Water. Earth. Fire. Air. Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony. Then, everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked. Only the Avatar, master of all four elements, could stop them, but when the world needed him most, he vanished. A hundred years passed and my brother and I discovered the new Avatar, an airbender named Aang. And although his airbending skills are great, he has a lot to learn before he’s ready to save anyone. But I believe Aang can save the world.
For most of those born between ’92 and ’96, you may already know a lot about Avatar: The Last Airbender. Whether it was from its time on Nickelodeon or the 2009 “revival” movie (which didn’t revive anything) this 2005 series is one we all need to circle back to for a minute. I thought I enjoyed this show as a kid, but I find myself identifying parts of the story I never realized the first time around.
In a fictional, unnamed world, the four elements can be controlled by a group of individuals known as Benders: Waterbenders, Airbenders, Earthbenders, and Firebenders. As the opening sequence shares (quoted above), the Fire Nation attacked the whole world while the Avatar was gone for a whole century. After we meet Aang in the first episode, it’s clear he’s going to be the center of the show. Katara and Sokka discover him after Katara accidentally uses her Waterbending ability to crack open an iceberg. They befriend Aang, not knowing he’s the Avatar, and welcome him with open arms to their small tribe.
This first season is about Aang’s journey to mastering water. The three set out to the Northern Tribe of the Water Nation to find a suitable master. Through their journey, they visit abandoned air temples, formidable Earth Nation cities, old friends, and plenty of lore about the world they live in.
The lore is this huge story behind the story. As with any successful epic (Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Dune series), a main part of enjoying the journey is learning about the history of these worlds. So when Aang is traversing a map that’s now 100 years different from when he left it, he’s discovering new parts, too. Although most of the cities are the same, watching him meet old friends, mourn those who are gone, and discover his own history might be half of the reason this show is so incredible. We get to see this world through his eyes, seeing everything as new.
I think one of the amazing parts of this first season is the growth from everyone. Aang learns to be confident with his bending through continuous usage and practice. Katara learns to stand up for those around her time and time again. Sokka learns to trust his instinct, which has come to save them a few times. Even our adversaries in the Fire Nation grow through various means.
With adventure, romance, and powerful storytelling, it’s no surprise that Rotten Tomatoes lists the show at 100%, just fifteen years after its initial release. By releasing on Netflix during quarantine (May 15, 2020), this show has reached a beautiful resurgence. Check out this fan-made trailer for the first season below and check it out now on Netflix!