Well, about every two to three months, I suddenly get this powerful urge to write about how awesome Nickelodeon's Avatar: The Last Airbender is. This cycle is based upon Nickelodeon getting around to releasing the next disc of the show on DVD, which is on a rather slow schedule. But, I'm addicted so I don't really mind.
Avatar is interesting for a couple reasons. The first thing that I think is interesting about it is that it is basically a American version of your typical action-comedy anime. However, and this might be just because I'm American, it's a lot more enjoyable than the typical Japanese action-comedies. So, basically we have some American dudes who decided that anime was cool, but dubbing over and editing Japanese shows was lame, so why not just make a really awesome American anime. And so that's what they did, and Avatar was the result.
The result is a rather odd hybrid of American comedy and sensibilities with a more anime art style. Personally, I think it comes out very well. The fight scenes are well choreographed and exciting, but so are the visual gags that you just can't find in typical animes.
However, the main reason that I enjoy Avatar and find it so interest is not at all related to the whole Western-meets Eastern concept. It's interesting because it's a really good show. It deals with tough themes at a very uncompromising level. It deals with loss and responsibility and friendship, but not in the same way that these types of things are dealt with in shows like Naruto or Bleach. During the vast majority of the show, it's a group of young friends traveling together, feeling as though the fate of the entire world is on their backs. And they have to watch as so many adults have given up hope or are simply incompetent. They are confronted with an unhappy world every day and they can only lean upon each other. And they do. This group feels much more like a close-knit family than most versions of this story.
The world in the show is another major highlight. It's obvious from their travels that the world is falling apart. Even in the areas that the real bad guys haven't reached yet, the situation is dire. Everywhere that the friends go, things are going badly. And it's not always because of the Fire Nation. I like that. The problems in the world aren't created by just one group. The average people who are suffering need help to solve problems from bandits or unhappy spirits or corrupt leaders or even their own ignorance or apathy. There are evil people in all the cultures (except maybe the Air nation, they might all be good guys if they weren't all dead).
Even more important than the theme of evil everywhere, is the theme that everyone deserves saving. Everywhere the Avatar goes, he helps people. Even as he is slowly traveling deeper into the heart of the Fire Nation itself, he is helping people in need. And he's meeting good, innocent, average people as well. Just as there is evil in all cultures, there is good in all cultures. And, good or bad, they deserve to be rescued.
It's nice to see that kind of theme on a kids show. Even though it's clear that the leader of the Fire Nation is evil, it doesn't mean his people are. I think that's an important lesson to teach our children (and to learn for ourselves, for that matter).
But, what I really like about it are the bad guys. They are so much better than the typical anime bad guys. I mean, they get to be characters for goodness sake. The Fire King is heartless and evil, but the war he inherited wasn't started by a wholly heartless and evil man. Even his evil and heartless (and rather cute) daughter Azula recognizes that she is a monster and perhaps feels some remorse for the fear in the eyes of her followers (when she's not relishing it, of course). Of course, the best bad guys are Zuko and his uncle.
Zuko is awesome because he is such a mirror of the Avatar. They both have physical markings that make them immediately identifiable. Zuko's scar is his constant reminder that he was disowned by his father and his quest to kill the Avatar is his only way to earn that back. Aang's marking is a reminder that he is the last surviving Air Bender and everything that the Fire Nation took from him. They both are travelling and helping people (admittedly, Zuko is just helping people on his travels to find and kill the Avatar, but he's helping people nonetheless).
Zuko is fun because he is capable of being good, and yet his need to regain his cold, heartless father's respect pushes him to fight the Avatar. And his conflict with himself is a large part of the show. He does so many good things, but when it comes time to face the fact that he knows Aang is a good guy and his father is a bad guy and he shouldn't let his father rule his life, well, we're still waiting for him to make the right decision on that one. In the end, I expect that Zuko's actions will play just as large a role in saving the world as Aang's.
Also, I'm pretty sure it goes without saying that Uncle is pretty much the most awesome character on the show. It's too bad that Mako died, since his voice was perfect for Uncle.
So, yeah, it's nice to finally get that off my chest. Avatar is amazing. It's funny and enjoyable, but it's also a lot deeper and more aware than nearly all the kids shows I've ever seen. I know it's target audience is like, probably ten years old, but it's got content that goes a lot deeper than that.
In the end, though, I really like Aang. I like that he has such power and that he is using it to save both the people he meets and eventually the world. I like that he blames himself for the state of the world because he ran away from his responsibilities as an Avatar once and he will never do so again. He's accepted his destiny, because he's the only one who can stand up to the Fire Nation.
In Live Free or Die Hard, Bruce Willis talks about how sometimes somebody has to stand up and be "that guy". Aang isn't destined to save the world. He's only destined to have the potential to save the world. But he's standing up and being that guy and not looking back.
And that's a great main character.
That is all.