Avatar The Last Airbender: More Then Just A Kid Show

By: Roman Giunta

Avatar the Last Airbender was a show that aired on Nickelodeon  from 2005 to 2008 and aired only 3 seasons with 61 total episodes in the show. It was made by Bryan Konietzko and Michael DiMartino. Many people know and have even watched Avatar as a kid and enjoyed it.  The main difference Avatar The Last Airbender and other kids television shows like Sponge bob Square pants is the very real and abstract themes that Avatar explores like no other “kids” show. Sponge bob is a show that is always on at a certain time a week and follows the cast through random events every episode. Avatar episodes all have a common overhead goal but with many different subtle messages and meanings that really propel this show to more then just another kid show on Nickelodeon. Imagine if I told you a kids cartoon show started with the mass genocide of a culture in which one 12 year old boy survived and is tasked with saving the world. This does not sound like a kids show to me but this was the first thing we learn about this world we are introduced to.  The amount of different themes that seem too big for a kids TV show that are shown throughout this masterpiece of a show is actually unbelievable. For people who did watch the show as a kid you will know the general basis of the show but for those who didn’t I will make premise as understandable as I can.

I think just watching the intro to the show provides a very easily explained basic plot of the show. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1EnW4kn1kg It follows a 12 year old boy named Aang that was frozen for over 100 years. During those 100 years the world went to war because the firelord killed his whole culture of air nomads. The show follows the cast and shows many different themes that no other kid show would go near. Very real world issues like death,  corrupt governments, sexism, and abuse from parents. Avatar has a very real presence of death that not many other kid show have.

Avatar shows main characters that they know the audience, presumed younger, would like the most and killed them off in a way a child can understand it but not be thrown off by it. Jet was shown first in Season 1 Episode 10 called “Jet.” He is shown as a bad boy that guys will think is cool and girls will like. Katara in the show is drawn to him and he is her first kiss. Jet is  suppose to be a well liked character because of all these aspects. Fans liked Jet till they saw he was hired to kill or capture Aang. He realizes error of his ways and fights till he is struck down. It shows him on ground telling Team Avatar to leave and all his friends bowing there heads and Katara crying. The show rights had to confirm that Jet is actually dead. Nickelodeon obviously did not let them show him dying but did let audience know in a known horrifying way.  He shown helping his friends even to the end and fans will never forget him. Another character with that faces concept of death is Sokka’s first love in the show, Water Nation Princess Yue.

Yue is the Northern Water Tribe Princess that also is shown to die in the show. Yue’s death serves a purpose in show and even the characters how they react to this event. She was a very pretty and kind person. She is the most princess like character  in the show so she can appeal to girls and an interest to all male characters beside Aang. During the Siege of North part 2, Season 1 Episode 20, she sacrifices herself after the moon spirits physical form is struck down. She can heal it but it will cost her life so she accepts her duty and says goodbye to Sokka before eventually becoming part of the moon spirit/moon.  Every character knows what she did and feel the loss of her and so did the audience who grew to love character. Death is felt after the initial event and is shown to change characters. The biggest changes came to characters like Sokka who were very close with her. He blamed himself for her death and had a bad hallucination of her yelling at him for not saving her. You can see Sokka’s biggest regret is haunting him and he needs to feel at peace with her death. This concept of death being very real and effecting characters seems like too big of a topic for a “kids show’ but Avatar shows it in a way kids can learn from these events.  Avatar also faces topics like corrupt governments, sexism, and climate change in ways people can understand but also learn from.

Avatar shows different lands like Earth Kingdom and Southern Water Tribe. These are considered good because they are not the fire nation but still have many flaws that are very apparent. In Earth Kingdom, the elite agents called the Dai Lee who are suppose to serve Earth King Kuei but instead follow Azula’s rule and capture him. The government is shown being overthrown from inside and military power is being used to rule. These are just like real life events where a governments ruler gets overthrown by people or other leader. In Southern Water Tribe, women are not allowed to be water benders. Katara who obviously has a talent and drive for water bending is struck down by North and South water bending teachers.The masters use excuse that customs or rules set long ago is what they swear by. Just like real life we use this as an excuse for sexism in the world. She has to prove herself to be a real water bender and even beats the masters. This shows an empowering message to women watching that even though there are sexist people out there you can always prove them wrong. Climate change is another real world issue that Avatar chooses to tackle and explain in a way to fix this problem.

In Season 3, Episode 3, ‘The Painted Lady’, team Avatar find a small fire nation village built on a river near a factory, The factory taking priority to Fire Nation and using force on village takes food and pollutes river turning it brown and murky. Katara feels this is wrong so her and Aang destroy factory and defend town from the factory’s attack. They help the village clean there water and provided food to the town, This can teach people about pollution which is a serious issue and what it can look like. Teaching kids these messages even if its subtle can be very helpful for future but even some adults can learn from concepts like this, Avatar used it’s presumed main antagonist Zuko turned him into protagonist to propel story in such a way no other kid show could ever compare.

Prince Zuko, Son of Fire Lord Ozai the main antagonist in the show, goes through the biggest change of anyone. We learn that Zuko has been banished from the Fire Nation and his main goal is the bring the Avatar to his father to regain his honor or so he thinks it will gain his father’s trust. Zuko was challenged to an Agni Kai or fight to the death by his father at a young age. He is burned by his father on his left eye shown in the first image but his mother rescues him and make sure Ozai does not kill her baby. Zuko has to live with these demons haunting him at all times. It gives audience a reason for all his anger and showing he is a broken kid at heart. Zuko has to go through life living with his father’s hate for him and finds that only when he follows the people who truly care for him like his Uncle Iroh that he can truly be happy, Zuko grows up more then anyone from first episode to the last and his arc truly is a main reason why this show is so much more then a kids show.

Real world issues are all shown in Avatar in different ways but shows how our characters grow from start to finish. I feel this also is a big reason why Avatar is more then a normal kid show. We start with a young kid spirited Aang in a dark world with only his friends and people that care for him have his back just like some kids feel in real world. He goes through different hardships like learning his culture has died to almost failing and losing the Earth Kingdom Capital Ba Sing Say. Every episode can teach a valuable lesson in different ways that we are shown as a kid but do not truly understand till we are an adult. For people who do not think this show is anything out of ordinary, I encourage to really watch show now and you will be amazed by these concepts show in every single episode even if it is subtle. These characters along as the audience learns a lot of different lessons from start to finish. These characters not only grasp these concepts but we also do and have grown from the experience. You learn through there adventure as much as they learn which also helps shows longevity.

Avatar The Last Airbender can teach adults as well as children valuable life lessons which even myself did not truly respect until my friends got me to re watch it. The amount of underlying themes and hardships people go through is insane for a 61 episode show. It shows the growth of characters dealing with troubled past like Ozai burning Zuko for the rest of his life but not choosing to follow in the anger Ozai and Azula have went down. The fact a show can start with a culture dying off, a kid who has to live with the fact all his friends and family were killed because of Ozai, and has to stop the most evil man in history of there world. This is why I would recommend anyone who has even a little bit of interest in Avatar to watch or even re watch The Last Airbender. I never truly appreciated it until my re watch and I can firmly say that it is one of best I have ever watched and will be re watching it again soon. This is not a normal kids show by any means and needs to be given the respect that something of this caliber deserves.

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