Avatar Wraps Up with Style (No Spoilers)

July 21, 2008

So, I finally watched the last 6 episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender yesterday night. They were a fitting end to one of the best series on television and put the astonishingly mediocre Season 2 finale to shame.

Interestingly, the writers totally faked me out. I was like, “Wait, after how progressive Avatar has been, they’re going to make the final battles be all about the male characters saving the world while the female characters wait on the sidelines? Plus they’re going to say that, in the end, sometimes murder is justified?” But then it wouldn’t be Avatar if they had done that, would it? It’s still a bit male-slanted, perhaps, but they do try to invert things, as they always have. And they really stayed true to their moral center, the thing that makes Avatar the best kid show ever, the thing that makes it a cartoon version of Dogs in the Vineyard.

The great thing too is that they ended the show after three seasons, when it was clearly a major success and they must have been pressured to do more. They may milk this cow for a bit longer in other forms, but that doesn’t change the fact that they came in, told the story they wanted to tell, and wrapped it up with a bow. They have given us a gift that can’t be taken away and I will always be thankful: for having a kids show where none of the characters are white, where the female characters are badass, where real moral choices are made, where consequences are dealt with, where there are no easy answers, where you don’t talk down to your audience, where culture is dealt with respectfully, where the martial arts are real, where you fall in love with all the characters, and where the story is one for the ages.

Very, very good stuff.


25 Responses to “Avatar Wraps Up with Style (No Spoilers)”

  1. Guy Shalev Says:

    I’m not sure it is this way in regards to success.
    Didn’t they have to fight to keep the show from just stopping a couple of times?

    Also, and I’m really curious, given that the Avatar is a male in this lifetime, would you have wanted someone who is not the Avatar to engage in the final combat just for the political notion?

    Had the Avatar been female, and it’d been female-slanted, would it be ok? Would it be ‘objectively’ different from the other way around, or it’d be ok because it shows a message less shown in the media?

    I always care first for the story, I still can’t wrap my head about the fact that it’s not universal.

    Regarding Dogs, and the Moral Dilemma, I think the female Airbender Avatar (first time we see a female airbender) really put it forward: Personal Enlightenment versus Doing your Duty for Others.

    But, and I plan to write about it in my LJ later, they kinda shifted things, and I think not many noticed: From “Violence never solves anything” they went to “I don’t want to kill him”, what he did to him was VERY violent, just not physically so. They did it very carefully, but they defined what “Violence” is, and then when they did something else, it wasn’t “Violence”.

  2. Guy Shalev Says:

    By the by, I think the Air Nomads are white.

  3. leah Says:

    Guy, it’s such a shame that someone has to over analyze one of the best shows on television to bring down the greatness that it clearly was. Violence was clearly depicted in the show, practically in every episode… it’s the TYPE of violence they were referring to – that to kill someone is never the answer, whether it be for justice or vengeance. Aang would be a hypocrite to say that one should never use a violent act under any circumstances, as he used so-called violence to defend himself and his friends on any number of occasions. But Aang stayed true to his character by not taking Ozai’s life – and that is what it has always been about, the value of a life. Taking Ozai’s bending away was not taking his life, therefore it was not the violent end they had always thought it would have to come to. And for the record, the true definition of violence includes a physical action or force.

    Furthermore, female airbenders have been shown before, just not to any great extent. As is so with Avatar Kuruk – the waterbender.

    And as for the Air Nomads being white – that is clearly not so! Anyone with basic knowledge of Asian cultures can see that each of the four Nations is loosely based upon a distinct Asian region. Architecture, beliefs, practices, and even character appearances mimic that of a true culture you can find in Asia. It seemed obvious to me that the Air Nomads were likened to Tibetan Monks, whereas the Fire Nation was more linked to the Japanese. The Water Tribes seemed to take after the southeast and Pacific islands, even though they lived in a land of snow; and the Earth Kingdoms seemed to lean toward the Chinese.

    Bottom line, Guy… please don’t ruin something great by analyzing every little thing to death. And if you insist on doing so, at least do your research.

    Avatar: the Last Airbender was and will always be one of the most well written and entertaining shows on television. It’s a shame it had to end so soon, and at the height of its popularity. But it would not have been so great had it ended any other way.

    And lastly, it was announced that after the first season, Nickelodeon had picked up the show for at least another two years. Just FYI.

  4. Guy: As far as I know, they never had to fight to keep the show going. It’s always been set up to run on Nick for the whole thing, because it’s been wildly successful in the US.

    And, yeah, I’d actually have been fine with it being biased towards female characters being more awesome. I’m not interested in parity, really, just something that fights against the prevailing norm in kids cartoons and media in general.

    You’re right that the female airbender (and we’d seen a nun before, actually, in the episode with the flashback to baby skybison) presented a really interesting justification for the necessity of murder, but it wasn’t one I was interested in seeing play out in Avatar. It was neat that they raised it (and some others), because most shows wouldn’t do something that dark and serious in a kid-friendly environment.

    You’re right that the shift at the end was cheating a bit, removing the moral dilemma from Aang by giving him another option, but I was fine with that. It definitely seemed to be analogous to disarming crazy genocidal dictators and removing their ability to harm you, rather than executing them. Is it still violence to imprison people and limit their abilities? Sure. But it’s not murder.

    The depiction of the skin color / ethnicity of various characters has not been without problems. Aang (along with some other characters) is definitely depicted as being fairly white, probably as a misguided attempt to create ties between the characters and the target audience. Bullshit, yeah, but the series is still miles ahead of anything else on American television.

  5. Guy Shalev Says:

    Then I can argue any anime falls under the “Kids show where none of them is white”.

    Also, I did consider it, but I looked closely at Aang, and he seems awfully caucasian to me.

    Also, I think it was a great show, and I don’t think “analyzing it to death” is in any way “Reducing its greatness” or an attempt thereof, that’s your opinion.

  6. Guy Shalev Says:

    To be honest, I didn’t want to see him kill Ozai either, I was curious what he would do… it felt a bit like a Deus Ex Machina, what did happen.

  7. Leah: I appreciate your passionate defense of Avatar, and your point about the type of violence shown throughout the show is spot-on, but Guy has a right to his opinion and his analysis of the show shouldn’t necessarily infringe on your enjoyment. He’s not airing his thoughts on a public forum, just on my blog, and I like to keep discussion here as an actual discussion and not an attempt to get other folks to shut up. So yeah, disagreeing with his opinions on the show, totally cool. Telling him to keep his opinions to himself, very not cool.

    In general, if both of you can avoid having an argument (as opposed to a discussion) on my blog, I would appreciate it.

  8. Guy Shalev Says:

    Hm, I’d liken it more to what was going on in Wheel of Time, or castration of sex-offenders.

    Then again, we have to wonder what part of their internal make-up/personality Bending possesses.

    It does raise an interesting option, of what you do, when the weapon is part of the person wielding it. Could be interesting in a Psionics game.
    You have to do something to the person with the power. You can’t just confiscate it (which is why I believe the above analogy is a bit lacking).
    Violence has more weight here, and it’s harder to resist it, which shifts the “shift” a bit more, since in a world where you don’t truly have that option (the closest you get is like the Magneto prison, circumstantial imprisonment) – where sometimes killing seems the only option, to a world where you can just “take it away”.

    And how I wish there was an edit option, so I could consolidate posts.

  9. Guy, yeah I was waiting to see how they’d resolve it too, but, with the way they set up the dilemma, if he killed Ozai, it would have been cheap, and if he didn’t kill him, it would have been cheap. Like, if someone else had killed him (like Zuko) it would have been cheap too. I can’t honestly think of a better way for it to have played out, though the option they did choose is definitely less than ideal, since it draws on powers never before mentioned in the show.

    Maybe the spirit world could have rebelled against him and, summoned by Aang (through the Avatar’s connection with the spirit world), taken him away? Maybe that would be too similar to Zhao, though.

  10. leah Says:

    I didn’t mean to sound offensive, however I realize that I was being defensive. It’s just that everyone seems to have their own little twist on what should have happened vs. what did happen and how they interpreted one thing as another thing. Gets annoying after awhile… not that I’m implying Guy is annoying, just the concept of the masses over analyzing what should be left alone for what it is. I agree he has a right to his opinion, and I was not trying to start an argument. So I apologize if I came off as harsh. I just feel that the show is greatly under-appreciated, and it’s disappointing to know that there are people who criticize it as opposed to giving it the praise it deserves (again, not implying that that’s what Guy was doing).

    But I have to agree with Guy that all anime can fall under the category of “non-white.” But I disagree with them being “kids shows”… like Avatar, the premise of most anime shows/movies is far too deep for most kids to understand. But who knows, maybe I’m wrong. One can only hope.

    Anyway, as far as what part of their internal make-up/personality bending posseses, I think I remember one episode where Ty Lee took Katara’s bending away and she said something (sorry, no quotes) that implied she felt like a part of her was missing. So I suppose taking bending away from a master bender migh be interpreted as a fate worse than death – which in Azula’s or Ozai’s case is probably true. But completely justified in my opinion.

    Again, sorry Guy… no harm, no foul? All in good fun :o)

  11. leah Says:

    Oh, and I really wasn’t trying to tell Guy to shut up. So in essence, I am still very cool.


  12. Jonathan Walton Says:

    Leah: I don’t participate much in Avatar fandom and online discussions and neither, I suspect, does Guy. So, unlike you perhaps, this isn’t a conversation that we’ve had over and over.

    Also, I think it’s definitely possible to be a fan of something and still criticize its failings. You don’t have to love every single aspect of Avatar to be a really huge Avatar fan. For example, the Old Masters reappearing was awesome, but it still sucks that they were all men, right? The only female “old master” would have been the evil bloodbender.

    I am sure you are very cool. I was just trying to make sure we didn’t get carried away.

  13. leah Says:

    Jonathan, you were able to find the humor in my “very cool” statement, right? Because I certainly don’t want to come off as some kind of self righteous narcissist, lol.

    But back on the subject at hand… funnily enough, I don’t participate much in the fandom either. But I have read over several people’s opinions on my quest to find a few screenshots from the movie – and unfortunately have not been able to find many. But criticism is criticism, just the same. It just seemed to me that a lot of the criticism stemmed from the fact that people were bitter because what they wanted to happen didn’t happen. For instance, their favored characters didn’t end up together or Aang was a wuss for not killing Ozai – petty reasons in my opinion. (Speaking of… you wouldn’t happen to be able to tell me what people mean when they reference “shipping” or “canon” would you? Because those two words have me totally confused)

    To be honest though, it didn’t really bother me that all the old masters were men… or, for that matter, that the series was mostly male-driven. Is that strange coming from a female? I guess I just assumed that the creators were being true to the time the story took place in. The only thing that I did find irritating was the lack of female action figures. But then again, it also irritates me that they haven’t really released any memorabilia since season one. Not that that has anything to do with the movie.

    Moving on, I still think the finale was awesome… and at the same time I’m sad to see that it’s the end.

    But I’ll shut up now, lol. On with your day! :o) Thanks for giving me a venue to share my thoughts.

  14. No, I definitely got the irony. No worries.

    I have no idea what “shipping” means. “Canon” probably refers to things that definitely happened according to the series.


    I don’t usually make criticism for selfish reasons, based on what I wanted to have happen. And there’s criticism in the sense of “to criticize” and there’s criticism in the sense of “to critique.” I generally stick to the later. Just complaining about things doesn’t do much good.

    Personally, I don’t really think “the time the story took place in” is a reasonable excuse in a fantasy setting where lots of different time periods are smashed together. Sure, it definitely represents a cultural bias, but I suspect its our contemporary bias and not theirs, since they don’t really exist.

  15. Guy Shalev Says:

    Would the Bloodbender count? She certainly was an “Old Master”, but I somehow doubt that she were a member of the White Lotus, I think she was too far gone to be able to participate with powerful and famous Fire Kingdom personnel…

    Yeah, “Canon” means “What happened in the real series, not what fans added.”

    Strangely enough, I think criticism is a form of praise, sometimes. We care enough about the show to talk about it.
    Yes, there are those who try to dismantle a series by not merely talking about things, but systematically attacking every thing in the series.

    The difference is thus:
    Do I say The Dark Knight is crap and analyze it scene by scene, with an agenda of showing others its crappiness.
    Do I say that The Dark Knight is awesome, but here is one or two little things that I didn’t like?

    Most people don’t like 100% of anything, even if they like 99% of it.
    Also, part of what Jonathan is saying about the “Male-Stance” is that while Avatar is light-years ahead of the competition, it is possible to go even further.

  16. Guy Shalev Says:

    Hm, how would you have felt if Aang in his Avatar state would’ve killed him, and then Aang out of it would be devastated over it?

  17. That’s actually what I thought they were going to do. I think I would have been okay with that, if a bit troubled. They’ve shown before that Aang can’t control the Avatar state and it’s clear all the Avatars wanted him to kill Ozai. But it would have indicated some pretty terrible things about the nature of the world and the past Avatars, though. How terrible are the people who make a child murder someone when they really don’t want to? I think it would have given the series a much darker tone overall.

  18. Guy Shalev Says:

    Hm. I wasn’t under the impression that the Collective Avatars controlled you while “under the influence”.

    As stated, it’s a Defense Mechanism, you operate on auto. It will do whatever necessary to beat the enemy, at least so it was before.

    It’s more like a force of nature than a controlled feature. At least, because Aang wouldn’t give up on Katara to master it. From Avatar’s Kyoshi’s blazing eyes we may assume that after the training, it’s ‘merely’ a power source.

  19. leah Says:

    Yeah, I’m back again… sorry, I can’t help it.

    I think Jonathan was referring to when Aang consulted his past lives for advice on how to deal with Ozai as opposed to them controlling him while in the Avatar State. It is a defense mechanism, but it is controllable as Roku demonstrated when he warned Sozin about going through with his plan. Aang could never get control over the AS because he didn’t know how to channel it, until The Crossroads of Destiny. Ozai uknowingly opened up Aang’s blocked chakra when he shoved Aang into that rock, and he was able to channel it again. It seems that Aang was able to control it in the finale because he stopped himself right before he was about to kill Ozai. I don’t think he would have been able to do that if he wasn’t in control.

    And as far as Aang’s past lives wanting him to commit murder… I don’t know if they were able to see any alternative to ending the suffering Ozai had inflicted upon the world. It seemed to me that only the Lion Turtle thing had the knowledge of “cleansing” one’s spirit and apparently taught Aang how to do it just in time.

    But as far as the history of the show goes with ending peoples lives… it seems to me that it has happened MANY times. I mean, as early as the Seige of the North, when Ocean Spirit Aang sliced through that fleet of war ships – did those people float safely to the shore? Or for that matter, in the Day of Black Sun where he and Katara sliced through those war balloons… did those people fall softly to the water and wade back to safety. But perhaps now I am over analyzing. Either way, none of that has any effect on how I feel about the show as a whole.

    Oh, and to back up my earlier claim that the Air Nomads are akin to Tibetan Monks – Monk Gyatso and Avatar Yang Chen were clearly of “Asian” descent – at least, they certainly didn’t look caucasian to me, lol.

    And one final thought: the Agni Kai between Zuko and Azula was the most kick-ass thing I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. Personally, my favorite part of the finale.

  20. Guy Shalev Says:

    Jonathan, you might want to make a note in your post that the comments do in fact contain spoilers.

  21. bankuei Says:

    Late to the conversation, but I really enjoyed the ending. My major complaints are the same ones I had throughout most of Season 3- not enough time for Iroh or Toph. I was very irked with Azula’s “ZOMG! Now I go CRAYZAY!” bit.

    It was like what made her an awesome character was completely removed from the climax, and, basically removes the moral question of what do you do with someone who is calculating, cruel, and hates you?

    I really enjoyed the fact that at the end, Aang has this expression of discomfort and weariness, that things are not “all OK” even though he stopped the fire nation.

    In a certain way, I read him divesting Ozai of his powers kind of darker- ripping away part of Ozai’s soul in order to save the world. I’d have to watch again and pay attention to exactly what the Dragon Turtle said about power, but that’s kind of what I got from it.

  22. Yeah, Chris, I would have been happier if, after Ozai had been defeated, if Azula had just vanished and swore that “someday I will return and kill all of you.” Having her go nuts was less appealing. I feel like, if they wanted to go that route, they should have shown her isolating herself much earlier, but having only been rejected by her friends 4 episodes ago, it was hard to believe such a quick transition to Lady Macbeth.

  23. bankuei Says:

    Well, I guess my thing is that I see Azula’s character being one about control.

    Having her lose control to that level just doesn’t fit her profile to me. Having her piss everyone off to the point where they betray her? That I get.

    Hell, I’d even accept her underestimating Zuko, not as a fighter, but expecting him to keep listening to her as she tries to manipulate him, that would have been fun.

    As it stands, I feel like she was made into a non character, and that the climax with her was a non-conflict that could have equally been had with a random natural occurance of ball lightning.

  24. jenkins Says:

    I, on the other hand, preferred the Azula conflict more than the Avatar conflict. The metaphorical healing that needed to take place (or finish taking place) took place, and all three “control” characters were juxtaposed against one another. But I did wish it would have been done a little more obviously for the resolution, instead of that resolution being pretty much complete during The Southern Raiders. After that, there was pretty much no story for those three left to play out.

    Just sayin’.

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