Netflix has announced that in 2019 they will produce a live-action Avatar reboot helmed by the original showrunners Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino. Over the course of 48 hours, I spent 28 of them rewatching the sixty episode series for a second time, and once again I am amazed by its brilliance.
Avatar The Last Airbender was both ambitious and progressive in its structure and style, and that’s how it was able to draw the attention of viewers of all ages.
The Last Airbender aired on Nickelodeon from 2005 to 2008. It told the tale of a young boy named Aang who must master the control of the four elements and rally the four nations of elemental warriors in order to defeat an evil Firelord and bring peace to the world.
This show faced many different types of issues such as sexism, refugees and immigration, colonization, disability, propaganda, emotional and physical abuse, and it also showed how the characters were able to work through their problems to craft their own destiny.
The foundation of the show is steady to its core. The world is divided into four nations: water, earth, fire and air. Each of the nations has people with the ability to bend and control the element associated with the nation and its culture. The layered world-building reveals itself to be a complicated world with a complete and interesting history.
The characters and bending styles are crafted from Asian and Inuit cultures drawing upon religion, customs and philosophies. The bending styles take inspiration from different styles of martial arts. This type of representation is still something that is uncommon to see in American TV shows.
An interesting thing to note is that the show never portrays any of the nations as totally “good” or “evil” and instead, shows that every nation has some form of corruption within it. One of the best redemption arcs I’ve ever seen is through Prince Zuko, a character who was shunned by both his family and his nation, suffers through abuse and neglect and still fights to do the right thing in the end.
The show also featured multiple disabled characters and depicted them in a positive, respectful and realistic way. One of the main characters, the quick-witted Toph is blind and yet one of the best Earth benders in the nation, as well as a minor character, Teo, who was a paraplegic who experiences and faces life head on from his wheelchair. Neither character was looked down upon, but instead shown as strong and capable characters that can’t be held down.
The show also allows the children to be just that, children. The group undergoes heartache and pain over the seasons, and by the end, you can see how the war has affected each of them as well as the world around them.