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10 reasons to watch ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’


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[May contain light spoilers]

Whether you’re into cartoons and animes, (or not!) one show that the internet can universally agree on is ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender.’ While its not technically an “anime” it does feature anime-esque qualities in its animation style and most people have come to the conclusion that it can be counted on as a spectacularly, all round great show. Now I recently binge-watched the entire three seasons of the show and can now confirm this show is in fact one of the greatest of all time. So here are 10 reasons why I loved watching it and why I think you should give it a shot too.

1.Strong female characters and feminist themes


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So from the very get go of the first episode we meet the character Katara who stands up for herself against her brother’s ignorant and sexist remarks. She blossoms beautifully as a feminist icon across the series. One episode that particularly highlights this is when Katara meets a teacher who refuses to teach her waterbending simply because she is a girl. This has a relevant parallel to real world situations where young women are denied an education simply for being born female. I also love how these feminist themes are seamlessly built into the plot line and actualy add an interesting dynamic to the show, rather than feeling forced or unecessary. Katara, whilst being an inspirational and powerful waterbender, and role model for kids, also has realistic flaws and learns from her mistakes. At times she can be irrational and hold a grudge and is often confused about how she really feels because she is so caught up taking care of everyone else. Lacking any character flaws is exactly what makes most writers miss the mark when it comes to writing about women – often presenting them as Mary Sues. First and foremost, they forget to make women lovable humans – faults and all.


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2. Representation and Diversity


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Another refreshing aspect of this show is just how much diversity and representation is shown. Not only do we have two main characters who are people of colour, but the show also introduces a blind character and child in a wheelchair in Season 2. The best part about this representation, especially in a show for kids, is that the very things that may seem to normally hinder or disadvantage the characters is the very thing that makes them stronger. For example, the blind earth-bender,Toph, uses her difference as a talent – because unlike most people she is able to really listen to the world, using her feet to feel out the earth’s vibrations and predict her opponent’s movements. This gives her special abilities and enhances her earth-bending in very useful ways. Toph’s special talents make her a vital and respected member of the group. Another example of this would be the character Teo, who is a wheelchair user and instead of letting his disability hold him back, his father cleverly invents a flying machine which gives Teo an opportunity to fly in the sky and impress his peers with his amazing flying skills. 


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3. One of the ‘best redemption arcs in tv history’


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Zuko begins the series as a character filled with resentment and hate. His sole desire is to restore his honour and status in the Fire Kingdom. He is introduced as an antagonist to Aang. As the show progresses, Zuko experiences a revolutionary transformation learning from his mistakes and overcoming his insecurities. He is a misunderstood character who experiences an extremely tragic backstory and becomes lost as a result of it. He comes to realise that when he is at the height of his aspirations and has achieved everything he ever wanted but he is still left unsatisfied. Amongst all his confusion, he experiences hate, love, guilt and regret. Zuko manages to find his way in the end, finally growing into his place with the people he deserves to be around. As a viewer, you grow to love Zuko, rooting for him along his journey and personally he became one of my favourite characters.  

4. Character development fully explored 


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The show continually deals with a lot of complicated ethical and moral issues. You kind of forget that these are just kids after a while because they are forced to face such serious decisions and such emotionally complex problems because of the war. Nickelodeon’s Avatar the Last Airbender is not just your average kids show, it’s so much more than that and it appeals to thousands of adults too. ATLA goes above and beyond expectations and it was certainly ahead of its time. Another selling point of this show is that no character is left as being purely one dimensional. Even side characters like Sokka, being the only non-bender of the group, experiences some insecurities about his self-worth and role. He goes on to expand his talents and marks his place in the team, as the planner and problem solver, often leading the main crew into victory.


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5. Exciting build up to a satisfying battle


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Throughout all the seasons there is this allusion to Aang, the Avatar, having to eventually face the Firelord Ozai. The tension that builds up to the final battle is not only satisfying but exciting to watch. The audience feels this anticipation since the very beginning of the show and it feels like you grow alongside the characters as you watch over their journey. The show teaches moral lessons and explores the ethical complexities when one must stop an evil dictator without becoming just as bad as one. 


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6. Healthy and Unhealthy Parenting


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Nickelodeon have done a really good job at touching upon some really serious and broad topics in this show. One of those big themes is parent-child relationships – both the good and bad ones. A big element that haunts the series is the very prominent scar across Zuko’s face. The scar is a permanent reminder of the physical abuse he has experienced as a child and a big struggle that defines his character is overcoming this trauma. On the other side, we also get to see what good parenting looks like from the legendary character, Iroh. His love and compassion for Zuko is heartwarming and sweet. Iroh is such a great example of an outstanding mentor as his tenderness and empathy shows through when he stays by Zuko side through thick and thin, even when he knows he is wrong. Instead of using force to get him to change, he accepts Zuko for who he is and instead slowly helps him to grow and make the right decisions on his own. Not only does Iroh make a big impact on Zuko’s life, but he also goes on to counsel strangers and even thieves to become good people. Overall he is just a really wholesome character who is also humourous and quirky. His obsession with teas and Pai Sho is hilarious and it becomes a motif throughout the 3 seasons. 


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7. Genuinely terrifying villains


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The audience quickly learns to see who the real villains of the show are, and boy are they frightening! Azula, in particular, is one of the most terrifying and realistic representations of dictators in fiction. Not only is she manipulative and cunning, she is also increibly cruel, taking genuine pleasure in paining others including cute little turtleducks! She is eager to be in command and wage war on the other tribes and proof of this is how she argued with her father for leaving her behind, simply because she wanted to be at the heart of the violent action and destruction.

8. Humour and comic relief


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The show surprisingly manages to balance both the serious moments with the more humourous and comedic times, and it does this really well. Sokka, the ‘comic relief’ character, grows on you as the series develops. He is not too annoying and dumb of caricature, but rather his humor is recognised and beloved by the other characters in the group. In fact, during one episode, when Sokka is absent from the rest of the group, Sokka’s humour is truly missed.

9. Squad goals (The GAANG) complete with cute pets!


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No doubt, one of the best parts of the show is the amazing squad goals in the Gaang (Aang’s little group) but it couldn’t be complete without their loyal and trusty pets. Both Appa and Momo are the cutests pets ever and make such great contributions to the show and plot. I also find it really interesting that each of the elements originated from animals within the Avatar universe: Air – from the flying bisons, Earth – from the moles, Water – from the fish and Fire – from the dragons.

10. Excellent world building


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The Avatar world (Atla) is built very realistically whilst also existing in the realm of fiction. The physical map they show at the start of every episode can be compared to the map of our world. The Four tribes – Earth, Water, Fire and Air are situated in locations which reflect actual real life cultures and places. For example, Katara and Sokka from the Southern Water tribe look like real indigenous people of the Inuit tribe who live in the Artic northern regions of Greenland, Canada and Alaska. Aang is a monk from the Air Nomad tribe and is clearly based on Buddhists across East Asia. The Earth Kingdom is mainly based off of Chinese influences, and this given a nod to by the fictional communist state of ‘Ba Sing Se’. The Fire Nation is based off of real world locations near volcanoes such as Iceland and Hawaii, but it is also inspired by a lot of colonial history from the West. The four elements are also embodied by the benders themselves through their personality traits. For example Aang’s free spirited and free-flowing nature is derived from his Air nomad origin. Katara’s element of waterbending also matches her caring and motherly personality because it allows her to heal and help others. Zuko’s rage is fiery and hard to control just like his element – it is fuelled by his hatred and pain for the world causing a lot of destruction to those around him. Toph’s nature on the other hand is very practical, blunt and logical and this suits her earthbending element perfectly. The 4 elements mimic the Hogwarts Houses in a sense because they allow the audience to actively pick an element which they relate to the most. 


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Nickelodeon, Avatar The Last Airbender, http://gdawgthegrey.tumblr.com/post/51749453763/fire-air-water-earth via GIPHY

So if this was enough to convince you to watch Avatar: The Last Airbender right now, and you’re eager to binge it – you’re very much in luck! The show, although made in 2005, has just recently been added to both Amazon Prime Video and Netflix. In fact, Netflix is currently in the process of making a live action version (fingers crossed they don’t ruin it!), so if you want to be ahead of the game – watch the original right now – you can thank me later!


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A+, WHOLESOME, GOOD QUALITY CONTENT – AN ALL ROUND AMAZING SHOW!

British Muslimah. Intersectional feminist. Cynical Hufflepuff. Professional cat-lover. Shaheena is an English Literature student with a passion for social activism. In her spare time, she enjoys photography, reading and watching cartoons/animes. Her top fandoms include: Avatar (atla), Ghibli, Disney, Harry Potter, Marvel, Doctor Who & Sherlock.
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