Anime bending

Steven has ordered the first season of Avatar, largely based on my recommendation, which both gratifies me and also makes me squirm, because my reputation is on the line now 🙂

The first season is in many ways a very straightforward one. It aims to set the scene, introduce the characters, and give them a nice clean goal and a clear-cut villain. At least, that is what you’re supposed to do in a first season of a multi-season arc; the genius of Avatar is how they subvert every one of those aims, both subtly during season 1 itself and then in a major way in the later seasons. For season 1, though, the viewers’ job is simple; to fall in love with the characters alone. There are plenty of things going on right before your eyes that have massive significance later on, but on the first viewing that stuff is just not as important as understanding who Aang, Kitara, Sokka, Iroh, and Zuko are. The storytelling is simply effortless in this regard – the season ended far too quickly for me, but then I realized looking back just how much actually happened (quite a bit, plotwise, though you are barely aware of the larger arc at this stage).

very mild spoilers follow, so I am putting them below the fold…

Of all the characters in season one, I was drawn to the villain Zuko immediately. The writers have explicitly paid homage to classical science fiction and fantasy villains in crating him, and like the best of them, Zuko is singleminded of purpose but not flat of character or personality. There’s a depth to him that speaks to just how dangerous he becomes later on. In season 2, Zuko makes a big decision – a very bad one – and it is because of how we have come to know him in season one that we genuinely grieve for the tragedy of that decision and its utterly foolish destructiveness it represents.

However, of all the characters, it’s Iroh who I think I can best identify with. In season one you barely know anything about him, but you have a feeling that who he truly is is exactly who he seems to be, in terms of his basic character. And that’s true – despite the major revelations about Iroh later on, we never feel that we didn’t know him until then. Details about Iroh fall into place, but the overall outline is the same. Iroh is probably the most important supporting character in the entire series, but more than that, he’s the only true adult we see, and the role model of what it means to be a man, which is all the more important since all the main characters in the series are children at the very dawn of adolescence.

This is a series I’d love to be able to watch again, for the first time.

One thought on “Anime bending”

  1. Avatar is one of the few recent series that has managed to surprise me. After the ending of season 2 I sat on the couch for several minutes thinking “Wow, I did NOT see that coming.”

    In a way, Zuko was always designed to be an anti-hero more than a villain. Zhao performs the part of the one-dimensional, bwah-ha-ha-ing bad guy so Zuko doesn’t have to… he can show himself to be misguided but honorable.

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