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Is Avatar: The Last Airbender really as good as everyone says?

“Water, earth, fire, air. Long ago all four nations lived together in harmony. But then the Fire Nation declared war on us and everything changed. "

Anyone who is a bit older than 20 probably knows this saying. Katara, the waterbender, says it at the beginning of every episode of the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender on. In Germany, the series ran on Nickelodeon from 2006. We remember: Harry Potter and Lord of the rings were the hot shit back then and Nickelodeon knew that too. So the station commissioned the two cartoonists Michael Dante DiMartino and Brian Konietzko to create a fantasy series with human figures.

Originally, DiMartino and Konietzko had a forty-year-old Cyclops as the main character in their heads, but they quickly turned into the little bald man Aang, who was frozen in the eternal ice at the South Pole. The two siblings Katara and Sokka find him there, and a great adventure begins.

It is a small miracle that this has resulted in such a complex, cordial and political series.

What is it about Avatar: The Last Airbender?

We are in a fantasy world in which there are four realms: fire, earth, air and water. Some people can master these elements, they are called tamers. The four kingdoms live in harmony with each other until the Fire Nation attacks the other kingdoms. Only the Avatar can actually end the war, a hero who is reborn in every generation and, unlike the other tamers, can control all four elements. Unfortunately, the Avatar has been missing for 100 years, the Fire Nation is on the verge of world domination. This is the moment when Katara and Sokka Aang find the lord of the elements in the ice.

In the first episode it becomes clear how great the danger, how terrible the war, how important Aang is for the future of the world. The journey of the three friends will span the globe in three seasons of 20 episodes each. Her goal: Aang has to learn to master all four elements and therefore needs a teacher from every nation. Finding them is not that easy. Because the Fire Nation is organized in a totalitarian manner, the earth is under siege, the air nomads have been exterminated and the water tribe is at the distant North Pole.

Avatar: The Last Airbender With this premise, it immediately arouses the public's urge to discover and anticipate what is to come. A wild journey through a fantasy world based on East Asian history begins.

Cultural appreciation?

One thing must be said at this point: Here two white people made a series about Asians and have probably become quite rich with it. Today one would probably criticize that. At the same time applies Avatar as a bastion of Asian representation in cartoons, because Western series rarely deal with Asian characters. That the Cultural Appropriation-Never accuse Avatar may be due to the fact that 15 years ago this public discourse did not exist in such detail. And also because that AvatarTeam with Edwin Zane a pretty brilliant one Cultural Consultant would have.

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The series is incredibly inspired with its influences. The series is an amazing mix of western cartoon and Japanese anime. On the one hand, the episodes are short, funny and light-footed, on the other hand, difficult topics are negotiated and bitter martial arts battles are fought, but never - like in Naruto or Dragon ball - draw over several episodes.

In order to create a believable fantasy world, the authors made use of different (not only Asian) cultures. The water tribes are based on the Inuit and Sirenkiki, the Fire Nation is originally based on Japanese history, the Earth King Empire on Chinese history. The air nomads are modeled on Buddhist monks. The important buildings of the various kingdoms are also modeled on monuments such as the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City.

At the same time, it was important to the makers not to make these influences so obvious that political complications could arise, and so they were again somewhat blurred.

Avatar: The Last Airbenderoperates world building from the textbook

The wealth of detail that was used here to bring together a fantasy world with East Asian references is remarkable. The fights in Avatar are a mix of magic and martial arts and each of the martial arts is based on an Asian, similar to its element, in the down-to-earth earth style, for example, a subspecies of Kung Fu.

Still awakened Avatar at the same time, the impression that someone has lumped a lot of interesting things into one pot. Japanese samurai uniforms and Chinese painting, for example. It is not so easy to answer whether that was really so sensitive, but it can be discussed and interpreted.

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At the same time has Avatar about one of the best world buildings at all. As in Pokémon some monsters are used for farm work and others as mounts, the different races build and control their cities with their magical powers. The Earth Kingdom has an extensive mine system, the capital of the water tribes is built entirely of ice and the Fire Nation is already in the age of industrialization.

The world of Avatar is captivating, from episode to episode you dive more and more into it. This is exactly how a fantasy world should be.

Amazingly adult themes

The most exciting thing Avatar however, are the incredibly grown-up topics the series covers. At the center of everything are war and death. While children's series prefer to avoid the word "die", death is with Avatar a recurring theme. Katara's and Sokka's mother were killed, and Aang's entire people were exterminated. The whole series revolves around the question of how the Hundred Years' War changed the world, how political resistance can be organized and which means can be used for it - and which path should not be taken.

Sexism is the subject of the very first episode, when Katara describes her brother as a sexist. Male domination runs as a motif throughout the series and culminates in an episode in which a waterbender does not want to teach Katara because it violates his culture. So she challenges him to a duel and can fight for his respect.

Avatar creates inclusion here and there without appearing artificial. The earthbender Toph, who later joins the group, is blind. Through her powers she can sense the movements of her enemies and thus develop new magical abilities. What is also remarkable: Each of the tamer styles is subject to a different philosophy: Tophs is perhaps best compared to mindfulness.

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In one episode, the comrades learn that the population of a city is controlled by the totalitarian regime of a shadow government that is hiding from its citizens that the war even exists. In a certain sense, the series raises the question of the truth and also the importance of journalistic work.

The dichotomy between good and bad exists at Avatar actually not, which is especially clear in the character of Zuko. At first he is the classic antagonist who wants to catch the Avatar in order to regain his lost honor with the leader of the Fire Nation, his father. This classically masculine narrative is broken again and again, and the series takes a lot of time to show why Zuko became this way, to finally give him the opportunity to purify.

Avatar is one of the best children's series there is

Even if Avatar repeatedly negotiates political issues, the series never becomes melancholy. It creates the balance of being understandable and entertaining for both children and adults.

And that is perhaps the only downer: you have to feel like a bit of silliness, a few filling sequences and sometimes a little superficial dialogues.

Avatar is and will remain a children's series, but one of the best there is. And it's also worth it for people who don't know the intro by heart yet.

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