Avatar: The Last Airbender

Creators: Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko
Producer: Nickelodeon
Runtime: 2005-08
Episodes: 61
Rating: PG

Nickelodeon probably doesn't come to mind when you think of anime, but Avatar is one of the best and most recent examples of American anime, a combination of anime and American cartoon elements. Avatar has enjoyed immense success both as a series and as a story: not only did the series garner record viewers for Nickelodeon, but the Avatar franchise now encompasses a movie by M. Night Shyamalan, The Last Airbender, and a spinoff series which will premiere in 2011 called Avatar: Legend of Korra. Avatar enjoys prominence precisely because it masterfully executes a highly original story in a manner that surpasses virtually any anime.

The world is divided into 4 peoples: the Fire Nation, the Air Nomads, the Water Tribes, and the Earth Kingdom. Within each group are benders, persons capable of controlling the element of their people. 100 years ago, the world was thrown into chaos when the Fire Nation invaded the other peoples. Only the Avatar, master of all 4 elements, could stop them, but he vanished and many believe he no longer exists. Sokka and Katara, two members of the Southern Water Tribe, discover Aang in a frozen iceberg, and the adventure to save the world begins.

There is little that needs to be said about Avatar. Addictive, entertaining, and emotional, it is one of the best anime that I have seen and it speaks for itself. Avatar delivers a potentially cliche story - good vs. evil and a plot of world domination - with a twist that makes it revolutionary and captivating from the first episode until the last. The story is executed magnificently, with not an episode feeling out of place or superfluous. The series is incredibly fast-paced, especially in comparison to Japanese anime which tend to drag things out and thus result in less substance. Indeed, what is so impressive about Avatar is that it manages to pack in so much substance, so much story, and yet every bit of it is superb. I often found myself thinking that an episode was about to end when it was just at the halfway point, simply because so much had already happened, and still the story was always addictive. Is there any weakness to Avatar's story? You won't like Avatar if you aren't interested in the traditional good vs. evil/save the world plot, and at times (especially in the first season) the series can feel more like a cartoon directed at children than an anime that should be taken seriously. But if you are interested in the traditional good vs. evil plot, Avatar does it as well as, if not better than, any other, and the series becomes strikingly mature and even philosophical as it progresses.

Avatar's animation is certainly more toony than other highly rated anime. Still, the animation is at least attractive and enjoyable, though not as crisp as I would have liked. This is mitigated in part by the exceptional (and frequent) battles; Avatar's elemental world means the show is full of intense, creative element-based fights. Can fire defeat earth? Perhaps, but that depends on how you use it. The elements make for an especially refreshing "level-up" approach as the progression is less fantasy and dull (i.e., the hero gets the next magic sword!) and more logical (the water-bender advances by learning to bend water in different and more powerful ways).

The voice cast is among the best of any anime as well: the voices of Aang, Katara, Sokka, Zuko, Iro, Azula, just to name a few, fit their characters perfectly and really add to the overall quality of the show and the dynamic nature of the characters. The soundtrack is very well done, with tracks that really capture atmosphere (a number of which are Asian inspired), e.g., Agni Kai, Tsungi Horn, and others which are just beautiful, e.g., The Avatar's Love. The weakness of the OST lies primarily in its length - it is surprisingly short for a show this long - and in the fact that it is sometimes repetitive.

Avatar may be a hard show to sell to those in the anime community, but it really should be seen. It takes the elements of anime that are so loved by viewers, gives them an American tint, and executes them in a truly fantastic way. Avatar takes you in and does not let you go until the very end, has excellent rewatch value, and if you're like me, you will be sad to see it end.

Story: 9.8
Animation: 8.3
Sound: 9.0

Overall Score: 9.5 (Phenomenal)

Download Episodes

1 - The Boy in the Iceberg
2 - The Avatar Returns
3 - The Southern Air Temple
4 - The Warriors of Kyoshi
5 - The King of Omashu
6 - Imprisoned
7 - The Spirit World (Winter Solstice Pt. 1)
8 - Avatar Roku (Winter Solstice Pt. 2)
9 - The Waterbending Scroll
10 - Jet
11 - The Great Divide
12 - The Storm
13 - The Blue Spirit
14 - The Fortune Teller
15 - Bato of the Water Tribe
16 - The Deserter
17 - The Northern Air Temple
18 - The Waterbending Master
19 - The Siege of the North (Pt. 1)
20 - The Siege of the North (Pt. 2)
21 - The Avatar State
22 - The Cave of Two Lovers
23 - Return to Omashu
24 - The Swamp
25 - Avatar Day
26 - The Blind Bandit
27 - Zuko Alone
28 - The Chase
29 - Bitter Work
30 - The Library
31 - The Desert
32 - The Serpent's Pass
33 - The Drill
34 - City of Walls and Secrets
35 - Tales of Ba Sing Se
36 - Appa's Lost Days
37 - Lake Laogai
38 - The Earth King
39 - The Guru; 40 - The Crossroads of Destiny
41 - The Awakening
42 - The Headband
43 - The Painted Lady
44 - Sokka's Master
45 - The Beach
46 - The Avatar and the Firelord
47 - The Runaway
48 - The Puppetmaster
49 - Nightmares and Daydreams
50 - The Day of Black Sun Pt. 1: The Invasion
51 - The Day of Black Sun Pt. 2: The Eclipse
52 - The Western Air Temple
53 - The Firebending Masters
54 - The Boiling Rock (Pt. 1)
55 - The Boiling Rock (Pt. 2)
56 - The Southern Raiders
57 - The Ember Island Players
58 - Sozin's Comet Pt. 1: The Phoenix King
59 - Sozin's Comet Pt. 2: The Old Masters
60 - Sozin's Comet Pt. 3: Into the Inferno
61 - Sozin's Comet Pt. 4: Avatar Aang

Avatar OST

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