Girls of Avatar: The Last Airbender

Review by: dancingonrain.

“Water.  Earth.  Fire.  Air.  Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony.  Then, everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked.  Only the Avatar, master of all four elements, could stop them.  But when the world needed him the most, he vanished.  A hundred years passed and my brother and I discovered the new Avatar, an Airbender named Aang.  And although his airbending skills are great, he still has a lot to learn before he’s ready to save anyone, but I believe Aang can save the world.”

 

In Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender, the main protagonist is male; however, the show is also immersed in well-developed female characters like Katara, Toph, and Azula, all of whom are strong, capable characters who can pull their own weight.  These characters are all esteemed warriors.  Like the men in this series, the females are also given good backstories and aren’t just a plot device.

 

Katara is the only main female protagonist in the first season of Avatar.  She is motherly, but also does not want to sit on the sidelines.  She wants to learn how to fight.  While Katara’s hard work, determination, and passion made her hugely likeable and fun to watch, a lot of times she was also hypocritical, bossy, selfish, and self-serving, but at least that makes her a realistic character.  Still, she did have her moments, especially at the North Pole.  And she only improved in her technique and abilities from then on.

 

So many times females in film/television are portrayed as flawless, perfect characters, because the writers/creators want her to be liked so much.  What actually ends up happening is that we feel forced into liking her, and then actually end up disliking her instead.  If a person feels forced to accept a character or aspect of the show, it feels unnatural and manipulative.  No one likes to be manipulated.
While Katara wasn’t the stereotypical damsel-in-distress character, she still feels stereotypical in the fact that she was extremely motherly.  A part that could have played a part in that was the fact that she lost her mother when she was a child so she was forced her to take up the responsibility of taking care of everyone.  And the Water Tribe already did show it had problems with sexism.

 

Toph, a twelve year old blind tomboy and an earthbender becomes Aang’s earthbending teacher.  In the creating process, Toph was originally going to be male, but then it was decided she would be better as a girl.  I think it was a smart move because not all girls can relate to Katara and not all girls can relate to Toph.  Toph is sassy and sarcastic like Sokka so it was incredibly entertaining when those two characters interacted.

 

A strength of Avatar is the characters are three-dimensional.  While Toph is strong, she also has a softer, more compassionate side to her.  She’s not tough 24/7 and the writers never forced the viewers to believe she was funny and a strong fighter, they showed you.  Toph is a realistic, natural feeling character who is strong, but not afraid to show emotion when events break her past a certain point.

 

During the second season we’re also introduced to Princess Azula of the Fire Nation who’s the daughter of Fire Lord Ozai.  Azula’s a firebending protégé.
She is a manipulative, conniving, and deadly person.  She wasn’t the stereotypical cackling villain (until the last few episodes where she went insane).  Instead, she made us fear her through her presence and actions alone.  She’s one of those characters you hate, but feel sorry for too.  In one episode titled, “The Beach,” it shows Azula trying to flirt with a guy she likes but it’s clumsy and when she gets nervous, she falls back on her evil safe place.  Her exact words were, “Together we will dominate the earth!” Needless to say, she scared the guy away (Avatar: The Last Airbender Season 3 DVD).  This was funny at first, but then there’s the realization that it’s actually pretty sad.  This scene—episode—showed that Azula was never taught how to function in real life, she was only taught how to ruthlessly kill all who opposed the Fire Nation.  Zuko, her brother, always had someone loving and guiding him.  Azula on the other hand, did not have that kind of love, ever.  Had she been shown guidance at younger age, would she’ve been as messed up (or crazy) now?

 

After the final fight where Katara and Zuko defeat her, she completely loses it.  This scene was cringe-worthy and uncomfortable.  At one point, a feeling of relief arose when  she was defeated, but she just looked so pathetic at the same time, something I, as a viewer, wasn’t used to seeing, and because of this, I wasn’t sure how to feel for her.  For Azula, it just goes to show how you can often be your own worst enemy.  In the end, I pity her, rather than completely hating her.  And that, to me, is what great writing is—what great writing does—even after all the horrible things she’s done, after wanting her to be defeated all season long, you can’t fully enjoy it when it actually happens.

 

Avatar was definitely the best show Nickelodeon aired.  Avatar did so well that Konietzco and DiMartino did a spin-off series taking place 70 years later called The Legend of Korra.  Korra’s the new female Avatar.

 

Despite the success of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Legend of Korra didn’t do as well.  There were many fan complaints that the spin-off series wasn’t as good as the original, but one must take into consideration that the original’s a tough act to follow.  While Avatar’s seasons were 20-25 minutes and 20-23 episodes long, Korra’s series was only allowed ~14 episodes per season.  Because of this, the pacing of Korra felt off and a lot of the character development feels rushed or lacking.  It probably would have been better if Konietzco and DiMartino had just spread out the events in two or more seasons instead of trying to cram everything into one season.

 

Some viewers seem to hate Korra, saying she’s selfish and dumb (which is understandable considering some of the stuff she’s done—like start a civil war); however, those same viewers seemed to like Katara in the original series, who was also selfish and self-serving.  In the episode from the original series, The Waterbending Scroll, Katara promotes theft just so she can learn a single waterbending move and ends up endangering her friends because of it.  There was no real difference between Korra and Katara’s personalities.  I suppose it’s possible that viewers simply did not like Korra, but I think a lot were making this argument just because Korra was not the original series.

 

Avatar is deemed a “kids show,” but some of its content is questionable for that age group.  In the show, things such as genocide of the entire Airbender race while Aang was frozen in the iceberg are included.  It’s dumbed down for kids, but that’s basically what happened.  The show also includes the murder of Katara and Sokka’s mom and countless other’s families lives have been destroyed by the merciless Fire Nation.  At another point Fire Lord Ozai burns his son Zuko for not fighting back.  Genocide, murder, and child abuse is kids’ show content?  The darker concepts aren’t physically shown to the viewer, but it doesn’t change the fact that they happened.  Of course, it’s written in a way that still allows children to watch it with a G rating.  But how many other kids shows do you see delving in to darker or moral or philosophical concepts?  Not many.

 

In short, Avatar: The Last Airbender does a many things right when you look at modern culture of film and television stemming from powerful female characters, a world filled with diverse culture, breathtaking animation, and music too advanced for a Nickelodeon show.  It’s a show that can appeal to both genders and all ages.  Avatar: The Last Airbender is a highly recommended show for all ages and it will not disappoint.

 

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