Who would have thought that one of the best anime shows of this generation would come from Nickelodeon?
Even though it isn’t from Japan, Avatar: The Last Airbender is an animated show that was heavy influenced by overseas animation and culture. The term anime usually refers to a Japanese cartoon, but The Last Airbender is one of the rare exceptions for me simply because of the quality of the show. It is not like other cartoons on Nick, as it was subtly a mature show, with an actual plot that went from beginning to end.
The story was amazing, but two things that made this show so exponentially above the rest was its characters and the world they inhibited.
The “gaang” is what made the show special and endearing from the beginning. You learned more and more about the four nations as the story continued, but the hook was the characters themselves from day one. Some of them filtered in and out of the series, but the main group, including Toph, who joined later, made the show immediately gripping.
Aang- The easy-going airbender who spent the past 100 years in a sphere of ice because he ran away from his responsibilities.
Katara- The caring waterbender that sets off with the Avatar to help him as well as hone her abilities.
Sokka- The sometimes sarcastic realist with no special abilities who outsmarts his foes.
Zuko- The fallen firebending prince who wants to redeem himself by capturing the Avatar, and is struggling to find the right place to release his anger.
Toph- The blind bandit who later joins the team to teach Aang how to earthbend.
This core group of characters made the show what it was. You can have a good story and environment, but if the people in the story and world aren’t lovable, you’d quickly forget the entire show’s existence.
Something that I think is taken for granted in storytelling is world-building. Taking time to build the world that the characters inhibit takes detail and time, which some shows don’t have. Within its first season, Avatar did an exceptional job of making its world seem palpable. Heck, even the opening credits establishes the way the balance of the benders and the land works.
The world of Avatar was so strong, that when the series started an entirely new story with new characters, it didn’t falter a bit. Sure there were new characters to introduce, but the world of the Avatar was changed, but still so well established that the same amount of lore was still there.
Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra had a balance between the story, world and characters that came together to create one wonderful show that stands against some of the best animes out there.