The Awesome that is Avatar: The Last Airbender (plus a list of Korean cultural influences on Avatar)
January 8, 2009
WARNING: This post contains lots of images, over 1500 words, intimidatingly fanboyish, and definitely not safe for those even thinking of checking out Avatar. It’d break my heart to know that my spoilers ruined the experience for anyone (not that it’d completely sabatage the journey, since it’s hard to not be engaged by an epic like this). I apologise for the writing that may prove incoherent and horribly out of this blog’s character, but I just want to preserve these fleeting moments while it’s still fresh in my mind. I’ll come up with a very short spoiler-free review for those interested later. Having that said…
I haven’t had this much fun and awesome from an animation since Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. What a ride! I mean, it was kind of fun and silly at first, even though everything seemed so generic. O but it definitely gets better each episode. The setting, story, characters, comedy, drama, action…gets oh so better.
This is when I first felt Avatar was going to be more than just silly fun. I absolutely love the soundtracks associated with Avatar state. Whenever Aang transforms, that feeling of epic never fails. Talking of epic…
In retrospective, the final episodes of each season are the only ones that feel truly epic, thanks to the “fillers” all building up towards that explosive climax.
This was beautiful. Absolutely tore my heart…then pieced it back! It’s silly how you know the main character’s not going to die (especially in kid’s shows like this), but still feel horrble and uneasy at the possibility that he just might bite it.
As for the last episode, well it was epic in itself. The scene where it made me shed tears though, was when Aang used waterbending to put out all the fires after defeating Ozai. It was just…so beautiful, the music, signifying the beginning of a new era of hope and understanding that will rectify the inbalance all the hatred has brought to the world’s balance.
I can’t say I appreciate how they handled the moral conflict Aang was facing because…well, I wanted him to accept reality and make sacrifices rather than stripping off someone’s capability of evil completely (which to me is an easy way out). But I’m glad it at least made sense and, at that time, I didn’t really mind. And that’s what counts more, everything that we’re being affected while watching and not what we’re thinking afterwards. There’s more I want to say on the last episodes, but I’ll get to that when I go into the pairings (huhuhu).
The comedy really picks up as the show progresses.
Oh Toph…how could the first season manage without you. Proving that blind jokes are funnier when made by blind people.
I think it’s fair to say some episodes had Cowboy Bebop influence, as well as Samurai Champloo. Some matrix actions too, on top of martial art films in general.
I loved the beach episode, it added lot of depth to the cool enemy characters. I especially liked Azula, and bit disappointed with how they treated her character at the end. But I guess that’s my bias coming in. I think there was a definite possibility of making her more complex through deeper exploration of her relationship with her mother. We had a glimpse of what caused her to spiral into madness, namely her suspicion that her mother thought she was a monster, accumulated by the betrayals of her only friends. It was in a sense, tragic to see her mother reflected in mirror (lol Perfect Blue), possibly a reflection of her subconscious, telling her that she really did love her. I think this could’ve been developed as brilliantly as Zuko’s complex relatinoship with Iroh, but there probably wasn’t enough room for that within 3 Books.
Oh, the Ember Island play was simply brilliant. So bad, so hilarious, its degree of awesome comparable only to Kure-nai‘s musical.
I mentioned in my previous entry about the level of originality and intelligence in the way Avatar combined already existing ideas and styles. It’s unfortunate that I haven’t come across something as clever as Northern Water Tribe, but there were still fascinating places like this library. Which is buried under the desert. Guarded by a giant speaking owl. Awesome? You bet.
This was pretty neat dreamscape as well, featuring one of the coolest creatures I’ve seen in a while: Face Stealer. I don’t know much about Chinese and Japanese but there’s quite a few Korean folk tales featuring centipedes. Although I do remember seeing one of those centipede-like demon from Vampire Princess Miyu OVA that claims to be inspired by Japanese mythology.
Design of Yue as a moon spirit was most definitely inspired by what Koreans call “선녀”, which refers to heavenly fairies/angels. I know the term exists also in Chinese literature, since I remember it from my last reading of the Chinese classic Journey to the West. So maybe it originated first from China, not sure. What I am sure of thought is that there is a Korean fable called “The Tiger and the Got-kam”, where a girl is reincarnated as a moon spirit to protect us at night.
This story of Two Lovers in Cave also reminded me of the famous Korean fable called “견우직녀”, which originated from Chinese fable called “牛郎織女”. It’s a tragic (but beautiful) love story, where a man and a woman is separated by a galaxy apart, and are only reunited once in a year by crossing over a bridge formed by hordes of magpies (because they were so moved by their love! daww). I love these fables, and the morals they depict.
I had to add that ^^. Girl on the right is the main character from very famous Korean animation titled Dae Jang Geum (period-drama for children). Right down to the hair loopies and ponytail.
In Korea, “Joo Dee (주디)” is a dialectal term to literally mean ‘mouth’, while figuratively meaning one’s chatty/easy mouth.
One of the fascinating element of Avatar‘s world, which I initially didn’t notice from season one, was how clever they integrated bendings with different martial art styles to reflect the character of each elements. Stubborn like a rock, flowing and rejuvenating like water, quick and fierce like fire, versatile like air…and those elements in turn reflecting the character’s personality, their way of viewing and interacting with life. What’s amazing is how we didn’t even have to know these martial arts, just by looking at how fierce Zuko fights, or resolute Toph’s stances are, you can understand the kind of attribute these different bending styles exhibit. It shows intelligence, beautifully expressed, and ultimately original despite its re-use of already existing elements.
I loved the final battle between Ozai and Aang, but I still think the best bending battle was at the last episodes of second season.
This old hag is one of many reasons how I love this theme of bending is tied to the message they want to convey. It doesn’t matter if you’re a fire bending or water bending, it’s how you use it that makes you evil or not. Dai Li agents also, are “earth benders with a killer instinct that is soo fire bender”. Every bending styles are capable of evil and good, and so are people.
I love fire bending. Well, I love earth bending too but no bending has as interesting philosophy as fire.
Suki!!!! O she kicks so much ass. Absolutely love her.
I’m SO glad Sokka ended up with Suki. They’re a perfect match.
Can’t say the same for Zukai because, well, I just don’t see relationship between two wooden blocks working. But I loved what Mai did in that prison escape, so it’s all good!
Well, it’s not like I thought there was better chemistry between them, because there wasn’t. I just thought it would’ve been more interesting if their romantic story went into different direction, where Katara only viewed Aang as a brother, and have this “o I hate you, I hate you too, but o you’re so bad Zuko~mooch mooch”…I will stop now. It’s not that I have anything against older woman relationships, I just think 12 year old boy and 14 year old girl is bit hmm…-__-
But then again, Katara might just be thinking ahead. If I’m 24 he’d be 22 hmmm : D
I didn’t like Zuko’s relationship with Aang as much as Iroh, but it was still great to see theirs compared to the one between Sozin and Roku.
Well this is not really a romantic relationship but it was just so touching. Kind of sad that despite Iroh’s best efforts, Zuko still chose to betray him at the end of second season. But the life of honour and fortune meant nothing to him when was able to finally grasp it, because he was ignoring the all the truths he learnt, going against everything he believed in, he wans’t himself. Path of suffering set him right, made him stronger, and like Iroh oh aren’t we glad to see him not lose his way at the end. Their interactions have been a truly great one.
There aren’t many shows where at the end I come out with this level of emotions. It’s somewhere between immense satisfaction, and yearning for more. I am thrilled by such a satisfying journey, yet sad to see it’s over and there will be no more of it. I’ll miss this feeling, that’s for sure. A truly wholesome entertainment.
I actually thought she was perfect for Aang. One thing that fascinated me in this episode was its commentary on dancing and a society that emphasises unity/common good over individuality/freedom. If anything I think it’s other way around, and Deleuze once linked this idea to his FASCINATING view on art in general, which I’ll definitely cover in future.
This is a direct copy less subtle reference to Korean traditional clothes called “HanBok” (한복). You could say it’s as important to Korea as much as Kimono is to Japan.
Those two hats are also direct references to the type of traditional hats worn by Koreans of high ranking before/during Joseon period, called “감투”. Like I mentioned before, I am more impressed by more subtle approach to referencing that seems to take parts from multiple references to create something original, rather than just copy pasting the exactly same looking hats and clothings.