I watched “Avatar: The Last Airbender” when it first aired on Nickelodeon 2005-2008, I had no idea I’d still be gushing about it more than 10 years later.
I can’t help it — the show is that good.
The animated children’s fantasy series is set in a world where people can “bend” or telekinetically manipulate one of the four natural elements: Water, earth, fire and air. There are four nations that correspond to each element.
The titular Avatar is someone who can learn to bend all four elements and use his or her abilities to maintain peace and balance in the world. When the Avatar dies, they are reincarnated into a new person who must again learn the elements.
In the show, the Avatar is a 12-year-old boy named Aang who hails from a tribe of air nomads: The Airbenders.
However, when he discovers he is the Avatar, the responsibility is too much for him and he flees, only to wind up frozen in an iceberg in the South Pole for 100 years, perfectly preserved.
Over that time period, the Fire Nation launches an all-out war against the other elemental societies and kills off the air nomads during its hunt for the Avatar.
That’s all the back story leading up to the pilot episode of the show when siblings Katara and Sokka find Aang in the ice. Katara, a waterbender, frees Aang and thus the journey begins.
The trio set out to help Aang learn the three other elements — he is already an airbending prodigy — and ultimately end the war with the Fire Nation.
Along the way, they are constantly being hunted by Zuko, the exiled prince of the Fire Nation. Zuko had been banished by his father, Fire Lord Ozai, and his only means of reclaiming his honor and returning home is by capturing the Avatar.
Although this show is geared toward children, it is incredibly entertaining for people of all ages: It has beautiful animation, intricate world-building, pervasive humor and captivating storytelling filled with so many important messages and themes.
For example, the show illustrates harsh topics that are very real in our own world, such as genocide, imperialism, colonialism, oppression of people unable to defend themselves and gender discrimination.
It also explores the idea that people aren’t just “good” or “bad.” Instead, people have the capacity to do good and bad things but can learn from their mistakes and ultimately grow into someone better.
That ties into another important theme of the show: Destiny versus free will. Throughout the series, characters often ponder what their destinies are in life and use that as a basis for their actions.
As I said, I watched the show when it first aired, meaning I would have been 9-12 years old over its original release. I would also watch episode reruns whenever they would be on Nickelodeon.
Toward the end of my freshman year of college, I saw the show was available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video and binged all three seasons over the course of a few days (Hey, it was the end of the semester and finals were winding down for me!)
It’s no longer on Amazon, however, it did become available on Netflix Friday, May 15. That night, my girlfriend and I started watching it using Netflix Party.
We finished the series finale yesterday (Wednesday, May 27) and are still in awe at such a masterfully crafted saga.
We plan to return to the world of the Avatar by finding a way to re-watch the sequel series, “The Legend of Korra,” which is unfortunately not available on Netflix.