The Resurgence of Avatar: The Last Airbender

Rohan Singh and Royce Perera Arts & Entertainment Jul 18, 2020

Let's face it, with nothing to do, APs over, classwork decreasing more and more by the day, and us being stuck at home, we had nothing better to do then to watch TV shows and movies all day long. Or at least that's how we spent most of our quarantine… Avatar. No, not the movie with the blue people, we’re talking Avatar the Last Airbender (ATLA). This beautiful creation took the US by storm when quarantine first started.

Created in 2005 by Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, and Aaron Ehasz, the American animated television series has had a resurgence in 2020. The main factor for this boost in popularity is its recent addition to Netflix, after airing three seasons on Nickelodeon between 2005-2008. It joined Netflix around May 15th and made the top ten list in a matter of days, where it still remains alongside The Office and other popular shows. Episodes are roughly 20 minutes long, with about twenty episodes per season, and 3 seasons in the show - making it very easy to binge watch in a day. And, there’s news that by 2021 or 2022, a new, better, live action remake will be produced, hopefully making up for the mistake that is the 2010 ATLA movie...

In ATLA, only certain individuals are born with the power to bend certain elements. The gene for bending can be inherited or given to an individual from a spirit (more on spirits later). The show deals with 4 core elements -- air, water, earth, and fire. The characters learn the art of bending from fictitious beings. The air benders learn from flying bison, the water benders from the moon spirit, the fire benders from dragons, and the earth benders from the badgermoles. Water and fire benders are also able to draw power from the moon and sun.

The setting is a magical world divided into 4 nations: The Fire Nation, the Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom, and the Air Nomads. Their way of life is heavily influenced on their bending abilities, resulting in the reflection of their bending types on their cultures. The creators of the show actually modeled each elemental culture after real Asian cultures in our world. The Water Tribes, Earth Kingdom, Fire Nation, and Air Nomads are all respectively based on Inuit, Chinese, Japanese, and Tibetian cultures. The show also features heavy Asian representation, as it borrows names, food, tea, architecture, etc. from different Asian cultures.

On to the main component of the show: the Avatar (Aang). As mentioned before, only those who inherit the genes to bend or who are given the ability to bend from spirits can manipulate the elements. However, the bending genes only allow for the ability to bend one element. Individuals can learn techniques from other benders, but they can only use those techniques to bend their element. The Avatar is special for many reasons. One of them is that he is the one person who can bend all 4 elements. Also, he is the bridge between the spirit world and the physical world. The spirit world is a reality parallel to the physical world that humans inhabit. They coexist but do not cross unless a portal is established. The spirit world is home to the spirits, which are supernatural beings that embody aspects of nature and life. This is the source of the Avatar's power, as he can also travel to the spirit world. Lastly, the Avatar is constantly reincarnated after he dies. This adds to the Asian culture representation as reincarnation is a concept that many Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jainists believe in. Basically, everytime the avatar dies, his soul travels to another body and is reincarnated. The Avatar also has the ability to speak to his past selves.

The series starts 100 years into a war caused by the Fire Nation. The Fire Nation aims to conquer all other territories and cultures, and they have had relative ease with their conquest due to the fact that the Avatar has been missing for 100 years. Even though it’s a kids show, ATLA deals with concepts that are considered to be more mature, exploring sexism, gender roles, genoicide, propaganda, war, suffering, poverty, spirituality, and death. The resurgence of Avatar: TLA is due to many factors - after all it's a beloved childhood show that is now accessible and easy to watch - but the main cause for its resurgence is that it’s really good. The show truly has it all. Amazing world building, well written characters, stellar music, drama, humor, development, action, love, and more. The show also gave us arguably one of the greatest written characters of all time: Prince Zuko. We could go on and on about how well written and awesome Zuko is, but we'll keep this article spoiler free.

The show was only 3 seasons, but the Avatar universe is still growing. TLA was continued in comics that picked up right after the end of the third season. The creators also created another series based on the Avatar universe; The Legend of Korra takes place about 70 years after the end of TLA. As for live action depictions, the one by M. Night Shyamalan was very controversial as the storytelling was poor, the cast was white-washed (it IS about Asian culture after all), and the horrible bending effects.

However, Netflix has announced that they would be making a new life action depiction. This certainly scared Avatar fans at first, but then the company announced that the original creators will be overseeing the project. Fans are now hopeful, as the original creators have been adamant that they will fix the mistakes that Shyamalan made.

Avatar TLA comics in order (take place after season 3): The Promise, The Rift, Smoke and Shadow, and North and South.

Rohan Singh

Rohan is Batman...or so he says. A senior who writes for A & E, he likes collecting comics, The Office, and Arsenal. Recently, he’s been using 3D printers to print facemasks.

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