In 2005, my life changed, Avatar: The Last Airbender aired on Nickelodeon, co-created by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante Dimartino. I was ten years old. I am twenty now, and I still think of this show on a daily basis. I had never seen a cartoon that had a real premise before, a real plot. You had to watch each week to know exactly what was going on. I will be analyzing the third season of this show, but before I get into that, it would probably help if I explained overall what the show is about.
A hundred years before the show takes place, Fire Lord Sozin decides he wants to take over the world, so he uses the power of a comet, later named Sozin’s Comet, to wipe out the Air Nation. Aang was twelve years old when this was happening, lucky for him he ran away from home after he was told he was the Avatar. He got caught in a storm, and froze himself in an iceberg.
When the show starts, Sokka and Katara are out trying to catch fish for their village. Sokka says something to upset Katara, and she loses control of her bending, because of this, Aang’s iceberg comes afloat. The two notice a boy in the iceberg and go to help him. Katara is the only water bender left in the sourthern Water Tribe, and it has been her dream to learn from a real master. After it is found out that Aang is the Avatar, the kids set out on a journey to the North Pole so they can find a teacher. Being the Avatar means you can bend all four elements, and there is a certain order you have to learn them in. Aang has already mastered air bending, water comes next, then earth, then fire.
Speaking of fire, there is another important character we meet in the first couple of episodes, that would be Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation.
This is what he looks like by the third season, Zuko goes through more growth than any other character. In the beginning of the show, his mission is to capture the Avatar to redeem his honor. See that scar on his face? Yeah, his father, Fire Lord Ozai, gave that to him when he was thirteen for speaking out of turn at a war meeting. He was then banished from his home and given a nearly impossible task.
The journey for all of the kids is not easy, Aang gets to the North Pole and learns how to water bend, but cannot stay long. Katara masters it before him, and becomes his new master. They have to get to the Earth Kingdom so they can figure a few things out. Aang learned that Sozin’s Comet is coming round again, and he must defeat Fire Lord Ozai before it comes.
The second season is about Aang learning earth bending from their new friend Toph, a blind earth bender.
All of the kids go through a lot in this season, Aang loses his sky bison for the majority of the season, they are forced to work around a conspiracy in the Earth Kingdom, Zuko becomes a refugee with his uncle. It sort of just looked like this.
Zuko’s sister, Azula, shows up and basically kills Aang. There is this special thing Aang can do, it’s called the Avatar State. When he is in this state he glows and has the power of every past Avatar. The catch to this is, if you are killed in the Avatar State, then not only are you dead, but the Avatar cycle will be broken, and the Avatar will no longer exist. Azula shoots Aang with lightning, yup she can bend lightning, and he goes down. Katara luckily had been given special spirit water from the North Pole that she uses to heal Aang with.
This brings us to the third season, fire! I felt like I waited forever for this season to start, there were so many amazing things that happened. A cartoon had never made me go through so many emotions before, I would laugh and cry, feel for the characters, connect with the characters, it sort of felt like I grew with them. There are so many reasons to study and watch this show, some of them are: the character development, the production value, and the use of music.
Character development is a reason why this show is worth studying. The first episode of the third (“Awakening”) season has many parallels between Aang and Zuko. Aang feels like he has failed his friends, everyone in the world thinks he is dead again, and all he wants to do is regain his honor. Who else talks about regaining their honor? That would be my son, Zuko.
Zuko has been welcomed back to the Fire Nation, everyone thinks that he is the one who killed the avatar, but he knew about Katara’s special water, so he knows Aang must be alive. His father has given him his honor back, he got a girlfriend, and should be happy, but there is one thing wrong. He has lost himself. He betrayed his uncle, the one who was like a real father to him. Zuko is afraid he does not know the difference between right and wrong anymore, he is confused. The battle between good and evil within him is evident. We learn this season (“The Avatar and the Fire Lord”) that Zuko’s great grandfather on his mother’s side was Avatar Roku, the Avatar before Aang, and obviously his other great grandfather was Fire Lord Sozin. We learn that the two used to be best friends and they had this big falling out. This causes Zuko’s internal struggle to get much worse.
Zuko does something halfway through the season that I had been waiting forever for him to do, he leaves the Fire Nation, and goes to join Aang so he can teach him fire bending! I was overwhelmed with emotion! (“The Western Air Temple”)
But everyone else in the “gaang” were more like:
Well, Aang was actually pretty accepting, the last one to warm up to Zuko was Katara, and that was only because she was professing her hatred for the man who killed her mother onto him. Zuko actually takes Katara to face that man, and once he does so, they become best friends (“The Southern Raiders”). I personally feel they should have been more than friends because even though they bend opposite elements, they have very similar back stories when it comes to their mothers.
Aang realizes he cannot do what he needs to do alone, and knows he needs to work with his friends. His feelings for Katara are finally blurted out, and she rejects him because there’s a WAR GOING ON HELLO!! (“The Ember Island Players”)
Everything the characters go through is very real and relate-able. There is a time and place for relationships, people get confused, and there are other things to focus on. These kids haven’t had time to be normal, they have been off fighting a war, you see them turn into young adults before your eyes. They do not always win, but they also never give up. Not everything is handed to them, which is something the creators wanted to make evident.
As I’m sure you can tell, Zuko is my favorite character. There were so many episodes about his backstory that just made me feel for him the most. They made this really angry, one dimensional “bad guy” into this sad boy who just could not catch a break. I cried for him, I cried for his uncle, I just felt the most attachment for him.
Back to the relationships a little, SPOILER, Katara does end up with Aang at the end. I always liked their friendship, but I do not think it should have been any more than that, he was just a little too immature for her, even though he did grow up a lot. But by the end of the show, Aang is only thirteen, and Katara is fifteen. Zuko, on the other hand, is seventeen. Katara and Zuko had a strong bond, both of their mothers got taken by the Fire Nation, and they were able to work together so easily. When you watch the show, you can clearly see chemistry building between the two of them, I’d like to think that’s why Katara told Aang she was confused about her feelings for him. Sure, Aang and Katara actually kiss, but like…that hug though.
I also really enjoyed the brother-sister dynamic between Katara and Sokka. Sokka is the big brother, and sometimes he was a little bossy, but never over controlling. If anything, going on this journey made their relationship a lot stronger. Since Katara was like the mom of the group, Toph would get into the most fights with her, but they eventually learned to love each other like everyone else. It’s always nice when you’re kids get along.
Another reason why this show is worth studying, is because of the production value. This is a cartoon, and all of the characters actually have five fingers (7:07). They are all anatomically correct, not to mention the scenery itself looks real, it’s like watching a movie. They also have different wardrobes each season, they may not change every episode, but the little change between each season is still nice.
Look at all of the depth in this one long shot! The animators had to learn how to do all of this crazy stuff (5:03). What was really amazing was, since there is a lot of martial arts involved in the show, the creators hired a man named Sifu Kisu to show them all of these different styles that would fit each type of bending. Bryan would then tape himself and Sifu Kisu and they would do specific “battles” with each other, to reference (3:20) later and make things easier to draw. It really shows how dedicated these people were to making something so amazing. You can really appreciate the art put into it.
This is where Zuko and Aang go to meet the first fire benders (spoiler! They meet the last two living dragons!!!) (“The Firebending Masters”)
This is an overview of the Fire Nation capitol.
Music is a major reason why this show is worth studying. There were only two men in charge of creating the music, they are Jeremy Zuckerman and Benjamin Wynn. The two created some of the most beautiful music (7:28) I have ever heard, and sometimes it would honestly bring a tear to my eye. There were certain songs that were used more than once, so you kind of knew what was going to happen, sort of like in Jaws when the dramatic music would play you knew the shark was coming. Aang sort of had his own theme song, whenever Zuko would enter angrily he had his own little background music, and when something romantic would happen between Katara and Aang, a specific song was played in the background. Zuckerman and Wynn even got Nickelodeon to let them use live stings when making the music for the series finale, which essentially is a two hour movie.
There are so many cool things about Avatar and the whole mythology of the world that Mike and Bryan created. The third season aired from 2007-2008. Half way through the season there was a hiatus. It ended with this huge battle (“The Day of Black Sun”), Zuko just left to go find the “gaang”, the “gaang” had just been defeated by the fire nation during what was supposed to be a surprise attack, so Aang is taking them to the Western Air Temple. And then the show goes on hiatus for almost a year! I was going nuts, I had no idea what was happening, I just know that in July of 2008, it came back, and in a week they aired all of the final episodes including the series finale. The whole time watching it I was just sitting there like:
Because I was so happy that there new episodes, but I was sad that the journey for them and myself was over. I felt for these characters like they were my own children. There were some loose ends, which will happen, that they have tried to clear up in some graphic novels, but it just was not the same. This show changed so many people’s lives, including mine. These characters went through real problems, it was like watching a live action show. I will always be grateful for it. At the time, there was no other show like this, there were no other shows about kids bending elements and fighting wars. The show was a great way to get the family together because it was fun for all ages. They dealt with some really serious stuff in the third season, but still managed to laugh. The creators did an amazing job of incorporating humor into what could have been a really dismal world.