disliking Avatar

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. It’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, there’s an obvious production or financial reason, but my point is that the target audience doesn’t seem to mind.

8 thoughts on “disliking Avatar”

  1. I’m glad you don’t hate me for it. I felt a bit guilty about it, really, but in the end I had to be honest with myself and with my readers. It just wasn’t working for me.

    I would have suspected that I’ve just become soured with animation in geeral, except for the fact that Nanoha and Aria had both seized my imagination not too long ago.

  2. Steven, no worries. Given that you are responsible for getting me into anime as a genre, not to mention the choice of domain name and figurehead for the blog, I think it would be pretty petty of me indeed to be even marginally upset at you for exercising your right to an opinion 🙂 My only real disappointment is that I prolly wont get to read a TMW of yours about Avatar – those are always enlightening, but thats because I respect your opinion. If I thought your opinion was crap then your TMWs wouldn’t have much appeal either! 😉

    I do think however that we are all susceptible to getting locked into our preferences. Thats why I gave Ranma a second shot, to both our surprise. I intend to broaden my sampling tastes a bit as the year progresses. I honestly dont think I am anywhere close to being soured on animation at all – from my perspective the landscape is still vast.

  3. That pretty much says what I wanted to say but couldn’t figure out how.

    Given the level of win in parts of Season 2 most of Season 3, it’s really disappointing to watch it go on the shelf… but you’re exactly right about Season 1: most of it only becomes meaningful after you’ve at least finished Season 2.

    I’ve always thought that I got sort of lucky; I came across the series when Season 2 was already complete and the 2-a-day re-runs were up to “Zuko Alone” and “The Chase”. I didn’t actually catch all of Season 1 until the re-runs had cycled through a couple of times.

  4. Also, re: the Avatar movie- I am not at all optimistic. One, I think it’ll suffer compression issues, but much more importantly? I have zero confidence in the director. Shyamalan wasn’t the right director for Avatar even when he was still good.

    As for ‘Amerime’, if I had to peg the highest quality American animation, I’d go with:
    -Anything by Pixar
    -Samurai Jack, and to a lesser extent, the other works of Tartakovsky
    -The entire Bruce Timm animated DC universe

  5. I think that Shymalayan has real talent, and his recent streak of misfires is because of a lack of inspiration. Everything I’ve read about the movie so far sugests its te first project hes really had any passion for in a while. Expecting the movie to be identical to the series is amistake; i expect there to be changes, but I want to see what they can do in taking the basic idea to a more mature venue. Its the de-Nickolodeon-ifying of the franchise that appeals to me.

    I dont count Pixar as Amerime, to be honest. The medium may be the same but Pixar and Disney are subject to the ironclad rule of American animation being for kids instead of adults. Amerime is like anime – animation is a tool to tell a story at a higher level. Samurai Jack was definitely higher than Avatar on this scale; I havent seen enough of the animated DC stuff to have an opinion though most of the Batman cartoons I have seen have been definitely more sophisticated than the usual saturday morning fare.)

    I hold Samurai Jack to be the sublime ideal of Amerime.

  6. “I dont count Pixar as Amerime, to be honest. The medium may be the same but Pixar and Disney are subject to the ironclad rule of American animation being for kids instead of adults.”

    I think Pixar is closer to Touchstone and Miramax than to their parent Disney. I just don’t think Pixar has quite the restrictions that Disney animation does. Yes, Pixar makes movies that are themed to appeal to younger clients, but Pixar’s movies usually have a lot of adult content below the surface. One great example is Lightning McQueen admiring the Porsche’s tramp-stamp in Cars.

    As far as Amerime in general, my major disappointment is the lack of any show with strong arcs between episodes. Almost everything out there (even Samurai Jack) is serialized to such an extent that episodes can be mixed and matched with little effect on the story. The idea that American media must be made in independent 1/2 hour chucks is, however, pretty much pervasive in a lot of what is broadcast in the states.

    One last quick gripe… how can anyone mention a list of Amerime and not include something from Chuck Jones?

  7. Pervasive, but *not* universal. A lot of contemporary drama series go for extended season-long arcs these days, most notably Heroes ( which is essentially impossible to watch as individual eps ). I suspect it might be the rising prominence of the DVD season set.

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