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Avatar: The Last Airbender

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Avatar: The Last Airbender
Avatar The Last Airbender logo.svg
Also known as Avatar: The Legend of Aang[1]
Genre
Created by
Written by
Directed by
Voices of
Composer(s) Jeremy Zuckerman, Benjamin Wynn
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 3
No. of episodes 61 (list of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s)
  • Michael Dante DiMartino
  • Bryan Konietzko
  • Aaron Ehasz (co-executive)
Running time 23 minutes
Production company(s)
Release
Original network Nickelodeon
Picture format NTSC 4:3 (480i)
Original release February 21, 2005 (2005-02-21) – July 19, 2008 (2008-07-19)
Chronology
Followed by
External links
Official website www.nick.com/avatar-the-last-airbender/

Avatar: The Last Airbender (Avatar: The Legend of Aang in some regions) is an American animated television series which aired for three seasons on Nickelodeon. The series began in February 2005, and concluded with a two-hour episode in July 2008. Avatar: The Last Airbender is set in an Asiatic-like world in which some people can manipulate the classical elements with psychokinetic variants of the Chinese martial arts known as "bending". The series combines anime with American cartoons, and relies on the imagery of East Asian, Inuit, Southeast Asian, South Asian, and New World societies. It follows the protagonist, twelve-year-old Aang and his friends, who must bring peace and unity to the world by ending the Fire Lord's war with the other three nations.

The series was commercially successful and was universally acclaimed by audiences and critics, with praise for its art direction, humor, cultural references, characters, and themes. It was nominated for, and won, Annie Awards, Genesis Awards, a Primetime Emmy Award and a Peabody Award. The first season's success prompted Nickelodeon to order a second and third season. The series inspired a critically panned but financially successful live-action film, The Last Airbender, directed by M. Night Shyamalan; action figures; a trading card game; three video games; stuffed animals distributed by Paramount Parks and two Lego sets. An art book was published in June 2010. A sequel series, The Legend of Korra, aired from 2012 to 2014.

Series overview

Setting

Map from the series
A map of the four nations.

Avatar: The Last Airbender is set in a world which is home to humans and hybrid animals, adjacent to a parallel spirit world. Human civilization is divided into four nations: the Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, and the Air Nomads. Each has a distinct society wherein select people, known as "benders" (Waterbenders, Earthbenders, Firebenders and Airbenders), have the ability to manipulate and control the element of their nation using the martial arts. Skilled benders of each element are able to manipulate additional related material, for example, metal and sand for Earthbenders. However, only the Avatar has the ability to bend all four elements. When the Avatar dies, their spirit is reincarnated into the next of the four nations in the Avatar cycle: the Fire Nation, Air Nomads, Water Tribe and Earth Kingdom. An Avatar incarnation is male or female and is required to master each bending art in seasonal order from age sixteen, beginning with their native land's element (fire: summer, air: autumn, water: winter and Earth: spring). The Avatar can also enter the Avatar State, a defense mechanism until placed under their control through mental discipline, when the Avatar gains the knowledge and abilities of all past Avatars until the phase ends. Although an avatar is most powerful in the Avatar State, if they were killed then the reincarnation cycle would end and the avatar would never again be reborn. The Avatar is an international arbiter, maintaining relative equality among the nations and a mediator between humans and spirits.


Synopsis

More than a century before the events of the series begin, Fire Lord Sozin, ruler of the Fire Nation, planned a world war to expand his nation's territory and influence. He was prevented from carrying out his plans by Avatar Roku, who was born in the Fire Nation. After Roku's death, the Avatar was reincarnated as an Airbender named Aang. As Aang was then only a child, Sozin saw his chance and proceeded with his militant plans. Because of the threat of Sozin's war, Aang learned about his avatar status when he was only twelve years old. Afraid of his new responsibilities and of separation from his mentor, Gyatso, he fled his home on his flying bison named Appa. Forced into the ocean by a storm, Aang entered the avatar state and encased them in suspended animation in an iceberg for one hundred years. Sozin, knowing that the avatar's reincarnation cycle mandated that an air nomad was the new avatar, carried out a genocide against the Air Nomads during the passing of a once-a-century comet which increases the Firebenders' power, and continues his world conquest.

In the present day, Katara (a fourteen-year-old Southern Tribe Waterbender) and her older brother, Sokka, find and revive Aang and Appa. Aang learns about the war, and the siblings join him to reach the Northern Water Tribe at the North Pole so he and Katara can learn Waterbending. Aang's return attracts the attention of Prince Zuko, the exiled son of the current Fire Lord Ozai, who pursues them. Aang is also pursued by Zhao, a Fire Nation admiral who intends to win Ozai's favor and rob Zuko of his redemption. En route to the North Pole, Aang learns about the genocide against his people when he visits the ruins of the Southern Air Temple, and during the winter solstice he meets the spirit of his predecessor, Avatar Roku, and comes to terms with his responsibilities. With the Northern Water Tribe, Aang and Katara learn advanced Waterbending from Master Pakku; Sokka falls in love with the chief's daughter, Princess Yue. Zhao lays siege to the tribe, seizing the mortal forms of the ocean and moon spirits (the source of Waterbending) and causing a lunar eclipse. Zhao kills the moon spirit to deprive the Waterbenders of their abilities, but Aang joins with the ocean spirit to drive off the enemy fleet while Yue sacrifices her life to revive the moon spirit. When Ozai hears about his older brother Iroh's resistance to Zhao, he sends his daughter Azula to capture Iroh and Zuko.

After leaving the Northern Water Tribe, Katara continues teaching Aang Waterbending while the group searches for an Earthbending teacher. They meet Toph Beifong, a twelve-year-old, blind tomboy and Earthbending prodigy who wants independence from her upper-class family. Pursued by Azula, Zuko and Iroh lead new lives in the Earth Kingdom as wanderers and refugees in the capital city of Ba Sing Se. At a library guarded by the spirit Wan Shi Tong, Aang and his group learn that an imminent solar eclipse could let them stop the Fire Nation before Sozin's Comet arrives. They journey to Ba Sing Se to inform the Earth King of this information. In the city, they find that the Earth King Kuei is being manipulated by Long Feng, leader of the Dai Li secret police. After Aang's group exposes Long Feng's political machinations, Toph is captured but manages to escape by learning to bend metal. The Dai Li join Azula to instigate a coup d'état of Ba Sing Se, and Zuko, who has spent his time in Ba Sing Se trying to come to terms with his identity, ultimately sides with his sister Azula. During a face off in the catacombs underneath the ancient city, Azula nearly kills Aang, forcing the protagonists to retreat with help from Iroh, leaving the Earth Kingdom under the control of the Fire Nation.

Aang emerges from a coma to find his friends and allies disguised as soldiers on a Fire Nation ship, preparing to invade the Fire Nation. Although the invasion is successful at first, Aang and his friends cannot find Ozai and are forced to retreat. Learning about his father's intention to destroy the Earth Kingdom during Sozin's Comet, Zuko comes to regret his decision and leaves the palace to teach Aang Firebending. Aang is reluctant to kill Ozai as the comet approaches, and consults his predecessors' spirits. Katara and the others unsuccessfully search for him but find Iroh with members of a secret society, the Order of the White Lotus, characters the protagonists have encountered previously. The order liberates Ba Sing Se. Sokka, Toph and the warrior Suki hinder the Fire Nation's airships, while Zuko and Katara prevent Azula from becoming the new Fire Lord. As the comet arrives, Aang confronts Ozai but is in a losing battle until Ozai triggers Aang's connection to the avatar state. Aang strips Ozai of his Firebending powers. Zuko is crowned the new Fire Lord, and arranges an armistice, establishing peace in the world.

Episodes

The show consists of a total of 61 episodes. The first episode aired on February 21, 2005, on Nickelodeon with a one-hour series premiere[3] and concluded with a two-hour TV movie on July 19, 2008.[4] The series refers to each season as a "Book", in which each episode is referred to as a "chapter". Each "Book" takes its name from one of the elements that Aang, the protagonist, must master: Water, Earth, and Fire.[3] The show's first two seasons each consisted of 20 episodes, while the third season had 21. The entire series has been released on DVD in Region One, Region Two and Region Four.[5]

Season Book Episodes Originally aired
First aired Last aired
1 Book One: Water 20 February 21, 2005 (2005-02-21) December 2, 2005 (2005-12-02)
2 Book Two: Earth 20 March 17, 2006 (2006-03-17) December 1, 2006 (2006-12-01)
3 Book Three: Fire 21 September 21, 2007 (2007-09-21) July 19, 2008 (2008-07-19)

Development

Conception and production

Michael DiMartino is smiling.
Bryan Konietzko, also smiling
Michael DiMartino (left) and Bryan Konietzko, the series' co-creators

Avatar: The Last Airbender was co-created and produced by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko at Nickelodeon Animation Studios in Burbank, California. Its animation was primarily done by three South Korean studios: JM Animation, DR Movie, and MOI Animation. According to Konietzko, the series was conceived in the spring of 2001 when he took an old sketch of a balding, middle-aged man and imagined the character as a child. He drew the character herding bison in the sky, and showed the sketch to DiMartino. At the time, DiMartino was watching a documentary about explorers trapped at the South Pole. Konietzko described their early development of the concept: "There's an air guy along with these water people trapped in a snowy wasteland ... and maybe some fire people are pressing down on them ..."[6] The co-creators successfully pitched the idea to Nickelodeon vice president and executive producer Eric Coleman two weeks later.[7] The series was introduced to the public in a teaser reel at Comic-Con 2004,[8] and premiered on February 21, 2005.[9]

In an interview, Konietzko said: "Mike and I were really interested in other epic 'Legends & Lore' properties, like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, but we knew that we wanted to take a different approach to that type of genre. Our love for Japanese anime, Hong Kong action and kung fu cinema, yoga, and Eastern philosophies led us to the initial inspiration for Avatar: The Last Airbender."[10]

Influences

Fictional locations featured in the show are based on the architecture and designs of real locations. For example, the creators modeled the city of Ba Sing Se off of the Forbidden City in China.

The series is notable for borrowing extensively from East Asian art and mythology for its universe, and employed cultural consultants Edwin Zane and calligrapher Siu-Leung Lee to help determine its art direction and settings.[11][12] Its character designs are influenced by Chinese art and history, Hinduism, Taoism and Buddhism, and Yoga.[13][11] The series' music and sound were composed by Jeremy Zuckerman and Benjamin Wynn, who experimented with a wide range of different instruments, including the guzheng, pipa, and duduk, to create music and sounds that matched the Asiatic-influenced setting of the show.[14] The art style of the various fictitious locations visited throughout the series are based on real locations in Asia. Notably, sites such as the Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China in Beijing were inspirations for the Earth Kingdom city of Ba Sing Se in the show.[15]

The fighting styles employed by characters in the show are derived from different styles of Chinese martial arts, for which the film-makers employed Sifu Kisu of the Harmonious Fist Chinese Athletic Association as a consultant.[16] Each fighting style employed in the show are unique to the "benders" who use them, or characters who are aligned to a certain element. For example, practitioners of "Waterbending" employed movements influenced by T'ai chi and focused on alignment, body structure, breath, and visualization. Hung Gar was the inspiration for practitioners of "Earthbending", and was chosen for its firmly rooted stances and powerful strikes as a representation of the solid nature of earth. Northern Shaolin, which uses strong arm and leg movements, was chosen to represent "Firebending". Ba Gua, which uses dynamic circular movements and quick directional changes, was used for "Airbending".[17] Lastly, the Chu Gar Southern Praying Mantis style can be seen practiced by the Earthbender Toph, who develops a unique fighting style as a result of her blindness.[18] The presentation of these martial-art bending moves were influenced by Asian cinema.[6]

Other media

Books

Several books based on the series have been published. Dark Horse Comics published an art book titled Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Art of the Animated Series on June 2, 2010, with 184 pages of original art from the animated series.[19] Several comic-book short stories were published in Nickelodeon Magazine, and Dark Horse published Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Lost Adventures (a collection of these and new comics) on June 15, 2011.[20]

Dark Horse published a graphic-novel series by Gene Yang which continues Aang's story after the Hundred Years' War. Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise, published in three volumes in 2012, explores the fate of the Fire Nation colonies which become The Legend of Korra's United Republic. A second set of three comic books, Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Search, focuses on Zuko and Azula and the fate of their mother Ursa.[21] The third set, Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Rift, shifts the focus to Aang, the creation of Republic City, and Toph's relationship with her family.[22]

Video games

A video-game trilogy about Avatar: The Last Airbender has been released. The Avatar: The Last Airbender video game was released on October 10, 2006,[23] and Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Burning Earth was released on October 16, 2007.[24] Avatar: The Last Airbender – Into the Inferno was released on October 13, 2008.[25] Avatar: Legends of the Arena, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) for Microsoft Windows, was released on September 15, 2008, by Nickelodeon. A user could create their own character and interact with others around the world.[26] Avatar: The Last Airbender was THQ's bestselling Nickelodeon game in 2006 and was one of Sony CEA's Greatest Hits.[27]

Film

The series' first season was the basis for the 2010 live-action film, The Last Airbender, written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. It was intended as the first of a trilogy, with each of the three films based upon one of the three television seasons, but the film's reception was overwhelmingly negative from critics and series fans alike; it had a six-percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and received five Razzies at the 31st Golden Raspberry Awards, including Worst Picture.[28][29][30] Although the film originally shared the title of the television series, it was changed to The Last Airbender because producers feared that it would be confused with the James Cameron film Avatar.[31] The Last Airbender stars Noah Ringer as Aang, Nicola Peltz as Katara, Jackson Rathbone as Sokka, Dev Patel as Zuko, and Shaun Toub as Iroh.[28]

Sequel

The Legend of Korra, a sequel series to Avatar: The Last Airbender, premiered on Nickelodeon on April 14, 2012.[32] It was written and produced by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, the creators and producers of the original series.[33] Initially titled Avatar: Legend of Korra, then The Last Airbender: Legend of Korra, it takes place seventy years after the end of Avatar: The Last Airbender.[34] The series' protagonist is Korra, a 17-year-old girl from the Southern Water Tribe and the incarnation of the Avatar after Aang's death.[32]

Reception

Ratings

The Avatar series was the highest-rated animated television series in its demographic at its premiere,[35] with an average of 3.1 million viewers watched each new episode.[35] It had 5.6 million viewers for its highest-rated episode, and was a highly rated part of the Nicktoons lineup beyond its 6-to-11-year-old demographic.[36][37] A one-hour special, The Secret of the Fire Nation (consisting of "The Serpent's Pass" and "The Drill") aired on September 15, 2006 and attracted 5.1 million viewers. According to the Nielsen Media Research, the special was the highest-rated cable-television program that week.[38] In 2007, Avatar: The Last Airbender was syndicated to more than 105 countries and was one of Nickelodeon's top-rated programs. The series ranked first on Nickelodeon in Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Colombia.[39]

The four-part series finale, "Sozin's Comet", had the series' highest ratings. Its first airing averaged 5.6 million viewers, 95 percent more than Nickelodeon had had in mid-July 2007.[40] During the week of July 14, it was the most-viewed program by the under-14 demographic.[41][42] Its popularity affected online media; Rise of the Phoenix King, a Nick.com online game based on "Sozin's Comet", had almost 815,000 game plays in three days.[43] IGN ranked the series 35th on its list of top 100 animated TV shows.[44]

Critical response

The series received mainly positive reviews from critics. Max Nicholson of IGN called it a "must-watch", and described it as "one of the greatest animated series of all time".[45] Nick Hartel of DVD Talk called the series a remarkable, "child friendly show" whose legacy "should endure for years to come".[46] Erik Amaya of Bleeding Cool described the series as "impressive in its sophistication" and "fantastic".[47] Henry Glasheen of SLUG Magazine called the series "adventurous and exciting", a "classic" and, occasionally, moving.[48] According to Brittany Lovely of Hypable, it tells "complex and beautiful" stories.[49] Joe Corey of Inside Pulse described the series as an anime-action hybrid.[50] Chris Mitchell of Popzara called it one of best shows to air on Nickelodeon, praising the series' background music and voice acting.[51] D. F. Smith of IGN recommended it to viewers who enjoy action-adventure cartoons.[52] Rob Keyes of Screen Rant called the series "one of the greatest cartoons ever made".[53] Mike Noyes of Inside Pulse recommended it to viewers who enjoy "great" adventure.[54] Gord Lacey of TVShowsonDVD.com called the series "one of the finest animated shows ever".[55] According to Todd Douglass, Jr. of DVD Talk, adults will enjoy the series as much as children do.[56] Joshua Miller of CHUD.com called it "phenomenal" and "one of the most well animated programs (children's or adult) American TV has ever had"; according to Miller, the series is heavily influenced by anime.[57] Tim Janson of Cinefantastique described it as "one of the most engaging animated shows produced".[58] Dennis Amith of J!ENT called the series "one of the best animated TV series shown in the US by American creators". Amith praised its sophisticated storylines, edginess, humor, and action.[59] Franco "Cricket" Te of Nerd Society described Avatar: The Last Airbender as "one of the best cartoon[s]" he had ever seen, recommending the series for its characters and plot.[60] Scott Thill of Wired called the series engaging and its setting, influenced by the Eastern world, "fantastic".[61]

Its writing and theme have been widely praised by critics. Michael S. Mammano of Den of Geek called the plot "smartly-written" and praised the animation.[62] Jenifer Rosenberg of ComicMix liked the emphasis on family, friends, community, and education.[63] According to Nick Hartel, the series touches on "genocide and self-doubt" themes without frightening younger children; rogue characters are redeemable, sending an important message that people can change and are not bonded to "destiny".[46] Chris Mitchell called the plot "fantastic".[51] D. F. Smith compared the series' plot to Japanese action cartoons, calling its tone and dialogue "very American" and praising the humor leavening an epic, dramatic theme suitable for all ages.[52] Rob Keyes also praised the series' humor and affecting plot: "[It] will capture your hearts".[53] According to Mike Noyes, the series amalgamates elements of "classic fantasy epics".[54] Todd Douglass, Jr. called the plot engaging, well-thought-out and meaningful. The series' concept is "well-realized", with a consistent story. Douglass wrote that the characters "[have] a real sense of progression", and praised the writers for their humor, drama, and emotion.[56] Joshua Miller called the series surprisingly dark despite its "silly" theme; the plot is livelier than Lost and, similar to the latter, emphasizes character development. According to Miller, its writing was "true adult levels of storytelling".[57] Tim Janson described the series as more than fantasy- and superhero- themed, seeing the characters as central and relateable.[58] "Cricket" Te praised the series' use of Buddhist philosophies and the diverse presentation of its themes of courage and life.[60]

Critics also praised Avatar: The Last Airbender's character development, art, animation, and choreography, with Eric Amaya enjoying the expressive animation which complemented the writing. According to Amaya, the elements were influenced by Hayao Miyazaki.[47] Todd Douglass, Jr. called the character development interesting.[56] Jenifer Rosenburg praised the series' portrayal of females as "strong, responsible, [and] intelligent".[63] According to Joshua Miller, the bender characters' use of bending for everyday activities brings "depth and believability" to the avatar world. Miller called the series' designs "rich and immersive", with each nation having its own, detailed look. He praised the action scenes as "well rendered" (comparing the development of the avatar world to The Lord of the Rings) and the fight choreography as "wonderful in its most minor details".[57] D. F. Smith enjoyed the series' painstaking backgrounds.[52] "Cricket" Te praised each episode's color palette and the choreography's combination of martial arts and magic.[60] Nick Hartel criticized the animation, although he found it an improvement over previous Nickelodeon shows.[46] Chris Mitchell called the animation fluid.[51] "Cricket" Te agreed, noting its manga influence.[60] According to Brittany Lovely, non-bender characters in battle are "overshadowed" by their bender counterparts.[49] Joe Corey called the animation's action and environments a "great achievement",[50] and Rob Keyes praised the series' fight choreography.[53]

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Nominee Status
2005 Pulcinella Awards Best Action Adventure TV Series Avatar: The Last Airbender Won[64]
Best TV Series Avatar: The Last Airbender Won[64]
2006 33rd Annie Awards Best Animated Television Production Avatar: The Last Airbender Nominated[65]
Storyboarding in an Animated Television Production Lauren MacMullan for "The Deserter" Won[65]
Writing for an Animated Television Production Aaron Ehasz and John O'Bryan for "The Fortuneteller" Nominated[65]
2007 Nickelodeon Australian Kids' Choice Awards 2007 Fave Toon Avatar: The Last Airbender Nominated[66]
34th Annie Awards Character Animation in a Television Production Yu Jae Myung for "The Blind Bandit" Won[67]
Directing in an Animated Television Production Giancarlo Volpe for "The Drill" Won[67]
Genesis Awards Outstanding Children's Programming "Appa's Lost Days" Won[68]
59th Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Animated Program "City of Walls and Secrets" Nominated[69]
Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation Sang-Jin Kim for "Lake Laogai" Won[70]
2008 2008 Kids' Choice Awards Favorite Cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender Won[71]
Annecy International Animated Film Festival TV series Joaquim Dos Santos for "The Day of Black Sun, Part 2: The Eclipse" Nominated[72]
Peabody Awards N/A Avatar: The Last Airbender Won[73]
13th Satellite Awards Best Youth DVD Book 3 Fire, Volume 4 Nominated[74]
2009 36th Annie Awards Best Animated Television Production for Children Avatar: The Last Airbender Won[75]
Directing in an Animated Television Production Joaquim Dos Santos for "Sozin's Comet, Part 3: Into the Inferno" Won[75]
Golden Reel Awards Best Sound Editing: Television Animation "Sozin's Comet, Part 4: Avatar Aang" Nominated[76]
Nickelodeon Australian Kids' Choice Awards 2009 Fave Toon Avatar: The Last Airbender Won[77]
2010 Nickelodeon Australian Kids' Choice Awards 2010 Top Toon Avatar: The Last Airbender Nominated[78]

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