin — binged the show with my co-authors Tristan and Phillip. “Avatar” was just a cool show when we were kids. The animation was exhilarating. Appa and Momo were wonderful even though Appa’s gigantic, human teeth were horrifying. But revisiting the show as an adult reveals the show's complexity: the show poses massive questions about free will, destiny and fate and touches on the horrors of war and imperialism. “Avatar: The Last Airbender” meant a lot to us then, but it means even more 15 years later.

Warning: there are spoilers mentioned throughout this review.

Kevin: Earthbenders get a bad rep for whatever reason. But Book Two is the best season of “Avatar.” It features two of my favorite episodes: “City of Walls and Secrets” and “The Tales of Ba Sing Se.” 

“City of Walls and Secrets” chronicles Aang and the gang’s arrival in Ba Sing Se and their attempts to deliver important information to the Earth King. But layers of bureaucracy and corruption continuously stifle their attempts. Turns out, mentioning the war is forbidden in Ba Sing Se, and a secret police force, the Dai Li, brainwash citizens into thinking it doesn't exist.

“The Tales of Ba Sing Se” is an anthology episode. All of the main characters get their own vignettes, exploring their personalities and emotions. “The Tale of Iroh” and “The Tale of Momo” are the series at its best. “The Tale of Iroh” features Iroh running errands in the city before mourning the death of his son. “The Tale of Momo” details Momo’s quest to find Appa after dreaming of him and finding a tuft of his fur.

These episodes are my favorites because they exemplify the best aspects of the show. “City of Walls and Secrets” doesn’t shy away from the worst aspects of human life. The citizens of Ba Sing Se may not know about the war and the Fire Nation’s imperialistic quest to dominate them, but they’re still oppressed. Their own leaders have failed them. This episode localizes the conflict and gives faces to the citizens harmed by imperialism and unnecessary violence. It reveals that the nations not even directly embroiled in combat are still dramatically affected by fascism.

“The Tales of Ba Sing Se” is full of personality and intimate character moments. Iroh mourning the loss of his only son to war is harrowing and Momo dreaming about his lost friend still gets to me all these years later. “Avatar: The Last Airbender” is a classic, monolithic story. Each character is important. Appa and Momo are their own characters with thoughts and feelings, not typical, animal sidekicks relegated to comic relief. And Iroh, a character usually used as a goofy foil to Zuko, gets his own poignant moment.

Book Two delivers important messages and emotional moments with honesty and care and it respects its audience as it delves into the darker facets of our world.

Tristan: For me, rewatching “Avatar: The Last Airbender” is a return to a childhood that I’m starting to realize is gone. The way I perceive what happens and take in this show compared to when it first released is completely different, and that’s neither good nor bad. It’s just reality. 

The child in me is still amazed by the visuals. The artwork of the final battle between Aang and Ozia in part four of the series finale “Sozin’s Comet” is beautiful. But this story is far more than some pretty flames and bursts of air. 

Revisiting this show over a decade later allowed me to put together the messages it contains, and also appreciate the ignorance of my younger self. Part of me really misses the days when my biggest motivation for watching this show was to see Aang go beat up bad guys. 

But, my now 20-year-old self can appreciate the way the story develops, and I’m eager to dive deeper into this world further. I can’t justify spending more money to watch it, but at some point “The Legend of Korra," the sequel series to this show, is a must watch and I’d love to pick up the graphic novels at some point. 

I started watching the show with my girlfriend, Alex, and finished it with Kevin and Phil. Being able to revisit this with people I care about was a really nice touch. 

Twitter has blown up with memes and opinions on the show since its release, so here are a couple of mine. For starters, Aang and Katara together makes absolute sense. Yes, Katara and Aang have a strong, relatively non-romantic relationship throughout, but saying Katara is like his mom or older sister is exaggerated. Aang’s immaturity holds back their potential relationship for most of the show, but I’d go out on a limb to say defeating the most powerful ruler in the world at the time will help stomp some immaturity. 

Also, I won’t say he has the best arc, but Uncle Iroh is by far my favorite character in the show. The fat, tea-sipping old man is great comedic relief to pair with his hot-head nephew and banished Prince Zuko. Appa and Momo are a close second and third for me, but this show wouldn’t be the same without Iroh.

Phil: One of the biggest mistakes I made growing up was not giving “Avatar: The Last Airbender” the attention it deserved. I only watched sometimes when it was on TV but I never went out of my way to keep up with the series. But when the show was announced in April to drop on Netflix this month, I was beyond excited.

The first thing I did when it was announced was watch a clip on Youtube of every time Aang entered the avatar state. It basically ruined the whole show for me but I didn’t care. I’ve always basically known what happens in the show but that didn’t stop me from finishing all three seasons the weekend it released.

Kevin was a little worried about me when I told him I began Saturday finishing up season one but woke up Sunday morning already on season three episode six. I was captivated by the beauty of the show and was motivated to finish the season before my internship started. Looking back, I don’t understand why younger me didn’t like the show that much but I couldn’t be more thankful that I watched it now.

The show starts off pretty much for younger audiences and it’s a light-hearted show but it matures as the characters do and the stakes become higher. I also can’t stan Zuko enough. I hated him at the end of season two but the GROWTH of this man in season three was absurd. Aang couldn't have defeated the Fire Lord without Zuko teaching him fire bending. 

I also want to take time to appreciate the final Agni Kai between Zuko and Azula. It’s easily my favorite fight in the series. Azula usually has no trouble with Zuko throughout the show but he easily won this fight even though she cheated at the end trying to use lightning on Katara. He became the true Fire Lord that we all deserved at the end of it.

Netflix is adapting the cartoon into a live action series. It's hard to imagine the remake being as good as the original show but at least it won’t be difficult for it to top the horrific film adaptation. Please never watch the movie. It should be removed from existence and never spoken of again.

Get stories like this in your inbox