Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Review: Avatar; the Last Airbender

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When I first heard that my younger siblings had started watching Avatar; the Last Airbender without our parents' permission, I have to admit, I was very cautious. I knew almost nothing about the show, only that it centered around a young monk who demonstrated Buddhist principles.
However, after my father previewed it and gave my younger siblings the Okay, I was curious. I started watching it with them... and in no time at all, I was hooked. In fact, I love the show even more than they do now!

That being said, I will begin the review. :)

For those of you who don't know, Avatar; the Last Airbender is a children's TV series in three seasons, set in a world in which certain people called benders can use telekinesis to manipulate the four elements: Water, Earth, Fire, and Air. Only one person, the Avatar, has the ability to bend all four elements.
Siblings Katarra and Sokka find the young Avatar Aang frozen in an iceberg, and together, the three of them set out to defeat the evil Fire Lord before he and his armies destroy the world. If Aang hopes to gain victory over the maniacal leader, he must master all four elements and restore peace and balance to the world.

Many Christian sources such as Focus on the Family and Plugged In have emphasized the negative elements of the series; those being the spiritual content, occasional Eastern theology, and symbolism. While these things are true, I feel that these sources have been too harsh on the series.
Bear in mind, I am no expert in Eastern theology. My knowledge in that field is extremely limited, so it could be that much of the references scattered throughout the series fly right over my head. However, I do know how to discern truth from lies.
Avatar; the Last Airbender was designed around many Asian influences, and thus it does contain many references to their culture and religion. The concept of reincarnation is a recurring factor, as the central character, the Avatar, is said to be the incarnation of a Spirit, reincarnated generation after generation, always there to protect the world.
One episode explores pantheism, and still others involve consulting with mystical spirits for advise.

On the positive side, the story is great. The central characters, Aang, Katarra, Sokka, Toph, and all the rest demonstrate incredible teamwork and friendship. The concept of forgiveness and mercy is demonstrated well, and in some places, I desperately wish that the series had been a Christian series, as there are so many opportunities to portray the Gospel.
Aang, despite his apparent cowardly ways, overcomes his fears in order to save his friends, and eventually becomes a strong, brave hero, who's courage is worth admiring. Katarra is a strong, supporting feminine character, and girls all over will be pleased to see a female character who isn't just a pretty face- but a responsible and caring young woman who can also hold her own in a battle. Sokka provides great comedy relief, as well as an occasional brilliant plan.
The series' villains are thoroughly enjoyable as well. While Fire Lord Ozai does not become a prominent character until Season Three, no one could ask for a scarier, more evil villain.
My personal favorite character was Prince Zuko, and if you watch the series, I hope you'll see why.

Over all, I thought that the series was wonderful. A memorable, in-depth story that is uncommon in children's shows, with excellent character development and subplots. It's only downside was the negative spiritual content.
However, most of the episodes involving spiritual nonsense can be skipped- and those that cannot... well, there's always our best friend Wikipedia. ;)
If you decide to watch the series, I wish you a happy, fun time, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. However, I would advise you to skip the following episodes....

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Book One: Water

The Winter Solstice- part 1

The Siege of the North- part 2 (This episode is necessary to the story, so if you don't watch it, read the plot.)

Book Two: Earth

The Swamp

The Guru

The Crossroads of Destiny- part 1 (Not necessarily to be skipped, but the beginning should be watched with caution)

Book Three: Fire

The Avatar and the Fire Lord (Nothing particularly harmful, but Aang does take a journey through the Spirit World.)

Sozin's Commet- part 2 (Once again, a necessary episode, so if you don't watch it, at least read the plot.)

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In conclusion, Avatar; the Last Airbender is a great series if you can ignore the false spiritual message that is occasionally presented. Those who choose to avoid it; I respect and understand their decision. Those who choose to watch it; be careful, but have fun and enjoy. :)

-Rayne Speryll