Avatar the Last Airbender (2005-2008)

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ShogunRua
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Avatar the Last Airbender (2005-2008)

Post by ShogunRua »

I never watched this back in the day, but since it's a favorite series of my longtime girlfriend, I gave it a shot. 18 episodes worth of shots, in fact.

Right away, I wasn't impressed. It's a clumsy American attempt at a shounen with none of the qualities that separate the better examples of that genre. The plots are simple and predictable, with the twists and resolutions visible at least half an episode away. We have a magic system that is introduced, but without any firmly established rules or consistency to it. Abilities come and go as the plot requires. The protagonists aren't cool or interesting, and constantly break one's immersion into the series, behaving like woke American teens of the early 2000s as opposed to inhabitants of a fantasy world inspired by the Warring States Period of China. Hell, in the very first scene of the show, we see Kitara, the main female protagonist, complaining about her brother's problematic sexism. The series began in 2005, so the feminism here is not of the ultra-woke variety it would become a decade later (why hello there, series sequel, The Legend of Korra!), but is pernicious nonetheless, and ties directly to the episode I will examine more closely.

The execution is also slapdash. Characters constantly teleport to the proper location when the plot requires them to, and basic logic and physics comes and goes. There are some attempts at humor, but they're incorporated in a hamfisted, poorly timed manner that clashes with the seriousness of what we're seeing, as opposed to being a welcome respite from it.

However, I was okay watching this mediocre if occasionally competent series until episode 18. This absolutely killed the whole show for me.

Up until this point in the series, the main villains of the series belong to the Fire Nation, which is waging war on the Earth and Water Nations, with the Air Nation already extinct. They intend to conquer the world, and will use the next appearance of a comet to do so. The titular protagonist, The Avatar, or Aang, must master the magic of water, earth, and fire before then, called bending, as he is already an expert with air.

The Fire Nation antagonists, with the chief one thus far being Commander/Admiral Zhou, have shown themselves to be

-cowardly
-power-hungry
-unaccepting of other people's choices and way of life

One of Zhou's particularly despicable acts was, after losing a duel to Prince Zuko, attacking him from behind once Zuko showed him mercy. Keep this in mind for later.

Episode 18 begins with our trio of protagonists (Aang, Kitara, and largely useless Sokka, in this episode and the series as a whole) finally finding a water tribe and the water-bending master Aang has been searching for. Right away, there is an eye-rolling example of exposition for the audience. Admiral Zhou is speaking to other military officers, and a captain asks why they don't simply attack the water tribe to capture the Avatar. Zhou explains that they are very powerful and have many natural defenses in terms of terrain and environment. Now, there is simply no way that a freaking captain wouldn't know such basics about his militaristic nation's main enemies. This is a lame, transparent excuse to explain matters to the viewer.

So Aang is going to be taught by water-bending master Pakku. Pakku is not only mean and demanding, but worst of all, he is a filthy misogynist! By that I mean that he refuses to teach Kitara because the customs of his tribe and village prohibit waterbending to women.

Aang is so angry at first that he refuses to learn waterbending from him. Now, finding a master to teach him waterbending was the entire point of the perilous journey to the ends of the world the main trio spent the last 15 episodes undergoing.

It's also vital to Aang saving the world, which hangs heavy on him. However, all that is thrown out the window, because combating sexism is more important than saving the world from the hells of Fire Nation rule.

One might counter "but Aang is just an immature 12 year-old!", but this doesn't pass muster. Aang has been surviving by his wits in multiple life-and-death situations, without any parental/guardian supervision for a long time now. That causes one to mature real fast. Not to mention that in all previous immaturaties, which come and go as the plot needs, Aang has never spit upon his quest before, let alone blatantly.

This scene is already a huge problem. If the main fucking hero of the series doesn't give a damn about his quest, then why the hell should we as the audience?

Kitara initially acts more responsibly, telling him to learn from the master. Aang agrees.

Later however, Aang decides that he will teach the secrets of waterbending to Kitara at night. Master Pakku discovers this and rightly notes that Aang has disrespected him as a master as well as his culture and tribe.

The following day, given an opportunity to right everything by simply apoligizing, Kitara instead insults Pakku and challenges him to a duel.

So Kitara, who is older than Aang and has always been the voice of reason and responsibility in this series, apparently doesn't give a damn about defeating the Fire Nation (who, incidentally, killed her beloved mother) and saving the world, either!

Pakku initially refuses to fight Kitara and walks away from her. Then Kitara, out of nowhere, attacks Pakku from behind in an act of despicable cowardice.

The very same act, one will recall, that Zhou did much earlier in the series. Except this is even worse. While Zhou at least had the partial excuse of still being in the heat of battle against a long-time, bitter, hated rival who had just beaten him up, Pakku has never attacked Kitara, is no threat to her, and refused to hurt her.

Kitara's actions are not of those of a hero. They are those of a villain.

In fact, let's review what we wrote about why The Fire Nation is evil;

-cowardly
-power-hungry
-unaccepting of other people's choices and way of life

We saw Aang and Kitara exhibit ALL THREE OF THESE in Episode 18.

Aang is cowardly in teaching Kitara water-bending against his master's orders. Kitara is cowardly in attacking a man who presents no threat and refuses to fight her from behind.

Aang and Kitara want power, not to protect innocents around them, but as the episode makes clear, for their own selfish desires. Kitara being a proud feminist who believes that everything a man can do she should be able to as well (her jealousy actually flaring up in a past episode when she is envious of Aang's skills) and Aang a cruel, destructive boy who apparently cares little about his sacred mission.

And lastly, Aang and Kitara are unaccepting of other people's choices and way of life. Master Pakku has a natural human right to decide who he does or doesn't want to teach. Other people are not entitled to his time, energy, and expertise just because they want to be. Moreover, he is following the customs and way of life of his water tribe. Which Aang and Kitara reject and spit upon. The same way the Fire Nation rejects and spits upon water tribes. Both groups want to bend an innocent group to their will. By force, if necessary.

So in essence, what is the difference between our main protagonists and the Fire Nation? Nothing! They both exhibit the same behaviors. They're both villains. There is no reason to root for one over the other.

This episode utterly ruins the protagonists and series for me and any possible interest I could have in seeing more of it.

CosmicMonkey
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Re: Avatar the Last Airbender (2005-2008)

Post by CosmicMonkey »

ummm... I thought the Fire Nation was evil because they were literally genocidal fascists?

boomdiddly
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Re: Avatar the Last Airbender (2005-2008)

Post by boomdiddly »

Honestly it just sounds like you watched The Legend of Korra first and carried that baggage with you into watching Avatar: The Last Airbender. I haven't ever finished watching Korra and have watched A:TLA multiple times, so you see where my loyalty lies.

There's a lot to unpack in your rant, but I'll keep this short and just talk about Zhao and Katara. When Zhao attempts to attack Zuko from behind he is acting like a child. His attack, though childish and impulsive, could have proven fatal if Iroh had not stepped in. His attack takes place after losing a fight. Katara, meanwhile, is a child... acting like a child. She challenges Master Pakku to a fight and he brushes her off. She waterwhips him into fighting her. This is childish and impulsive, but nowhere near fatal. The attacks are so different in their motives, means, and methods that they aren't really worth comparing.

Also this is spot on:
CosmicMonkey wrote:
Mon Jun 08, 2020 1:02 am
ummm... I thought the Fire Nation was evil because they were literally genocidal fascists?
If you don't like the show, that's fine. It's not for everyone. At the same time, this hot take feels half-baked. It feels more like a review of Avatar: The Last Strawman than anything else.

ShogunRua
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Re: Avatar the Last Airbender (2005-2008)

Post by ShogunRua »

boomdiddly wrote:
Mon Jun 08, 2020 6:23 am
Honestly it just sounds like you watched The Legend of Korra first and carried that baggage with you into watching Avatar: The Last Airbender. I haven't ever finished watching Korra and have watched A:TLA multiple times, so you see where my loyalty lies.
Never watched a second of Legend of Korra. Simply know about the fan outcry over the ending and politics. Which doesn't surprise me since the exact same politics are present in Avatar, but of course 2005-2008 was nowhere near as woke as 2012-2014.
boomdiddly wrote:There's a lot to unpack in your rant, but I'll keep this short and just talk about Zhao and Katara. When Zhao attempts to attack Zuko from behind he is acting like a child. His attack, though childish and impulsive, could have proven fatal if Iroh had not stepped in. His attack takes place after losing a fight. Katara, meanwhile, is a child... acting like a child. She challenges Master Pakku to a fight and he brushes her off. She waterwhips him into fighting her. This is childish and impulsive, but nowhere near fatal. The attacks are so different in their motives, means, and methods that they aren't really worth comparing.
This is a silly rationalization. Katara is not a "child" nor ever presented as such. She is presented as a mature, responsible teenager who has already inspired, led, and commanded large groups of adult men at this point in the series.

She attacks a man presenting no threat to her from behind. There is no justification for this. It's the behavior of a cowardly villain, but the series treats it as perfectly acceptable, and she is never called to task for it.

And the motives, as I already explained, are much worse. Zhao has just been beaten up by a hated rival. He is still in the heat of battle. Meanwhile, Katara attacks someone who has never raised a finger against her, fact refuses to do so, and is no rival.

What Katara did was even worse. Her behavior was far more villainous.
If you don't like the show, that's fine. It's not for everyone. At the same time, this hot take feels half-baked. It feels more like a review of Avatar: The Last Strawman than anything else.
I always find the smugness and projection of these pissy fanboy defenses so funny. The guy who foolishly assumed I had watched The Legend of Korra (a quick click on my profile would have disproven that) calls my well-reasoned, detailed take that he can only muster the most pathetic, nonsensical of rebuttals to "half-baked".

boomdiddly
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Re: Avatar the Last Airbender (2005-2008)

Post by boomdiddly »

I made the assumption (wrongly, I admit) that you had seen Korra first because you talked about it in your original post as if you had seen it. I knew you wouldn't have gone ahead and watched that after only watching eighteen episodes of The Last Airbender. It was a wrong assumption, but it wasn't malicious, and I shouldn't have to do research on you before having a discussion.

I also used the term "child" in its broader sense of "not being an adult". Yes, Katara is a teenager who has shown remarkable moments of leadership and fortitude. Yet she is not presented as a perfect character. Perceived sexism is a hot button issue from episode ONE. The whole reason they discover the Avatar is because Katara loses her temper over something Sokka has said. Pursuing water-bending even when endangering herself and her friends? Yup, that's also a major weakness. Katara is often overly-emotional and incredibly stubborn. Her explosion at Master Pakku is not just a plot convenience; it is totally consistent with her character. He takes away her opportunities to learn water-bending for combat because she's a girl. This is a two-button issue. That's why she loses it beyond belief.

You're doubling down on your assertions in your original post, but you have not understood that there is an ocean of difference between Zhao's actions and Katara's. I'm not even saying that Katara's actions were right. Really, I'm not. However, you've painted her as a bigger villain of the two and that is simply not true.

Scenario one: An amateur challenges a world champ boxer, which the champ readily accepts, as it will be an easy win and an ego boost. After a bit of being knocked around, the amateur manages to surprisingly KO the champ. The amateur is acknowledging the cheers from the crowd and accepting his trophy when the world champ rushes him from behind, with a full on punch (no gloves plus brass knuckles). Fortunately for the amateur, the ref sees the incoming punch and pulls him safely out of the way.

Scenario two: A dad is talking with his adult friends at a party when his teenage daughter bursts into the room, knocking over a vase in the process. "You and Mom are getting a divorce?! Are you serious?! I need to talk to you RIGHT now!" she demands. She rushes out of the room, slamming the door behind her. The dad extricates himself from the conversation and goes outside. His daughter is standing out on the front sidewalk, pacing back and forth. "How could you do this? Don't you love her? Don't you love me?" She bombards him with questions, but he says nothing and walks past her. He takes his keys and starts to unlock his car when he feels a thwump on his back. It is her wallet that she has thrown at him.

Who in these scenarios has acted like a bigger villain? The world champ boxer or the teenage daughter?

You can write me off as a "pissy fanboy", but the burden of proof is actually on you. I posit that the teenage daughter and Katara acted poorly, but defensibly. The world champ and Zhao acted villainously.

Explain to me how the teenage daughter is actually the real villain here, and this fact is so prima facie self-evident that the viewers of these scenarios have to give up any sympathy they have had for the daughter, since her actions are so reprehensible. Failing that, explain to me how these scenarios are in any way too dissimilar to the events of the cartoon to accurately draw comparison.

ShogunRua
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Re: Avatar the Last Airbender (2005-2008)

Post by ShogunRua »

boomdiddly wrote:
Tue Jun 09, 2020 3:37 am

You're doubling down on your assertions in your original post, but you have not understood that there is an ocean of difference between Zhao's actions and Katara's. I'm not even saying that Katara's actions were right. Really, I'm not. However, you've painted her as a bigger villain of the two and that is simply not true.
Repeating "I'm right and you're wrong! I'm right and you're wrong!", without evidence, can be just as easily dismissed without evidence.

Your scenarios are silly and utterly irrelevant to what happened in the cartoon and conveniently ignore everything I've written on the matter. Master Pakku is not Katara's father, has not harmed her in any way, and owes her nothing. And the water-whip has been shown repeatedly throughout the series to be a serious, debilitating attack, far different than throwing a wallet. It's nice to know, however, that my review of the series was so triggering that it caused you to write your 8th and 9th posts in 6 years on this site.

coffee
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Re: Avatar the Last Airbender (2005-2008)

Post by coffee »

When did Katara attacked Pakku?

She flicked his ear with a tiny water whip once. Is that the "cowardly attack"?

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=EwxskUFdBb8

CosmicMonkey
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Re: Avatar the Last Airbender (2005-2008)

Post by CosmicMonkey »

CosmicMonkey wrote:
Mon Jun 08, 2020 1:02 am
ummm... I thought the Fire Nation was evil because they were literally genocidal fascists?

The Fire Nation:

- Authoritarian dictatorship centered on the Fire Lord's cult of personality.
- Zero tolerance for dissent, the Fire Lord nearly-killed and banished his own son for speaking out of turn.
- Aggressive militaristic expansion with no compassion or regard for civilian casualties.
- Fascist ideology that purports that they are superior to all other peoples and is used to justify their violence.
- Literally genocided every single member of a major civilization (one that was pacifist no less) and *minor spoiler*: plans to do so again. Literally the title and the entire premise of the show is based on this.

Team Avatar:
- Have committed zero war crimes
- Not genocidal
- Have shown compassion towards others on many occassions.
- Are children risking their lives to fight for the peaceful coexistence of all nations; are anti-fascists, committing to ending its spread.
- Also committed to fighting against injustice and oppression from all sources, not just the Fire Nation.

...I honestly can't understand how anyone could possibly morally equate these two groups. How is a teenage girl challenging a misogynist to a fight in order to prove a point about gender equality ANYwhere close to same level of genocidal evil?

You weren't also cheering for the Empire to win in Star Wars, were you?

If you want to criticize ATLA for being a weak Western knock-off of shonen or for being too kiddie-centric for you, like okay, sure, those are valid criticisms. But what you're saying here honestly makes little to no sense to me.

coffee
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Re: Avatar the Last Airbender (2005-2008)

Post by coffee »

CosmicMonkey wrote:
Tue Jun 09, 2020 6:26 pm
...I honestly can't understand how anyone could possibly morally equate these two groups.
You're wasting your time.

When someone says that "Kitara" was acting like a villain, if that person is joking then it's not funny. If he's not joking, then he's a joke himself and very funny.

ShogunRua
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Re: Avatar the Last Airbender (2005-2008)

Post by ShogunRua »

CosmicMonkey wrote:
Tue Jun 09, 2020 6:26 pm
...I honestly can't understand how anyone could possibly morally equate these two groups.
Well, it helps to completely ignore everything the other person writes!
CosmicMonkey wrote: How is a teenage girl challenging a misogynist to a fight in order to prove a point about gender equality ANYwhere close to same level of genocidal evil?
Attacking someone from behind who poses no threat to you is not a "challenge". It's a "cowardly sneak attack". It's what a villain does. It's what Zhao did, except with even less justification.

Naturally though, the fact that he doesn't want to train a girl makes him a "misogynist" and that, by extension, apparently justifies any form of cowardly assault or other villainous behavior towards him for the woke crowd. This was likely how the scriptwriters justified to themselves Katara replicating and exceeding Zhao's actions from earlier in the series.
Last edited by ShogunRua on Wed Jun 10, 2020 2:25 am, edited 1 time in total.

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