Saturday, May 24, 2014

Into the Unknown: Watching Avatar for the First Time

It's 2:00 PM on a Thursday and I have just finished all current episodes of Avatar: The Legend of Korra. Over the past two weeks I have watched every episode of the series and it's predecessor, The Last Airbender. Although Nickelodeon began the Avatar series when I was 13, a primo age for cartoon watching, I only watched a few episodes before abandoning it. Nine years later, I was faced with a few days between my last finals of college and a sudden urge to marathon the series. I watched the three seasons of The Last Airbender in three days, and in the following week and a half I watched the two seasons of Korra, season three is starting later this year.

To put it succinctly, I really liked the series and I regret not watching it earlier. It really is a pretty great cartoon, especially for one that remains so kid friendly in its content. The world constructed around the series is both easy to grasp but deeper than what is shown and it leaves me wanting more details, which I always appreciate. Characters are pretty well sorted into their archetypes, but I was regularly impressed when someone stepped out of the single dimension. Nobody really falls under one trope, excluding the Fire Lord but every kid's show needs a villain, and I was always happy to see some legitimate discernment from most of the characters. The show doesn't have masterful writing, but when compared to most other contemporary kid's shows, Avatar takes the writing cake.

The first series left me with very few actual complaints. There were a few story loose ends but my understanding is that some of these are brought up in the comics that followed The Last Airbender. Certain episodes were noticeably filler, and unlike the engrossing non-story episodes of shows like Adventure Time, I wasn't really interested in the mini plots. Avatar's strength in the first series really seems to come from its continuity and call backs of items that felt unimportant at the time. I was always happy when a character or event from an unexpected earlier episode would have major consequences on future happenings it made watching the series all at once a benefit.

Moving to Korra, the lack of overarching continuity is what really seems to be holding the series back. Korra has many of the great traits, good characters and an engrossing world, of The Last Airbender, but with no end goal, there is no good purpose to really build up to. Each season does the building well, but there is no connectivity between them. This may change with the next season but that's just speculation.

In short, my soiree with Avatar is over for the time being and I guess I should be happy that I was hooked after so much had happened. If you are reluctant as I was, give the show a try, the first season takes a little while to get especially interesting, but the finale is worth it. I may look into reading the comics, but I will probably have to wait until Korra's new season to appropriately geek out on Avatar.

-Peter