I blame it all on my officemate, Camille.
Prior to Camille's influence, I already found out about Avatar: the Last Airbender from my daughter's K-Zone. At first I couldn't understand how a boy with arrow tattoos and his flying six-legged bison could create such a fuss among kids who watched it in Nickelodeon. I thought that it was just another one of dem anime cartoons.
I was promptly corrected by Camille who explained that Avatar may look anime, but it's actually an American-made cartoon. Hmmm...interesting.
To further enlighten me on the subject, Camille let me borrow her DVD of Avatar. I watched it -- and I was hooked.
The synopsis of the story is actually stated in the beginning of each episode. The world of the Avatar is divided according to the four major elements: the Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdoms, the Air Nomads, and the Fire Nation. Remarkable individuals with special powers over their respective elements abound from each nation, and they are called benders.
One day, the Fire Nation suddenly decides to declare war over the three other nations, and only one person can stop this invasion from becoming successful: the Avatar. The Avatar is actually a series of reincarnations of an individual with expertise in bending all four elements. Unfortunately, as the Fire Nation was beginning its initial onslaught for world domination, the Avatar vanished.
A hundred years later, the Avatar and his flying bison named Appa were found and reanimated by two kids from the Southern Water Tribe: Katara, a water bender, and her older brother and warrior-in-the-making, Sokka. The Avatar is actually a twelve-year old kid from among the Air Nomads -- a tribe that has long been extinct because of the Fire Nation purging -- so he turns out to be the last air bender, Aang.
Aang, Katara, and Sokka soon begin their quest to understand what the Avatar has to do to stop the war initiated by the Fire Nation. As they go on, Aang realizes that he has to master all four elements to conquer the Fire Lord Ozai and finish the war. Thus, the three search the world for bending masters of each element.
Since Aang is already an air bender, he still has the water, earth, and fire elements to master. Katara eventually becomes his first teacher in the art of water bending. Soon, they come upon a blind child from an illustrious Earth Kingdom family who can "see" through vibrations she feels using her feet in the person of Toph. She becomes Aang's earth bending teacher.
One time during training of fire bending, Aang accidentally burns Katara, and this causes him to become fearful of fire bending. Nevertheless, all of them realize that he still needs to learn that skill -- and Prince Zuko steps in.
Prince Zuko is quite a colorful character. Not only is he voiced by half-Filipino Dante Basco (the same guy who voices for Jake Long in Disney's The American Dragon: Jake Long), his character is in constant flux between good and evil. He is Fire Lord Ozai's only son and successor to his throne, but he was punished and banished by his own father for being more humane. To restore his dignity and honor, he searches for the Avatar high and low to capture and bring back to the Fire Nation. Acting as his conscience is his uncle, Iroh -- formerly a decorated and feared general and Fire Lord Ozai's older brother. He lost his will to battle after he lost his only son in his last battle in Bah Sing Seh -- the strongest Earth Kingdom stronghold. In Book 1 (Water), Prince Zuko is bad to the bone. By the end of Book 2 (Earth), Zuko somehow comes to the crossroads of his destiny and he has to choose whether to continue his loyalty to his father or to side with the Avatar and his friends. But by Book 3 (Fire), Zuko emerges a changed man who joins Aang and his group in defeating his father and restoring balance to the world. And -- wonder of wonders -- he turns into Aang's fire bending teacher.
There are other beautiful (and nasty) characters all thrown into the Avatar fray like Zuko's war freak sister Azula; Suki, leader of the Kyoshi warriors; Momo, Aang's flying lemur; Princess Yue of the Northern Water Tribe; Jet, leader of the freedom fighters...etcetera, etcetera, but each character is well-textured and certainly adds color to the entire story.
Avatar is already in its last episodes (I'm reduced to seeing Book 3 online only -- poor me), but it just gets more exciting as each episode goes on. It's certainly more thrilling to watch than our local teleseryes with stories that move too slow for the sake of advertisements.
Avatar is one cartoon that I'm sure, even adults will enjoy. Just check out all the fancy moves the benders make. According to its creators, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, the bending moves in the cartoon have their roots in actual Chinese martial arts. The flowing moves of Tai Chi were used for water bending techniques while the more stable yet strong moves of Hung Gar were employed for earth bending. The fast jabbing style of Northern Shaolin, meanwhile, constitutes the fire bending moves. On the other hand, the circular movements made in Bagua make for great air bending moves. (Thanks to Wikipedia.com for the information.)
Even the script of Avatar is noteworthy. Sokka's the joker of the group, and his one-liners simply crack me up. Even Momo who merely makes a croo-croo sound has his own hilarious moments. Katara is the more serious one, and her character denotes a girl trying to be the motherly, mature grown-up as a way to protect her friends. She can be affectionate, but her lines are not mushy. When Zuko finally decided to join Aang and his group, I half-laughed, half-pitied him when he collapsed to the ground (after an unfortunate accident with Toph) and exclaimed, "AAAARRRGGGHHHH!!! Why am I so bad at being good?!"
Give Avatar a try. Trust me: it will be worth your time.
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