As both a writer and a movie nerd the idea of writing an epic story has always been attractive. It’s the scale of the thing, the scope of it that is so appealing. That you can create not a place but a world, and you can populate that world in whatever manner you like and from there it’s up to you what it becomes. Most epics are stories of conflict – good versus evil for most times – but there are some that are personal journeys and those can be the most interesting. Me, I have written an epic (unless you want to consider The Meep Sheep an epic, which I would take as a compliment) and that is the unpublished novel I have sitting around, and it’s sort of a a mix of both types, the story being about a man needing to find himself during a pretty big war. The epic story though is something that you cannot help but be drawn to as a fan of storytelling so it was a wonderful to discover, though a little late Avatar – the Last Airbender a show that has already run its course on Nickelodeon but which is one of the strongest works I have seen come from television.
Avatar is an animated television show that tells its story in three seasons, following a through-path all the way to the end in a way that so few shows seem to manage anymore. The story is of a young boy who awakes after one hundred years spent in ice after having run away from a duty he dreaded. The boy, Aang , is the Avatar, a chosen vessel that serves as a beacon of hope, wisdom, and unity in a world comprised of four nations (Fire, Water, Earth, and Air). In running away from his calling Aang left just before his people were killed during a search for him by the Fire Nation, who have dominated the world with an iron fist for the hundred years of his absence. Now more than ever the world needs Aang and the Avatar to bring peace and balance and to end the rule of the tyrannical Fire Nation but he cannot do this alone and must make friends and allies along the way and must face his fears and doubts to embrace what he is.
The beauty of the show is that it is that simple to sum up but that doesn’t even touch the depth of the series. What is essentially a show marketed for children has an appeal to all ages and embraces wonderful morals and teaching moments. There is adventure, treachery, deceit, redemption, the whole gamut and every main character goes on a journey of their own and evolves in a natural way. It was so fun to see a show that remembers and references its history and mythology. I think why I love the show so much is that it reminded me of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in that it takes its character, an average kid with extraordinary powers, and takes you on a transformative journey where everything that happens matters. Everything counts. And with both series you get moments of humor and silliness to break up the growing tension and sense of doom. It’s a brilliant balancing act that works far more times than not.
It’s hard not to admire any creator with the foresight and will to set a start and end goal for a project, especially when it becomes a popular and valuable one. It’s a rare ability that creative people need more of, to be sure. There are far too many ‘continuing series’ books out there that just go on and on, and the same is with television and movies. Sometimes you need to let the story end. And better is that Avatar gives you a satisfying ending that leaves enough ends untied to be fair to the story but finishes the story as well as you could ask.
It is so rare to find the magic of a show like Avatar that I am pretty shocked I never really got caught up in it earlier. It is only because my girlfriend is such a huge fan that I gave it a chance. It’s a shame that the film was such a disappointment to so many because it’d be interesting to see where that franchise went. I admit that the film lost a lot of the magic that made the show so special (the relationships, the little moments, and the side stories) but for an adaptation of something twenty episodes + long it did a decent job. Not perfect – some of the pacing is hard, and the name pronunciation is something Shyamalan should have nipped in the bud right away – but it’s a fun movie. Is it the show? Gosh, no. But, if you are a fan of any ‘literature’ that is being adapted you need to get over the idea that it’s going to be exact. That isn’t possible or feasible. So, is The Last Airbender perfect? Gosh no, but it’s a fun movie and not a disgrace, it just isn’t the show, which, if that’s all you want, then stick with it.
I cannot recommend Avatar – the Last Airbender enough. It is a show for all ages and is one that will stand the test of time and which you will want to revisit over and over again. And man is it nice to see such solid storytelling on television. It’s been a while.