While the 2010 movie The Last Airbender had very little success with the critics and audiences, tracing its roots leads to the original animated series titled Avatar: The Last Airbender which is nothing less than a masterpiece in animation and creative storytelling.
Set in an alternate universe the world is divided into four nations each having the ability to control one of the four elements Fire, Air, Water and Earth. The Fire nation believes its element is superior and sets out to conquer the rest. The only person that could stand in its way is the Avatar, an individual who can command all four elements. But the Avatar has disappeared and has not been seen for a 100 years.
The series is divided into three books starting with the book of water having 20 episodes, then the book of earth also with 20 episodes and finally the book of fire with 21 episodes. The book of water introduces the series with a group of kids in the southern water tribe accidentally discovering a boy named Aang frozen in ice, later revealed to be the Avatar.
Every episode is cleverly written to reveal insight into past happenings while laying ground for what is coming up next.
Aang is a 100 years late and the war with the Fire nation is at its peak. He is himself an air nomad with excellent air bending skills but must master bending the other three elements if he is to realise his role as the Avatar and stop the Fire nation in time. The books follow his journey as he masters the elements. Note that the 2010 movie The Last Airbender only covers events from the book of water leaving the movie incomplete and screaming for a sequel.
But this series is not just about the storyline. It is more about the way the story is told, it is about the characters and their personalities and how they develop, it is about the witty and humorous dialogue and suspense about what will happen at the next bend of the journey, it is about the heroes that won't give up and the villains that are cunning and sure of their victory. It is very creative storytelling indeed and it is the kind that will attract kids and adults alike.
One of the notable feature of the series is its ability to keep characters and ideas alive across the episodes. Most characters do not simply disappear at the end of the episode or book. They keep coming back in meaningful ways. Similarly seemingly meaningless ideas in Book 1 like the Lotus tile in the Pie-Sho game take on a deeper more insightful meaning as the story progresses to Book 2 leading the audience to appreciate that everything happening in the story is for a good reason, which will become apparent in time. Indeed every episode is cleverly written to reveal insight into past happenings while laying ground for what is coming up next. This means no episode can be skipped, all of the 61 episodes across three books are valuable to the story being told.
The animation and artwork itself is excellent and improves with each book. The fighting style adopted by benders of each element are based on a style of real world martial art, leading to visual differences in the techniques used. Water benders are based on Tai Chi where the focus is on gently redirecting an incoming attack, Earth benders are based on Hung Gar Kung fu with low rigid stances and powerful strikes, Fire benders are based on Northern Shaolin Kung fu with focus on long range techniques and quick movements and Air benders are based on Baguazhang with focus on evasive circular footwork. Besides martial arts the series also pulls useful ideas from Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism and Yoga.
The series is now available as three box-sets. The original box-sets do not compress the video and therefore have 4 to 5 DVDs per box. There is no single DVD box-set covering the whole series. The box-sets have been criticized slightly for not having additional special features and subtitles. While it may initially seem like an expensive purchase the amount of DVDs and playback time you get and the quality of material on these DVDs make them a worthwhile purchase. Watch it, you wont regret it. This stuff is all round family entertainment.