The Awesome that is Avatar: The Last Airbender (plus a list of Korean cultural influences on Avatar)

January 8, 2009

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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…

OMG IT ROCKED!!!! (sorry about the bad pun)

OMG IT ROCKED!!!! (sorry about the bad pun)

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.

"I am ready"

"I am ready"

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…

This...is epic

This...is 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.

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*sniff

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.

You look troubled Aang. Here, take my deus ex

You look troubled Aang. Here, take my convenient plot device

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).

Oh Sokka, why is your forehead so red?

Oh Sokka, why is your forehead so red?

The comedy really picks up as the show progresses.

All the blind jokes you need for life

All the blind jokes you need for life

Oh Toph…how could the first season manage without you. Proving that blind jokes are funnier when made by blind people.

so sad...yet so funny

so sad...yet so funny

when everything became Mushroom Samba

Mushroom Samba anyone?

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.

Still can't believe Zuko managed to come up with best sarcastic come back at the end

You really can't go lower when even Zuko acts sarcastic towards you

o_O

o_O

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.

Paranoia Agent?

Paranoia Agent?

Your HONOUR!

Your HONOUR!

Oh, the Ember Island play was simply brilliant. So bad, so hilarious, its degree of awesome comparable only to Kure-nai‘s musical.

It's so predictable that you're here to make trouble. But I'll let you roam around for the sake of plot.

It's so predictable that you're here to make trouble. But I'll let you roam around anyway, for the sake of plot.

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.

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dreamscape

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.

and speaking of Korean influences...

and speaking of Korean influences...

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.

BOLLOCKS

Aang's thoughts at that point: BOLLOCKS

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.

lol

lol

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.

*plays OP of Paranoia Agent

*plays OP of Paranoia Agent

In Korea, “Joo Dee (주디)” is a dialectal term to literally mean ‘mouth’, while figuratively meaning one’s chatty/easy mouth.

Bendings!

Bendings!

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.

Megaman!

Megaman!

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.

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Creepy

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.

Fire is life, but is fatal if not controlled. Fire bending is an act of balance, affirmation of life

Fire is life, but is fatal if not controlled. Fire bending is an act of balance, affirmation of life

I love fire bending. Well, I love earth bending too but no bending has as interesting philosophy as fire.

<3 <3 <3

Because I'm worth it~

Ty Lee!!

<3 <3 <3

❤ ❤ ❤

Suki!!!! O she kicks so much ass. Absolutely love her.

i...i...it's not like I missed you or anything

i...i...it's not like I missed you or anything

daww

daww

I’m SO glad Sokka ended up with Suki. They’re a perfect match.

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oww

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!

lol only if this was canon

lol only if this was canon

yes...I ship Zutara

yes...I ship Zutara

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

now if this was canon...

now if this was canon...

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.

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So what were your favourite moments?

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.

Extra memories

daww

daww

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.

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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.

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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.

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20 Responses to “The Awesome that is Avatar: The Last Airbender (plus a list of Korean cultural influences on Avatar)”


  1. Haha, don’t worry about getting all super-fanboyish on us…Avatar seems to have that affect on everybody. Its charm is just that irresistible…capable of cracking the most hardened soul into a mushy pile of sqeee. But yeah, I gotta say, out of the gazillion reviews/recaps of Avatar I must’ve read over time, this was the first to draw lines to Korean folklore and culture. Interesting stuff.

    Also, I’m guessing the “Mushroom Samba” caption for Aang’s sleep-deprived delirium was purely coincidental, but I had that “Samurai Momo” as my AA avatar for the longest time. It’s easily one of my favorite episodes (a lot to choose from actually)…but, I’m just a pure sucker for those knuckle-ball sort of pitches shows tend to throw at us from time to time (like the “Quiz Show” episode from Ergo Proxy and “Toys in the Attic” and “Mushroom Samba” from CB, for instance).

    And for the record, IroxJun must totally happen. :seriousface:

  2. Kim Says:

    Okay this post is awesome. I really miss all the squee over Avatar and I love that you enjoyed the series so much.

    And I am also so happy you are a Suki/Sokka fan because they are my favorite Avatar couple.

    Although my favorite relationships in the series were Zuko/Iroh & Zuko/Aang

    And uyes Toph was just who the group needed in season 2. She was the perfect addition to the Gaang.

    For the record Zukai is actually Maiko in fandom. I didn’t like it much at first but I grew to like it a lot because Mai makes Zuko so happy and dorky and that is how I love him best. 😄

    Also thanks for sharing the Korean influences that was really interesting.

  3. gaguri Says:

    I’m bit surprised myself that there is very little coverage on the cultural influences, Chinese and Japanese included. It’s obvious to me that they thoroughly researhed and thought things through before building this fictional world. I added tiny bit more references at the end, which weren’t as interesting as the ones mentioned before.

    @MushroomSamba
    I actually recognised Momo from my memory of that strange avatar of yours (and Kim’s Suki avy). I also love these random (but awesome!) episodes, it’s what made Ergo Proxy a great anime despite its trainwreck ending. And yes…Iroh x Jun must happen…

    @Kim
    I regret not watching this with you guys, I can only imagine how exhilirating it must have been fanboying at that point of time. I read about how Toph was originally conceived as a big, macho earth bender, but it’s safe to say that Toph we know is perfect. And I mean, P-E-R-F-E-C-T.

  4. khalil Says:

    avatar iz my favorite show
    i like the last episode of fire when aang fights the fire lord

  5. tokiogirl526 Says:

    aweszume!!! i luv ur creative insight. Avatar is coolest anime ever! I like the Zuko/Mai and the wishful thinking of Zuko/Katara relationships. All in all great page.
    P.S. I luved the beach episode too!

  6. gaguri Says:

    rock on fangirls d(^_^)b

  7. Alex Says:

    Yeah, I know this is an older post, but whatever.
    I came across this article in an image search. Then I started reading it…then I started screaming, ‘I KNOW, RIGHT?!’ until people told me to stop. I really appreciate your opinion of this show, especially the mature, sensible way you regard the shippings. It’s really a shame…Katara doomed to a strange, puppy-love based romance with Aang. I mean, we know he’s the Avatar, but he’s also a kid, much more so than Katara. : ducks rocks :

    Thank you for pointing out the Korean influences in this cartoon. It’s such a strange thing, conceived by Americans and animated by Koreans, but I feel it’s the best thing to come out of Nickelodeon in a long time. I’m really looking forward to the movie; so I can see a different view on Bryke’s ideas. I love delving into the little details, especially costume design.

  8. gaguri Says:

    Oh don’t you worry about the post date. In fact the comments I love the most is when they’re on older posts of mine! And I do value other people’s shippings =)

    There are few Korean influences as I mentioned above, and it is animated by Koreans, but I know there are lot of Japanese, Chinese, Tibetian and surely others like from Inuit and even Australian (lol) influences. They really did a LOT of research and it shows.

    And yea…Aang with Katara 😦 how typical is that…sif girls like Katara will go for a kid like Aang irl amiright =D

  9. emily Says:

    oooommmfffgg i love avatar the last air bender its my favorite show im obsessed with it

  10. Kya Says:

    Only just stumbled across this post via Google Images, and I love it – the insight is great plus it actually puts into words why I love the series so much. Dislike the actor choices for the live-action films, but that may be because I just have this idea of all the characters already set in my mind… Will be odd watching it with different voices and interpretations from the actors, though. I was holding out for Zutara and nearly cried when she ended up with Aang, which really puts my obsession into perspective… 😀

  11. gaguri Says:

    Glad you liked my opinion. I’m almost positive I will never like the live action as much as the animated series, the most I can hope for is a decent flick with great production values. And yes, they totally should have gone for zutara 😦

  12. Micci Says:

    I LOVE YOU. I was totally unsettled by Zuko and Mai’s hookup, I love Sokka and Suki, and I don’t really like with how Azula became at the end, but we were all seeing it coming.

    I agree with you on practically EVERYTHING you said here. It’s nice to see an entirely awesome person sharing your same views.

  13. Micci Says:

    Oh, and I’m so on board with Zutara. At the beginning of the series, I was like, “Yeah, Zuko and Katara are totally going to fall in love!” And at the end, when Zuka blocked Katara from Azula’s lightning blast, I was like, how can you NOT fall in love with him after that? Plus, her and Aang is pretty predictable, am I right?

  14. gaguri Says:

    Haha, glad we stand on the same ship…

  15. abi Says:

    I THINK ZUKO AND KATARA LOOK CUTE TOGETHER

  16. gaguri Says:

  17. talita Says:

    Really interesting post friend. I knew about the Asian culture in this cartoon, but i haven’t notice how much of Korean culture was there. That’s nice that you make us take notice. Are you Korean?

  18. gaguri Says:

    Yes I am Korean, glad you enjoyed the post!

  19. muria Says:

    there is also a hat like that from the chinese ming dynasty, which is called ‘wu sha mao’. but nice post, i like korean culture 😀

  20. Mutant Christ Says:

    Greatest series in TV history, and I don’t even like animated shows.


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