But I believe Aang can save the world.
February 21, 2015 6:47 AM   Subscribe

Ten years ago today, two teenagers found a boy and his sky bison in an iceberg, and Avatar: The Last Airbender began. Set in a world where people can control one of the four elements - fire, air, water, and earth, the Avatar is the one being who can control them all, reincarnated life after life to bring balance and harmony to the world.

The creation of Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, The Last Airbender drew upon fully fleshed-out characters, stirring music, and Japanese-inspired animation to convey the serialized story of Avatar Aang, siblings Katara and Sokka of the Southern Water Tribe, Toph Beifong, and the rest of Team Avatar as they faced off against the Fire Nation and the evil Fire Lord Ozai. And, in the process, changed our world as much as theirs.

Starting with a 15-minute pilot shown in November 2004, The Last Airbender had three books (Water, Earth, and Fire), a series of shorts, comics, theme park rides, Lego, a card game, plush toys, and video games (although not without controversy). The show developed passionate fans, who expressed themselves through cosplay, fanart, and fanfiction.

The popularity of the show brought the franchise to the attention of M. Night Shyamalan, who claimed to have fallen in love with the show while watching it with his children. However, his casting choices met with some controversy, replacing a multichromatic world with ...well... And as fans grew angrier and they dug deeper, a letter-writing campaign grew into a movement, advocating for underrepresented groups in Hollywood, and protesting against the whitewashing of characters. Luckily, the movie was a bomb.

In the deafening silence of the movie’s utter failure, fears that it signaled the end of the Avatar universe were allayed by a new series on the horizon. Set 70 years after The Last Airbender, and with detailed family trees, The Legend of Korra had four books (Air, Spirits, Change, and Balance) about the next Avatar in the cycle, Korra. Despite Nickelodeon forcing it to online release, and a last-minute clips show, the show endured and Korra ended not just with a dramatic finale (as recapped on FanFare), but with a canonical same-sex relationship.

Avatar: The Last Airbender is available on Amazon Prime and Netflix. The FanFare rewatch, starting with Book 1, Episode 1: The Boy In The Iceberg started today.

Happy birthday, Avatar.

Major kudos to Katemonkey who helped with the drafting and did the lion's share of work collecting the links for this post!
posted by Atreides (52 comments total) 111 users marked this as a favorite
Amazing! Thank you so much for putting together! The avatar series are simply modern day classics
posted by The1andonly at 7:30 AM on February 21, 2015

This is a fantastic post! Thank you, amazing work.

This is my face right now
posted by Ziggy500 at 7:33 AM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Katara vs Master Paku is my favorite thing in any animated show or movie ever.

In reboot crazy Hollywood...I hope TLA gets a reboot soon because it could be a monster hit in the right hands.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:36 AM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

What a fantastic post. This is proper.

Ten years. I watched this religiously with my then little kids. The 2-part final was all we talked about the in the weeks during and after. We all totally cried when it was over. They are all big now. Nostalgia. Sighs.

I'mma go hug my grown little babies now and tell them they are all still awesome airbenders.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:47 AM on February 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

I didn't know it was the anniversary! I just finished watching Legend of Korra and it was great. Really good stuff.

g(uvira was my favorite character, I don't care what anyone says, she's amazing.)
posted by Xany at 7:50 AM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I never know what to say in these threads!

My personal and professional involvement in ATLA were both so hilariously intense. I was simultaneously an active and medium-prominent member of the fandom community (running LJ rpgs and writing 120,000 word Ba Sing Se AUs and drawing enormous piles of fanart) and a productive cog in the official licensed tie-in machine (scripts for 60-something pages of comics through Nick Magazine, co-writing two graphic novels) and it's honestly hard to say which of those lives had a greater impact on who I am today.

This is probably also as good a time as any to say -- now that there are no longer any professional consequences for myself or other folks that I'm working with -- that I'm actually the person who set up that Aang Ain't White LJ. Not that....anyone cares anymore? Which is a great time to start talking about it, from my perspective. Back then it was all this HUGE DEAL, with friends and colleagues all freaking out at me on the phone that I was going to TORPEDO MY CAREER if I wasn't careful, and now...? Just another footnote in a list of links in a roundup post.

I really wish that I could be on board for Korra. Maybe if I come back to it in a few more years, after the initial frustrated disappointment has faded, I'll be able to appreciate the things it does well without being quite so furious about its weaknesses and failures.


It's been an extremely strange eight or so years for me, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:05 AM on February 21, 2015 [48 favorites]

Because I have a podcast for everything, Song Exploder recently did an interview with the composer/dissection of the song used in the last scene in Korra. They talk about the last scene, but there aren't any more spoilers than what was mentioned in the post.
posted by KernalM at 8:17 AM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Luckily, the movie was a bomb.

What movie? There was no movie. The movie does not exist.
posted by imnotasquirrel at 8:28 AM on February 21, 2015 [14 favorites]

...am i the only one who liked The Legend of Korra more than the original ATLA?
posted by ELF Radio at 8:29 AM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Sokka shot first. I love your username :-)
posted by Annika Cicada at 8:29 AM on February 21, 2015

About the movie... there's a post from a purported member of the film crew which argues the movie's failures weren't so much M. Night's doing.

Unfortunately, that post is behind a login. There are some other places on the net where it's been reproduced, but maybe this should be one of them:
M Night really was the only one who knew the show and what he was doing (the first draft of the screenplay? gorgeous. hence Bryke giving him the okay). The producers, who are actually in charge of at least 80% of production including casting.... not so much. They clearly never bothered to watch the show, nor had the ghostwriter who did the final screenplay.

Nicola was hired because she's the daughter of someone one of the producers owed a favor to as Hollywood loves its nepotism. (Her audition tape was subpar at best). In having to cast her they had to cast a guy who could pass as her brother - hence Jackson. His audition was actually pretty good. He's a funny guy and had clearly seen the show. Too bad the producers felt the movie didn't have time for intentional humor and cut all that out of the script. Noah was the only one who honestly openly auditioned and was chosen based on talent. He just needed extra help acting because with a lot of it being green screened he was talking to air a lot of the time. Experienced adults have a hard time doing that let alone a kid.

If you recall they initially signed on Jesse McCartney as Zuko. Why? Because otherwise the lead actor roster would be "starring: two unknown kids you never heard of and that guy who played a minor character in Twilight!". And then someone with a brain realized "wait a minute this show is kind of anime-esque and we're hiring a bunch of white kids. Um.". So what did they do? Because they couldn't can Nicola without someone being really ticked, Jesse willingly bowed out and went with another project offered at the time. Even still, they still needed a big name to draw people in but it couldn't be another white kid. Dev Patel just gave an Oscar-winning performance and was willing to sign on. And in getting him they had to make the rest of the Fire Nation match. Which is why it turned into heroic white kids VS evil brown people (which was intentionally unintentional).

And then it was horribly budgeted. The opening at the SWT all nice and pretty in Greenland? Cost big bucks. And then they realized with a story about people manipulating elements that couldn't be believably done with in camera practical effects. So they had to rebudget and gave most of the money to ILM for post production. You go from the beautiful SWT to everything looking dingy because everything else was shot in Pennsylvania. The Fire Nation Royal Palace? An old high school in Philadelphia. Parts of the Earth Kingdom (including Kyoshi Island which got cut)? Reading, PA. And everything that was the NWT.... some sets built in front of giant green screens in an old emptied aircraft hangar in the outskirts of Philadelphia. Yeah.

And ILM was rushed despite most of the movie's look being left up to them. And you had novice directors hired by producers to oversee that process. That's how come the pebble dance happened. Sadly at that point M Night was just tired of arguing with the overheads, gave up, and collected his paycheck. If you look at the movie's premiere and red carpet footage you can tell his excitement and happiness is fake. Bryke had little say in the film despite being listed as executive producers. That title was a fancy way of saying that they created the show it was based on and they're still alive so they need some kind of nice credit. The actual producers didn't know what they were dealing with and were only interested in a quick buck. Bryke and M Night gave up on the film around the same time for same reasons. The other people working on the film were a pain to deal with and Nickelodeon themselves only wanted the final product as quickly as possible and the money it would presumably make them.
posted by weston at 8:30 AM on February 21, 2015 [7 favorites]

Avatar: The Last Airbender is available on Amazon Prime and Netflix.

It used to be on netflix (streaming, usa) but was dropped about a year and a half ago. It is all on amazon prime, though, as well as seasons 1-2 of korra.
posted by advil at 8:30 AM on February 21, 2015

...am i the only one who liked The Legend of Korra more than the original ATLA?

No, but now we have to fight with broken bottles in an alleyway.

But seriously they're very different! I'm not surprised some people like Korra more, their strengths are pretty dissimilar in many ways.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:31 AM on February 21, 2015 [5 favorites]

M Night really was the only one who knew the show and what he was doing (the first draft of the screenplay? gorgeous. hence Bryke giving him the okay).

I don't want to get into a whole giant derail about this but:

1) I know that person from fandom and I would not describe her as a reliable source and I'm really angry that this post of hers has been passed around so heavily.

2) I have a physical copy of the original screenplay for "The Last Airbender" in my house, which I have read in its entirety multiple times, and it is rambling and amateurish at best.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:33 AM on February 21, 2015 [13 favorites]

Yeah, I'm skeptical about that person's account. M. Night Shyamalan's own comments about the movie-that-doesn't-exist didn't help his case, e.g. this is what he had to say about Nicola when she was cast: "I told the studio I didn't want to make this movie without her. I said that only once before in my career, and that was when I met Haley [Joel Osment] in the Sixth Sense auditions." I know that producers and directors lie all the time to put a positive spin on stuff - it's not like he was going to say, "Yeah, she kinda sucked but her dad's a billionaire hedge fund investor, so what are you gonna do?" - but what Shyamalan had to say about Nicola is not the sort of polite fiction you say when your arm's being twisted into casting someone.
posted by imnotasquirrel at 8:57 AM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

I really wish this show had come out when I was a kid, rather than seeing it as an adult. You know the scene where Zuko stands up to the Fire Lord, tells him to his face what a terrible father he is, and basically calls him out as a child abuser? If I had seen that when I was twelve years old, my whole life could have turned out differently.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 9:06 AM on February 21, 2015 [18 favorites]

I think in ATLA there was this sensee of joy and confidence which,while wavering at moments, was pretty strong (though I haven't seen the whole series). But Korra was heavier, darker, and there was less certainty about getting through all of it or that things could be made right again.

Aang was joyful boundless hope despite all odds pointing to the contrary but Korra faced things that are much more REAL to people facing adversity-- the reality that you might not be able to make it all better, suffering,pain, inner torment, confusing about whether fighting for compassion to reign is even the right thing or wanted in the world, doubt whether compassion even matters or is just another function of our self absorbed existence that we think it exists or matters at all-- altruism as narcissim?maybe you should stop trying to care about people and go home because you'll do it wrong or the drive you feel about the cause is just your own selfishness; alterations to your core person than never be made the same- while she pulled through any way- it was a painful forced and uncertain willingness to go on without any certainty things would get better or even that her purpose was as true or powerfully important as it felt- and it was much less fun to watch. It provided viewers with much less wish fulfillment and less of a sense that hero's are people to be envied when they are forced to grapple with horrible things. A lot less 'watch the magical powers save the day' and a lot more,'maybe we can't even be saved even with magic'.

One of the things I feel LOTR did well in that regard as well- not pretend that people forced to endure suffering and to do heroic deeds are always better off for it in the end or that it was some great thing to go through where they are filled with cheer and joy at the end of it. I felt like the end of Korra with "Oh I see it all happened for a reason" was a little weak. Honestly I wish they'd given her more of a Frodo send off-- you're allowed to hurt, you will have the finest support that can be given-- and yes the walk off into the spirit world with your love. It was close to that, I just could have done without the "And this experience was good for you to have" which kind of tarnishes the vision of creating a world where people DO NOT have to go through horrible suffering to have meaningful fulfilling lives or to self-actualize or develop deeper compassion or understanding.

I do think in some ways, series that make adversity seem fun or like a right of passage that great people must go through to be great, do some degree of disservice to the human condition and almost CREATE a need for suffering in the lives of people- they feed narratives we all know are popular among people about how it all happens for a reason, no pain no gain, and you needs storms to have rainbows and stuff that, honestly I don't think is true, I think often suffering just sucks and people's lives are worse for it. It may be an understandable coping mechanism to believe it's all part of some big great thing- but I think the suffering part is not the point of any purpose I want a part of. If some "purpose" is torturing and killing people so that some of us get to feel like heros, that's a lame "purpose". Sometimes these narratives inspire us to leave others in suffering or deliberately choose to create societies where people are enduring a lot of hardship and pretend there's something noble about it.

Anyway I really like what they did with both series. Even if it doesn't make sense, keeping laughter and joy through adversity is definitely helpful and can bring light to the worst of times. Remembering that it's very normal and human, to not feel that light through all adversity, is also a good thing. I think.

Also even at my most atheistic- and as an agnostic I range pretty far either direction in hoping and wondering-- I think the sense that there is force of compassion within life itself, even if it creates IT"S OWN purpose, I think we feel it and we know somehow it matters and unites us, I think the popularity of so many series like this show us that within many many humans there is a deep and powerful desire for love to reign in the hearts of all,and that things are much better in the world when it does. It's a powerful message and I think both series did a good job of portraying it and keeping it alive in the hearts of we actual real humans. Even if there is not a drop of magic in this world of matter and energy ruled by impartial unfeeling physics- I know magic exists because somehow in this cold and brutal realm, a powerful force of love and compassion has arisen in defiance of that merciless force of reality we exist in. It defies the brutality of our vast and seemingly unresponsive world of matter that is unmoved by suffering or desperation-- within us, the living-- there is a spark of something I think is indeed, quite magic.

And I think, it's fun to at least hope, there might be a lot more to that than we yet realize. I like to hope the magical power of love will get strong enough to save us all one day.
posted by xarnop at 9:09 AM on February 21, 2015 [5 favorites]

Having been familiar only with the M. Night Shitshow of the movie, color me intrigued. So how old should kids be to introduce them to this world?
posted by gottabefunky at 9:23 AM on February 21, 2015

Oh thank God everyone likes this.

I only crashlanded into this world recently, although it was always in the periphery, due to online friends of mine heavily involved in the initial Racebending protests. I was always "Yeah, yeah, avatar something something fire nation attacked whatever".

Then it was available on Amazon Prime. And I figured "Eh, what the hell." And I enjoyed it and watched it. And it was good times.

I admit, I'm more of a Korra fan than an Airbender fan, but so much of what I love about Korra is because of Airbender. I love knowing what happened with Aang and Katara. I love the Beifongs (all the Beifongs all the time!). I love Republic City and knowing it came from a Fire Nation colony and how these crazy little kids grew up and changed the entire world and made it better.

Yeah, I love Korra and Asami and the airbabies and all the new characters, but I love thinking about Tenzin spending time with his dad and Lin learning to metalbend and Uncle Sokka and Bumi and...

Ugh. FEELINGS. Okay?
posted by Katemonkey at 9:29 AM on February 21, 2015 [6 favorites]

When they come back in a couple decades to talk about the recent/current "Golden Age of Television" I expect to spend a portion of my free time making sure ATLA is on the list.
posted by putzface_dickman at 9:50 AM on February 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Now that the dust has settled on Korra, i can look back and see that the things that held it back and damaged it -- the uncertainty of renewal, most of all -- made it a bit more interesting and unique. (The horribly pat ending of Book I still makes my blood boil, of course -- think how much better the series as a whole would be if, say, Korra didn't get her bending back, but was able to deal with Amon using a combination of just airbending and getting the citizens to see what he really was? And having season two begin with Unalaq helping her get her other bending powers back, as he was the only waterbender at the time as skilled as Amon?)

But then the creators blew their wad on Book II, making it as big and cataclysmic as possible, assuming it might be the last hurrah. So we get a story about saving the whole Earth from the Avatarverse Devil and a thousand years of darkness. But since you can't save the world again, they really had the freedom to make Books III and IV smaller, smarter, and more personal. Neither Zaheer nor Kuvira was going to blow up or conquer the world, which made their arcs so much more interesting.

Book III of Korra, in particular, is achingly perfect. When your bad guy is a flying Henry Rollins, you can't go wrong.
posted by ELF Radio at 10:28 AM on February 21, 2015 [7 favorites]

oh, what a great post. Thank you!

My kids grew up watching TLAB, we watched the series from start to finish across many rainy weekends. It is ingrained into our lives.

Recently we sat down as a family and watched all of Korra. We loved the series, though missed the lightness, child-like joy of the original series. Still a great series. So many strong female characters (in both series).

I took the kids to see the movie, but left feeling depressed and angry. Gah. How could someone completely misunderstand and the series? Regardless of comments about the heavily edited script and horribly misplaced casting, there was a fundamental misunderstanding about the tone of the animated series. There was literally no joy or humour.

Happy ten years!
posted by greenhornet at 10:30 AM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

"I honestly cannot fathom having the entire show available to you and not watching it all immediately."

Is it available for free somewhere?
posted by xarnop at 10:30 AM on February 21, 2015

how much better the series as a whole would be if, say, Korra didn't get her bending back

Perhaps, though Korra (and the avatar) is permanently spiritually wounded by the end of season 2. I'm similarly glad that they don't "fix" that. She doesn't walk away perfect.
posted by bonehead at 10:52 AM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I loved Avatar too, though I only watched it for the first time about 18 months ago. I watched with my children gottabefunky and they would have been 5 & 7 when we started. It was the first television show that I found that all of us were equally interested in. A big hit. The only other thing that comes close was reading the Bone series together.

We have the first two seasons of Korra, though I confess I haven't watched it with them in the same obsessive way. I take heart from some of the comments above though, especially that seasons 3 & 4 are stronger and will take another run at it. It's especially nice to note that it ends with the relationship between Korra and Asami, as we are a two mom household and it's always great to see representations of same sex partners in pop culture, as something that just is.
posted by Cuke at 11:07 AM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]



Avatar Fanvids compilation for NYCC 2008
I ran an ATLA "fan panel" with my friend and collaborator Dave Roman, loosely affiliated with Nick Magazine but focused entirely on the fan community and the amazing things they'd created. This was in the spring of 2008, RIGHT BEFORE the end of the giant year-long hiatus that cut Season Three in half, and these vids are a fun and fascinating snapshot of what it was like to be in fandom back then. (These were meant to be appropriate for tweens and older, with all the racy bits and swearing cut out, so if you have kids you can probably go ahead and let them watch this if they want to.)
PS: I drew the little interstitials. Man, that was a good damn time.

Azula’s Gonna Get What She Wants
The full cut of one of the vids in the NYCC compilation. Audio from SHOES. (Unfortunately, the video quality is pretty low but WHATEVS THIS IS STILL GENIUS AND AMAZING.)

If Zuko Was Gay
Audio from Avenue Q. Particularly good lip sync and shot choice with this one.

Sokka’s dream comics true
I recall there being a great many Sokka + Dane Cook videos back in the day, but this one always stood out. I don’t much like Dane Cook independently but in this context he is A-OK.

Gotta Catch the Avatar: Zukomon
This one is pretty self-explanatory.

Ugh there used so be dozens of these, but a lot of them have since disappeared from YouTube….


The Power is On - Ozai’s Angels
Dangerous Ladies being awesome.

Avatar Survivor
Girls of Avatar - O Saya
Ladies gonna get shit done.

Hide and Seek
Katara and Aang have had an awfully tough time.

No Cars Go
"This is a straight up fight scene vid, another 'ooh look at the shiny' affair. Basically me trying to squeeze as much of Avatar's awesomeness into one vid as possible."

Mt. St. Helens
For those of you who are particularly invested in the tragedy of Roku and Sozin and…whatever it is that they had with each other.

I may post more as I find/remember it..!

I ultimately decided against linking to the MASSIVELY NSFW Jet/Zuko vid....heh....
posted by Narrative Priorities at 11:21 AM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've got to take another pass at Korra soon... I believe the good things I've heard, but it always ends up losing my attention about halfway through the first season. Just need to get over that hump and get to the good stuff, because Avatar is one of the best shows ever made, so even if Korra was only half as good it would be incentive enough to watch it all the way through.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:28 AM on February 21, 2015

(OH AND: that "Remember the Name" vid that Sokka Shot First linked to above? We opened the NYCC fan panel by playing that vid and the crowd basically LOST THEIR MINDS. One of the highlights of my many years of doing fannish things, let me tell you.

Also that should be "Sokka’s dream COMES true" lol Freudian slip.)
posted by Narrative Priorities at 11:31 AM on February 21, 2015

Avatar has an Honest Movie Trailer.
posted by ostranenie at 11:46 AM on February 21, 2015

Oh, and hey -- if you're on Twitter, consider sending some love to ol' @aaronehasz today , the series' head writer. That man and his staff grew ATLA from a germ of a good idea into something really special, and they don't get nearly enough credit for it.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 1:28 PM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Thanks for posting this. This show was a MAJOR bonding experience with my now eight year old daughter. We started watching the first series as Korra was in the third season, and we ate the episodes up every night. It prompted a major reading inspiration for my daughter when she bought the tie-in books, and we wrapped it up with the final episode of Korra recently. Korra wasn't quite as strong, but we enjoyed it all the way through.

Not much else to say, except that it was a wonderful experience, and I'll always appreciate what it unexpectedly gave to us. I went in not expecting much, even hearing about the hype, and I left feeling as if it was a significant cultural experience that we shared and continue to share.

It sounds so weird to say this about an animated series.
posted by SpacemanStix at 1:58 PM on February 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

Flameo, fellow hotmen!
posted by triage_lazarus at 3:06 PM on February 21, 2015 [9 favorites]

A little piece of trivia that might only be interesting to me and my daughter.

Before we watched Avatar, my daughter and I played through the Portal games a few times. One of our favorite characters (or course) is Cave Johnson in Portal 2. When we found out that the actor who did Tenzin's voice was the same character, mind=blown. That guy (JK Simmons) has significant enough vocal range that we didn't make the connection for awhile. Much fun was had for us connecting characters to real-life actors.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:27 PM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think I started watching ATLA because (as with so many great things in this world) it came highly recommended by the People of Metafilter. So I watched the first episode on Netflix streaming and immediately dragged in my wife and 4 year old.
It was a family "Thing" and the age of the characters and the tone of the series made it a wonderful experience.
Then the next series started shortly thereafter and it was good, but it wasn't the same. The kid wasn't as into it but still was totally sucked in when we watched it. The series seemed darker and my life had gotten shittier, so it just wasn't as much fun. But it was still big and important and great. I thought for sure that I didn't like TLOK as much as ATLA.
And then it ended.
And I kept thinking about it.
And I got really sad. Not because it was over or because I didn't like Korra, but because of the way Nick had treated the series. I realized that the possibility of another series covering the life and times of another avatar was pretty slim. I realized that the arc of Korra was different than the arc of Aang and that if I were ever able to see arc of another avatar, totally different from those of Aang and Korra, I might be able to enjoy Korra in a totally different way, as a part of a triptych and not just compared to the ATLA.
Then, I read Drinky Die's comment and remembered what world I live in. I live in the world where everything is brought back. Maybe . . . maybe, at some point in the future, there will be a new avatar, a new series not a retelling of an old series. But it is Hollywood and maybe it will be a piece of shit. Or maybe it will be what I want, but until then, I will just have to hope. And hope is better than sadness.

(And no, the kid does not know about the movie that never was. I made the mistake of admitting that there were some other Star Wars movies made and I wasn't going to make that mistake with Tha Last Airbender.)
posted by Seamus at 3:39 PM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I'm skeptical about that person's account.

Ditto. M. Night's PA left the biz to get an advanced degree and ended up working for me in a library for a bit. The stories she told don't match that - more that the dude was in this sort of auteur bubble and had a staff of folks whose job was to keep him from getting criticism. Case in point, I ask her if he was aware of Robot Chicken's "What a twist!" bit and she said "As long as I was doing my job, he wasn't."
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:27 PM on February 21, 2015 [6 favorites]

the dude was in this sort of auteur bubble and had a staff of folks whose job was to keep him from getting criticism.

That matches the impression I got from my indirect dealings with him and his staff.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 4:36 PM on February 21, 2015

Love this post!

I watched the show a couple of years after it ended, when it was not yet streaming anywhere, and had a hell of a time finding everything. But I loved it, and I enjoyed a lot of Korra too, despite the complete failure of follow-through in Season 1 & the crappy parts of Season 2. (I still feel like animated shows should, you know, start with better writing, because of the lead-time issue...)

Anyway, I will share this awesome fanvid: Avatar Dance Mix, set to DJ Earworm's 2009 United States of Pop. It's so. much. fun.
posted by suelac at 6:02 PM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm excited to sit down and do the rewatch (for me, mostly first watch) with Fanfare. Avatar came highly recommended by everyone in my Chinese study group.

There is a How Did This a Get Made episode on the Movie That Shall Not Be Named - they pointed out that the Southern Water tribe was full of white people with some random Inuit extras, while the Fire Nation was also the brownest nation. I'd heard about the whitewashing of the main characters, but when they mentioned the "brownest nation" thing, I said out loud, pssht, no, they're supposed to be Han Chinese! Like, how do you take a rich, ethnically diverse world and reduce it to Hollywood tropes like that? This is when I realized 1) I was alone in my car, and 2) I had gone full-on nerd and should probably just watch the rest of the series.

Looking forward to it!
posted by chainsofreedom at 7:01 PM on February 21, 2015

I'll Nth those who loved Korra better. Don't get me wrong, ATLA was great. But Korra was deeper and more mature. While good, ATLA was ultimately a kid's show, while Korra was clearly written for an older audience.
posted by sotonohito at 7:44 PM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Something I haven't seen mentioned yet is what first attracted me to the show: I had only been studying T'ai Chi for a couple years but, flipping through the channels, I saw this kid's show where they were totally doing a T'ai Chi form, just with added water-magic! So of course I had to watch and find out what was going on, and it didn't take long to be completely hooked. That all four bending styles were based on actual martial arts, appropriate to their elements, and well-choreographed; ended up being just one way that the world-building on both shows was extensive and well done.
posted by traveler_ at 7:52 PM on February 21, 2015 [6 favorites]

I'll Nth those who loved Korra better. Don't get me wrong, ATLA was great. But Korra was deeper and more mature.

I liked how the developing technology plays a roll in Korra. How Republic City was depicted aesthetically was often top notch, especially with the lighting, and at night. One of our favorite things was to watch the credits as you move over the water towards Republic City, as it's a really beautiful shot.

And the cameos were often really, really well done. The familial relationships were quite fun to piece together between the series, in a way that wasn't insulting to the audience or the narrative (connections between people and background explanations for people's absences were often subtle or left up to your imagination). I think my daughter's favorite part was when Toph came back into the picture for awhile.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:32 PM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

I was late to come to Avatar, because when I first heard of it I was really skeptical of any "American rendition of anime". But people kept recommending it, and I finally watched it, realized I was wrong, and I totally loved it.

However, for all of it's flaws, both due to writing and due to Nick (who couldn't understand and hated the fact that a series starring an- ick!- girl was more popular than Sponge Bob), I think I love Korra the series better. Both because of the more mature tone Korra took, the themes of growth and change, and also because to me, the stories had a very different gender element to the themes.

Avatar was very much a boy hero adventure story: Aang is the destined hero, facing off against an obvious enemy. There's no doubt that while he will do some maturing and there will be lot twists, his path is set and his triumph over the bad guys is assured.

Korra comes into a different situation; she enters a complex world, one where she is not accepted for herself, where people, even the authorities she should be able to trust try try to use her for her own purposes, or destroy not only her, but the concepts behind her. Korra's early enthusiasm and confidence is shaken, and the elements that make the Korra the Avatar are continually attacked, leaving her isolated from her very base of support. It's telling that the enemies in Korra all mostly come from around her, often from people she trusts or respects. It is not a very large leap to relate Korra's journey to what happens to so many young women. Finally, unlike Aang, Korra cannot simply make the word change for her- she has to make an accomodation, change to meet the world, learning to rely on her inner strength and empathy. Aang has a place, Korra has to make her place in the world- and in so doing changes it far more than Aang did.

I think if anything, the more complex and mature issues Korra was dealing with were very difficult for the writers to portray adequately, as frankly, they were stretching the boundaries of what an American cartoon could deal with. And of course there's fucking Nickelodeon. I wish I could go to the parallel world where Korra had been picked up by Netflix, and we say 75 episodes. The idea is something that could really have used that much time.A
posted by happyroach at 8:49 PM on February 21, 2015 [10 favorites]

When I first watched Avatar, I guess I never paid attention to the credits but I absorbed them anyways, because the name "Giancarlo Volpe" kept popping into my head randomly and I was like, this is a fantastic name, I need to write a story using this name. That's the name of some kind of Lupin-esque thief and everything about it makes me want to write awesome adventure stories about this doubtlessly sly and suave dude with the awesome name.

And then I finally noticed the name in the Avatar credits and was a bit sad that it was a real person because dang, perfect character name right there. Giancarlo Volpe, if you ever get tired of directing fantastic animation, you should really look into stealing large cursed gems and evading Interpol in a vintage Maserati.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:55 PM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

You guys, don't forget the comics! They're by the most excellent Gene Luen Yang and they help bridge the story between Aang and Korra.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 6:56 AM on February 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Thank you, Ms. Moonlight!

There are currently three collected runs which pick up the world of Aang and Company following the third season, and which laid down some of the background for events in Korra. Here they listed from most recent to last with links to the library editions. The library editions collect the three issues that cover every storyline, slap them in a nice hard cover and fine paper with nifty notes and annotations from the writers and artists. It's super fun to read them after you've recently watched the show as you can easily read each character's words in their voice in your head. When you're done you feel like you've just watched another episode or two of the show. (Heaven) I enjoyed the first two (The Promise is the one that has such an impact on Korra), and have been waiting for the Rift to come out next week to read it.
  • The Rift - "Avatar Aang and friends honor an Air Nomad holiday that hasn’t been celebrated in over one hundred years, but when cryptic visits from the spirit of Avatar Yangchen lead Aang to a refinery operating on land sacred to the Airbenders, they soon find themselves in peril as a dangerously powerful ancient spirit awakens with vengeance and destruction on its mind!"
  • The Search - "The biggest mystery of Avatar—the fate of Fire Lord Zuko’s mother—is revealed in this remarkable oversized hardcover collecting parts 1–3 of The Search, from Airbender creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko!"
  • The Promise - "Aang and friends must join together once again as the four nations’ tenuous peace is threatened in an impasse between Fire Lord Zuko and Earth King Kuei! As the world heads toward another devastating war, Aang’s friendship with Zuko throws him into the middle of the conflict! Collects Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Promise Parts 1–3, plus a brand-new sketchbook."
posted by Atreides at 7:50 AM on February 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

Since no one's gotten around to this yet, in this thread:

My Cabbages!
posted by radwolf76 at 5:25 AM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

That guy (JK Simmons) has significant enough vocal range that we didn't make the connection for awhile. Much fun was had for us connecting characters to real-life actors.

And, of course, JK Simmons just won an Oscar last night. Tenzin won an Oscar, everyone!
posted by SpacemanStix at 1:34 PM on February 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

AtLA actually aired when I was in HS and my friends at the time talked about it often but I didn't watch it until many, many years later. I finished Book 1 of LoK and then I figured it was time to see what all the hype was all about so I marathoned the former in ~2 weeks. Wow, amazing series that LoK never really lived up to but then again they are two very different shows.

I liked how there's a variety of families, characters, and how ultimately families are capable of great and horrible things towards their children. Zuko reminded me of myself throughout most of my teens someone who was unhappy and lacked direction except for me it wasn't capturing a kid but a lot of IRL problems. The final showdown with his father haunts me because it let me realize that just because people are your family it doesn't allow them a free pass esp if they happen to be extremely abusive. Also, tea=meaning of life.

I've now completed all 4 books of LoK and I feel ambivalent towards it because it's very uneven plotwise. I thought Book 1 had potential, Book 2 train wreck, Book 3 average, and Book 4 ended everything but lacked resolution. However, the animation and scenery design were wonderful. I look forward to their future projects.

Thanks again for this post.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 4:06 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

When my daughter was finally old enough to watch ATLA it was like getting to watch it again for the first time, and I'm luck that she enjoys it as much as I do. She would recite the into along with Katara, and every now and then spontaneously announce that she believed Aang would save the world, too.

So we finally get around to the finale, the big fight between Ozai and Aang, and she's bouncing up and down on the couch screaming, "DAD HE DID IT, HE DID IT, HE SAVED THE WORLD!" at the top of her lungs, completely swept up in the whole thing, elated. The series had the ability to sweep you up and carry you with it.

Then we got to watch the whole thing again.
posted by lekvar at 4:31 PM on February 23, 2015 [5 favorites]

This show, my feels. So many feelings.

I've seen this show so many times I've lost count. It's been introduced to friends of all ages, and I loved how special this show was.

I didn't get into it until season 2-ish, maybe not until right before that terrible ever so long hiatus between both parts of Book 3. Somebody tried to get me into the show in Book 1, but I dismissed it, thinking the show was just a poor imitation of anime, and nothing special on its own.

Then I heard about Toph, and somehow, I gave the show another try. My public library had the DVD's, and I watched them all, one right after the other for as many as they had available. I got caught up to the broadcast order, and knew this was something incredible.

The show's seen me through intense depression, giving me a little bright spot to look forward to when everything else seemed hopeless. It's now like my favorite coat or a well-loved book, something I turn to over and over again. It never fails to make me smile, to remind me that there's always something special in the world.

I still adore Toph. I wanted to be Aang's best friend, and I thought Sokka was the coolest. Katara wasn't my favorite, but she was still wonderful. Then Zuko, Iroh, Azula, Mai, Ty Lee, Suki, the list goes on and on. (It's like picking favorite children, picking favorite Avatar characters. Don't make me do it!)

The writing, the characters, the art, just the ....love that went into this series shines in every episode and it only makes me love it even more.

I adore Korra, too, but maybe not as strongly. It's still too new, I think. Maybe when I've worn out those DVD's too, and have so many memories tied to that series, too, maybe then, the thought of it will give me even more feelings, too. I look forward to that day.
posted by PearlRose at 12:49 PM on February 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

Warning spoilers below..

Upon watching with the kids over the last few days I have developed a new take on Iroh, my favorite character. Maybe instead of the easy going, tea obsessed wise man he is in fact playing a long game of vengeance. Suppose Iroh's brother, Ozai, had Iroh's son murdered as part of his plan to take the throne. Iroh is broken by the death of his son and then loses his status as royal heir. Ozai poisons their father to take the throne.

Iroh allows Zuko to come into the room with the generals where his impulsive nature benga him into conflict, causing Zuko's EXHILE. Iroh takes with Zuko on the long journey to reclaim honor. One which leads him to an inevitable battle with Ozai. The wise old man act is just his way to stay close to Zuko to guide him on a path where Zuko will give Iroh his revenge.
Instead of helping Zuko find and capture the avatar to restore him to his father, Iroh twists the mission until Zuko is an ally of the avatar helping revenge the wrongs put upon Iroh. Ozai's son destroys Ozai, as Iroh's son was used to destroy Iroh.
posted by humanfont at 8:56 PM on February 28, 2015

Instead of helping Zuko find and capture the avatar to restore him to his father, Iroh twists the mission until Zuko is an ally of the avatar helping revenge the wrongs put upon Iroh. Ozai's son destroys Ozai, as Iroh's son was used to destroy Iroh.

I think it's quite possible that Iroh joins Zuko on his mission to help Zuko become a better person (or steer him back along the right path), but given his nature and the advice he offers, I don't think he's a man motivated by revenge.
posted by Atreides at 8:17 AM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

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