Thursday, February 22, 2024

REVIEW: 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' - The Air Nomads Face a Destructive Enemy While Aang Flees the World in 'Aang'

Netflix's Avatar: The Last Airbender - Episode 1.01 "Aang"

An airbender comes to grips with his new reality as war erupts. A century later, a pair of Water Tribe siblings make a discovery that changes everything.

"Aang" was written by Albert Kim, Michael Dante DiMartino & Bryan Konietzko and directed by Michael Goi

No one was expecting the Fire Nation to attack. When an earthbending spy battles to get a message out, it's all in vain. Fire Lord Sozin wanted the rest of the world to expect an attack on the Earth Kingdom. That made it easier for him to strike the Air Nomads during the comet that comes once a century. The monks all came together at the Southern Air Temple to partake in the ceremony. The arrival of the comet matters to the various communities in the world. It also strengthens the firebenders. That makes them impossible to defeat. Time is already running out for the next Avatar to complete his training. He's required to master all four elements and maintain balance in the world. Instead, the Fire Nation used the time after the death of the prior Avatar to build its army and plot its attack. It's absolutely devastating. Aang runs away because he's not prepared for the responsibility. He gets trapped in a storm. Suddenly, a hundred years have passed. The friendships and the world he once knew are gone. He's still being hunted too and more lives are put in harm's way as a result.

After all this time, it doesn't even matter why the Fire Nation attacked in the first place. Aang wants that clarity. He needs to understand because he came from that long ago era. He understood what the world was like. He was raised to treat others with respect. The world stays in balance because of its unique cultures. None of them are superior to another. They each possess skills that make them special and deserving of a place in society. One can't conquer over them all. And yet, that's the perceived goal of the Fire Nation. It can't be as simple as being within their true nature all along. They are meant to be chaotic and yearn to expand. Instead, it's the argument for a tyrant to rule over all humanity. Peace can only be possible under the rule of one leader. That offers a united voice for every action that takes place. That's impossible to create so long as the Avatar lives. The master of all four elements provides people with hope. Aang's presence inspires Katara and Sokka to take action. However, Aang is just a kid. This newfound responsibility is thrust upon him in a world where many have been allowed to suffer for a long time.

The Fire Nation attacked the Air Nomads in search of Aang. No survivors were allowed. Fire Lord Sozin couldn't allow mercy to be extended to anyone who could possibly be the Avatar. He had to strike at this particular moment. The monks are powerful. They put forth an awesome display of their fighting style and abilities. It isn't enough. They are all wiped out. That's until Aang is discovered in the ice by Katara and Sokka. The Southern Water Tribe has been decimated in recent years. Katara is afraid to train her waterbending abilities. It would make her a target of the Fire Nation. Sokka trains the young soldiers to prepare for when the Fire Nation inevitably returns. Aang's discovery provokes that response. Prince Zuko lands on the shores of Wolf Cove in pursuit of the Avatar. He easily overpowers Sokka. A person doesn't have to bend one of the elements to wield power. It's still daunting when they face off with someone trained in that style. The action moves quickly. Aang doesn't have much time to process all that has happened. He's told the story of the last century. He had friends all across the world. And now, communities protect themselves amongst tribal lines. No one has seen an airbender in years. They distrust outsiders. But great power comes from the person willing to break the vision the Fire Nation has for humanity.

The emergence of Aang emits a signal for all to see. It points Zuko in the direction he must pursue. It also gives Katara and Sokka the confidence to know there is more worth fighting for. Katara no longer needs to practice in secret. She can step forward as her true self. She can stand tall as the warrior she is meant to be. Aang's understanding of airbending and the teachings of the monks also serve as a breakthrough for Katara. She struggles before meeting Aang. Afterwards, she's capable of saving the group from an incoming fireball. That's an impressive progression of skill. It's one where she has to trust her instincts. She doesn't do anyone any good by hiding who she is. It still results in the trio being hunted. Sokka and Katara cannot return home to their family. Once they make the choice to ride Appa to save Aang, they are committed to the journey no matter where it leads. Aang had no expectations for his life before he was told about his power. He just wanted to hang out with his friends. He had a mastery of his bending skills others have never seen at his age before. That's impressive. It only makes sense that it comes from the Avatar. However, that also sets him up for a lonely life. One where he is continually targeted. Aang makes friends easily. He also feels the weight of so much unimaginable loss.

The world as a whole has moved beyond the grief of the Air Nomads. That loss was suffered many lifetimes ago. For Aang, it's so immediate. It doesn't feel as if a ton of time has passed. One moment, he's in a storm. The next he returns to his home to see it destroyed. The viewer gets to witness that destruction. Everyone fights back. It isn't enough. Aang wasn't there to defend his people. They were conquered by the Fire Lord in his first quest for absolute power. That started the war. And now, the next generations are looking to end it once and for all. Mysteries still persist though. Aang unleashes immense power as he's overwhelmed by grief. He identifies Gyatso's body despite the passage of time. That creates even more damage to Aang's home. He isn't in control of himself. He lost a friend. Gyatso advocated for Aang to always know who he is. Aang was lost in the immediate aftermath of learning about his responsibility as the Avatar. He has fought back now. This is just the first step of a long journey. One where the series has a solid blueprint to follow in the former animated show from Nickelodeon. However, it's also compelling to see the stylistic differences made to either enhance or speed up the overall themes. Everything is more complicated than it originally seems. Yet the underlying story remains just the same.