I think that part of the reason some otaku get so fervent about shoving their favorite series on other otaku is because at some level, we want to share our experience of joy and discovery. This is a simple human impulse but it gets somewhat twisted by the enthusiasm (an overabundance of which is a defining characteristic of otaku). It can also be a validation of sorts when others acknowledge the greatness of a given series that you have been evangelizing – ego is also a defining characteristic, it seems 🙂 However, we must simply accept that not all of us like the same things. This is why Steven’s decision to drop Avatar is not particularly bothersome to me; I am disappointed I wont see any TMW essays on it, because those are invariably enlightening and stimulating, but it would be pretty foolish to argue that Steven is missing out on something or is somehow making a mistake in not choosing to push forward. He didn’t like it. That’s fine by me.
One of Steven’s commenters makes a good point about Avatar’s overall season dynamic:
If season one feels like filler, its probably because, on a certain level, it is. As near as I can tell, the writers were mainly aiming to produce a reasonably fun, but not great, story for season one. . . with plot threads to be developed later, if the show didn’t get cancelled. Their goals, and targets, thus rose at that point.
Honestly, if you had asked prior to checking the show out, and bearing in mind what I know of your tastes? I would have suggested something along the lines of “Watch the two part intro, watch the Northern Water Tribe sub-arc, then skip to Season 2.” As otherwise? Its a series that’s not going to sell itself to you, because the first part you’ll watch is the part that’s selling it to someone else. Given that, honestly, *I* wouldn’t have have given it more than a passing glance based on season 1 either, not shocking this outcome.
I heartily agree (and subsequent dissenters who argue that every single thing that happens in season 1 was utterly critical to the overall story are both missing the point, as well as simply factually wrong). The bulk of what Steven casts as filler is really character development that really rewards the second viewing of Avatar, rather than driving the plot forwards on the first. In fact this is why I think that I am cautiously optimistic about the live action movie, because they won’t be under the same constraints as the series was (on Nickolodeon, etc).
On another level, though, I think a meta critique of Steven’s argument for dropping Avatar is warranted. Given how much otakusphere complaining exists about how little good material there is to watch nowadays, dropping series too easily seems counter-productive. I’m not arguing that we should force feed ourselves but rather than we do need to recognize the creative environment and real-world constraints that operate on the anime industry – especially the american animation variant (which I called Amerime). It is no coincidence that Samurai Jack – the best Amerime series ever produced – is unfinished. Had Jack been produced for Nick instead of Cartoon Network, there might have been an annoying sidekick character or a lot of filler episodes too – but it also might have actually been seen through to completion. Artistic purity is great but doesn’t always suffice for simple survival. Whether such a scenario would have been worse or better depends on implementation, as well as viewer preferences, so its at best an open question. Arguing that all series must meet specific standards of plot advancement and being too stringent about filler sets a certain bar which may be impossible to meet.
UPDATE – J makes a related point (though not in response to Steven’s post) about the patience of the Japanese consumer:
Anime is often like this as well. Itâ€™s not unusual for a series to spend most of a season meandering towards the plot, with a sudden burst of (usually rushed, over-compressed) activity towards the end. In many cases, thereâ€™s an obvious production or financial reason, but my point is that the target audience doesnâ€™t seem to mind.