Avatar: The Last Airbender is an Ambitious, Anime-inspired Live-Action Saga

Avatar: The Last Airbender is an Ambitious, Anime-inspired Live-Action Saga
©Avatar: The Last Airbender

Heeding the advice of their elders that they should accept their individuality and most valuable attributes is one of the most valuable lessons for the young characters – and audiences – of all family-friendly media. That beneficial advice is one of the most intriguing and beneficial attributes of the new Netflix action fantasy television series, Avatar: The Last Airbender.

The show is a live-action adaptation of the acclaimed mid-2000s animated Nickelodeon series of the same name. Like its predecessor, the new drama emphasizes that like the titular Avatar, each person is different. Therefore, the world thrives by each person embracing their individuality, and determining how their personality helps the world survive and thrive.

The new Avatar: The Last Airbender show was created by Albert Kim. He also served as the project’s showrunner and one of the writers.

In Avatar: The Last Airbender, the four nations – Water, Earth, Fire and Air – once lived in harmony, with the eponymous Avatar, the master of all four elements, keeping peace between them. While the nations have lived in harmony for millennia, the power-crazed Fire Nation, led by Fire Lord Sozin (Hiro Kanagawa), rises against the other three nations in a ploy for domination.

The Fire Nation wipe out the Air Nomads in their first step towards conquering the world. Combined with the fact that the current incarnation of the Avatar has yet to emerge, the world has lost hope.

However, faith reemerges when Aang (Gordon Cormier), a young Air Nomad, who’s the last of his kind, learns he is the Avatar. However, soon after discovering the news, he’s inadvertently frozen in the ice for a century.

The Avatar’s absence allows the Fire Nation’s war to rage on, which eliminates the Air Nomads and wreaks havoc on the Water Tribes and the Earth Kingdom. After the world loses hope of being saved by The Avatar, Aang is inadvertently awakened by Katara (Kiawentiio), the sole water bender of the Southern Water Tribe, and her over-protective brother Sokka (Ian Ousley), when they stumble upon his resting place.

Though initially apprehensive, the siblings embrace Aang as their friend and join him on his quest to master the other elements. They strive to master their skills together in order to fight back against the fearsome onslaught of Fire Lord Ozai (Daniel Dae Kim).

But Crown Prince Zuko (Dallas Liu) becomes determined to capture Aang in order to impress his father, the Avatar and his new friends realize their task won’t be an easy one. They’ll need the help of the many allies they make along the way in order to end the Fire Nation’s war and restore balance to the world.

©Avatar: The Last Airbender

The visual effects utilized are one of the most noteworthy aspects of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and make it a worthy live-action adaptation of the animated series. Using the StageCraft Volume technology that has been popularized by Star Wars and Marvel projects, the new Netflix drama uses glossy elements that highlight how Aang is the bridge between the mortal and spirit worlds.

In one of the series’ early episodes, the titular character builds a connection with Katara by practicing waterbending in an actual river. The StageCraft Volume technology allowed Cormier and Kiawentiio to splash each other with actual water while their characters teach each other their skills in bending the worldly element.

While the show’s visual effects – including characters throwing fireballs to raising walls of solid rock and freezing ocean waves into shards of ice – are stunning and immersive, the live-action adaptation truly thrives on its dedication to honoring the real-world Asian and Indigenous cultures. That homage is best emphasized in the drama’s casting of brilliant adult actors who surround the captivating younger performers.

©Avatar: The Last Airbender

The supporting veteran cast infuses Avatar: The Last Airbender with gravitas and experience. The most noteworthy performances are given by Paul Sun-Hyung Lee as Zuko’s Uncle Iroh, Danny Pudi as the eccentric Machinist and Kim as the formidable Fire Lord Ozai.

However, Elizabeth Yu’s portrayal as the cunning and volatile Princess Azula is the true standout of the entire first season of the new Netflix drama. The princess’s desperation to impress her father, Ozai, and outsmart her exiled older brother, Zuko, emphasizes the reason why Aang needs to embrace his role of the eponymous Avatar.

The writers behind the latest iteration of Avatar: The Last Airbender smartly introduced Azula early in season 1, instead of later in season 2, like the original series did. Like Zuko, Azula is determined to gain the acceptance of their domineering father. As a result, she pushes her powers to the limit in order to unseat her brother, whose sole focus is to succeed in fulfilling their father’s harsh mandates.

Azula, Zuko and their family’s relentless nature to obtain what they have so long desired is balanced by Aang’s wide-eyed, naïve nature in a captivating performance by Cormier. The titular hero is able to navigate the new world he enters, particularly the introspective moral dilemmas he faces, under the help of Katara and Sokka’s guidance. With Kiawentiio infusing Katara with heartfelt protectiveness over Aang and Ousley adding much-needed comic relief with the help of Sokka’s one-liners, the show balances the seriousness of war with more relatable character connections.

Avatar: The Last Airbender is an ambitious, anime-inspired saga that blends gorgeous visual effects with thoughtful storytelling and character development. With stunning use of the StageCraft Volume technology and brilliant casting that honors the story’s Asian and Indigenous cultures, the Netflix series is a powerful tribute to its predecessor, while also updating the story for modern audiences.

Grade: B

Check out more of Karen Benardello’s articles.

All eight episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender‘s first season are now streaming on Netflix.

Here’s the trailer of the series.

Comment (0)


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here