Avatar: The Last Airbender episode 1 review

With a big screen version on the way, Daniel kicks off a retrospective look at Avatar: The Last Airbender...

Ahead of 2010’s blockbuster-to-be The Last Airbender, we’re going to revisit the Peabody-winning cartoon serial from which it got its name, Avatar (the subtitle is usually The Last Airbender too but some fussy folk use The Legend of Aang. Fact!). That’s an episode a week, which is twenty minutes of your time, so you’d be best to join in on our journey over the next year, wouldn’t you?

1. The Boy In The Iceberg

A long time ago, there was peace between the four nations of the world – the Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom, the Air Nomads and the Fire Nation – until the Fire Nation attacked, kick-starting a war that has raged for a century. There was only one person that could stop the war, and that person was the Avatar, the reincarnated master of all four elements – but then poof! He vanished, leaving the war to rage and the Fire Nation to edge their way closer to victory.

In this episode, entitled The Boy In The Iceberg, we’re introduced to spunky Katara and sardonic Sokka, siblings and the protectors of their Tribe. The men of the tribe,including Katara and Sokka’s father, have left to join the Earth Kingdom in the fight against the Fire Nation, and the children are left in charge with the heavy responsibilities of war, something that doesn’t always sit well.

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While out fishing, the siblings get into an argument that triggers Katara’s waterbending (more on that later) and results in the breaking of an iceberg. In that iceberg lies Aang, one of the Air Nomads and, wouldn’t you believe it, an Airbender. Aang is a funny little dude. He’s got barrels of energy, is good with kids and has been awoken from self-induced cryogenic freezing alongside a flying bison called Appa. (The first catchphrase of the show, said whenever Aang mounts Appa: “Yip-yip!”) There are, however, two spanners in the works here:

  1. Aang has been frozen for a hundred years and knows nothing about the ongoing war
  2. There’s a Fire Nation ship out looking for the Avatar and Aang = Avatar

Aboard the ship are Iroh, a warrior and eccentric tea-loving old man, and Prince Zuko, an ill-tempered young man driven by the desire to restore his honour. How does Zuko’s honour “hinge on the Avatar’s capture” and why? We’ll be seeing a bit more of them next week…

So, this Waterbending/Airbending lark then (gosh, this episode does lay out quite a lot in under twenty-five minutes)… Early on in the episode, Sokka describes Waterbending as “an ancient art unique to our culture blah blah blah”, and Aang notes that his Airbending allows him to manipulate the air currents around him so he can fly. So bending is just a matter of manipulating the elements. Katara wants to seriously learn, but as the only member of her tribe with Waterbending abilities, will she really leave for the North Pole to master the art?

Other questions: To what lengths can bending go? What was the Fire Nation’s motivation for attacking in the first place? What is that stranded Fire Navy ship about and what exactly is that “bad day” Katara mentions?

I guess we’re going to find out next week. The Boy In The Icebergcloses with the cliffhanger of Prince Zuko looking through a telescope at Aang and planning to attack.

And I hope you guys come back for next week’s episode, The Avatar Returns, when I’ll have more of an idea of how to write about the show. And because cliffhangers in cartoons are sweet.