Avatar: The Last Airbender
Avatar: The Last Airbender (Avatar: The Legend of Aang in some regions) is an American animated television series created by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino. It aired on Nickelodeon for three seasons, from February 2005 to July 2008. Avatar is set in an Asiatic-like world in which some people can manipulate the classical elements with psychokinetic variants of the Chinese martial arts known as "bending". The series is presented in a style that combines anime with American cartoons and relies on the imagery of East/South Asian, Inuit, and New World societies. It primarily follows the protagonists, 12-year-old Aang and his friends, who must bring peace and harmony to the world by ending the Fire Nation's war with the rest of the Four Nations.
|Avatar: The Last Airbender|
|Also known as||Avatar: The Legend of Aang|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||3|
|No. of episodes||61 (list of episodes)|
|Running time||23 minutes|
|Distributor||ViacomCBS Domestic Media Networks|
|Picture format||NTSC (480i)|
|Original release||February 21, 2005 –|
July 19, 2008
|Followed by||The Legend of Korra|
The series was commercially successful and was acclaimed by audiences and critics, who praised its art direction, humor, cultural references, characters, and themes. The first season's success prompted Nickelodeon to order a second and third season. It was nominated for—and won—five Annie Awards, a Genesis Award, a Primetime Emmy Award, and a Peabody Award. As of February 2020[update], Avatar has a critics score of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Avatar is continued by a comics series published since 2005, set during and after the events of the TV series. An art book was published in June 2010. The series inspired a critically panned but financially successful live-action film, The Last Airbender (2010), which was directed by M. Night Shyamalan and is considered one of the worst movies ever made. An animated sequel series, The Legend of Korra, aired from 2012 to 2014. A new live-action remake of the series by its original creators to be produced for Netflix was announced in September 2018. The complete series was released on Blu-ray in June 2018 for the 10th anniversary of the show's finale.
Avatar: The Last Airbender is set in a world where human civilization consists of four nations, named after the four classical elements: the Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, and the Air Nomads. In each nation certain people, known as "benders" (waterbenders, earthbenders, firebenders and airbenders), have the ability to telekinetically manipulate and control their nation's element using martial arts. The Avatar is the only person with the ability to bend all four elements.
The Avatar is an international arbiter whose duty is to maintain harmony among the four nations, and act as a mediator between humans and spirits. When the Avatar dies, their spirit is reincarnated into the next Avatar, who will be from the next nation in a set order that is known as the Avatar cycle: Fire Nation, Air Nomads, Water Tribe, and Earth Kingdom. An Avatar is required to master each bending art, beginning with the element of their home nation, and proceeding to learn the others in the order of the Avatar cycle, starting at the age of 16. Avatars also possess the ability to enter a condition known as the Avatar State, in which they gain the knowledge and abilities of all past Avatars. Although it is when they are most powerful, if an Avatar were ever to be killed while in the Avatar State, the reincarnation cycle would end and the avatar would never again be reborn.
A century ago, Firelord Sozin, ruler of the Fire Nation, launched a world war to expand his nation's empire. The young Avatar Aang, afraid of his new responsibilities, fled his home; he was forced into the ocean by a storm and encased himself in suspended animation in an iceberg near the South Pole. Sozin, knowing that the Avatar must be an Air Nomad, carried out a genocide against the Air Nomads and continued his world conquest. One hundred years later, Katara and Sokka, teenagers of the Southern Water Tribe, find Aang and revive him.
In the first season, Aang travels with Katara and Sokka to the Northern Water Tribe so he can learn waterbending and be prepared to defeat the Fire Nation. Prince Zuko, the banished son of current Firelord Ozai, pursues them, accompanied by his uncle Iroh, hoping to capture the Avatar to restore his honor. Aang is also pursued by Zhao, a Fire Nation admiral intending to win Ozai's favor. When Zhao's navy attacks the Northern Water Tribe, Zhao kills the moon spirit; Yue, the princess of the tribe, sacrifices her life to revive it and Aang drives off the enemy fleet.
In the second season, Aang learns earthbending from Toph Beifong, a twelve-year-old earthbending prodigy. Zuko and Iroh, cast out by the Firelord, become refugees in the Earth Kingdom, settling in the capital city Ba Sing Se. Both groups are pursued by Azula, Zuko's sister. Aang's group travels to Ba Sing Se to seek the Earth King's support for an attack on the Fire Nation during an upcoming solar eclipse, during which firebenders will be powerless; but Azula instigates a coup d'état, bringing the city under Fire Nation control, and Zuko sides with his sister.
In the third season, Aang and friends invade the Fire Nation capital during the solar eclipse, but are forced to retreat. Zuko abandons the Fire Nation to join Aang and teach him firebending. Aang, a pacifist, wrestles with the possibility that he will have to kill Ozai to end the war. When a comet arrives that magnifies firebenders' power, Aang confronts Ozai and uses his Avatar powers to strip Ozai of his firebending ability; meanwhile, Aang's friends liberate Ba Sing Se, destroy the Fire Nation airship fleet, and capture Azula. Zuko is crowned the new Firelord and ends the war.
The series consists of sixty-one episodes. The first episode—an-hour-long premiere—aired on February 21, 2005, on Nickelodeon. The series concluded with a two-hour television movie broadcast on July 19, 2008. Each season of the series is known as a "book", in which each episode is referred to as a "chapter". Each book takes its name from one of the elements Aang must master: Water, Earth, and Fire. The show's first two seasons each consists of twenty episodes and the third season has twenty-one. The entire series has been released on DVD in regions 1, 2 and 4. As of 2019, the complete series is also available on Netflix.
|First aired||Last aired|
|1||Water||20||February 21, 2005||December 2, 2005|
|2||Earth||20||March 17, 2006||December 1, 2006|
|3||Fire||21||September 21, 2007||July 19, 2008|
Conception and production
Avatar: The Last Airbender was co-created and produced by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko at Nickelodeon Animation Studios in Burbank, California. Its animation was mostly done by South Korean studios JM Animation, DR Movie, and MOI Animation. According to Konietzko, the series was conceived in early 2001 when he took an old sketch of a balding, middle-aged man and imagined the man as a child. He drew the character herding bison in the sky and showed the sketch to DiMartino, who was watching a documentary about explorers trapped at the South Pole. Konietzko described their early development of the concept; "There's an air guy along with these water people trapped in a snowy wasteland ... and maybe some fire people are pressing down on them". The co-creators successfully pitched the idea to Nickelodeon vice-president and executive producer Eric Coleman two weeks later.
In an interview, Konietzko said: "Mike and I were really interested in other epic 'Legends & Lore' properties, like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, but we knew that we wanted to take a different approach to that type of genre. Our love for Japanese anime, Hong Kong action and kung fu cinema, yoga, and Eastern philosophies led us to the initial inspiration for Avatar: The Last Airbender."
The series is notable for borrowing extensively from East Asian art and mythology for its universe. Its creators employed cultural consultants Edwin Zane and calligrapher Siu-Leung Lee to help determine its art direction and settings. Its character designs are influenced by Chinese art and history, Hinduism, Taoism and Buddhism, and Yoga. Jeremy Zuckerman and Benjamin Wynn composed the series' music and sound; they experimented with a wide range of instruments, including the guzheng, pipa, and duduk, to match the show's Asia-influenced setting. The art style of the fictitious locations used in the series are based on real locations in Asia. Sites such as the Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China in Beijing were inspirations for the Earth Kingdom city of Ba Sing Se, and Water Tribe locations were based on Inuit and Sireniki cultures. According to writer Aaron Ehasz, early Fire Nation designs were based on Japanese culture. To avoid accidentally making broad statements, they redesigned many settings and peoples to be more "broadly inspired". For the final design, the creators went with a more Chinese style for the Fire Nation's clothing and architecture. For instance, the Fire Temple was based on the Yellow Crane Tower, as its flame-like architectural elements were a perfect motif for the Fire Nation architecture according to the creators.
The fighting styles employed by the show's characters are derived from Chinese martial arts, for which the creators employed Sifu Kisu of the Harmonious Fist Chinese Athletic Association as a consultant. Each fighting style is unique to the "benders" who use them or characters who are aligned to a certain element. For example, practitioners of "waterbending" use movements influenced by T'ai chi and focused on alignment, body structure, breath, and visualization. Hung Gar was the inspiration for practitioners of "earthbending", and was chosen for its firmly rooted stances and powerful strikes as a representation of the solidity of earth. Northern Shaolin, which uses strong arm and leg movements, was chosen to represent "firebending". Ba Gua, which uses dynamic circular movements and quick directional changes, was used for "airbending". The Chu Gar Southern Praying Mantis style can be seen practiced by the earthbender Toph, who develops a unique fighting style as a result of her blindness. Asian cinema influenced the presentation of these martial-art bending moves.
The series explored many concepts rarely touched on in western children's television shows, including issues relating to war, genocide, and imperialism, gender discrimination and female empowerment, marginalization and oppression, and the philosophical questions surrounding fate and destiny.
The show is set during a period where the entire world is engulfed in an imperialistic war initiated by the Fire Nation. While war is a constant backdrop, the show depicts these effects through the eyes of common people—the oppressed Earth Kingdom citizens as well as brainwashed Fire Nation schoolchildren—to show how war makes victims of everyone. And while the Fire Nation is presented as the instigator of violence, the show also depicts the systemic inequality experienced by residents in the Earth Kingdom city of Ba Sing Se as well as the nefarious activities of the city's secret police. These situations show the corrupting nature of power and the nuances of good and evil. The show introduces viewers to genocide early on when protagonist Aang visits his former home in the Southern Air Temple. He arrives to discover his people have been massacred, and allows him to display a range of emotions, from rage to loss.
The character Zuko and his relationship with his father and Uncle Iroh is the series' main redemption arc and represents the show's message that destiny and fate are not binding or set by other people, but can be changed. In season two, he struggles to conform to the destiny and path determined by his father, but Iroh prods him, asking, "who are you, what do you want?" The show also represents a diverse cast of characters in order to tackle the issue of marginalization. For example, in introducing a blind character like Toph and a paraplegic boy like Teo, the show depicted characters with vulnerabilities overcoming their physical and societal limitations. This is also true when it comes to the show's female characters. For example, female protagonist Katara faces systemic sexism when she reaches the Northern Water Tribe to learn waterbending. In another instance, her brother, Sokka is initially dismissive of the all-female Kyoshi Warriors, but learns to respect and appreciate their skills. According to Kirk Hamilton of Kotaku, these themes represent the show's message that it's more important to be yourself than to hew to the roles society expects of you."
Several books based on the show have been published. Dark Horse Comics published an art book titled Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Art of the Animated Series on June 2, 2010, with 184 pages of original art from the series. Several comic-book short stories were published in Nickelodeon Magazine, and Dark Horse published Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Lost Adventures—a collection of these and new comics—on June 15, 2011.
Dark Horse published a graphic-novel series by Gene Yang that continues Aang's story after the Hundred Years' War. Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise, published in three volumes in 2012, explores the fate of the Fire Nation colonies that become The Legend of Korra's United Republic. A second set of three comic books, Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Search, focuses on Zuko and Azula, and the fate of their mother Ursa. The third set, Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Rift, shifts the focus to Aang, the creation of Republic City, and Toph's relationship with her family. The Rift was followed by Avatar: The Last Airbender – Smoke and Shadow about a resistance force in the Fire Nation against Fire Lord Zuko, who at the end of the original series assumed the throne. The fifth graphic novel was Avatar: The Last Airbender – North and South, which follows the events of Smoke and Shadow and is about Katara and Sokka returning to the Water Tribe to see various changes to their homeland. The next planned graphic novel is titled Imbalance and is planned to be released in October 2018. The series explores the emerging conflict between the benders and non-benders that becomes the center for the conflict in the first season of the sequel the Legend of Korra. Unlike the previous five books it is will not be written by Gene Yang.
A two-part young adult novel series focusing on Avatar Kyoshi written by F. C. Yee was published in July 2019 by Abrams Children's Books. The first book of the Kyoshi Novels is Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Rise of Kyoshi. The second part, The Shadow of Kyoshi, is scheduled to be published in 2020.
A video-game trilogy based on the series has been released. The Avatar: The Last Airbender video game was released on October 10, 2006, and Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Burning Earth was released on October 16, 2007. Avatar: The Last Airbender – Into the Inferno was released on October 13, 2008. Avatar: Legends of the Arena, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) for Microsoft Windows, was released on September 15, 2008, by Nickelodeon. Players can create their own character and interact with other players around the world. Avatar: The Last Airbender was THQ's bestselling Nickelodeon game in 2006 and was one of Sony CEA's Greatest Hits.
The series' first season was the basis of the 2010 live-action film The Last Airbender, which was written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. It was intended as the first of a trilogy of films, each of which would be based upon one of the three television seasons. The film was universally panned for its writing, acting, whitewashed cast, and Shyamalan's direction; it earned a 6% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes as well as five Razzies at the 31st Golden Raspberry Awards, including Worst Picture. Although the film originally shared the title of the television series, the title The Last Airbender was used because producers feared it would be confused with James Cameron's film Avatar. The Last Airbender stars Noah Ringer as Aang, Nicola Peltz as Katara, Jackson Rathbone as Sokka, Dev Patel as Zuko, and Shaun Toub as Iroh.
The Legend of Korra, a sequel series to Avatar: The Last Airbender, premiered on Nickelodeon on April 14, 2012. It was written and produced by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, the creators and producers of the original series. The show was initially titled Avatar: Legend of Korra, then The Last Airbender: Legend of Korra; its events occur seventy years after the end of Avatar: The Last Airbender. The series' protagonist is Korra, a 17-year-old woman from the Southern Water Tribe who is the incarnation of the Avatar after Aang's death.
Netflix announced in September 2018 that a "reimagined" live-action remake of Avatar was to start production in 2019. The series' original creators, DiMartino and Konietzko, are to be the executive producers and showrunners. They said that they intended to adapt the series "with a culturally appropriate, non-whitewashed cast". Jeremy Zuckerman, who composed music for the original show, will also be returning to do the music for the remake. Principal photography is set to begin in early 2020. 
Avatar: The Last Airbender was the highest-rated animated television series in its demographic at its premiere; an average of 3.1 million viewers watched each new episode. It had 5.6 million viewers for its highest-rated episode and was a highly rated part of the Nicktoons lineup beyond its 6-to-11-year-old target demographic. A one-hour special, The Secret of the Fire Nation, consisting of the episodes "The Serpent's Pass" and "The Drill", aired on September 15, 2006, and attracted 5.1 million viewers. According to the Nielsen Media Research, the special was the highest-rated cable-television program that week. In 2007, Avatar: The Last Airbender was syndicated to more than 105 countries and was one of Nickelodeon's top-rated programs. The series ranked first on Nickelodeon in Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Colombia.
The four-part series finale, "Sozin's Comet", had the series' highest ratings. Its first airing averaged 5.6 million viewers, 95 percent more than Nickelodeon had in mid-July 2007. During the week of July 14, it was the most-viewed program by the under-14 demographic. The finale's popularity was reflected in online media; Rise of the Phoenix King, a Nick.com online game based on "Sozin's Comet", had almost 815,000 game plays in three days. IGN ranked the series 35th on its list of top 100 animated TV shows.
Avatar: The Last Airbender received critical acclaim. Max Nicholson of IGN called it a "must-watch" and described it as "one of the greatest animated series of all time". Nick Hartel of DVD Talk called the series a remarkable, "child friendly show" whose legacy "should endure for years to come". Erik Amaya of Bleeding Cool described the series as "impressive in its sophistication" and "fantastic". Henry Glasheen of SLUG Magazine called the series "adventurous and exciting", a "classic" and occasionally moving. According to Brittany Lovely of Hypable, it tells "complex and beautiful" stories. Joe Corey of Inside Pulse described the series as an anime-action hybrid. Chris Mitchell of Popzara called it one of best shows to air on Nickelodeon, praising the series' background music and voice acting. D. F. Smith of IGN recommended it to viewers who enjoy action-adventure cartoons.
Rob Keyes of Screen Rant called the series "one of the greatest cartoons ever made". Mike Noyes of Inside Pulse recommended it to viewers who enjoy "great" adventure. Gord Lacey of TVShowsonDVD.com called the series "one of the finest animated shows ever". According to Todd Douglass, Jr. of DVD Talk, adults will enjoy the series as much as children do. Joshua Miller of CHUD.com called it "phenomenal" and "one of the most well animated programs (children's or adult) American TV has ever had"; according to Miller, the series is heavily influenced by anime. Tim Janson of Cinefantastique described it as "one of the most engaging animated shows produced". Dennis Amith of J!ENT called the series "one of the best animated TV series shown in the US by American creators". Amith praised its sophisticated storylines, edginess, humor, and action. Franco "Cricket" Te of Nerd Society described Avatar: The Last Airbender as "one of the best cartoon[s]" he had ever seen, recommending the series for its characters and plot. Scott Thill of Wired called the series engaging and its setting, influenced by the Eastern world, "fantastic". Kirk Hamilton of Kotaku said the series should be part of the golden age of television, and recommended "the sophisticated kids show" to others.
The show's writing and theme have been widely praised by critics. Michael S. Mammano of Den of Geek called the plot "smartly-written" and praised the animation. Nicole Clark, writing for Vice News, wrote that the show's narrative depth was "its greatest asset", and praised the story's "emotional authenticity" and how it "expose[d] very young viewers to darker subject matter, like genocide and authoritarianism, while giving them a framework for understanding these issues." Jenifer Rosenberg of ComicMix liked the program's emphasis on family, friends, community, and education. According to Nick Hartel, the series touches on themes of "genocide and self-doubt" without frightening younger children; rogue characters are redeemable, sending an important message that people can change and are not bonded to "destiny". Chris Mitchell called the plot "fantastic". D. F. Smith compared the series' plot to Japanese action cartoons, calling its tone and dialogue "very American" and praising the humor leavening an epic, dramatic theme suitable for all ages. Rob Keyes also praised the series' humor and affecting plot: "[It] will capture your hearts".
According to Mike Noyes, the series amalgamates elements of "classic fantasy epics". Todd Douglass, Jr. called the plot engaging, well-thought-out, and meaningful. The series' concept is "well-realized", with a consistent story. Douglass wrote that the characters "[have] a real sense of progression", and praised the writers for their humor, drama, and emotion. Joshua Miller called the series surprisingly dark despite its "silly" theme; the plot is livelier than that of Lost and, similar to the latter show, emphasizes character development. According to Miller, its writing was "true adult levels of storytelling". Tim Janson described the series as more than fantasy-and superhero-themed, seeing the characters as central and relateable. "Cricket" Te praised the series' use of Buddhist philosophies and the diverse presentation of its themes of courage and life. Kirk Hamiltion praises the series for expressing towards its audience to be themselves and for its quiet progressivism.
Critics also praised Avatar: The Last Airbender's character development, art, animation, and choreography; Eric Amaya enjoyed the expressive animation that complements the writing. According to Amaya, the elements were influenced by Hayao Miyazaki. Todd Douglass, Jr. called the character development interesting, while Nicole Clark wrote that the show "managed to do what so few shows even today have: assemble a cast of characters that depicts the world as it is, with a range of identities and experiences." Jenifer Rosenburg praised the series' portrayal of females as "strong, responsible, [and] intelligent". According to Joshua Miller, the bender characters' use of bending for everyday activities brings "depth and believability" to the avatar world. Miller called the series' designs "rich and immersive", with each nation having its own, detailed look. He praised the action scenes as "well rendered", comparing the development of the avatar world to that of The Lord of the Rings, and the fight choreography as "wonderful in its most minor details". D. F. Smith enjoyed the series' painstaking backgrounds. "Cricket" Te praised each episode's color palette and the choreography's combination of martial arts and magic. Nick Hartel criticized the animation, although he found it an improvement over previous Nickelodeon shows. Chris Mitchell called the animation fluid. "Cricket" Te agreed, noting its manga influence. According to Brittany Lovely, non-bender characters in battle are "overshadowed" by their bender counterparts. Joe Corey called the animation's action and environments a "great achievement", and Rob Keyes praised the series' fight choreography. According to Kirk Hamilton, the action sequences in the series are amazing while being child-appropriate and exciting.
Avatar: The Last Airbender had a big impact on how networks viewed animated programs, with subsequent kids' shows blurring the lines between kids and adult shows. Netflix's The Dragon Prince – co-created and written by Aaron Ehasz - in particular, is heavily inspired by The Last Airbender and also stars Jack DeSena.
Awards and nominations
|2005||Pulcinella Awards||Best Action Adventure TV Series||Avatar: The Last Airbender||Won|
|Best TV Series||Avatar: The Last Airbender||Won|
|2006||33rd Annie Awards||Best Animated Television Production||Avatar: The Last Airbender||Nominated|
|Storyboarding in an Animated Television Production||Lauren MacMullan for "The Deserter"||Won|
|Writing for an Animated Television Production||Aaron Ehasz and John O'Bryan for "The Fortuneteller"||Nominated|
|2007||Nickelodeon Australian Kids' Choice Awards 2007||Fave Toon||Avatar: The Last Airbender||Nominated|
|34th Annie Awards||Character Animation in a Television Production||Yu Jae Myung for "The Blind Bandit"||Won|
|Directing in an Animated Television Production||Giancarlo Volpe for "The Drill"||Won|
|Genesis Awards||Outstanding Children's Programming||"Appa's Lost Days"||Won|
|59th Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Animated Program||"City of Walls and Secrets"||Nominated|
|Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation||Sang-Jin Kim for "Lake Laogai"||Won|
|2008||2008 Kids' Choice Awards||Favorite Cartoon||Avatar: The Last Airbender||Won|
|Annecy International Animated Film Festival||TV series||Joaquim Dos Santos for "The Day of Black Sun, Part 2: The Eclipse"||Nominated|
|Peabody Awards||N/A||Avatar: The Last Airbender||Won|
|13th Satellite Awards||Best Youth DVD||Book 3: Fire, Volume 4||Nominated|
|2009||36th Annie Awards||Best Animated Television Production for Children||Avatar: The Last Airbender||Won|
|Directing in an Animated Television Production||Joaquim Dos Santos for "Sozin's Comet, Part 3: Into the Inferno"||Won|
|Golden Reel Awards||Best Sound Editing: Television Animation||"Sozin's Comet, Part 4: Avatar Aang"||Nominated|
|Nickelodeon Australian Kids' Choice Awards 2009||Fave Toon||Avatar: The Last Airbender||Won|
|2010||Nickelodeon Australian Kids' Choice Awards 2010||Top Toon||Avatar: The Last Airbender||Nominated|
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