Avatar: The Last Airbender (also known as Avatar: The Legend of Aang in Europe) is a successful American animated television series that aired for three seasons on Nickelodeon and YTV from 2005 – 2008. The series was created and produced by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, who both took the position of executive producer alongside Aaron Ehasz. The world of Avatar: The Last Airbender was strongly influenced by Asian culture made up of those who are able to manipulate the traditional elements through Chinese martial arts. The show took elements from East Asian, Inuit, South Asian and Western culture, connecting the division that once existed between Japanese anime and American cartoons.
The series follows the adventures of the central character Aang and his friends, who must bring peace to the world by defeating the Fire Lord and ending the devastating war against the other nations. The show first aired on February 21, 2005 with an eleven-minute pilot episode and concluded with a widely praised two-hour episode on July 19, 2008. The show is available from various sources, some of which include DVD, the iTunes store, Netflix Instant Play, the Nicktoons Network, the PlayStation Store, the Xbox Live Marketplace and the Zune Marketplace.
Avatar: The Last Airbender gained popularity with both audiences and critics, reaping 5.6 million viewers on its top-rated showing and receiving high-ratings in the Nicktoons lineup among those who were outside its 6 to 11-year-old demographic. Avatar: The Last Airbender was nominated for and won awards from the Annual Annie Awards, the Genesis Awards, the primetime Emmy awards and a Peabody Award. The success of the first season prompted Nickelodeon to order a second and third season. On July 1, 2010, the first part of a movie trilogy titled The Last Airbender was released, directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
In other media, the television series has scaled action figures, a trading card game, three video games based on the first, second and third seasons, stuffed animals distributed by Paramount Parks and two Lego sets. Avatar: The Last Airbender (The Art of the Animated Series), an art book to accompany the animated series was released mid-2010.
The popularity of the original television series prompted a sequel series, titled The Legend of Korra which takes place seventy years after Avatar: The Last Airbender. The Legend of Korra officially premiered on April 14, 2012.
At the Nickelodeon Animation Studios in Burbank, California, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko began work on the series. Most of the animation work was done by three animation studios in South Korea: JM Animation, DR Movie, and Moi Animation. According to Bryan Konietzko, the idea of the series came about in the spring of 2001 when he took an old sketch of a balding, middle-aged man and re-visualized the character as a child. Bryan drew the character herding bison and showed the sketch to Mike DiMartino. During this time, DiMartino was studying a documentary about explorers trapped in the South Pole. Bryan described their development of the concept:
We thought, "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..."
Just two weeks later, the co-creators successfully pitched the idea to Nickelodeon vice president and executive producer Eric Coleman.
At Comic-Con 2004, the series was shown to the public in a teaser trailer and aired February 21, 2005. In the United States, the first two episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender premiered together in a one-hour event. The second season ran from March 17, 2006 through December 1, 2006 with twenty episodes. The third and final season began September 21, 2007 and featured twenty-one episodes instead of the usual twenty. The last four episodes were packaged as a two-hour movie Sozin’s Comet.
In the world of Avatar: Water, Earth, Fire and Air are the four noble nations and the four elements that bind it together. In every nation, there are benders who are capable of manipulating the elements. Power is spread equally among each nation, but there is only one being who can master all four elements and maintain balance in the world…the Avatar.
One hundred years prior to the start of the series, twelve year old Aang discovers that he is the new Avatar. During this time, Fire Lord Sozin led the Fire Nation on a global campaign to demolish the other three nations. Fearful of his duty to the world and the forthcoming separation from his mentor Monk Gyatso, Aang flees from the Southern Air Temple with his flying bison Appa. During a dangerous storm, they crash into the ocean and Aang’s Avatar State activates and seals them both in a frozen iceberg.
Season One (Book One: Water)
One hundred years after Avatar Roku’s death, two teenage siblings, Katara and Sokka, discover Aang and Appa frozen in an iceberg. After being suspended in animation for one hundred years, Aang soon discovers that the Fire Nation instigated a war a hundred years ago. After Aang is revealed to be the Avatar, the three head first to the Northern Water Tribe so Aang and Katara can find a Waterbending master. En voyage, Aang and his friends visit the Southern Air Temple, where Aang discovers the annihilation of his people and encounters the spirit of his predecessor Avatar Roku.
Prince Zuko, the exiled son of Fire Lord Ozai, who must regain his honour by capturing the Avatar, chases the trio throughout their journey. Alongside Zuko is his uncle Iroh, the legendary Dragon of the West, Fire Nation ex-general and older brother to Fire Lord Ozai. Commander Zhao who later becomes Admiral is in competition with Prince Zuko for the Avatar and leads a mass attack on the Northern Water Tribe. Zhao’s vainglorious plans to slay the physical incarnation of the Moon Spirit, Tui and bring about calamity on the entire world, are stopped by Aang and his friends, with help from Iroh and Zuko. Deeming this as treachery, Fire Lord Ozai commands his daughter Princess Azula to capture Zuko and Iroh.
Season Two (Book Two: Earth)
After departing from the Northern Water Tribe, Aang continues his Waterbending training under Katara’s tutelage. In search for an Earthbending master, Team Avatar meets Toph Bei Fong, a twelve-year-old blind Earthbending prodigy. She later becomes Aang’s Earthbending teacher.
Zuko and Iroh (now fugitives of the Fire Nation) attempt to create new lives for themselves in the Earth Kingdom, where Zuko, with his uncle Iroh’s assistance, tries to let go of his past and his obsession with the Avatar and discover his true destiny. The group discover information about an upcoming solar eclipse, in an underground library, that would leave Firebenders hopeless.
However, while learning this, Aang’s flying bison is lost to a group of Sandbenders.
Azula and her two friends, Mai and Ty Lee pursue Team Avatar who struggle to reach Ba Sing Se and inform the Earth King of the solar eclipse. Azula manages to persuade Ba Sing Se’s secret police, the Dai Li, through a Kyoshi warrior disguise and instigate a coup d'état, allowing the Fire Nation full control over Ba Sing Se.
Zuko and Katara are imprisoned in the catacombs of Ba Sing Se, and although Katara offers Zuko redemption, he ultimately sides with his sister, Azula. Aang tries to activate the Avatar State, something he formerly avoided because it required him to let go of his love for Katara, but Azula manages to strike him with lightning as he changes states. Thus, killing him and removing the Avatar Spirit from the world forever.
Iroh, upset with Zuko’s final choice, sides with Team Avatar and allows Katara to escape with Aang. She revives him, but Aang can no longer re-enter the Avatar State.
Season Three (Book Three: Fire)
Aang recovers from his coma and wakes up to discover his friends dressed in Fire Nation disguises. Zuko has been restored to the position of crown prince and returns to his life in the Fire Nation. On the day of the solar eclipse, Team Avatar and a smaller band of warriors launch an invasion, which fails.
During this time, Zuko confronts his father and leaves the Fire Nation to join Team Avatar. Zuko slowly gains the group's trust and becomes Aang's firebending teacher.
The ancient Sun Warriors teach Aang and Zuko the true secrets of Firebending. Sokka and Zuko later travel to the Boiling Rock, a Fire Nation prison to rescue Sokka’s father Hakoda and girlfriend Suki, a warrior of Kyoshi Island.
Avatar: The Last Airbender is known for being heavily influenced by East Asian art and mythology to create its cultural universe. The character designs are strongly influenced by American cartoons and Japanese anime, however, Avatar: The Last Airbender is not considered to be an “anime” because it originated in the United States. Moreover, the character designs are also taken from Chinese art, Korean clothing and folktales, history, Japanese anime, Hinduism, Taoism and Buddhism, and Yoga.
Most writing in the series is represented by traditional Chinese calligraphy. A cultural consultant, Edwin Zane reviewed the scripts of the series and calligrapher Siu-Leung Lee acted as a consultant and translator for the calligraphy used in the show.
The choreographed martial art bending movements were affected by Asian cinema. Star Wars, Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings were all Western literature and film series that influenced the story of Avatar: The Last Airbender. In an interview, Bryan states that:
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 term “Avatar” originates from the Sanskrit (अवतार) word, Avatāra, which means "descent". In Hinduism, the gods incarnate into mortal form “Avatars” to restore balance on earth, usually during a time of tremendous evil. At the top of the show’s title card, the Chinese characters translate into "the divine medium who has descended upon the mortal world".
When Aang was young, he unknowingly revealed that he was the Avatar by choosing four toys out of thousands, each of which were childhood toys of previous Avatars. In Tibetan Buddhism, there is a similar test to determine the reincarnations of a Tulku Lama.
Avatar: The Last Airbender uses the four classical elements for its bending arts: Water, Earth, Fire and Air. The classical Hindu, Buddhist and Greek elemental traditions incorporate these four elements. In the show’s opening, each element is accompanied by two Chinese characters, one of which is an ancient Chinese seal script character on the left representing the element and a modern Chinese character on the right representing a characteristic of the element.
|Water||水 (pinyin: shuǐ)||善 (pinyin: shàn)||Benevolence and adaptivity.|
|Earth||土 (pinyin: tǔ)||強 (pinyin: qiáng)||Strength and stability.|
|Fire||火 (pinyin: huǒ)||烈 (pinyin: liè)||Intensity and passion.|
|Air||气 (pinyin: qì)||和 (pinyin: hé)||Peace and harmony.|
The fighting style associated with each element, as well as the weaponry is based on various Chinese martial arts styles. Sifu Kisu of the Harmonious Fist Chinese Athletic Association acted as the martial arts consultant for the series. T'ai chi was used for Waterbending in the series, which focuses on breath, body structure, alignment and visualization. Hung Gar was used for Earthbending; the style embodies the solid nature of earth, through powerful strikes and firmly rooted stances. Northern Shaolin was used for Firebending, which uses strong arm and leg movements. Bagua, which uses circular movements and quick directional changes, was used for Airbending.
Toph is the only exception to these styles and is seen practicing an obscure martial arts style, Chu Gar Southern Praying Mantis Style. Sifu Manny acted as the consultant for this style.
“For every bending and martial-arts movement in the show, video reference was created, then used by the storyboard artists and animators to bring a sense of realism to the fights.”
Avatar : The Last Airbender (The Art of the Animated Series)
Jeremy Zuckerman and Benjamin Wynn, who formed The Track Team, performed the music and sound in the series. To compose the background music of Avatar: The Last Airbender, the team experimented with instruments such as the guzheng, pipa, and duduk.
In 2007, Avatar: The Last Airbender was shown to more than 105 countries worldwide and became one of Nickelodeon’s top rated programs. The series ranked #1 on Nickelodeon in Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia, Belgium and Columbia.
The premiere of the series finale, Sozin’s Comet: The Final Battle gathered an audience of 5.6 million viewers.