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I never even bothered to watch this series until a few years ago. I had seen the live-action movie and wasn’t overly awed with it. However out of pure curiosity, I decided to see a few episodes of the original animated version and got hooked rather quickly. It’s rather clear to me that the American creators were inspired by manga and anime because this show embodies a lot of concepts of Eastern philosophy. And the more I watched, the more I was dismayed at how horribly the live action movie screwed it up.
I found that the basic plot of a four separate nations that is now divided by the threat of war to be a rather good one and surprisingly mature for a children’s show. Particularly for the fact that they didn’t try to hide the negative aspects of it from children. They showed it all; from genocide, to the persecution and exploitation of the conquered people by the invaders, the death of innocent bystanders, and crimes committed by both sides—both conquerors and conquered. The people were real and realized.
They also had a very nice, solid, detailed and compelling storyline that followed Aang and his group as they struggled against the Fire Nation. It had a beginning, a middle, and conclusion and it was able to balance all of the parts equally without losing or detracting from each other. The story might have been made for children, but I have to say that unlike many such animated children series; they didn’t treat children like they were stupid and it was both thoughtful and surprisingly mature and filled with spiritual and philosophical issues as well as the main characters contending with such concepts as greed, love, morals, family, and loss. This show which I originally dismissed as a comedy, becomes darker and more dramatic as it progresses—it never completely submerges into depressing, but clearly the children are forced to grow up and mature into adults over the course of this series.
I also loved how detailed the background was in that each Nation clearly has their own separate and distinct culture, clothing, and bending martial art styles. It’s the little things like that that truly put a series into a class all of it’s own. The backgrounds were superb, particularly things like architecture and other sets were amazingly detailed. A number of animals are a bit on the goofy looking side as the creators seem to enjoy taking two disparate species and merging them together, but it quickly becomes part and parcel of the series.
The characters were also incredibly engaging and in many cases, extremely sympathetic. The animation was also first rate. The character designs were extremely realistic and their movements were fast, fluid, crisp, and the fact that each of the bending styles were different from each other made their movements, at least for the very best of the benders look like poetry in motion.
I also have to say that the voice actors did a superb job, they were able to convey complex emotions and feelings through their tone of voice.
Overall, this is one of the best animation series that I can remember seeing. Even though it was basically for children, like I mentioned; it doesn’t try to dumb things down to them and has a great deal of important messages to convey and I think even adults can watch it without being too insulted or feel it too silly.
RATING: 4 and 1/2 STARS!!!!